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Teens to Know

After Personal Tragedy, This Jewish Teen Channeled Her Grief to Help Others

Headshot – Genevieve Liu

As a young teen, Genevieve Liu lived on the south side of Chicago and treasured the sound of leaves crunching underfoot in the fall, the smell of fresh-made pizza, and singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with her dad, a celebrated pediatric surgeon.

But on August 5, 2012, everything that Genevieve knew and trusted was shattered as she witnessed her father drown in Lake Michigan. He was heroically attempting to save two boys who’d been pulled in by the undertow. Genevieve’s family and community were in shock. As they tried to put their lives back together, Genevieve realized that even though she was surrounded by love and support, the experience had changed her — she felt intrinsically different from all the other teenagers she knew.

So she created SLAP’D, which stands for Surviving Life After a Parent Dies. It is a social media platform where grieving teenagers can find each other, memorialize their parents, and share their experiences surrounding loss. SLAP’D also helps teens find professional bereavement support close to them.

Genevieve — a 2018 recipient of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards for her generous, innovative work — took her tragedy and made it her mission to help others enduring similar suffering. She has spoken all over the country about SLAP’D, and the website has earned Chicago Innovation’s Up and Comer Award, as well as lots of local and national media attention.

We had a great time chatting with her just before her second year at Yale University.

Who would you say has had the greatest positive influence on your life?

My mom is definitely my greatest influence. When my father died she became my everything. And she’s totally ambitious — she’s been a professional role model for me. She’s the person who takes my random calls at any time, day or night.

Can you tell me about some of the other people who helped you through the loss of your dad?

Being at the University of Chicago [where both of Genevieve’s parents worked] was amazing. And all of the people I went to school with were so generous — my entire eighth-grade ecosystem. I remember after the shiva there were people who signed up to bring us food. There were people there to do anything — so many people came out and supported us.

And you know, what really helped me were the adults who pulled me aside and said, This happened to me, too. It was so helpful to see, empirically, that these people went through this and they were still able to go on and become something. That was invaluable.

How did you decide you wanted to dive into bereavement support?

Well, despite this outpouring, I felt really alone. And I think that isolation came from this feeling that I was the only one — I was really conscious of my identity as the girl who lost her dad. It wasn’t until I found other people who had lost a parent; I met this one girl who had lost her mom to cancer a few years before. As soon as I met this girl, I felt like me again. I found this hope and also this sense of purpose.

And so how did this lead to SLAP’D?

Well, I had this idea for an online support community and I went online to see if it was already there. I found nothing. No anecdotes or connections for kids. It was really mostly medical research and parents talking about psychological challenges.

So, the first person I talked to about this idea was — of course — my mom. And she thought it was an amazing idea, but she was also very practical. I knew I wanted to build a website and she said, “Look, these types of websites cost a lot of money to make. Talk to the people in our community who know more about how that’s done.”

The second most important conversation I had was talking to this web development company Elite Research. They wound up building my website essentially free of cost. You know, it takes a village to make a website. And I was so grateful; I felt like these conversations took SLAP’D from this abstract idea to a real entity.

What were some of the initial reactions you got from SLAP’D?

A lot of good stuff! I saw Google analytics of all of these people all over the country lighting up the map. I’m just so happy that this exists now. We even had adults saying, I wish I had this when I was a kid. It really varies from situation to situation, of course. Each death is different; likewise, there are different ways of coping. So, it was cool to see people from different backgrounds and different situations finding each other.

What would you say is the hardest part about running SLAP’D?

The hardest part right now is trying to let SLAP’D have a life beyond me. What I mean by that is that I’m a rising sophomore at Yale University and I work. My little brother and sister will be taking over for me soon enough — there’s no coercion I swear! I want it to grow and evolve for years to come, especially as I move out of the age and demographic.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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