my story

For many years, I have kept my academic and my personal interests and processes separate. Yet, the basic desire understand healing spans my personal and professional life. Thus, Helping Friends Grieve will merge my desire to better understand how as individuals we can support the people in our lives who are dealing with loss as well as how communities heal after violence.


my journey with loss and healing

In May of 2005, I lost my father. Not only did I feel a huge hole left by the loss, but my relationships with people around me changed as I struggled through sadness, anger, jealousy, acceptance, and many other states. A year after my father died, I received an email informing me that a close friend’s father had passed away. In this moment, I realized the difficulties of supporting a friend. I had already lost my father, I knew what it felt like, and still, I had no idea what to say immediately (over the phone), what to send, what to say in person. After a few of my closest friends lost parents in the years following my father’s death, I realized we all had a lot to share and a lot to learn.

Thus “Helping Friends Grieve” began as a way to share stories from people who have lost someone and stories from friends who have supported someone in the process. I am always looking for contributors, only by sharing can we learn and heal together.


As a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, I study and work in the field of transitional justice. My primary interest is how communities move forward after conflict and violence, including, mechanisms of human rights, community development, community processes around mourning, memory, and memorialization, and the power of storytelling. I have studied justice mechanisms in the field in northern Uganda and evaluated conflict resolution programs in Rwanda. My master’s thesis: The Role of Memory in Post-Genocide Rwanda was accepted at the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

In addition to above mentioned countries, I have lived and worked in Honduras, Peru, Mexico, and Kenya. I have left pieces of my heart in each of these places and carry bits of my work, the people, and land with me as I continue to travel, love, and experience this world.

Follow at: @kconwaygaffney and on facebook: Helping Friends Grieve
Please send me feedback, thoughts, ideas, etc. at Katherine.conwaygaffney at


5 thoughts on “my story

  1. I think the best way to help a friend grieve is to just be there for them. Encourage them to talk of their experience of death and loss , and just listen…. Let them know that it is ok to cry, ok to grieve, ok to feel angry, indeed important to let all these feeling out. So often feelings of guilt and regret accompany the grief and make it worse.A sympathetic listener can help allay these feelings and lighten the load .
    Throughout times of grief I have experienced, I found much solace in persons anecdotes of my loved ones – so many stories shared that I had no previous knowledge of – the smallest of incidents added much to my happy memories and enhanced the stature of my lost loved one.
    One can assure the grieving that the pain of loss might never go away, but that time will definitely lessen it , and to always focus on all the happiest memories of our loved ones and avoid dwelling entirely on what we have lost.

  2. Katherine,
    This is a terribly important issue to share- and to share from both points of view, that of the friend who so wants to reach out but is at a loss as to what to say/how to help and that of the person who is grieving and suddenly feels so alone. I am so moved by your own story and impressed by your desire to help people connect. You are such an awesome person, Katherine!

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