I spoke with Alica Forneret over zoom about PAUSE, the organization she founded to support People of Color who are planning for end-of-life, experiencing grief, or working in the death industry. Forneret is an educator, speaker, and consultant dedicated to creating new spaces for people to explore grief and grieving.
First, can you talk about PAUSE: the work you do, your role, and how it came to be?
Yeah, it would probably be helpful to give a little context about myself. I got into the death field in 2015. I’d been working in the field for about a year when my mom Deborah went into the ICU unexpectedly and died.
I had been looking at my work in this really abstract way, and after my mom died, I recognized that I should probably look at my own relationship to grief and mortality. So in 2016, I pivoted the work I was doing and started public speaking, writing, doing events, and really just speaking openly about death and grief in a way I thought was missing.
Early on, a lot of my work was focused on grief as it relates to losing your mom. Then my work took two streams. One of those streams was HR: looking at how to support people as they reintegrate into the workplace after they’ve lost someone, and talking about bereavement policies and responses. The other stream was supporting Folks of Color, enhancing their end-of-life experience by connecting them to resources that were made by People of Color for People of Color.
In October 2021, I founded PAUSE. PAUSE came out of my work with end-of-life and supporting Folks of Color. The focus has been on how we can fill gaps in care for People of Color who are navigating death planning, dying, or grief due to death-related loss.
We support the public, institutional and system leaders, and providers. That can be entrepreneurs who are Folks of Color doing work in this space, like death doulas or grief coaches; then we also support folks who work within institutions that touch death in some way, like healthcare providers and mental health support, etc.
Yeah, one of my questions was about the support you give people working in the end-of-life industry. Can you explain a little more what that looks like?
It felt like one of the most powerful things we could do in our first year—which was last year—was give Folks of Color who were creating businesses in the end-of-life space resources and support that could make their businesses a little more sustainable. It can be challenging not only to start a business, but to start a business as a Person of Color, and as a Woman of Color, and—as the majority of our cohort was—as a queer Person of Color. Overarching all of this, starting a business that deals with death, which is something that people are so uncomfortable with.
When we were interviewing folks for our first residency, one of the top things we heard was: ‘I’ve done business courses; I’ve gone to programs before. People are not only confused about the work I’m doing, but uncomfortable having conversations about what I do at all.’
It was a really incredible opportunity for us to say, ‘Why don’t we create a space that is by us, for us, where we all come to the table ready and excited to talk about death care, and the intersections we hold in our work and identities that make our businesses what they are?’ This is what allows us to serve different demographics than the general industry serves right now.
Our inaugural cohort was 12 folks across the United States, and they came from a wide variety of backgrounds. We had nurses, grief coaches, death doulas. We had people doing spiritual work. We had people doing somatic and physical work.
For us, it was important that they were just starting their business within a certain number of years, and that they had a vision for where they wanted to take the work. They weren’t just: ‘I have an idea; I want to test it out.’ They’d been working in the field for a little while and knew that some kind of support would allow them to take the next steps that were impactful for their business.
It’s really cool that it’s called PAUSE, because often the attitude is so: ‘Move on, move on.’ It’s like there’s a timeline, and bereavement policies—if they exist—can be pretty bad. I like the idea of having an intentional space to pause. So what does taking a step back and pausing look like in your programming and the residency you offer?
Yeah, so very aligned with what you’re talking about, the name came from a newsletter that I started in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. There were a lot of grief and end-of-life resources popping up for folks. I was hearing from a lot of white folks in the industry: ‘Well, death is universal; we all experience death and grief, so my resources are relevant to anyone who is experiencing those things.’ I and people from my community recognize very quickly that that is not the case when we’re navigating these tragedies in our communities.
The newsletter I started was resources for grief and mental health, by and for Folks of Color. I said, ‘This is an invitation in your inbox on a regular basis to take a moment that other people are not going to give you to tend to your grief and mental health.’ You need to take it for yourself, and sometimes you need the permission to take it for yourself. Especially as Black women, we are not encouraged to take that time and space for ourselves.
So that’s been a thread in a lot of the work we do. For example, when we built the residency, it was very important to us that it didn’t feel like a traditional incubator or accelerator program, where you come in and burn yourself out trying to learn as much as you can. We wanted that concept of rest, sitting with your work, sitting with what it is that you might not have an output after every single meeting.
We invited folks in to teach classes on Fridays, where they would do a yoga or meditation class or do art therapy. Folks were invited into a time and place and space that was protected for them to make a moment away from the work. As an entrepreneur—someone who has started a business before and then founded a non-profit—I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t take moments for myself to not do the work.
For people who see grief as universal, can you talk about the importance of having a community of people who specifically understand grief related to systemic racism?
Yeah, so when we move into a space where we’re getting support—whether that’s therapeutic support, peer-to-peer support, community support—it can be so incredibly important to have someone that meets you a couple steps into that conversation. In that case, you don’t have to explain why racism has been a part of your experience navigating the healthcare system, navigating funeral homes, navigating paying off the debts of the person that has died.
It means that our time returns to us in not having to explain those things. We remove ourselves from immediately experiencing trauma when we’re trying to heal. We interact with someone who can speak to that cultural understanding of where we sit in society—and on an even more specific level, how we can navigate death and grief while we’re carrying that part of our identity.
For me, it’s been really beautiful—whether I’m in a conversation with someone about mother loss or a collective grief after a murder or tragedy within Communities of Color—when I don’t have to explain, ‘Okay, well these are the things that make it hard as a person that lives in my identity and experience.’
Always, and especially if you’re grieving and going through such an intense experience; you’re wanting support.
You’re already doing enough. We’re already doing so much work in grief. Particularly for Folks of Color, navigating day-to-day life and trying to feel held by anyone can mean an incredible amount of emotional labor and effort to find those spaces. To be able to let that down and release it—and know that you don’t have to take those extra steps—can be really powerful when you’re working with a service provider.
What are some ways people can support PAUSE?
People are welcome to visit our site and learn more, as well as donate. We’re also looking for support from folks that want to get involved with the events and programming we’re doing in Los Angeles this year and next.
I always tell people, ‘My inbox is open; my door is open.’ Anyone who feels a spark of intrigue, interest, connection, or resonance with what I’m talking about, I beg you to land in my inbox. There is incredible power in just connecting with someone who can say, ‘If you’ve been looking for a resource, I’m here to help you find it.’ And if you want to go the extra step of getting involved, we can always find a way for someone to support.
But I just tell people to reach out, because I’m very excited about the work we’re doing, and very grateful for anyone it resonates with just getting in touch.
And if someone doesn’t live in LA or on the West Coast, can they still get involved?
Of course, 100%. Anyone and everyone, I don’t care where you live—reach out.