I remember the first couple of weeks and months after saying goodbye to my precious Jonah at 30 weeks gestation due to a heart condition as extremely difficult and filled with so many ups and downs, I felt like a marionette doll living someone else’s life, because there’s no way that much sadness could be…
Seven couples came together for a long weekend of grief and healing in northwestern Wisconsin. We were all in different places in our grief journeys and various distances from when we last saw our children, one month to over a year. Yet there was one constant, we all missed our children unequivocally. While men and women grieve differently, my hope was for myself and my husband to come together in our grief.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by a kind and compassionate woman who gave us a tour of the lodge. Seven pictures of babies created a heptagon on a table in the common area, a place to get to know the other parents’ children who had died.
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After we saw our beautiful suite, we took a walk along the grounds. When we came to a bridge and saw all of the rocks that people had painted in honor of their children, my tears came to the surface as they seem to do so easily these days.
The first night included sharing about our children, and it was refreshing to hear all of the fathers tell their stories; one of them for the first time. While stories of grief and love from a mother’s perspective are readily available, a father’s grief is rarely written about.
The second day we were awoken by the most beautiful sunrise with purples and pinks in the sky, the trees mirrored clearly in the lake. After the sunrise, I found myself reflecting on where I was at in my journey of grief.
When my daughter died, everything that I believed in, everything that I thought I knew to be true about the world, no longer made any sense. My world became dark. Slowly, I started to see the world differently. Colors in the sky were more vibrant. I saw trees and birds and the beauty of nature, as if for the first time. I began to take pictures of the sunrises and sunsets, some might say obsessively, and I began to feel like the truly spectacular ones were gifts from my daughter.
In the early part of my grief, I felt like I just wanted to get through each minute, each hour of the day; my goal was to survive. Now I feel like I want to do more than just survive; I want to thrive. I feel like I am closer to working towards the promise we made to our baby girl in the days after she died, to truly treasure each moment and to live my life to the fullest.
During the day we walked the grounds and admired the many birdhouses that had been painted by previous guests. We took pictures of the bridge, the garden, and the trees, attempting to capture the beauty of the space. We walked various trails as well as the meditative labyrinth, in the hopes of finding peace within our grief.
In the evening group, we all shared where we were at in our grief, and inspiration could be found in each of the stories. We found a common ground in our feelings of fear, anger, disbelief, sorrow, and hope. We were bearing witness to one another’s grief.
In the evening we sat around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and getting to know one another. Everyone shared their engagement stories which seemed fitting given that this is when many of our babies’ stories began as well. And in the next breath, a mom talked about her child who had died. Her story was full of pain and sorrow and yet there was also hope and joy.
Being comfortable with others is a rarity these days, but I felt a semblance of that with these bereaved parents. Perhaps it was because I did not fear them or maybe it was because we shared a pain so great that connection is inevitable.
Related: Self Care: Support Groups
Both my husband and I have been involved in grief support groups which are helpful in their own way, but spending a long weekend coming together to focus on our grief, without all of the distractions readily available at home, was pretty powerful. I came away from the retreat feeling a renewed sense of hope as well as what has been described in the grief community as a new normal.
Faith’s Lodge is a serene, beautiful place for bereaved parents to come together to grieve and to heal. The lodge was started by a family whose daughter, Faith, died just prior to birth. It is a 501(C)(3) non-profit and is not a religious-based organization. They have scholarships available for people who cannot afford the cost. You can find more information at https://faithslodge.org/.