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Beyond Indigo | an interview with the brave, the bold Kelly Baltzell, President

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A few years ago, my plane was grounded by a snowstorm as I returned home from my grandfather’s funeral in February. Layovers like this are never welcome and with the tears and the grief and my grandfather’s rings in my hand, I was in no shape to be sitting still in an airport. By sheer chance, I was seated in the airport and I couldn’t have been in a better situation. Soon, I found myself sitting next to a stunning young woman named Kelly Baltzell – a young woman with an open and kind face, and of course, soon we got to talking (delays form fast friends). But Kelly knew right away all was not well with me and informed me of her work, which is to work with those who are going through grieving the loss of a loved one. Kelly, I found out, is also the President of a Web based site called Beyond Indigo that offers vast resources for those who are chronically ill or who are grieving, but more, she offers services that are just amazing – like virtual memorials and votives, grief journals and more. That she does all this and it is not maudlin is remarkable – she has successfully formed a real community, perhaps the only one of it’s kind, where people can gather or simple be alone and honor their loved ones, educate themselves, build memorial Web pages, and so very much more. The resourcefulness and energy of Kelly Baltzell are simply exceptional (she does all this with yet another job) and more, does it not so much for profit, but out of a need, or a gap that she saw in the community. Her works have been rewarded and she has won Best of Forbes for four years running. Read on, and I do hope that you will…

Friends, meet Kelly Baltzell and Beyond Indigo.

First, Kelly, I must ask, what does the name Beyond Indigo mean?

Originally, I started the site in 1997 as www.death-dying.com. During the next four years I spent time researching and developing the site, which included listening to our members. Over and over again we noticed how much fear was seeped into the whole concept of death. The website was not about fear but growth and healing. We realized we had two choices to either try to change the meaning of death, dying and grief in the English language or to create a name that would mean moving beyond a death in a positive fashion. Beyond Indigo was chosen as the name. Beyond meaning move beyond the crisis point and Indigo representing the color blue/purple for sadness. A year later after the creation of the name we discovered in the new age belief system it means the last charka before your soul leaves the body.

Beyond Indigo is such a unique site, and I’m not sure how many people here know what it is about and what you are offering. How would you explain what you and Beyond Indigo offer for people, and to whom your services are most directed?

Beyond Indigo is place to help people change the way they think about death, dying, grief and loss. We have created services to help people walk their grief journey. People do not need to be in fear of death and they need a place to learn that they are okay. Beyond Indigo provides this place. Through our research we discovered that many people were taking a long time to find Beyond Indigo. When they did they were so thankful they would write “I am sitting here crying because I am so thankful I found your website”. Clearly we needed to reach people quicker. Three years ago we started licensing our software to funeral homes as well as build websites for funeral homes. These websites help people right when they need it – at the time of death. We then started to license our Caregiving tools to hospices to reach people as they were coping with the upcoming loss of a loved one.

What was the seed that started Beyond Indigo – was it a personal loss, or a social observation that there was some hole in the market on the Internet that needed to be filled? Also, how did you go about starting this site – did you design it yourself etc. or did you work with a team?

Beyond Indigo was originally started when I was working on a website on AOL. I noticed many people were looking for help with grief and loss but hardly anyone on the message boards or community wanted to touch the issue. I started the site by buying a book on HTML coding. I propped it up next to the computer and started putting up web pages. Over the years I had wonderful people volunteer their time to get it started. Four years ago I was in the position to hire someone to launch death-dying.com into Beyond Indigo. She has been on my team every since.

Today, it seems, Beyond Indigo has really grown and word has spread – roughly how many members do you have at this point and more, how do these people find you (ie, do you do mailings or work with funeral homes etc. – any marketing that you do).

We have 10,000 members who are registered with Beyond Indigo from over 65 different countries. We average 65,000 visitor sessions a month. Our highest volume of traffic is over the holidays and winter months. People find us either through the search engines or by the 30,000 plus websites that link to Beyond Indigo. Some of these websites are funeral homes where we have built their website.

Death is such a tough thing to talk about for most people; it’s uncomfortable, and I would intuitively think that a site dedicated to mourning would not do so well, yet you have done incredibly well. How you describe your site – because I’m sure “mourning” is only part of the deal – who is your audience?

Beyond Indigo audience ranges all ages from teens to 90 years old. We have people who are grieving, people who are dating/married to people grieving, caregivers, dying people, and professionals. Beyond Indigo does well because it bridges the “gap” that has been created by our society over the concept of death.

We have on one side the group of people who are grieving. We have on the other side the people who are not grieving and/or have never suffered a loss. The grieving people want to talk about their loss, to be heard and to share for up to three to seven years. (Average amount of time people grieve.) The people who are not grieving want to show their support but really have no clue what to say due to our lack of socialization around this issue. What happens is the non-grievers say something and it is usually 95% of the time the wrong thing to say. The grieving people don’t feel like they are feeling heard. Grieving people want to talk about their loss three months, six months a year after the death. Non-grieving people wonder why are these people still grieving? A disconnect grows. Grieving people soon learn to answer “I’m Fine”. Non-grieving people stop asking because they have no idea what to say or do. A gap has now formed.

Beyond Indigo fills the gap. Grieving people can talk all they want about their loss and be heard. They can read material and realize they are normal and okay. We have different services available to them to help them grieve and that gives meaning to their grief process. They have a community of people who understand them.

Beyond Indigo has won some pretty big awards and accolades. Can you tell us about some of the awards that you’ve won and how that came about (year, name of award, or placement). In addition, did winning those accolades help boost your traffic or customer base?

Beyond Indigo has won Forbes Best of the Web the last four years running for Best Grief Support Message Board. Forbes picked us actually. I found out we had been chosen when my father called me and told me honey you are in Forbes! Winning the awards did boost traffic but not directly. It helped gain us a stronger position in the search engines where we had a higher visibility. Our Forbes award did help establish we are a creditable company to our funeral director customers.

Overall, I know Beyond Indigo has been praised, and yet it hasn’t received the media attention it deserves in my view. Why do you think that is – do you think that people are still so uncomfortable with death, and if so, what can you do to help them see that it’s okay to talk about this and write articles about a very helpful website such as yours?

People are strongly uncomfortable with the concept of death. I have written about why we shy away from this topic in my monthly column I write for the funeral industry. We are not socialized to think about death. We are socialized to think about life. From a female point of view we are taught young about our first kiss, date, prom, wedding and children. It is in stories we read, movies we watch, magazines and conversations with family and friends. Not once do we discuss the last stage in life or what we want for our final celebration. People even struggle with bringing children to a funeral and is it okay to do so? We have mostly cut ourselves off from that aspect of life.

The first step of writing articles and columns is for editors and the print media to come to terms with their own concept of death. The media has not found a value or does not perceive a value for articles helping people through grief when they haven’t suffered a loss themselves. It is just too uncomfortable for them so why would anyone else be interested?

People who have published my work in the past have generally suffered a loss of their own and know how much it means to them. People do want to read about what will help them during their time of loss. I know when people do finally find my articles or brochures they are extremely thankful.

Some of the features on your site are amazing, in particular, the resource you offer for people to start a memorial page, all hosted by you, and other things; what are some of the other things you offer on the site that help people through what I’ve heard you call a “grief journey” (is that right?)

Yes this is correct. We call the grief process a “grief journey”. Each person’s journey is his or her own unique process. There are some similarities between people but each journey is unique. Since each journey is an individual process we have created many services to help people. Some services may appeal to some people more than others. We developed most of these features by listening to our members about what they needed. Most of these tools have individual stories about why they were created.

Light a Candle: For centuries, in almost every religious and secular culture, lighting candles has been a symbol of hope and remembrance. Please light a virtual candle in memory of someone you lost, in hope for someone you know is hurting, or just to send a comforting message to someone special. To light your own candle for a loved one please visit http://www.beyondindigo.com/candles/.

Hearts Of Hope: When we are grieving we may feel overwhelmed with the loss of someone we love, or emotionally frozen, unable to respond at all. Messages of love and hope can help. Post a heart in honor of someone you have lost, someone you want to comfort, or just to say “I Love You” to someone special. It’s free and easy to do. Make your own heart by going to http://www.grieving.com/hearts/index.php.

Find A Buddy: Feeling all alone? Wish you could talk to a person who has suffered the same type of loss as you? Or maybe you are ready to move on with life and meet people who have similar interests? Find a Buddy through Beyond Indigo’s new Beyond Connections system. It is simple. You make a profile, which includes a place for photos of you or your loved ones, information about yourself and the type of buddy you are interested in connecting with over the Internet. Just go to http://www.beyondindigo.com/buddyfind/.

Get Connected: Talk to other people on the Beyond Indigo message boards. Topics range from individual type of losses such as parent, partner, or child to feelings of anger and discussions on God. All are welcome. To start chatting with others please visit us at beyond indigo/beyond talk

Tell Your Story: Your grief is your story. Talking and sharing your grief can be healing. Reading about other people’s journey through the grief process can help you realize you are not alone. People want to read other people’s stories. Do you want to share yours? Just go to http://www.beyondindigo.com/tools/beyondstory/index.php.
Online grief support for adults and teens: (licensed through funeral home) This tool provides a full year of grief support in the form of articles, daily affirmations, ideas to cope with grief and weekly inspirational thoughts. This is delivered directly to families right into their e-mail inbox (at their discretion).

Online Memorials: (licensed through funeral home) Our online memorials allow families to quickly and easily create a web page to honor their loved one. They can choose the template, fonts, colors pictures and add their own thoughts and remembrances.

Caregiving Tool: (licensed through funeral home & Hospice) Beyond Indigo designed the Caregiver Center to assist in balancing the many demands that the caregiving role requires. This tool allows the caregiver to make smart use of technology. The caregiver logs into their Caregiving Center, and creates a single status update in a matter of minutes by using a series of checkboxes for common elements and free-text areas for more descriptive updates.

Has the war in Iraq affected the number or tone of memorials at all? Do you get many memorial sites for lost soldiers?

People can only create a memorial through our funeral home websites. We have not heard of any losses through these funeral homes in terms of memorials. However, we do have people on come to the Beyond Indigo message boards who have loved ones over in Iraq or have lost to the war in Iraq.

There are different types of death, for lack of a better way of saying it: there is long protracted death, sudden death, etc,: what other kinds have you noticed and is the grieving process different?

It is common knowledge to people who are suffering a loss but it is a new discovery (last 10 –15 years) in the psychology field that people do grieve differently depending on their loss. More research has been done in the last 10 years about how people suffer (ie symptoms) depending on the type of death they have experienced. Researchers have found loss of a child, suicide and murder are deaths where people have different healing times and symptoms. We have noticed on Beyond Indigo that widow/widowers depending on their age struggle with different grief. The younger generation (60 and younger) are more apt to post on our message boards, find a buddy through buddy connection and to Light A Candle.

I noticed you have a buddy system – can you explain that for us a bit and how that helps anyone who may be grieving and feel very introverted and depressed – it’s hard to reach out in those times, so the idea of a buddy intrigues me. How does this work and are you having much success with this?

Buddy Connection started because of two reasons. One, people were writing me and asking if I knew of someone in their similar situation. Often I would hear about I am a mother of three in elementary school and I just lost my husband. Could you people connect me with a woman who is in my same situation? The second situation, which was totally unexpected, was people were meeting, dating and getting married off Beyond Indigo message boards. This is an example of our members telling us what they needed in their grief journey. Since this was already happening we made it easier for people to meet. Buddy Connection was created and launched. Now people can connected with others from around the world. We are having success with this service. We always would welcome more people to sign up and be apart of Buddy Connection.

Death is a hard business to be in, and you’re such a bright and beautiful person but you deal in what most people would consider a dark business. Somehow though, you maintain such a sunny disposition and positive outlook. How do you reconcile that you with the you that runs Beyond Indigo?

People ask me all the time how do you deal with the grief that you are surrounded with on a day-to-day basis? What people don’t see is the amazing relief people feel when they find Beyond Indigo. People are happy they find other people they can relate to and who understand their pain. The transformation that happens to people when they walk their grief journey is another wonderful experience to behold. Death gives people the opportunity to change. What people do with this opportunity is breath taking. I feel blessed to be apart of this process. It is a very gratifying to know because of this creation people are finding comfort. Finally my belief that people do not need to fear death regardless of their belief system is a great source of light for me. Helping educating people that there is hope, that they are okay and it isn’t as scary as you think is a good thing.

Roughly how many clients do you have at this time, and how many of them really use the services you offer. I know you offer memorials, candle lighting (virtual), the grief journal, and of course, many great articles about grieving – are these accessed much, and if so, who are the authors of these articles – do you use things like those written by Kubler Ross?

We have the people who visit Beyond Indigo and then we have the business that license Beyond Indigo services. Both use all the services we offer. If they weren’t used and weren’t helpful we wouldn’t keep them on the site. The author of the articles on the Beyond Indigo website are people who have either experienced grief first hand or are professionals in the field. Most of the articles come from excerpts from books that are about grief. We do have any material written by Kubler Ross because we do not have permission to use her material on our website. We are very conscious of copyright laws in the USA and do not want to infringe on them.

That last question leads me to this question: Kubler Ross said there were, I believe, nine stages of grief (is that right?) Would you agree with that , based on your personal experience and what you’ve seen with you many clients? If you do not agree, what do you say are the stages of grief ?

Kubler-Ross wrote her book based on five stages. More research has been done in the last ten years that expands on these stages. A summary of these stages is below.

1. Realization. We rarely realize how much our loved ones are intertwined into our lives. When we lose our loved ones we have a space in our lives that used to be filled by them. Part of the grief journey is restructuring our lives mentally, emotionally and physically. As we adapt on every level of our life and being to the absence of loved ones we come to realize more and more they are permanently gone.

2. Emotions. Learning to ride the emotional storms that ravage us is part of the grief journey. Grieving can bring many more emotions then sadness. Some of these emotions you may have not ever felt this intensely before. It can be startling, scary, nerve racking or an amazing release. Figuring out what you are feeling, learning how to express it, and realizing you are going to be fine takes time.

3. Changing. Your whole world is forever changed. Before you might
have called upon your loved one for advice on matters in your life. Now whom do you call? A loss is not just one change in your life but the start of many. On
your grief journey you are going to figure out how you now cope, function in
the world, interact, where you get your support and how you live without
your loved one.

4. Transformation. We do not like to change, so often we as human beings usually change only when something makes us change. A death gives us the opportunity to undergo a deep spiritual transformation touching every view we hold.

I remember that when I first met you, you were traveling to funeral homes across America and had even been to a few in my little town of Winthrop-by-the-Sea. Why do you go to funeral homes? How do you work with them, and do they “get it” and want to work with you? Explain this relationship for us and how it works for all parties involved?

We go to Funeral Homes to set up grief support for people right when they need it the most. When we discovered how long it was taking people to find Beyond Indigo we went out to funeral homes since this is the first place most people turn to after a loss. We build websites for funeral homes and pack them full of our services. The funeral home industry is an amazing service profession. They are one of the few professions that will still make house calls at 3am. The funeral homes who work with Beyond Indigo “get it” in the sense they know how important it is to help their families while they are grieving. These funeral homes have seen amazing results by using our services in terms of business, exposure (in terms of pageviews) and thank you’s by their families.

The process works by us building the websites, licensing the services and making sure everything runs the way it should. We understand grief and the Internet and the funeral home understands helping people with their loss. We make a great combination.

Clearly, there are so many benefits to joining Beyond Indigo as a support system if you have lost someone that you love. Have any members told you about one thing in particular that has really helped them the most – What is the most popular tool that you offer, or is it really a cohesive thing; a collection of what you offer that helps in various ways?

It is collective. Here are some thank you letters.

From a family to a funeral home client:(readers note: the names have obviously been changed here for privacy reasons; thank you. srp)

Hello, my name is John Doe.

I am one of Jane Doe’s many cousins. I just wanted to thank you and your wonderful staff for helping our family through this tragic time. I really appreciate everything that you all have done for the family and wanted to let you all know that the service on Saturday was amazing. I think that for the kids, that were and are so caring for Jane Doe and the family, to have a forum that was
different from the traditional funeral was important.

I also wanted to thank you for having the website with all of the wonderful emails from the friends (and other wonderful people) who have written. It has helped me know Jane Doe better, helped me to appreciate her more, helped me understand why god needed her. She was a wonderful force to be around, a wonderful person, and a beautiful human being. I appreciate you giving people the forum to express that. That means a lot to the family.

I just wanted to thank you and your wonderful staff who worked so hard to
help us to celebrate Jane Doe’s life. I think we all know her better now.
Thank you again.

Another one….

Dear Beyondindigo,

I have just now found your site and I cannot express to you how much comfort it is simply registering myself at your site. Thank you for making such a comprehensive and welcoming area available to those of us who are suffering loss. It is hard to type thru tears. Please, all of you associated with this area, know that you are appreciated and I thank you.

Another one…

Dear Kelly:

Just wanted to tell you how grateful I am to have found your Web Site! It has so much to offer to those who are grieving the lost of a loved one — and it is such a beautiful and inspiring work.

I know I will be checking it out almost daily — as it means so much to hear from others who are making this journey through grief, a journey none of us wants to make — but is made easier by the compassion and understanding of others who are further along the way than we are.

Thank you for putting together such a blessed and caring Site.

Another One…

About Share Your Story, a great feature I think, do you ever pick one story to feature it on the front page, or does everyone get a place on the front page?

We rotate the stories on the front page on the left hand side. Currently we have around 500 published stories.

Essentially, Kelly, what you have done is helped create an electronic and virtual way for people to process their grief. I know you were there for me when my father died — and this helped tremendously. Are you the first person to do this? If so, then you have helped shape the future of grief therapy in a very major way. Would you agree with that statement or is there some other company or person who came and did this much before you?

There are other organizations out there who are helping people with grief electronically. The generally focus on what type of loss such as loss of a child, loss of a pet, loss of a spouse etc. To my knowledge I am the only company out there that is so comprehensive with interactive online support tools.

Ultimately, what is it that you hope to achieve with Beyond Indigo – what drives you?

My drive is getting the word out to the world that you do not have to fear death. It is part of life and everyone is going to die. It is important for people to search their own belief system and to find their own thoughts about death. We need to stop pretending it isn’t going to happen.

Have you ever thought about putting together a book of some of the best grief stories and memorials? The way people grieve and process grief is so varied and interesting I should think there would be a great book in here – speak a little about this, whether or not there is a book, should there be one, would you like one, and what would that book be?

Yes, I would like to create a book. So many of our members have amazing stories to share. I would like to put their stories in a book for others to read.

How do people hear of your site now, and how can we help people who see this article get in touch with you so that they may benefit from the many services that you offer? Can you give me an email address or a URL with a contact link for this?

People here of Beyond Indigo through search engines, other websites, word of mouth and my brochures that I have written for funeral homes. People can come visit Beyond Indigo at anytime by going to www.beyondindigo.com. or click here. You can email Kelly directly from the site, or, contact Sadi personally and i will, with Kelly’s permission, pass on her email address to help get you started on your way.

I’d like to thank Kelly for such a great interview and for all the time and effort she took to help put together this piece. We had originally tried to sell this piece to a mainstream newspaper who informed us that “death” was not “news” and that there was “no readership for this market.” Yet thousands of people die every day and we are in a war, and though we need grief counseling at all times, perhaps these times more than ever, we need a soul as brave and as kind as Kelly Baltzell and her site Beyond Indigo. Thank all of you for reading, and please, feel free to link and syndicate this article from your own blog or any other journal or magazine with the proper attribution.

sadi ranson-polizzotti

and again, beyond indigo

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About Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti