Alica Forneret is the Founder and Executive Director of PAUSE, a nonprofit focused on supporting Communities of Color through grief and end of life. Alica and PAUSE will be hosting a BIPOC meetup during lunchtime at End Well 2023 on November 16th in Los Angeles.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Alica Forneret (she/her), and I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit called PAUSE – an organization focused on enhancing the end-of-life experience for People of Color. I am also a new mother, a motherless daughter, a writer, and a queer Person of Color. I am born and raised in Southern California but spent about 15 years traveling the world doing creative projects, exploring the connection between food and culture, and growing a community that I hold very dearly. And in there… came death!
Was there a defining moment in your life that ignited your passion to address end-of-life experiences openly?
I got into the end-of-life space in 2015 through a creative print project that I conceptualized and brought to life with a colleague. When planning, we thought to ourselves, “Of all the topics we could choose, what would be the most fun, taboo, and catch folks off guard!?” – and we landed on death.
About a year into working on the project my mother, Deborah, went into the ICU and unexpectedly died. And little did I know that that arbitrarily-themed project and the death of my mom would land me where I am today.
I realized shortly after her death that although I’d been working on this creative death project in an abstract way I had a lot of work to do around how I processed personal losses and grief. But, as I started searching for resources to support me in my grief, I found that a lot of what was popping to the top of Google didn’t resonate with me. I wanted to be validated in a lot of the confusing feelings I had but couldn’t find anything with the tone or presence that I needed to be held with. So I decided to create my own resources – ones that seemed to reflect what other folks were missing and needed – and my work took off from there!
In your experience, what is the most significant societal norm or belief about death and dying that needs to be challenged or redefined?
I would love to shift the belief some folks hold that because we all die, we all experience death and grief the same. My organization PAUSE was born out of a lot of conversations I had around the time George Floyd was murdered – when folks in the industry were telling me that their resources were “universal” or “one-size-fits-all”. But I think the one thing we learned so clearly and deeply at that time was that the resources folks need in grief are not universally applicable or useful.
A core part of what we do at PAUSE is inspired by how impactful it can be to connect people with resources that are specific to their identities – particularly their race and culture. But what we talk a lot about is that being supported with a resource that is created by and for someone with your specific lived experience is impactful regardless of what that lived experience is.
When your mother dies and you meet someone who has lost their mom AND supports folks specifically through mother loss; when your child dies and you meet someone who has lost a child AND supports folks specifically through child loss; when a queer family member dies and you meet a queer person who supports folks specifically through the loss of a queer family member – it can feel like you’re being met ten steps ahead. It can feel like you’ve already started a conversation and got to skip explanations and the frustrations of clarifying why what you’re going through is particularly painful.
The same is true for resources provided for AND by People of Color. I believe that if we can accept and celebrate the fact that there are culturally-specific resources to support people based on who they are, then folks will be served better across the board.
How do you hope various professions and disciplines can come together to create a more human-centered approach to end-of-life care and experiences?
I am hoping that what End Well does is allow us to ask the hard questions – but in community with each other. And in a community of folks that we might never have met, prioritized meeting, or had access to meeting.
I’ve found that over the years this (very hard, very incredible) work is possible when we’re siloed, remote, and spread out. But what I’ve seen is that being a human sitting next to another human while having these conversations makes the work we can do together richer, deeper, and more meaningful. When we can sit in a room and feel the presence of another person and learn more about ALL of who they are (without the constraints of scheduled meetings or zooms), I’ve seen that it can generate much more impactful outcomes.
I hope, at the end of the day, we’ve met folks that renew our connections to our purpose in this work; that we’ve met folks that give us new inspiration for how to get the work done; and that we’ve met folks who are excited to continue to journey toward a better EOL experience for all – even if it just starts with a coffee during a break or turning to shake hands with someone we sit next to at random.
Is there a book, movie, piece of art, or another form of media that profoundly impacted your views on mortality?
I went through a spell of looking into what young adult fiction books have to teach us about grief – how we can better hold grief for and with young folks and how we as adults can reframe the ways we think about grief. These books particularly highlight stories that center queer and POC youth navigating loss, which make the stories richer, more layered, and I think they’re the most important ones to be told. So, rather than one book here’s a list 🙂 Highly recommend any of these regardless of your age – but particularly for folks who are navigating loss with a child, a family member who is supporting a child, or for those who are working with grieving young people.
Why are you attending End Well 2023?
First off – I am so excited to see it land in Los Angeles this year! I’m also attending because I’m curious about how this space will hold the innovative POC entrepreneurs and folks working in our industry. I am so grateful for the invitation End Well extended to the alumni of PAUSE’s business development residency – a program for EOL-focused entrepreneurs and business owners from Communities of Color. And that gratitude comes coupled with my excitement for seeing those innovative POC voices in the room.
Above all, I’m attending End Well because I believe that the only way we’ll make progress in this space – make further impact on how our work holds Communities of Color, the systems they interact with, and the care we can provide – is by gathering. Being together to do the work removes us from the silos of this often niche always hard work. So I just couldn’t pass up this lovely opportunity to be in community with our people.
Who do you hope to meet there?
Anyone and everyone interested in discussing how end-of-life experiences intersect with our identities. I love thinking about how the work that we all do is informed by who we are as humans outside of ‘professional’ spaces.
If folks want to continue a conversation with me, or want to attend some of what PAUSE will be hosting during or after the event please join us!
Alica Forneret (she/her) is an educator, speaker, and consultant dedicated to creating new spaces for people to explore grief and grieving. She is the Founder and Executive Director of PAUSE, a nonprofit focused on supporting Communities of Color through grief and end of life. Alica’s writing and work about grief, work, and race have been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, GQ, and more.