App helps the grieving with Seeing the Wonder again in life

Professor and spouse develop interactive complement to their recent book on the subject
UW-Stout Professor Robert Fraher and his spouse, Laurel, have created a new app entitled Seeing the Wonder based on the book “See Me in the Wonder” to help those experiencing grief.
Pam Powers | November 17, 2020

Losing a loved one hurts.

Robert Fraher, a University of Wisconsin-Stout professor of graphic design and interactive media, and his spouse, Laurel, created an app they hope will help those experiencing grief, and inspire them to embrace life again.

The app, named Seeing the Wonder, is based on the couple’s book, “See Me in the Wonder,” which they self-published through a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017.

“See Me in the Wonder” was written and illustrated by Laurel after the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Julia, passed away after a battle with cancer in 2006. The book’s text and illustrations focus on life’s continuing cycles of change and encourage readers to seek their loved ones in the beauty of nature. The book, which has been embraced by grief and bereavement programs across the nation, is included in the app as a rich media experience

Cover of book
Robert and Laurel Fraher created the app based on a book they published after their daughter died. / Contributed photo

In addition to an interactive format for the text and illustrations, the app allows people to experience the book’s content while listening to a variety of audio material, including Laurel reading the text, piano music and nature sounds.

The  app also contains a picture journal that lets people keep track of moments of wonder in their life, revisit them and share them with others. Journal entries can consist of text and/or images. Several background images – an array of soft watercolor washes painted by Laurel – are provided for people to get started. Photos can be taken with a device’s camera or uploaded to the app from a person’s photo library.

“Tragedy does not discriminate,” Robert said. “Everyone deals with loss at some point. We hope our app can provide people some comfort and, eventually, healing.”

Complementary integration

Words, art, photos, sound, interaction. If there’s a novel aspect to Seeing the Wonder, it may be the integration of the app’s functionality.

“From a research perspective, the app is designed to engage people through multiple sensory modalities,” said Robert. “The combination of reading, looking, listening, and interacting is intended to promote a greater sense of immersion for people and, hopefully, a more significant user experience.”

The Frahers’ intentions do not stop there. They also describe the picture journal portion of the app as a tool intended to promote reflection and understanding. To that end, they included a function that shows a random past entry for a moment of serendipity.

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The app contains a picture journal and an array of soft watercolor washes painted by Laurel. / Contributed photo

Likewise, each journal entry can be saved as an image for sharing with others. “A real sense of support can come from others who have suffered loss,” Laurel said. “In this age of social media, my hope is that our app is a way to encourage that support.”

“It’s an opportunity to engage in dialogue and really be there for each other,” Robert said. “Making an app has allowed us to bring the message of ‘See Me in the Wonder’ to more people and in more ways. This project has always been about helping those in pain discover understanding and, ultimately, peace.”

The result of the Frahers’ efforts to combine these features is a digital whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Academic impact

Robert developed the app with the Apache Cordova development framework, the same technology he uses to help students create apps in his Advanced Interactive Design course at UW-Stout. Creating Seeing the Wonder allowed him to see the full deployment processes of both the Apple and Android markets. He is eager to share that knowledge with students as they work on class projects.

Robert designed the app based on previous work in the fields of clinical psychology and human-computer interaction. The app borrows from models and case studies in the area of cognitive-behavioral therapy and creative art therapy, as well as inquiries into the nature of representation and user participation.

The theoretical underpinnings of the app have not gone unnoticed. Interactions, a bimonthly publication of the Association for Computing Machinery, featured the app in the September-October issue.

Grief and COVID-19

“With the U.S. death toll due to COVID-19 now over 225,000 people, the number of Americans grieving the loss of a loved one to the disease has created a tremendous amount of grief and loss,” Robert said.

“Grief is hard enough when you are physically surrounded by all the people you love,” Laurel said. “Now, for many people, that supportive environment is gone.”

 

Screenshot of app photo
The app is available on Google Play for Android and iOS. / Contributed photo

The Frahers hope their app opens more opportunities for people to help each other through their grief. So far, the feedback has been positive, Robert noted.

“‘See Me in the Wonder’ and Seeing the Wonder are for anyone missing someone they love, dealing with loss or looking for a deeper relationship to the wonder of life. We hope people will consider sharing Seeing the Wonder with children who have questions about death, using it in grief work with others, or experiencing their own quiet moments of remembrance,” Laurel said. “We learned firsthand in our process of grieving Julia how helpful it can be to seek out the beautiful ways in which life is always continuing.”

The $1.99 app is available on iOS at https://apps.apple.com/us/app/id1517653848 or on Google Play for Android at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.happylovestudios.stw. Learn more about the Frahers’ creative collaboration at happylovestudios.com. The book is available online at seemeinthewonder.com.  


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