Rebranding Grief and Cultivating a New, Refreshing Grief Culture

Rebranding Grief and Cultivating a New, Refreshing Grief Culture

by Bridget Bagely and Hogan Hilling

On August 28, 2023 Time Magazine published an article “America Has Reached Peak Therapy. Why Is Our Mental Health Getting Worse?” It stated “As more people flock to therapy, U.S. mental health is getting worse by multiple metrics. Suicide rates have risenby about 30% since 2000. Almost a third of U.S. adults now report symptoms of either depression or anxiety." This information reveals that traditional therapy isn’t working.

Are you tired of the way our culture expects people to manage grief in the same way they have for hundreds of years?

Are you tired of grieving the traditional way in which each day is filled with sadness, pain and despair 24/7?

Would you like to find a better, healthier and productive way to grieve?

If the answer to all these questions is “Yes,” Bridget Bagley invites you to join her in rebranding the image of grief. One that lovingly keeps a Loved One’s spirit and legacy alive, replaces some of the sadness, pain and despair with happiness, pleasure and hope. And one that has 4 years of proven results that has helped people who lost a Loved One move forward with their life in a healthier and productive way.

Bridget’s journey to rebranding grief began with her creation of a piece of jewelry to help her mourn the loss of her son, Staff Sergeant Preston Bailey Hancock.

Preston died after his truck was hit head-on by a driver in another car who crossed the median. One year after Preston passed away, Bridget made over 1,500 of Preston’s Charms and distributed them to relatives, friends, and strangers, who passed them on to other people. The people who found or received Preston’s Charms traveled with it to music and sporting events, hikes, vacations and took photos with it and emailed them to Bridget along with a message of condolence, gratitude, and inspiration.

Since Preston’s Charm debut in 2019, it has traveled and been found and passed from one person to another in the 50 United States, 15 different countries, and 4 islands.

The passing of Preston’s Charm helped Bridget view grief through a different lens. To illustrate how Bridget is cultivating a new refreshing grief culture, she and I would like to share a story about the birthday party she hosted for Preston at his grave site.

At a funeral, people feel obligated to be there because that is what you’re supposed to do. Pay your respect to the deceased and his or her loved ones. Some people only spend a short time there and then leave to go back to work or home. When the funeral is over, what happens next?

Sadly, we live in a “get over it” culture when it comes to the grief that follows the death of a loved one. Well, the grief doesn't go away. It stays with you for the rest of your life. And what people need is support and not criticism or comments like “get over it” and ‘move on.”

Say the word grief and most people only associate it with words like sadness, pain and despair. And they also feel that in order to grieve properly a person must be miserable 24/7. Say the word grave or cemetery and people immediately associate it with words and emotions like sadness, horror, darkness, and creepy. But in this story about Bridget’s decision to celebrate Preston’s birthday at his grave demonstrates that people can associate grief with happiness, tranquility, brightness, and pleasure.

Preston’s Birthday is one of the hardest days for Bridget. So instead of sitting at home in grief she decided to celebrate and host Preston’s birthday party at his grave. And sent out invitations to relatives and friend.Bridget can’t explain how or why her mindset was different this time. But she believed it had to do with her personal growth during the making of Preston's Charms and something Brandon, her oldest son, said to her a few days before Preston’s Birthday party.

“Mom, this is going to be bigger than you know.”’

“There probably is going to be less than 15 people there son.”

“I know but I’m just saying it’s going to be bigger than you know.”

Thanks to Brandon’s comments Bridget stopped worrying about how people would respond, how the day would go and to feel grateful for the people who show up and not worry about the people who don’t.

Ten people attended Preston’s birthday party. They spent 3 hours out of their day to be at Preston’s Birthday Party. And that meant a lot to Bridget.

Everyone was upbeat and happy to celebrate Preston’s birthday with her. She didn’t feel as if anyone questioned her intentions or reasons for celebrating a birthday party at a cemetery. All she felt was their loving support and empathy.

After Preston’s Birthday party, this is what her friend Raynae, who had been carrying and passing Preston’s Charm for 3 years, said to Bridget, “I got it but I never really got the whole concept of Preston’s Charm and the impact it has had. Now I get it!”

Later that day several other people shared the same sentiments with Bridget.

The day after Preston’s Birthday party I scheduled a time to meet with Bridget at her work. She works at a rental storage unit and is in the office by herself. As I entered the office, that sparkling glow I saw reflecting off her body was much brighter!

I was so happy for her!

For the next hour, we reminisced about the wonderful day we had at Preston’s Birthday party.

I truly believe the reason the day turned out so wonderful was because Bridget brought a different kind of energy with her to the cemetery.

When I saw Bridget at the cemetery, there was something different about her. She carried a “sparkling glow” I had never seen in her before. This illuminating light around her grew brighter and brighter with each passing hour we spent at Preston’s grave.

During Preston’s birthday party the people in attendance spent time catching up on each other’s lives, reminiscing about the good ole days, sharing funny and good stories about Preston and some of the relatives who were also buried and had bought plots near Preston’s grave.

No one shed a tear the whole day because Bridget’s cheerful, lighthearted attitude and aura resonated with the attendees and who embraced it with open arms.

What happened at the cemetery reminded me of a scene in the movie Star Wars. This scene is a metaphorical journey into the window of one’s inner self.Just as Luke explores the inner sanctum of the cave on Dagobah, he must also journey within himself to face his biggest fears.

Luke’s training with aged Jedi master Yoda to learn the ways of the Force signifies a major turning point for young Luke — as he is forced to confront his own dark shadow.

After Luke places Yoda down on the ground near the edge of a dark forest, he turns to see a huge, dead, black tree, its base surrounded by a few feet of water with twisted roots sprouting from a dark and sinister cave, known as the “Cave of Evil” on one side. Luke stares at the tree, trembling.

“There’s something not right here. I feel cold, death.” Luke said.

“That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.” Yoda exclaims with a tone of fear in his voice.

“What’s in there?” Luke asked.

"Only what you take with you.”

Luke looks warily between the tree and Yoda and then straps on his weapon belt.

“Your weapons… you will not need them.” Yoda said.Luke gives the tree a long look, then shakes his head and enters the “Cave of Evil” with his weapons.

While Luke is in the cave he sees what evil looks like and it is a reflection of himself.

Instead of anger, pain, sadness, anxiety, and resentment, Bridget brought a sense of peace, love, serenity, and joy. Her positive vibes resonated with the people in attendance and they fully embraced what she brought with her. As a bystander, it was amazing and awe-inspiring to witness it.

Bridget demonstrated that grief isn’t just about feeling sad, angry, numb, depressed, empty, or guilty, it can also include feelings of happiness, love, liveliness, joy, fulfillment, and peace. And when a person does, just like Bridget did, it plays a huge part in helping people who lost a loved one to move forward with their lives healthily and productively.

Preston’s Birthday party wasn’t just a celebration of his birthday. It also turned out to be an amazing Empathy Party!  Together let’s rebrand the image of grief and cultivate a new refreshing grief culture for ourselves and future generations.

* Simon and Schuster will debut Bridget’s book “Preston’s Charm: A Charm-ing, Healthier and Empathetic Approach to Grief” in March or April of this year. To learn more about the book and Preston’s Charm Empathy Kit visit

About the Authors

Bridget Jill White Bagley is also the co-owner ofPreston's Charm Empathy Kit. She was born in Brawley California. Her family moved to Arizona when she was in kindergarten. She works at a mini storage business and is a member of the Winslow Elks Lodge #536 in Winslow, Arizona. Bridget lives with her husband Bill Bagley, whom she married in 2012. Bridget and Bill have a blended family that includes 9 children and 9 grandkids.

Hogan Hilling is also the author of 13 published books and the co-owner of Preston's Charm Empathy Kit. Hilling was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2001 and appeared in ABC’s The Story of Fathers and Sons Documentary in 1999. His story as a fatherhood advocate has been published in major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Christian Science Monitor.

Feb 22nd 2024 by Bridget Bagely and Hogan Hilling

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