This Instagram account helps people process grief after loved ones die of COVID-19
'My desire ... is to have as many people as possible feel less alone when dealing with death'
Annie Horton knows what it's like to lose a loved one to COVID-19.
She knows how helpless families feel as the people they care about waste away in hospital and the pain that comes from not being able to hold or comfort them.
Horton knows because her brother-in-law, Nick Cordero, died in July following severe medical complications from the coronavirus.
The Hamilton-born Broadway actor's death was a devastating loss for two families that had already suffered tragedy in recent years, but rather than struggle quietly with her grief Horton has decided to share it in hopes of supporting others.
"My desire ... is to have as many people as possible feel less alone when dealing with death," said the 31-year-old.
Horton's father died suddenly in 2017. She describes losing him as her "biggest fear" coming true. Her husband had lost his father the year before and they had each other to lean on, but Horton said she began searching for additional help online and found it in an unlikely place — Instagram.
The social media platform hosts accounts on mourning for very specific types of loss, from siblings or parents to infants or suicide.
Over the course of a year, Horton visited various accounts often and found they made her feel less alone in her grief.
Inspired, she contacted Clare Freeman, executive director at the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice.
She pitched the idea of an Instagram account that would support others the same way social media had helped her.
Instagram can reach a younger audience, Horton said. It also provides a bit of anonymity for those who don't feel ready to sit down and open up with a therapist.
Freeman said Horton explained how traditional support groups hadn't reached her in the same way the Instagram accounts had. The hospice signed on and emerging.grief began posting in December.
"Sometimes people just need something in their day that allows them to know somebody else is thinking of them and gives them kind of an inspirational message," said Freeman, calling the account "incredibly helpful."
Now, with COVID-19 creating barriers between people and loved ones who are dealing with their illness or death, the account's role has become even more clear.
"People can't have funerals, people can't have their family members around. Even just being able to touch and hug people is so limited people are really suffering at home," said Freeman. "Having a digital platform has been so helpful for people because people feel incredibly isolated."
The hospice is also working directly with people who, like Horton and her family, have lost loved ones to the virus. Freeman envinisions the possibility of creating a larger, virtual support group.
"If you're feeling like 'Wow, I just can't get over this' or "I'm just so overwhelmed,' just know you're not alone and that COVID is adding an extra burden to grief," said Freeman.
Horton says the decision to share her family's experience came after people dissected Cordero's health history — even denying the role COVID-19 played in her brother-in-law's death — on social media, in online articles and in comment sections.
"The funny thing about COVID is it's very real and it's a very scary illness that a lot of people don't believe is real," she explained.
She's since been in contact with others who have lost loved ones from the coronavirus and heard how heartbreaking it is to see someone in hospital through video call, but not be able to physically be with them — something she experienced as well.
"There is something here and we need to all rally together so we feel like we can actually have these conversations because they're very scary, traumatic situations," she said.
Horton noted COVID-19 is just one topic touched on by the emerging.grief Instagram account, along with tips, inspirational quotes and links to services at the hospice.
Some of the posts are personal, while others are based on research about grief.
The goal is to be honest and helpful.
Death is difficult to talk about, but Horton says the reality of loss is something people have to come confront.
"Incorporating that conversation into our daily life I think is really, really important. Especially now."