When Rebecca Soffer lost her parents close together in her early 30s, she felt adrift. She was looking for contemporary resources on grief and loss that didn’t exist until she and her friend and partner, Gabrielle Birkner, founded the website Modern Loss. In five short years, Modern Loss has built a community around sharing stories of grief and loss. It has come to feature practical resources to help cope with the death of a loved one. Four years later, the women co-authored a greatest hits anthology of Modern Loss essays entitled “Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome.” Soffer recently spoke to JewishBoston about the iconic website and the accompanying book. 

When was Modern Loss founded?

We launched Modern Loss in November of 2013 as a storytelling platform. As a writer, producer and editor, I was looking for outlets that dealt with loss. There were many of them, but not a lot of them spoke to me. Some of them were overly clinical, overly patronizing or very religious. Some of them were well done but they did not resonate with me. As a storyteller, I wanted stories, and I wanted to read stories from people showing me their grief and resilience. That was more engaging than someone assuring me I would be OK. I also saw people going through various iterations of grief five or 10 years after their loss. The stories I heard showed how loss stays with you for the rest of your life.

For the site itself, we chose essays around the long arc of loss and also featured resources beyond the personal essay. We have clinical resources, as well as financial experts and lawyers who know about the estate process. We even have advice on writing a thank you note for a condolence card.

Loss touches every single aspect of your life. Five years later we’re nowhere near out of stories or angles. It’s amazing to see the community has grown over the years. We have a thriving private Facebook group. I’ve met people on the book tour from all over the country that were part of the community.

(Courtesy photo)

Why did you name the site “Modern Loss”?


We were two young single women who had lost profound relationships to death a lot earlier than most people around us did. We wanted to grow community around that experience. Modern Loss is not about the age, but how you want to explore grief. How does one approach this conversation? Will it be closed off by sanctimonious language? Does one have to adhere to a certain timeline in the grieving process? Or should the approach be in a communal, open, conversationally messy, even funny way? After all these years of thinking about loss, it can be funny. We need to be open about death and not treat it like a taboo.

When did you and Gabi decide to write a book?

A literary agent approached us about writing a book soon after the site launched. The book came out four years later, and there was a specific reason for that timing. Between the two of us, we had three babies in two years and wanted to give ourselves the time to see what Modern Loss was and what it might become. We also wanted Modern Loss to be a community, and to do that we had to understand our community. What were the stories we would be sharing? What themes would pop up across the arc of grief and loss? We saw what resonated for our writers and readers and wanted to expand on those threads. We didn’t want the book to feel like death. We envisioned it as living out loud on a coffee table. We didn’t want people to be embarrassed about reading it in public.

How has your Judaism informed the Modern Loss site?

There is a Jewish sensibility in everything I do. I’m culturally Jewish. While Modern Loss is not a religious site—there are religious ventures that are well done—we wanted to be something that complemented religious grief sites. I pull and take from where things make sense. There are Jewish themes throughout the book, but I also take from different worlds. Ultimately, our identity shines through in a lot of what we do in Modern Loss and in the book.

Although everyone copes with grief in their own way, do you have advice for someone who is actively grieving?

Every loss and every grief is different. Be kind to yourself. There is no right way to grieve, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anybody taking care of you. Professional help is a good complement to whatever support you’re getting. I’m also a big proponent of finding your tribe—finding people willing to sit with you in your pain. In the early days of grief, I advise “going micro.” The days can often feel like a yawning, cavernous void. I didn’t know how I’d get through a day, so I went micro. I would get through a day 10 minutes at a time. I’d then set a goal of getting through the next hour. It was a powerful coping mechanism.

What has this past year been like on your book tour?

We’ve spoken all over the country and done a lot of live storytelling events. I’ve met so many people who have benefitted from what Modern Loss does. We have unapologetically taken on the topic of death and opened up this subject without platitudes and apologies. Our greatest goal is doing empathic work that builds meaningful community.

Rebecca Soffer will be speaking at Temple Israel of Boston on Wednesday, Nov. 7. Find more info here.