Two years ago, I launched MomAlways.org, a website that has no business getting international traffic almost every day. But most mornings when I look at the website's analytics, I see a mix of visitors; sometimes it's been someone in Pennsylvania and another person in Australia and third or fourth in Atlanta or Brazil. Visitors usually hang out for more than a couple of minutes and sometimes for closer to an hour. I always feel kind of terrible about it, and then I feel a bond of friendship as invisible and ephemeral as the Internet itself.
Visitors to MomAlways.org don't come for any of the usual reasons people visit and revisit websites: There's nothing to buy. No video. No place to leave a comment.
The content is not clickable. There is nothing fun about it. It's not cute or a good way to take a break at work.
For a homemade website, MomAlways.org is pretty beautiful, because a very talented friend who has worked as an art director at The New York Times designed it.
But people don't visit MomAlways.org because it is aesthetically pleasing.
I'm fairly confident that website gurus would say MomAlways.org is basically all wrong. Yeah, it is all wrong. MomAlways.org is a website for moms who know they are going to die, leaving their children too soon. That's a fate that's pretty fundamentally wrong. But for people who need this website, like my friend Lisa did, before it existed, I hoped, and have accepted, that this website is serving a purpose, and constitutes a decent response to a situation where there is nothing good to do or say.
What's on MomAlways is very plain and simple. The website features a handful of child life experts with advice and insights on how moms who are dying can to talk to children -- as young as 2-years-old, and as savvy as teenagers -- about what's going on in their family. There's also a priest, a rabbi, a Zen hospice worker, a Christian counselor and a California mother who lost her own mother when she was a teenager. There's a recommended book and DVD list compiled by two very experienced social workers, and a few suggestions on how to find help in local communities. A few moms have requested creating a password protected community for them linked to the site; that may come next.
In creating the site, I imagined that any mom in the position my friend was in, knowing that a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer meant she had only a few months to live before leaving her 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, wouldn't need a lot of amazing "content" to capture her attention. Most immediately, she needed an uncluttered place with ideas about how to talk to her children, and then help them process their feelings, as much as she could, before she died.
Just before Mother's Day two years ago, The New York Times parenting blog, The Motherlode, published a story about my friend, our friendship, and why I made the website. The story was tweeted to The New York Times' 5 million+ followers, and that first weekend the MomAlways.org website almost crashed when 10,000+ people came to check out the content. The response was alarming. But it seemed clear that parents, counselors, clergy and medical professionals were looking for a 24/7 comprehensive resource like MomAlways.org.
Lisa started her journalism career in New York at women's "service" magazines, and moved on to write about women's issues for international aid organizations. So the website also seems to echo her life's work.
When I look at the traffic reports in the morning and imagine the moms or their loved ones or caretakers who visited over the past day and night, I think of my friend, her laugh, her dismay at being cast in real life as a tragic heroine. But it happened. It happens.
The MomAlways.org website is a gesture of friendship - the essence of our friendship, extended to anyone who comes looking for ideas, insights, comfort.
As websites go, it's pretty awful. With any luck at all, you'll never have any reason to visit it.