Rusty Rosman is ‘keeping chaos from overlaying grief’ in ‘Two Envelopes’

Photo by Rodney Curtis

Readers are telling Rusty about challenges they have faced—and the value of her ‘Two Envelopes’

Have you discussed with your family: What will you wear?


“The stories I’ve heard!” Rusty Rosman told our publishing-house team this week as we discussed the enthusiastic interest in her new book, Two Envelopes: What You Want Your Loved Ones to Know When You Die. The book’s national launch date is this week: Tuesday, February 20, 2024.

As is the case with most book releases, Rusty already has been meeting with groups of pre-release readers who want to discuss her book. She has been learning a lot from families about what makes this book especially valuable.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

“I was surprised by some of the things that can cause big problems in families when a loved one dies,” Rusty said.

Of course, Rusty was not surprised at the deep emotion surrounding the end of life. That’s why she wrote this book—and early reviewers confirm that.

“I truly believe that everyone could benefit from following this guide,” wrote one professional who works with families after a death.

“This book is an incredible gift to/for your family,” wrote another reviewer.

Rusty puts it this way: “We know that three of the most emotional times in our lives are our marriage, birth of our children and the death of a loved one. We cannot predict how we will react at these times but our emotions come out whether we’re expecting them or not. Two Envelopes helps keep chaos at bay when dealing with the emotions of the death of your loved one.”

But what about the question: What will you wear?

“I will admit that I was surprised by the number of people who want to talk about clothing,” Rusty told us this week. “I mean, I knew that was an issue, so I included it in the book—but the stories! I heard more stories about clothing than I expected.”

As you read this column, are you wondering about that question yourself?

Eventually, families confront this question. So, Rusty wrote the following to explain more about this often very challenging question:

One of the most emotional topics of family discussion when a loved one dies—and it can even become an argument—is what their loved one will wear for viewing and burial. Even if cremation is chosen, there often is a viewing before the final service.

I am amazed at how emotional this topic is. So many people have shared heartbreaking stories with me, which brings me to write about this—so your family can avoid this troubling conversation.

My recommendation in Two Envelopes is clear: Don’t leave this question for someone else to answer. You need to think about your life and how you want your clothing to reflect your life choices. Do you prefer a more formal approach such as a suit—or is the joy you had, for example, as a farmer better reflected in your coveralls? Is a dress from a special occasion what you want to wear when your loved ones and friends come to your viewing or does more casual clothing reflect who you are?

It’s amazing how controversial clothing is when your loved ones are left to answer this question. A member of one family told me that they almost came to blows over this issue—and, once a decision was made, some siblings are still angry and not speaking to one another.

Let me be clear about this: Clothing choice should not be the end of the road for family relationships!

So, I advise readers of Two Envelopes to write down what you want. That’s one of many, many details I advise readers to write down and place in the two envelopes mentioned in the book’s title.

Do you have a beloved baseball cap you always wore? A favorite outfit or scarf? What
clothing reflects who you are? Choose how you want to be dressed. No one really knows what
you want but you.

And here’s another tip about clothing: Sometimes many years and pounds have passed since you made your clothing choice. You might want to revisit your choice and change your preference—which is easy when your wishes are available in your handy envelopes. You can simply change the information in the envelopes.

One woman told me about a friend who made it known that her preferred outfit could be found on a pink satin hanger in her closet. Except, when she died, friends discovered the hanger was empty! So many years had passed, and her size had changed, so she had given that outfit away—but had forgotten to replaced it on the special hanger.

What to do!?! Well, those friends were at a loss, but I explain in my book the importance of quickly making such changes by revising the notes in your envelopes. I also advise people to describe the general type of clothing they prefer, which is helpful if you don’t have a specific outfit set aside. Guide your loved ones so they won’t start arguing about it.

Now, be honest: As you read this column, are you shaking your head? Does this sound ridiculous?

Well, it most definitely is not.

Recently, a man told me how upset he still is years after his father died, because his father was buried in a suit. Siblings fought about what their father should wear and the suit won out. “But Dad never wore a suit to work in his life! I’m still upset about that,” this man told me. Had his father been given the opportunity to make his choice clear to his family, this son is convinced that the suit would have been avoided. Years have passed and he’s still upset about that.

Although the choice of clothing is so important—it should not be fuel for a family fight.

That’s the reason I wrote Two Envelopes.

Yes, this book is a guide to end-of-life decisions, but really—it’s a step-by-step process you can follow at your own pace, now, to keep the chaos of family arguments from overlaying your loved ones’ grief someday.



Get the book and connect with Rusty now

You can pre-order your copy right now in hardcover, paperback or Kindle from Amazon.

Or, if you prefer, you can order hardcover, paperback or eBook from Barnes & Noble.

Even the giant retailer Walmart has decided to carry this book among its online offerings.

In fact, you can buy this book from bookstores nationwide. If you have a favorite neighborhood bookstore, stop in now and ask at the counter to pre-order a copy of Two Envelopes. Rusty’s book is distributed worldwide by the wholesale giant Ingram, which serves nearly every bookstore in North America.


In 2024, Rusty Rosman will be crisscrossing the U.S. both in person and virtually. She’s a delightful speaker and workshop leader who you can invite to appear easily via Zoom if you would like her to talk with your small group or class.

How do you reach Rusty? Simply visit this Front Edge Publishing author page, scroll down a bit and you will find all of Rusty’s contact information.

Launching this week—’Telling Stories in the Dark’ invites readers to discover the healing power of community

And readers already are sending enthusiastic thanks for author Jeffrey Munroe’s inspiring new book

COVER STORY: Our entire team of writers and editors is thankful this week for the shower of encouraging notes from early readers of author Jeffrey Munroe’s new Telling Stories in the Dark: Finding healing and hope in sharing our sadness, grief, trauma, and pain

His book is officially launching this week via Amazon in hardcover and paperback, as well as via Barnes & Noble, Walmart and other booksellers.

One of the warmest emails was from a therapist who had received a pre-publication copy and loves the book so much that she has decided to place a copy on the table in her waiting room. She emailed Jeff to tell him she’s now ordering more copies, because that book is so attractive that she knows some of her clients will want to take it home! She needs more copies to keep the book available on her table.

And, please, don’t simply take our word for it about the value of this book: We also are pleased to share a link with our ReadTheSpirit readers this week to veteran journalist Bill Tammeus’s review of Jeff’s book in which Bill calls this “an enormously helpful book.” Bill headlined his review: Confronting trauma not with explanations but with love

Want to read a sample? This is the first book in our new Reformed Journal Books imprint and that online magazine—The Reformed Journal—has published their own column heralding the book’s official publication-date this week. The Journal editors chose to provide a brief excerpt from Jeff’s book, headlined: The Thing with Feathers, which was Emily Dickinson’s famous description of “hope.”

Got more questions? Perhaps we’ve already asked Jeff a question that might be in your mind. Last week, we published this Q&A with Jeff, based on the kinds of questions folks have been raising as they have learned about the launch of this new book.


Hersch Wilson’s ‘Dog Lessons’ is a warm-hearted human biography measured in 18 dogs

From left: Hersch, Toby and Maisie. (Photo provided by Hersch Wilson for this article.)

Love dogs? You’ll love this book!

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

I read this entire book aloud to my wife, cover to cover, during a road trip in which she drove, I read—and together we smiled, sometimes laughed and even cried a few times. Why the tears? Because dogs’ lives are so short in comparison with ours, most dog books involve the passing of a beloved companion—and this one does, as well.

Reading an entire book aloud is exceedingly rare for us.

And, that’s why I’m certain that—if you’re a dog lover like we are—you will want to get a copy of this book. You’ll fall in love so quickly that, like us, you’ll feel compelled to share passages with a friend or loved one. Here’s a quick test: If you’ve ever enjoyed James Herriot’s autobiographical books or either of the two TV series made from his writings—you’ll definitely enjoy Hersch Wilson’s new Dog Lessons: Learning the Important Stuff from Our Best Friends.

In an interview with Hersch about this new memoir, I told him about another writer I worked with a decade ago. John Gillis was a larger-than-life Midwest radio personality whose home base was Indianapolis, Indiana. John wanted to write a memoir and, as we talked about how to structure such a book, I was struck by how deeply he and his dogs had shaped each other’s lives. Like Hersch, John discovered the wonders of dogs while growing up in the rural Midwest, which meant that John always was accompanied by fairly large dogs, also like Hersch. And, like Hersch’s four-pawed friends, John’s dogs were far more than “pets”—they defined each season of John’s colorful life.

Finally, as we talked about his dogs, I told John: “How about writing a five-part memoir called My Life in 5 Dogs?”

He loved the idea! Unfortunately, 11 years ago, before he had written much, John died.

One reason my wife and I responded so whole-heartedly to Hersch’s memoir is that Hersch essentially has written what I would call My Life in 18 Dogs.

When I told John’s story to Hersch, he nodded across the Zoom screen.

He said, “I like that. But for me, it’s My Life in 18 Dogs. That really is the idea of this book: I tell how each one of those 18 relationships has taught me something important about love and loyalty—and so many other things.”

I told Hersch that I read his entire book aloud, because we fell in love with the first section of the book about his childhood. “After the first 20 pages, we were hooked on reading the whole thing like this—me reading and both of us enjoying the stories,” I told him. “I think you organized this book perfectly by starting with those childhood experiences.”

“I think you’re right about the book’s structure,” he said. “It’s because those early stories in the book are filled with an almost miraculous relationship between a boy and a dog. That’s how I learned to trust a dog and let a dog take me into the wilderness and really see and experience the wilderness. From that start, I wanted to have a dog with me for the rest of my life.”

My wife and I feel the same way.

If you do, then this book could be the next big smile (with a few tears here and there) that you’ll want to enjoy this autumn.

Who Is Hersch Wilson?

(Photo provided by Hersch Wilson for this article.)

When New World Library mailed me a review copy of Hersch’s book, the other thing that intrigued me—beyond the subject of dogs—was the quirky “bio” of the author: “Hersch Wilson is an organizational consultant, pilot, former professional dancer, newspaper columnist, and volunteer firefighter. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife, Laurie; two daughters; and two dogs, a Great Pyrenees and a Chihuahua-terrier mix.”

When I Googled Hersch to learn more about him, one of the first photos that popped up showed him standing proudly next to the instrument panel of a fire truck. That’s an image he used to promote his 2020 memoir, Firefighter Zen: A Field Guide to Living in Tough Times.

For all of the surprising professional twists and turns Hersch has followed over the years, his instinct as a master storyteller is to compartmentalize and focus each of his book-length narratives. For example, I own a copy of Firefighter Zen and can recommend that book as well—but there’s very little about Hersch’s life with dogs in that book. There’s one exception in Firefighter Zen, a horrifying true story mid-way through that memoir about a house fire to which Hersch’s volunteer firefighter crew responded in which dogs perished. As you can imagine, that’s one of the most haunting memories from Hersch’s career in firefighting.

And, then, this new book is laser focused as well. It includes almost nothing about firefighting.

In weighing which stories to include, this time, he chose only those involving dogs. Another example of this focus: Readers of this new book learn almost nothing about Hersch’s main “family business.” As he was growing up, Hersch’s father was a salesman and became a nationally known pioneer in corporate training programs. Following his father’s example, Hersch has “paid the bills” for years through his own work in developing training programs and other forms of corporate consulting.

“For years, we had a company that developed courses, training and leadership consulting,” Hersch said in our interview. “We were pioneers in building ropes courses back in the ’80s, when that became very popular in corporate training. And, then, I worked in consulting all over the world until the big crash in 2008, when everything seemed to slow down. Fortunately, my wife Laurie started a retail store in Santa Fe that’s done great business in recent years. So, we’ve paid the bills over the years in a variety of ways.”

If you’re passing through Santa Fe, you may want to check out Laurie’s award-winning Teca Tu Pawsworthy Pet Emporium. (Visit the shop’s website and you’ll find a few more photos of the Wilsons’ dogs as well.)

Oh—and are you still wondering about the “professional dancer” part of Hersch’s life? Well, first of all, that’s not a fanciful exaggeration. Hersch was a professional dancer in the U.S. and Europe during his 20s. It’s barely mentioned in this new book—but, someday, I’ll certainly be among the first to buy a copy of Hersch’s memoir about a dancer’s life.

If you’re wanting to read some of Hersch’s writing immediately, you also can check out The Santa Fe New Mexican website, where he occasionally appears as a columnist.

The Tricky Business of Describing Dogs

As I mentioned in the opening of this column, my wife and I are fascinated by animals, especially dogs, and we read a lot about animal-human relationships. If you have read this far in this column, you probably are aware that, today, there is a debate among humans about what words best describe our relationships with the animals we welcome into our homes.

“I like the phrase ‘dog guardian.’ I don’t mind the word ‘pet;’ that doesn’t bother me. But I like to use the word guardian because it explains clearly that we are the guardians of our dogs,” Hersch told me.  “I don’t use the phrase ‘dog owner,’ because the word ‘owner’ implies that you can do anything you want with what you own. If I own a car, but don’t like it anymore, I can get rid of it. No problem. I own the car. But dogs aren’t cars. They feel pain and joy and think. They’re sentient beings and it becomes our responsibility to protect them and give them as happy a life as we can possibly give them. Their lives are short. We have a big responsibility to them. That’s wholly different than owning something.”

I told Hersch that I would include a link to his Santa Fe newspaper columns.

“Well, if people do read those columns, you’ll see that I talk a lot about what it means to be a guardian. It means two important things: You’ve stopped taking dogs for granted and you’re trying to understand and communicate with your dog. Dogs can use language in ways that we’ve never imagined before. I’m not a scientist, but it’s clear that we are in a renaissance of studies about dog cognition and ways that we can understand dogs. My job as a columnist is to simplify and explain that research so others can understand what we can learn.”

“And that’s really the central theme of this book as well: Appreciating what we can learn from our dogs,” I said.

“Yes, that’s right,” he said. “Even though we are seeing a lot of new research today, the power of the dog-human relationship goes back thousands of years. I’m in a part of the country where we are reminded of the indigenous wisdom from which we also can learn. I talk in the book about how I live just five miles from Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, a historical site where skeletons of humans have been found with their dogs. These relationships were part of indigenous life and I find that indigenous culture can teach us a lot about the larger relationship we have with our natural world—whether we appreciate it or not.”

“You’re also emphasizing that building a relationship with a dog takes a lot of care and time and energy and patience, right?” I asked.

“That’s right,” he said. “And I hope people will consider thinking about whether they can adopt a dog—and, if they feel they can—then start by considering shelter or rescue dogs. These dogs, depending on what their experiences have been, may take even more time and patience and commitment—but I can tell you: Building a lifetime relationship with a dog can be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have in your life.”





Remembering that holiday spirits range from fluffy, happy clouds to dark nights

“Happy” artist Bob Ross is more popular than ever as we cross into 2023! Amazon is selling Bob Ross calendars; is streaming 31 seasons of Bob Ross’s TV shows via its FreeVee service; and is selling Happy Clouds socks like the ones Ben Pratt enjoys.

For millions, the simple joys of the season are muted by somber memories.

Acknowledging those Dark Nights Helps with Healing

Author of A Guide for Caregivers

The setting—a restored 11th Century San Fedele Monastery, Chianti Region, Italy. We were gathered on a terrace with new acquaintances, wine, awaiting dinner before an evening of live jazz under the stars.

The socks—pale blue with puffy clouds, the words Happy Clouds, and the face of a smiling man with curly black beard and hair. I wore the socks because of their funky nature that contrasted with this unique setting and sterling location—suspecting they might break the ice and lead to an interesting conversation among strangers.

The results—far beyond my expectation.

Megan, a young woman, probably in her thirties, moved close and said, “You’re wearing Bob Ross socks.”

“I think you are correct,” I responded.

Her next words jolted me: “After my twin brother suicided, I tuned in to Bob Ross reruns every day because it was the only thing I could watch without crying.”

My immediate response, non-verbal, conveyed a look of compassion and concern. Then I said, “I would be very willing to hear more if you wish to tell me.”

She told me the bare bones reality that she suspected led to his decision, and then more about the devastating impact on her.

Perhaps you share the questions that flow from a conversation like that one: How do we travel this spiritual journey of grief? Or, how can we heal from a broken heart? As we approach the holidays we are mindful that grief is often more intense in this time of family gatherings when the absence of one can be most obvious.

First, I need to say that grieving takes far more time than we anticipate in our world of K-cup coffee and e-mail. The grieving process isn’t fast. The duration for grieving may be in direct proportion to the intensity of the loss, and, therefore, is quite personal. As Shakespeare tells us through Othello: “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” The stages through which we must journey toward healing can be shock, anger, guilt, depression, bargaining, and then maybe healing acceptance.

Losses caused by sin, another’s violation of us or our violation of another, are the most difficult to heal because these involve forgiveness. Forgiveness is the ability to give up hope of a different past. It requires a different memory.

Options for surviving loss include burying yourself with your talents in the small room of safety or making a trusting leap of faith back into the unknown, just as Megan was doing by participating in JazZen Journey at San Fidele.

Do we stay on the bench or do we get back into the game?

Either way, it is a cost and a promise! We need to live into the hope that the risk is worth the promise of trust and joy.

Now, let me tell you a story from literature that illustrates the issue of loss and risking. (I suspect my choice of literature may surprise some of you.) This illustration comes from a novel, not from the movie which has little to do with the book. The writings of Ian Fleming, namely the James Bond, 007 series, are some of the most important religious narratives of the 20th century, in my opinion.

Listen as I tell you a story about loss and risking from James Bond. James Bond was married only once. His wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding. Bond began to lose his edge. He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking and eating too much, gambling and losing his sense of mission. His boss, M, had Bond examined by a psychiatrist-neurologist named Sir James Malony who reported to M that Bond was in shock, and that his behavior was quite understandable. Then he says the thing that captured my attention: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”

Everyone of us has a top to disaster.

It’s probably different for all of us: loss of a child, physical or psychological abuse, robbery at gunpoint, betrayal of a close friend, imprisonment, cancer, losing a pet, shaming oneself in front of friends. When we go over the top of our disaster limit, we are prone to reduce our world to a small, predictable, controlled safe place.

Risking our talents is the last thing we are prone to do—but that is what Sir James Malony prescribes. And then Sir James says an even more remarkable thing in response to M’s request of help for Bond. His answer is “We must give him an impossible job.”

In contrast to suggesting a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.” So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. Bond himself could have been a candidate, since he had lost faith. Instead he is sent to risk facing and destroying it.

The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his wounds. Yes, this is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.

Let me be clear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we get ourselves off our own hands by attending to others or a larger mission. Turning outward can come after we have done the painful interior work of feeling loss. This is why most hospice programs will not accept volunteers who are not at least one year away from a significant death.

Eventually, however, the grief journey must include turning outward to heal the losses and grief in oneself, which feels like an impossible risk.

Perhaps real recovery takes place only when we take our own wound and turn it outward
to give generously and with gratitude to others.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.”

Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest shared that “the wound of Jesus is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the earth’s surface that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and meaning.” The wounds of Jesus have become a source of beauty for many.

Our wounds may become a source of meaning for others also.The pain can end and the healing take place when we take the beauty of our own pain and extend it as a gift to others. As their hurt is healed, so is ours.

My deep appreciation of music has a wide perspective. Willie Nelson wrote the following slow and sentimental song with his longtime co-producer, Buddy Cannon. The producer explained the genesis of this song lay in his overhearing Nelson consoling a friend who had lost a loved one.



Care to read more?

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]




PEOPLE magazine celebrates the work of ‘Struck by Hope’ author Jeanine Patten-Coble

So many families agree:
The world’s a better place because of Jeanine’s work

Cancer-survival cheerleader, coach and philanthropist Jeanine Patten-Coble is featured in PEOPLE magazine in a feel-good feature, headlined: Mom Who Beat Breast Cancer Gives Free Vacations to Patients and Their Families to Make ‘Priceless Memories’ 

Why did PEOPLE’s editors choose to celebrate her work? Because, as those editors explain: “For the past 12 years, breast cancer survivor Jeanine Patten-Coble has created getaways for thousands of other patients and loved ones.”

The story by Johnny Dodd and Wendy Grossman Kantor, says in part:

The retreats are exactly what cancer patients—and their families—need during their healthcare battles. Charlotte-area youth track coach Toshika Hudson-Canon, 43—who was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer in January and spent a week at a beachside home on Emerald Isle, N.C., in August with her three kids and husband—found the getaway was relaxing and transformative.

“It was life-changing,” she says, “especially for my children, who became friends with other children in the same situation.”

Care to read the entire PEOPLE feature?

Check it out on PEOPLE’s website.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Care to learn more about Jeanine’s work?

Get the whole story in her inspiring memoir, Struck by Hope: The True Story of Answering God’s Call and the Creation of Little Pink Houses of Hope.

In ‘Shining Brightly,’ Howard Brown shares how he summoned the resilience to beat Stage IV cancer twice

Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, we are publishing one of the most inspiring books our team has had the pleasure to prepare. With the release of Shining Brightly by Howard Brown, we’re all thinking: New Year? New Hope!


Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Free to download from the Shining Brightly discussion guide:

What are the ‘Keys to Resiliency when Confronting Cancer?

Over three weeks, we are sharing with our readers the three major themes of Shining Brightly by Howard Brown. The first is resilience in our struggles with cancer. Howard Brown is nationally known as an exceptionally rare survivor of advanced Stage IV cancer twice! Regularly, he speaks to groups about the principles of resiliency. On a daily basis, he is a “cancer whisperer” for families facing this traumatic struggle.

This is why Dr. Anna D. Barker, co-founder of the American Association for Cancer Research Scientist Survivor Program, is endorsing this book for everyone touched by cancer: “As a mentor in our program, Howard motivates everyone to build mutually beneficial relationships that educate, inspire and ultimately heal. Shining Brightly offers a compelling landscape of possibilities for cancer patients, survivors and indeed anyone who wants to become their best self!”

So, right here, Howard is freely sharing this part of the Discussion Guide for his new book—a page that lists 18 keys to resiliency that have proven valuable in his life and in the lives of people he has mentored through cancer. The list ends with two open slots for you and your friends to add during your discussion of the book, based on your own experiences. Howard also invites discussion groups to get in touch with him to share your ideas and experiences.

Download Here

Click on this image to download a printable and shareable PDF.





Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:





‘What the world needs now is Hugs, Hugs, Hugs!’ Thanks to Zamir Khan, that’s easier than ever.

Clicking on this image will take you to the website right now.


Canadian Software Engineer Zamir Khan Is Helping Millions of Families to Hug Again

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“What the world needs now is: Hugs! Hugs! Hugs!” media entrepreneur Howard Brown told me as he urged me to check out the popular new service: Founded just before the COVID pandemic at the urging of a small circle of friends and family living in Canada, VidHug now is exploding around the world with more than 4 million hugs delivered so far.

“We all need a good hug after more than a year of isolation,” Howard said as we worked together on the editing of his upcoming memoir, Shining Brightly. Howard’s upcoming book is full of dozens of ways you can brighten the world—one act of kindness at at a time. “I practice what I preach and I found this super-easy-to-use online service,, to help me send a few more hugs out into the world even in the midst of this pandemic. People absolutely love the videos we’ve created on this service. They’re overwhelmed when they see the VidHug the first time—and I’ve found that they like to view these hugs again and again. Whenever they’re feeling lonely, that VidHug is right there for them.”

Howard’s creation of personalized VidHug videos is mentioned in his book as just one example of his own outreach to friends and loved ones. So, Howard and I resolved to track down VidHug’s founder, Zamir Khan, and schedule a Zoom interview with him. Adding to our interest in meeting Zamir is a book co-authored by Howard’s wife, Lisa Brown. It’s called Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging. From the very first chapter of that book, “isolation and exclusion” are identified by researchers worldwide as the No. 1 threat to health and wellbeing as we age. In Lisa Brown’s section of that book, she emphasizes the healthy benefits of taking part in public service as we age. Given their own writing about personal connections, both of the Browns have become big fans of

Zamir Khan: ‘People feel better after sharing’

Zamir Khan

When we explained our idea of publishing a story about VidHug in an email to Zamir, he scheduled an hour of Zoom time with us.

In our interview, I told him: “Zamir, did you know there’s real scientific research that says making meaningful connections with other people is a ‘social determinant’ of health? It’s clear from reading about you on your website that you’re doing this because people enjoy this experience.”

“And, right now in the middle of a pandemic it’s also a perfect entrepreneurial project,” Howard added.

“But, one thing we wanted to ask you is: Are you following the public-health research about the effects of isolation?” I said. “We think there’s a strong case to be made that meaningful contact like this actually contributes to people’s health and wellbeing. Are you following those studies?”

“In general, of course, I know that people enjoy what we’re enabling them to do,” Zamir said. He explained that public health research is not his specialty, but welcomed our making that connection from the team of authors who produced Now What?

“I don’t want to misrepresent the data,” I cautioned. “No researcher has specifically tested the health benefits of your—although, maybe someone will study it someday at the rate your online service is growing. But, the overall finding is that meaningfully connecting with people on a regular basis will tend to help them live happier and longer lives.”

“Well, I am glad to have you making that connection with what we do,” Zamir said.

We also immediately mailed him a copy of Now What? Collectively, we are trying to find allies to spread the message—in this era of deep divisions—that there’s healthy power in authentic human connection.

How Zamir Discovered the Power of a Virtual Hug

Zamir discovered that power himself when he created an online video montage for his own mother’s birthday, inviting family and friends to send him short video clips of their messages for the birthday girl. Given Zamir’s professional background as a software developer for sophisticated medical devices, he understood how to gather digital files, edit them, create a colorful montage and post it online.

That was the very first and only VidHug several years ago. Today, after hundreds of thousands of VidHugs from around the world, Zamir has published that “origin story,” which begins:

I pressed play and watched with bated breath. We were all sitting in the living room of my home, including my wife, our young children, and my parents. Everyone’s stomach was full after having celebrated my Mom’s 70th birthday at a delicious vegan restaurant (her choice!). The MacBook placed on her lap was about to play a video that I had painstakingly spent many days to put together. Looking back, I had no idea (a) how emotional her reaction would be and (b) that I had started on a path to building VidHug.

Corine, my mother, undoubtedly like someone in your own life, is notoriously difficult to buy gifts for. She doesn’t have material wants and spending a lot of money is a surefire path to her disapproval. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that she doesn’t need anything other than your love, presence, and maybe a hug. 

If you care to read the rest of Zamir’s origin story, this link will take you to his website.

The First Key Is Ease of Use

Everybody knows how to hug. It’s as simple as opening and then closing your arms.

“A VidHug should be simple, too,” Zamir said in our interview. “In fact, we keep updating the service all the time based on user comments. That’s our concept really: Anyone should be able to do this.

“When I made that first VidHug, it was so popular that I had lots of people asking me to teach them how to make these—or even to do this for them. I didn’t have that much time. I thought: I just should build a way for people to create these videos without having to understand all the software. As I went, I envisioned this: Think of my aunt who is not a technical person and certainly isn’t interested in becoming a power user. If I could help my aunt create something like this with a few clicks, then she’d certainly want to do it.

“To this day, we keep telling ourselves: If we can make this even simpler—we will.”

“Yeah, I can testify to that,” Howard said. “Your users don’t need to know all the technical magic that’s built into the software. They just want to create a VidHug and, for most people, that’s got to be very easy. Your service definitely is user friendly.”

The Second Key Is Self Expression

“The other goal we have is: ‘Joyful connections made easy’,” Zamir said. “Or, because some of these connections are for more serious or somber occasions, we also say, ‘Meaningful connections made easy’.”

On his website, Zamir lists the most popular occasions for VidHugs:

  • Holidays—so many opportunities!
  • Birthdays—and anniversaries
  • Weddings—lots of opportunities to support the loving couple
  • Business—especially onboarding videos to greet remote staff
  • Schools—perhaps to welcome children back to school or to celebrate a special school event
  • Memorials—celebrating the lives of loved ones

“The power of these little video clips is that you’re seeing each person—or group of people—speaking to you from wherever they’ve turned on their camera,” Zamir said. “Even if their message is just 30 seconds or so, that’s a much more meaningful connection than the typical note you find on Facebook.”

Far and away, Facebook remains the most popular platform for sending greetings at milestones that pop up in users’ lives.

“But think about how a typical Facebook birthday greeting happens,” Zamir said. “That happens just because it’s automatically built into your profile. Your birthday pops up and people may acknowledge that, but usually most of them are as basic as three letters: HBD. Typing three letters to mark someone’s birthday doesn’t qualify as a meaningful connection. But, going on video and talking for even a few moments to the other person—that’s really expressing yourself.”

Even after the Pandemic, Isolation Still Will Be a Challenge

It’s true that is a pandemic success story, Zamir acknowledged. The numbers tell the story.

“We were getting a few hundred visitors per day before the pandemic,” he said. “By May 2020, we were getting more than 100,000 people visiting each day—and recording 30,000 videos per day. When this idea started, it was just me. Now, we now have a team of seven and the you see today is the product of our developers and customer support staff.”

The pandemic solved the entrepreneur’s greatest challenge: discoverability. How does anyone even know you are offering a product? With enforced isolation, millions of people suddenly were Googling for solutions—then sharing their discovery widely across social media.

“So, yes, we are growing because of the pandemic,” Zamir said. “But the thing we all have to acknowledge is: There was isolation before the pandemic—and there will be isolation after the pandemic ends.

“What has motivated me all my life is simply trying to do work that will make our world a little better place,” he said. “When I was working on the software for sophisticated medical devices, I had the satisfaction of knowing that my work did have a positive purpose. But the impact was distant and indirect. I was contributing to a device that a salesperson had to bring to doctors, who might use it and eventually someone would be helped—but it was not an impact that I ever could see. I was quite removed from the positive results of what I was doing.

“But today, I can see the positive contributions these videos are making every day. That’s why I still like to do some of the customer support myself, because it connects me with the users of our service. I’ve heard so many stories of people telling us how these video messages helped them to get through some very tough days.

“You might think that our service is mainly used for happy times like birthdays or holidays, but I’ll never forget a woman who told me about her father who was so ill that it was clear he would not be leaving the hospital. So, the family used VidHug to share farewell wishes and the hospital’s chaplain sat down in the room and watched the VidHug with him.

“When you hear a story like that, you realize that this isn’t just a business. This is a real privilege to become a part of these families’ lives.”



Care to Read More?

In our special We Are Caregivers section of ReadTheSpirit, you will find an excerpt from the opening pages of Now What? That passage begins to explain the central challenge of isolation, which millions of us experience even without pandemic restrictions. If you have interest in this new book—or in organizing a group discussion of it—please email us at [email protected]