Melissa Craven went back to the Sunrise Grief Retreat Society website many times in the four years following her son’s death. She lost Josh Vallely, 17, to suicide Jan. 27, 2010, but somehow kept going for her other two children and for her work.
“I was carrying such a load that I knew I couldn’t keep going. There were other grief issues in my life over that time as well. One day, I had an anxiety attack, which was not at all like me. I just went to bed for a few days,” she said.
“I looked at the grief retreat website again and knew that I actually needed to do it. I had always felt selfish doing things focusing on me although I had had help from various sources. The Compassionate Friends were very good; they told me about the society grief retreats. I could just picture the location, so peaceful.”
Sunrise Grief Retreat Society board member and one of the retreat session facilitators, Barb Schimpl, said people come to retreat at the time it seems right for them, some not long after a loss and some years after bereavement.
“Sometimes people are reluctant to take the time to look at their grief and they feel anxious about coming to a retreat,” she said.
Craven felt welcome from the moment she arrived at the retreat site on a Friday evening.
“I felt instantly loved and comforted and not judged. The place was everything I had pictured in my mind. I felt very blessed,” she said. “The first evening was a group session about what we would do for the days ahead and we did not have to talk if we didn’t want to. We were told about things like journaling and the theories of grief and relaxation exercises. I usually don’t sleep well but I had one of the best sleeps I had had in a long time.”
Morning began with exercises and quiet time. The retreat is open to any individual spiritual path that is part of grief but there is no religious emphasis.
“People shared the story of their grief over the weekend with everything held in total confidentiality in an atmosphere of validation and acceptance,” said Schimpl. “There is group time, private time with counsellors and time to be in the beautiful natural surroundings. There is a healing aspect to nature.”
Craven had done art and some journalling years ago.
“I opened the book and it just flowed out, I wrote, drew pictures and wrote poetry. It was very freeing. I still do the art and poems and journal. There are different therapies available and some people had never done any before. I think you have to be open to try them. I went to the healing touch twice. It was such a safe, comfortable environment,” she said. “I still do the Qi Gong, too. The retreat is a place in my heart now. There are so many amazing tools you are given, like recognizing what you are feeling and what you can do. I was anxious about going back to everyday life but now I can go to the retreat in my mind when I need to.
“I learned to live my life again. My children could see the difference in me when I came home and I asked questions so they benefitted, too. They got their mother back. I was changed, in the best possible way.”
Schimpl said it takes courage for people to come to a retreat.
“Love happens there. We are there because of grief but it is not all sad. There is laughter and connection and learning that you can carry on, the hope that there is a way.”
The next Sunrise Grief Retreat Society takes place May 1 to 5 at Deep Creek Retreat House near Salmon Arm. Early registration is essential as space is limited. The cost is $550 per person which includes everything. There is some financial assistance available. For more information email Schimpl at email@example.com or phone Andrea Hoye at 250-307-7850 or see www.sunrisegriefretreat.org.