If you’ve lost a loved one or know someone who has, you are likely familiar with the complexity and depth of the grieving process. Though we all experience grief at some point in our lives, it’s a topic that we could all stand to get a little more familiar with. Adelle Archer is on a mission to do just that through her work with Eterneva.
Eterneva is a company that helps people memorialize and honor people and pets in their lives who have passed away by turning their ashes into diamonds. This process takes time—11 months to be exact—and the thoughtful way in which they loop their customers into every step of the diamond’s creation has helped them to engage with their grieving process in a meaningful, and unique way.
As a mental health company, many of our clients start care with us after experiencing significant loss, in search of coping mechanisms and professional support through a difficult time in their lives. What we appreciate about Eterneva is the underlying messages to all of their efforts: “you don’t have to hide your grief, or manage it alone.” We were looking forward to hearing more from Adelle as someone navigating the intricacies of grief herself, and helping others do the same. Read more from our conversation below.
A Conversation with Adelle Archer, Co-Founder and CEO of Eterneva
Thanks for sitting down with us, and allowing us to tell part of your story. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
All the females in my family are enterprising, stereotype-busting ladies, so I like to think it is in my DNA to pave my path as an entrepreneur. I’m also a very impact-driven person, so there was no question I wanted to do something meaningful with my life and give something back with my work, and an important part of my life is giving back to other people and knowing that I'm doing something to make a difference.
It’s why I volunteered for so long at Safe Place, and why I studied political science at McGill. After graduation and living in DC for a bit, I soon learned that politics wasn’t for me –– but helping people was. That’s when I found a phenomenal MBA in Entrepreneurship program at the Acton School of Business and learned that I could do a ton of good through that route, too.
Walk us through your journey with Eterneva. What were your motivations for starting a company focused on honoring and celebrating life after death?
Well when we first started Eterneva, it was out of the loss of a very, very close friend of mine. We lost my business mentor, Tracey Kaufman, to pancreatic cancer too soon. She was just such an unbelievably special person, and I wanted to find a way to honor her and to do something really extraordinary for her.
After experiencing loss first-hand, I was blown away by how little innovation there’s been in the funeral industry. It’s a massive $20B industry with no soulful solutions, which is out of sync with modern culture that values personalization and meaning.
My experience at Safe Place also taught me that when somebody is going through a really hard time in their life, there's a certain mindset that you can adopt that can really help you through that time. But there was no one in the funeral space helping those who are grieving to find that mindset, to celebrate their loved ones, and to bring them with them into the next chapter of life.
Death and grief is something every single one of us will experience. It is relevant to all of us, and yet there aren’t a lot of options out there for grappling with this essential human emotion and experience.
What’s amazing about the memorial diamond is that it’s bright, personal, and forever. Looking at a diamond brings up different emotions than looking an urn, and it’s something you can wear every single day, so they’re with you through every life milestone. It’s also a legacy piece that will get passed down and keep their story alive, in a way that an urn won’t. Moreover, though, the memorial diamond is about the transformational journey over 7-10 months that it takes to grow the diamond. We film every single step and update customers 1-2 times per month. We’ve seen how incredibly healing this can be for people. It gives them something to look forward to. It gives friends and family a way to lean in and tell stories about the person who passed, rather than getting awkward or only sharing condolences. It reframes the experience for everyone, making it more about the incredibly life that was lived, and not the way it ended.
What do the terms mental health and mental wellness mean to you, and how has your experience with grief and loss shaped your personal definitions of these terms?
Mental health and mental wellness are two sides of the same coin—similar to how your physical health and wellness are. To me, mental health is your baseline and it is affected by age and experience and genetics. Mental wellness, though, is the steps you take on a daily basis to strengthen your mental health. The more mental wellness you practice, the better your mental health becomes, especially in times of stress and duress.
Think about it, you might be able to run 10Ks every single day, but if you get injured, it might take you longer to recover if you haven’t also been eating well, and moderating your alcohol intake, and stretching. Physical wellness is what gets you back to good physical health when times get tough. The same is true of mental wellness and mental health, I think.
There's a big difference between when you're in a normal state of mind and when you're in a grief stricken state of mind when you're acting more out of stress than when you are in a grounded mindset.
The ability and the capacity, even during a time that you're operating more from a place of stress, for you to have the resources to know how to manage that situation in a way that expands you instead of contracts you, it is just the most powerful thing that you could hope to have the ability to do when you need it. Because all of us are inevitably are going to need it at some point. Death and grief are the most common experiences in the world. They are the lines that tie every single one of us together. We can’t escape either, so might as well lean in and learn how to carry this emotion and experience.
Founding a company is inherently stressful. How has your mental health been affected by your role as an entrepreneur?
Yes, running a company is stressful and we've definitely had some very stressful situations. But once you've gotten beyond them, all of a sudden your capacity to handle stress has expanded. Your comfort zone has expanded. Something that used to stress you out doesn't stress you out anymore.
So it's really cool to take a minute and appreciate that. I feel grateful and proud about everything I’ve overcome. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger is a mantra for people for a reason. As long as you're practicing good principles to be able to help you through those hard times, I think there's really rewarding outcomes on the other side of anything challenging.
How has traditional talk therapy figured into your life? And what impact did it have on you?
I have only gone to therapy at one period of my life, and it was when I felt I couldn't do it on my own. It was a time where I was experiencing extreme anxiety and I needed help getting unstuck because it was debilitating anxiety where I would just be completely frozen at work and not be able to move forward. I needed help on figuring out how could I get through this and get beyond this.
I did find it really helpful. A lot of it came back to control, like thought control and what are you focused on and how do you not let something like an inner dialogue distract you where it splits your attention.
So by attention training with my therapist, I was able to get out of that phase of my life and it's never come back. It was incredibly helpful.
Today, I don't know if I so much reach for therapy. I reach for life coaches. I reach for folks that can help me, can challenge me to become a better version of myself because I'm not coming to them out of a place of distress. I'm not injured in some way right now. I'm looking to become the best version of myself and I want somebody that is the best to be pushing me and believing in me and challenging how I'm thinking about things. It's just a very different place that I’ve come to in reaching for help.
How do you think Eterneva’s product and overall experience affect customers’ mental health and wellbeing?
I've talked to our customers about this a lot. I'm on a customer feedback tour right now looking to even better understand and answer that question. The thing that I keep hearing from people is them choosing to commit to do this is them taking a very big action, putting a line in the sand to own their grief. I had a customer yesterday say, "It felt like I was taking control of my grief by doing this."
I think that they're taking action is a very, very big deal whether that's a diamond or something else. Then, within the journey, they find so much solace in terms of having something positive to look forward to.
Even that customer yesterday, she said she had quite a change in terms of when she began the process. She didn't choose to tell anybody about it. This was very much her deciding she wanted to do it for herself. But as she went on, she said, "Well, I want to help other people who are grieving and give them permission to grieve and it's okay to talk about this.” And said, "This helped me start owning my grief story and opening up about it. Why wouldn't I tell more people about this?"
It opened her up even more, and it was a hard situation for her. Before her dad passed, he said he didn't want people to fuss over him. He didn't want them to do anything for him. So, it actually was a little bit of a moral dilemma for her to do this knowing that this would be against what he said. But she realized she needed to take her mental health and her grief into her own hands and this is what she needed to serve herself. So she chose to do it.
I think that that was a really important realization for her. Memorialization is for the living, to honor those they love and to help those still here grieve in a healthy way. Realizing that has been very rewarding for a lot of our customers.
It's a very rewarding experience because they are making a decision to take their grief into their own hands. And on the other side of it, they're rewarded with something that gives them solace and connection and love every single time that they look at it.
What do you wish more people knew about mental health and the grieving process?
There's so much I wish people knew. I think what I see all too often are people trivializing death. When somebody that hasn't experienced a close loss before first encounters Eterneva, they might make a joke like, "Oh, it's like wearing dead grandma on your finger." That is just so off base from the depth of complex emotions that you feel when you lose somebody really important to you.
If you have a sudden loss, it tears you all the way down to your core and then you're building back up again. So I wish that more people would really come from a place of understanding when somebody went through something like that and realize that this is not something they're going to get over –– it stays with them forever. It shapes who they are now. This is just a new part of their identity.
Also, it's okay to talk about their loved one. It's actually extremely encouraged to talk about their loved one. It's something that they're inevitably going to feel and see as well. So why should we trivialize this or joke about it or say these things that really don't serve anybody?
The other thing I wish more people would realize is there is still a space for positivity and optimism and levity even around death. Don't focus on how someone died. Focus on who they are as a person. Give me the good stories that characterize who this awesome person is and let's laugh about it. Let's enjoy sharing their remarkable character with the world and not just focus on the depressive qualities of a hard grieving journey.
Let's find ways to get out of the house and go and see the world. What's unfinished business that our loved ones really would have loved to do? Let's go do it and let's go fulfill some of their wishes and feel the fulfillment of getting to see some of those things through. This is how we take this painful experience and channel it into something that turns out to be very meaningful to us. Whether that's a legacy project or a cause we choose to get involved in, let's architect our own story to be something that our loved one would be proud of.
Like mental health and therapy, death and grief face social stigma. How do you envision the conversation shifting in the near or distant future?
I am very optimistic with this younger generation. Every young person I talk to immediately understands our business. There's no joking about it. They say, "Wow, that's amazing. That's beautiful. I love what you guys are doing. I love how you're supporting people."
And they're totally fine with talking about it. They go on Instagram and they'll happily tell you about the good days and the bad days, and they're completely transparent about both and really honest.
I think that honesty is so precious. That is going to play a lot into people embracing death, acknowledging that this is a part of life, being willing to walk with each other and support each other. These are challenging junctures in our life, and we don’t have to be so awkward about the hard conversations.
I think people are going to be much more open to all the changes happening in the dying well and grief wellness space based on everything that I've seen and experienced in young people.
Tell me about your mental wellness regimen outside of therapy. What do you do for self-care?
I think a good morning routine is just paramount because you're setting your intention and state of mind for the day. Waking up and taking some time to journal and reflect and then meditate and then focus on what your goals are, focus on what are the beliefs that you're conditioning into yourself.
I think that that's not something that we pay a ton of attention to, but it's really powerful just walking around the block and reinforcing what you want to believe. "I'm a great leader.” “I am driving great change in the world."
What are those positive, reinforcing statements that go back to a personal mission statement for you? Say them out loud and say it with belief.
Then in a stressful situation, know that how you show up is everything. How you can control your showing up is what you're focused on. What your language around that event is, and what your physical state is.
For instance, we have a trampoline in the office and I'll go jump on that trampoline to put myself in a more energetic state so that I can handle a situation better than coming from a place of low energy. I pay a lot of attention to my energy levels knowing that translates into everything, too.
Why were you excited about connecting with us at Two Chairs?
Look, we want to change the cultural conversation around death, dying, and grief, but we can't do this alone. We want to partner with organizations like Two Chairs or any organization out there that has that same transparent mission, that has that same wanting to enact some healthy social change in the world that I think everyone knows and feels is necessary.
We are all fighting against entrenched cultural beliefs and long-standing industries. Our voices have to be loud. It’s time to reclaim our mental health and mental wellness, and pass that on to the next generation for all the challenges ahead.
Photos courtesy of Eterneva.
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