Turning grief into hope for others

exp IYW: Heidi Snow ACCESS_00003214
exp IYW: Heidi Snow ACCESS_00003214

    JUST WATCHED

    Woman creates support group for loss

MUST WATCH

Woman creates support group for loss 01:40

Story highlights

  • Heidi Snow lost her fiance in plane crash and found there was no grief support for what she was facing
  • Snow founded ACCESS -- AirCraft Casualty Emotional Support System
  • ACCESS pairs people based on a common loss -- mother to mother, sibling to sibling, spouse to spouse

Heidi Snow is the founder and executive director of ACCESS -- AirCraft Casualty Emotional Support System.

(CNN)I founded AirCraft Casualty Emotional Support Services after losing my fiance aboard TWA Flight 800 in 1996.

Michel and I met in 1994, and our life together was flowing along beautifully when we said our final "I love yous" before he left for Paris. After TWA Flight 800 crashed, everything stopped -- my life stood still. We had expected a separation of just days. Suddenly, it was forever.
Families gathered with counselors, clergy and the Red Cross. Michel's body was still not found when that site closed, so I returned home without answers or support. Michel was the person I would have turned to at a time like this, but he was not there. I felt totally alone.
    His body was recovered a month later, but the pain didn't go away after the funeral. As the initial shock subsided, the agony intensified. When my friends thought I should be "over it," I was not. I was left in unspeakable grief. My life was changed forever.
    Through New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, I attended a meeting of the families of Pan Am Flight 103, which had crashed eight years earlier. I met someone there who had lost a fiance on that flight, and that meeting helped me realize that I too could survive this loss.
    I immediately recognized the critical need for peer-to-peer emotional support from those who have been through a similar loss. From that moment, I vowed that no one else should have to experience the loneliness and isolation I had felt. Without a second thought, I left my career in finance and founded ACCESS.
    Since 1996, ACCESS has been providing emotional support to the grief-stricken from people who experienced similar losses years earlier. The distinctive feature of ACCESS is that we pair mothers to mothers, siblings to siblings, spouses to spouses and other relationships. We are the only organization dedicated to providing this type of emotional support so that no one has to go through their loss alone.
    All of our 250 trained volunteer grief mentors have the unenviable credentials of having lost precious loved ones in air disasters. Surviving their own pain and grief gives them unique insight to provide hope to others going through a similar tragic loss. ACCESS mentors use their hard-earned experiences and are living proof that the newly bereaved can survive their long and hard journeys through grief.
    We at ACCESS all remember navigating the difficult journey after our losses. Every time an air disaster occurs, we are taken back to Day One. Our hearts go out to those left grief-stricken as we relive our own losses right beside them and help guide them through the painful days, months and years ahead.
    ACCESS has helped thousands of people in the wake of hundreds of commercial, private and military air disasters, including 9/11.
    Having learned firsthand what helps in the journey through grief, ACCESS trains first responders and airlines to best meet the needs of those grieving after an air disaster. Our book, "Surviving Sudden Loss: Stories from those who have lived it," chronicles remarkable stories of survival, which provide comfort to the grieving and are invaluable tools for first responders and airlines.
    ACCESS is 100% dependent on charitable donations to provide our 24-hour hotline and website and to ensure that our grief mentors are trained and ready to respond at all times. We are so grateful to all of our generous donors who make ACCESS possible and we invite you to help support our mission so no one has to go through their unspeakable grief alone.