The Amy Awards: Felica Turner-Walton helps heal grief

Founder of Healing Our Hearts Foundation is recipient of a 2022 Amy Award
Photo by Chris Hynes
Felica Turner-Walton

Felica Turner-Walton’s life changed in 2016 when her son Zaire died at the age of 4 months from a heart attack. She went from being a new mother of her fifth child to a woman making funeral arrangements. During that incredibly difficult time, Turner-Walton quickly realized she couldn’t find a space where she felt safe and comfortable enough to grieve.

Support groups were filled with people who had lost older children, and there weren’t any other Black parents in those groups. The hospital provided programming, but she didn’t want to tarnish the memory of Zaire’s birthplace, which she recalls so fondly, with new memories of grief and despair. She went to church, but she didn’t find the comfort she so desperately desired. A psychiatrist couldn’t offer the right wisdom for her based on lived experiences.

“Then I was like, ‘OK, where’s the community support for people who look like me? For Black and brown folks?’ ” says Turner-Walton. “There was none.”

Two months after Zaire’s death, Turner-Walton received a phone call — it was a friend saying she knew someone who had also just lost a baby and wondered if it was worth connecting the two moms. Maybe Turner-Walton had some advice. “I called her and was like, ‘I don’t know why I’m calling you … I don’t know how I can support you, but I’m here,’ ” Turner-Walton recalls.

Six years later, those two women are still connected, and Turner-Walton has become the answer to her own call: She founded Healing Our Hearts Foundation, a community-based grief support organization that approaches grief in nontraditional ways. At the beginning, the nonprofit was focused on maternal and infant loss, but COVID-19 — which affects Black, Hispanic and other racial minority groups the most — changed that. Healing Our Hearts supports all kinds of loss, and six certified grief support specialists meet people where they’re at in their grief journey. It’s common for every grieving path to look a little different.

“Grief is such a personal topic and you’re really vulnerable in that moment,” Turner-Walton says. “A lot of people don’t like that, especially in Black and brown populations.” Healing Our Hearts group therapy focuses on activities that help reduce stress and anger, like an exercise outing or a trip to an axe-throwing place.

Turner-Walton also notes that grieving is a luxury. “It is tied to financial wealth and stability,” she says. In addition to providing emotional support, Healing Our Hearts helps connect people with resources and in some cases can assist with rent, utilities, food instability or funeral arrangements.

Through her work — which has supported more than 60 families — Turner-Walton has lifted up other women who have been helped by the program. Several have become grief specialists. Another woman ended up becoming a doula. Others have created their own foundations or started their own businesses.

Turner-Walton doesn’t believe her heart will ever heal from the loss of Zaire, who should have been in first grade this year. But she’ll keep the promise she made to him: to make him proud by helping other parents and families find a proper way to grieve and continue on her own healing journey. “Healing Our Hearts is not my organization. It’s not ‘Healing Felica’s Heart.’ It’s Healing Our Hearts,” she says.

Andrea Behling is editor at Madison Magazine.

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