WYD Podcast With James Morgan – Connecting Through Loss

After experiencing the devastating loss of their one-year-old baby boy, James and Catie Morgan found comfort in surrounding themselves with other couples who have also gone through the loss of a child. As a way of helping others, James devised the Buddys app, which allows people to connect with those who have had similar experiences.

I founded Buddys after my son passed away, very suddenly. My wife and I sought various forms of therapy to help cope with that grief. One of the ways that really gave us comfort and hope was connecting with another couple who had experienced the same tragic loss. And the ability to find that connection was what led us to create Buddys. – James Morgan

Johanna Lunn: This is the When You Die podcast. If it has to do with death and dying, we’re talking about it. Today’s host is Kelley Edwards.

Kelley Edwards: Joining us on the When You Die podcast today is James Morgan. James and his wife, Caitie, suffered that terrible, terrible loss when their one-year-old son, James, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Through their grief, and maneuvering through that time, took a very big toll on the Morgans. But it also increased the awareness that this is something that is not uncommon. And the best way that they could navigate through the grief was to find people who had gone through it as well. James, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

James Morgan: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on, Kelley.

KE: So, we’re going to get to what the result was, because there is a positive thing that has come out of this. But what I want to do first is to talk a little bit about James. James was your son.

JM: That’s right. Yes. He’s named after me.

KE: And he was a year old.

JM: He passed away on his first birthday. On the morning of.

KE: Wow. That’s, I can’t, I can’t even, there are no words. And I know that you’ve probably heard that a lot.

JM: Absolutely.

KE: And so, let’s talk a little bit about that grief. That absolutely unspeakable grief that you and Caitie experienced.

JM: Yeah. So, the day before, Caitie and I were going to get away for one night. We were going to a football game and then to spend the night with some friends. And my parents were going to watch our kids. We hadn’t been away too much over the course of that first year, just because of going through a new baby. We just hadn’t had a lot of date nights. So, my parents said, “Y’all go get away. We’ll watch them. We’ll watch the kids.” And we were very grateful that they were going to come just spend the night at our house and take care of them. I’ll never forget that next morning. We woke up at, I think it was 6:00 am, with my mother calling. She couldn’t even speak hardly. She was just screaming and crying, telling us that they went into James’s nursery, and he was unresponsive. He was in his crib. There was nothing in his crib at that age. We put him on his back, because he was one year old. And well, that day he was one year old. He had rolled over. And we still, to this day, do not know what caused the death. But they claimed it was SUDS, which is Sudden Unexplainable Death Syndrome, because he was one, and it’s occurrence is in infants. And we did a lot of tests on ourselves, just to see if there was some type of disease, and never found out the reason why he passed. We know that there was a reason. And we want to turn what we’ve gone through with our tragedy into something to help people. So, that’s how we’re taking his passing, to turn it into something positive, for our family and for others.

KE: And so, that thing that you’re talking about is an app that you’ve created, called…

JM: That’s right: Buddys. So, Buddys is a mobile app that connects individuals who are going through similar hardship and loss in life. I founded Buddys after my son passed away, very suddenly. My wife and I sought various forms of therapy to help cope with that grief. One of the ways that really gave us comfort and hope was connecting with another couple who had experienced the same tragic loss. And the ability to find that connection was what led us to create Buddys. We’ve wanted to help other people all across the country, and even the world, just to say, hey, if you’re going through something, and you’re not too sure what resources there are or how you’re feeling, like if that’s normal or not, then having a connection with somebody who’s walked through that same journey is so helpful. And it provides hope that if other people can get through it, maybe I can too.

That was just something that we said. Looking at our experiences, we know that this is what helped us, and we want to share that. We’re viewing it as a way to continue to move on, living with the death of our son on this life journey. We talked about Buddys with our kids. It’s a way for us to remember our son, because even though he’s not here on earth with us today, we know he’s still with us every day. And so, we talked about him every day. We have pictures of him all throughout our house. And when we send out Christmas cards, we still include his name and everything, because, again, he’s still a very big part of our family.

KE: I know that when we talk about those things what people so often say, they mean well, always, especially when you’re grieving. And we don’t know what to say. And when you hear those expressions, I can’t even imagine.

JM: It’s kind of what brought this app about because it is for people who need to talk to people who can imagine, who do know what it is.

KE: What was it that you found really resonated with you, when you finally got to speak to somebody who went through it.

JM: It made me feel like I was normal, in a way. Like I wasn’t the only one that had ever experienced this when it first happened. And I felt, gosh, I’ve never thought this tragedy would ever happen to us. And I would never hope that it ever happened to anybody, losing a child. So, having somebody I could actually open up to and talk with, someone who understood, it helped me express some feelings I had. And it made me feel, again. Comfort and hope and the thought that I think we can get through it. There had been years since their tragic accident had happened. And they were able to move forward with their lives and have other children. And I realized, okay, if they can do it, we can do it. Just having that accountability partner was so huge, and especially in that initial cycle of that grieving process that we were in.

KE: The name of the app is very lovely. Because not only was James your little buddy, but you also had another buddy.

JM: Yes, that’s my father-in-law. He went by the name, Buddy, and he passed away of colon cancer. He was a very special man, and I was very close to him. So, the name, Buddys, is a way to honor both him and my son. It’s something that my wife and I have always wanted to do, to help give back on what we’ve experienced, too, with his passing. So yes, Buddys is really named after both my son and my father-in-law.

KE: And it’s also to find buddies. It is to find people to connect with. Let’s talk about the app and how it works.

JM: Our slogan is, “Find One, Be One.” So, the idea is to go there [to the app] to find a buddy when you need one. But it’s also to be there, to be a buddy if someone else has been through a challenge or hardship in life, and you’re in a good place. But you want to turn that challenge into a purpose and really give back to your community. It’s a way to take what you’ve gone through and use it to help other people. In today’s times, it’s now needed, more than ever, to share. And the idea around creating the app was to connect people. It’s available 24/7. It’s a free app. And it’s all peer-to-peer support. It’s just a way to connect one-to-one and have a private chat. Inside the app it doesn’t take you to a text message, but it’s all text-like experiences. And you can also join communities that are private. You just join in based on the topic that you sign up for. And so, what really separates Buddys from other communities that are out there today, is the ability to build out your profile and quickly find people that you have other commonalities with, whether that’s your same state, or it can be a very specific disease that you may want to type into our search bar and go look for. It would quickly pull up everybody’s profile in there that has that disease. So, you don’t have to go through chats to read other people’s comments to know if you may or may not have something in common with them. It just expedites that process for you. And that’s what we wanted to do, was to help bring that connection to people as quickly as possible. Just because in our experiences, we found that it was harder to, again, find people that had gone through something like what we did. And so just trying to bring that connection to as many people as possible is what we want to do.

KE: And it’s not just for death. We talk a lot about grief as being when someone dies. But we have grief every day. There’s something every day. And so, on the Website page that talks about the app, there’s a little line at the bottom that says, “Resources.” And there are many kinds of resources. It could be depression, it could be illness, as you said. It’s just whatever you’re going through; it’s to be able to find that support.

JM: Absolutely, yeah. So, loss of a loved one. There’s also depression, anxiety, relationships. Maybe you’re going through some other things. I mean, there’s a community out there for you on Buddys. And we have other resources available to help you find whatever it is you may need. So, we want to create the ability for every one of our users to have their own personal experience with Buddys. It’s not just tailored for one group of individuals.

KE: And as you mentioned, at this time in the history of the world, and we’ve still got the pandemic, we’ve isolated ourselves. So, if you’re isolating already, because of the grief, it’s worldwide, you can talk to anybody.

JM: That’s right. Absolutely. It’s been harder for people to feel safe and go out to do community events. To give back within their community and find connection with other people. Having the ability to use your phone to make a connection with somebody is so important. And you never know when you may need it in the middle of the night, that maybe you’re up and thinking about things and just need somebody to talk to you. Again, that’s why we wanted to have the app, just because in different time zones, people may be available to chat, have a text chain back and forth with one another, or post questions in the community you have that common thread with. It’s a really good way just to ask questions, to know that you’re not alone out there on your journey, and really help one another. Because it’s important to do it together, as opposed to being by yourself and bottling up these thoughts and questions you may have about grieving. Because, unfortunately, that’s something we’re all going to experience in life, or we’re going to lose very close loved ones. It’s just one of the things that we experience. You just never know when that time is gonna be.

KE: We’re all grieving at this point in life. And maybe we can pinpoint that to a certain topic, but it’s there. And we all know we can’t deny that we all feel that dread. So, you’ve launched the app, and you have things that are also coming down the road.

JM: We are every day seeking feedback from our users in our community, just wanting to make sure that we’re continuing to add value for them. In the next few weeks, we’re about to launch a new daily check-in prompt feature to help quantify your mental health in a way that helps you watch your trends. If you’ve had a great day, good day, or not so good day. It’s like a journal where you can write directly in the app to keep up with what’s going on. And we’ll provide the analytics around that to let you know, hey, we’ve seen a trend of this. And you’re doing a great job. And continuing to encourage our users if they’ve had a good streak or if not. We’re letting them know that, hey, here are some resources. Here are some articles that we would recommend or some buddys that are like you that you could talk to. So, we’re providing that for them. And you can be anonymous when you sign up. So, if you’re not comfortable, just yet, to open up, you can go out there and look at communities and read what people are talking about, until you’re ready to put yourself out there. Because we do know that everybody grieves at different times, and everybody is experiencing different things. We don’t ever want to force anybody to put anything in the app that they’re not comfortable with. But there are tools in place within the app to help you report any problems that may pop up. If somebody were to ever make you feel uncomfortable, or you just wanted not to share any of your information, you can do that. Buddys is still a tool and a community that you can still join.

KE: One of the benefits that you’re seeing is that you’re getting feedback from people?

JM: Yes, absolutely. We love getting feedback. It’s so helpful for us just to understand what people need. It’s helpful for us knowing that we’ve created this community. What we’ve experienced is helping other people. And that’s our number one goal, is trying to give back and take again our experiences and turn our pain into purpose.

KE: I think that’s a beautiful thing. You have two options, I guess. One is a sense of isolation, right? It’s to shut down and isolate and keep it to yourself.

JM: Absolutely. Yeah.

KE: Or, as you say, turn it into purpose. And the fact is, that you don’t want anybody to go through that and feel lost and disconnected.

JM: Yeah, I don’t want anybody going out there and experiencing anything quite like what we did, and just feeling alone. Because there’re so many people out there that know what you’re going through. And this is a way to help bridge that and bring everybody together. It makes the world a better place, in my opinion.

KE: I think you’re right. So, are there other people on board, like professional people in terms of counseling and such?

JM: That’s who we’re reaching out to right now: licensed professionals, to help us with starting a blog, and we’re going to have a newsfeed that will have all those articles from licensed professionals that will live in the app itself. And so, people can log in and see the latest articles that are written for Buddys. Our blog, that’ll be in there. That’ll be phase two, what we’re bringing, probably, in the summer.

KE: Do you know now how many users you have?

JM: We have almost a thousand.

KE: So, it’s really growing?

JM: It is yeah. And we’re trying to continue to build it out. And looking to get more and more here in the coming months.

KE: When you were going through the grief, and before you’d gone to counseling, you said you were trying to get a handle on it. Can you pinpoint something that you may have had as the first glimpse of hope?

JM: Right after our son passed, we had a neighbor come over to our house and talk to us about her friend. That was the couple that we had met in a meeting. And they had invited us over to talk to us. I’ll never forget that. It was the night we came over there that they shared with us their story. And seeing that they had had additional kids. It was that moment that I was like, okay. I was scared that this would happen again, and we weren’t going to want to have any more children. And just seeing that they were able to still overcome that fear was very helpful. And it was probably, let’s say it was four weeks after our son passed, we found out that my wife was pregnant. And it wasn’t planned. We had always had challenges getting pregnant. It was a miracle. And it was part of that moment of, oh, my gosh, this is happening [laughs]. We were very grateful. And we’ve since gone on to have two children since our son passed, and everybody’s doing great. And we, again, love talking about it daily with all our children.

KE: How old are your kids?

JM: We have an eight, a three, and James would be five. And now a six-week-old.

KE: Holy…[laughter].

JM: So, it’s our two older girls and our six-week is a little boy.

KE: One of the things I’m also always interested in is people talking to their children about death, and its meaning. Because your oldest child would have been in the picture when James died.

JM: She was at the house when he passed. So, going back to that story: when my mom had called us, we were about forty-five minutes away. And so, we had the flashers on, driving probably a hundred miles an hour, rushing to get to the hospital. And he had already passed before we got there. He was just unresponsive. My daughter was at the house, and she was three. She remembers. That first year was very difficult for her. Because she saw him and saw his face, which was blue, because he had already passed and didn’t have oxygen. And so, that first year every time she colored, she would be coloring faces blue, because that’s what she remembered. But she did a little therapy and has been doing great and loves talking about him. And all we know to do is continue to talk rather than do and let her open up. And not try to not talk about death with her. Because it’s such… I mean it’s, it’s part of life. And we know that it can happen at any time. And we want our kids to understand that every day is a blessing. We try and live each day like it’s our last. So, that’s what we’re really trying to do with them, and teach them that same concept, and just be so thankful for everything that we have and the moments that we have together.

KE: Also, when they see you working on this project, they know what it is. There’s also that teaching of compassion and of caring. And that’s a lovely legacy, as well, to have in honor of James.

JM: You’re absolutely right. That is something that my oldest gets. My three-year-old’s kind of, she doesn’t really. But our eight-year-old, she knows what our logo stands for. She knows what we’re doing. And you’re so right. It’s a way to teach her to want to help other people. And to have passion to help others is something that we’re trying to instill in her. She loves hearing about it and loves hearing the latest things that we’re doing with Buddys. You’re right, to teach her that compassion.

KE: Can you talk about the logo?

JM: Our logo is in the shape of a butterfly. If you look on the left and right, it is two bees backwards. And that stands for Buddy, my father-in-law and our little son James. But it’s a butterfly because of the transformation a butterfly goes through. We think that we all go through hardships and loss, and everybody has a journey that they’re on. And I think that this journey that we all go through, it builds character, and it builds who we are as individuals and people. And at the end of our journey, and what we’re going through, we’re like a butterfly: it’s more beautiful on the end. If you take what you go through and turn it into good things, it’s like a butterfly.

KE: So, what do you hope for the app? What are the things that you really want to see happen?

JM: We enjoy hearing user testimonials from people. We continue to love to see the engagement in our communities. We try to help one person at a time, really, giving back to all the different communities, and we try to build it one day at a time. We’re not looking too far ahead, because we really are just enjoying the process and are excited to get it out and try to help people, as much as we can with it.

KE: The Buddys app is Buddys, no apostrophe, just Buddys, and is available where you would download apps, right?

JM: It’s on Google Play and the App Store. And we have a website. It’s buddyapp.com.

KE: Are you the only person that’s working on this? Is there a team in place?

JM: My wife helps me a fair amount with it, as well. And then we have a partner that we have been working with. It’s kind of like a startup organization that helps us market it and grow it and helps us with our development. I don’t know how to program and write all the code. So, they’ve been doing a lot of that work for us. They’ve been a great help.

KE: That’s great. You also have another job. So, this is taking up a lot of your time, as well.

JM: This is something my wife jumps into and helps out a good amount. And I do this a lot on nights and weekends. Because it is definitely a passion for me.

KE: James, I want to thank you so much. I really love this idea of connecting with people who have gone through what you’re going through. That’s a wonderful resource to be able to access. I hope that this is a wonderful success, because it’s going to bring a lot of help to people.

JM: I really appreciate that. Yeah, that was our goal, because it’s free. And we know that therapy can be very expensive. So, we wanted to just knock down that roadblock for everybody just to be able to reach out and find somebody to talk with. We’re out there.

KE: That’s so great, James. Thank you so much. Good luck to you.

JM: I appreciate it.

KE: I’m going to download that app.

JM: Thanks so much. Let me know your feedback.

KE: I will for sure. Thank you so much.


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