Each person grieves differently and each one finds the right time to take part in a grief retreat if that is part of the journey.
For Deb Friesen, that time was two years ago.
“I was blocked emotionally after being strong for years. My husband, Ross, who was my hopes and dreams had died from ALS and further than that, I didn’t know. I was physically sick but I came to realize that the only way to get through the grieving was to feel the pain,” she said.
She attended the Sunrise Grief Retreat two years ago with what Barb Schimpl, Sunrise Grief Society board member and retreat facilitator, calls complicated grief. Friesen’s mother had died shortly after her husband had been diagnosed with ALS and her sister had died by suicide 10 years earlier. With two teenagers, Friesen felt she had to be strong for those around her, while caring for Ross, her best friend from high school and husband of almost 30 years.
“I couldn’t let myself feel anything. When Ross passed away, I thought nothing could be worse than watching him suffer. I thought the worst was over. I kept on not feeling and got through the first year somehow. I had health problems and was out of touch, in denial. Someone gave me a paper clipping about the grief retreat and suggested I think about it,” she said.
“I don’t even have the words to say what it meant to me. Those nurturing women met every need, mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I felt safe and cared for. No one was telling me what to do or be. They give you space.”
The grief retreats, held at the Deep Creek Retreat House, offer a choice of therapies in a quiet, rural setting, with participants sharing what they want.
“I learned that if you want hope and a life, you have to feel. I realized I had been numb, which is not like me. Now I can smile when I remember Ross sitting watching his bird houses and the little yellow birds who came only once a year in the spring — that was the time of year he passed away. Every day is a gift. The healing touch was wonderful. The house is beautiful and they make you feel so loved,” said Friesen.
“I had to accept that you can’t do the grieving on your own. I could see how my life was going and I didn’t want to live the rest of my life like that. The retreat changed how I processed and how I viewed my grief. I learned to take care of myself so I could help my children with their grief.”
Schimpl said that people can come to retreats for recent grief or grief in the past.
“Sometimes the present grief brings up other losses. We have trained facilitators who will help participants take a safe and guided path towards healing and personal growth,” she said.
“Towards the end of the retreats it’s amazing to see what is happening, the changes in the participants — some of the pain leaves or transforms to something you can live with. We give people the tools they need to continue healing after the retreat.”
Friesen said the tools she has used the most are journalling and walking.
“I also learned that I had to be able to be open and vulnerable and share my feelings with people I trusted,” she said.
All of the activities at the retreats are compatible with and complementary to most religious and spiritual beliefs.
The next Finding Hope in Your Grief Journey retreat, put on by the non-profit Sunrise Grief Retreat Society, takes place May 2 to 6. The cost is $550 per person or $900 per couple with some financial assistance available if needed. Pre-registration is necessary as space is limited. Call Andrea at 250-307-7850, e-mail email@example.com or see www.sunrisegriefretreat.org.