On September 7th, 2023 I landed in San Francisco after a very long flight across the country, and got in my rental car to head to the Ralston White Retreat Center. I was on my way to a grief retreat where I was about to spend the weekend with 30 other people who were also grieving.
This wasn't my first rodeo with a grief retreat, so I thought I knew what to expect...spoiler alert...I was wrong.
After driving over the Golden Gate bridge and wiping my tears, (this was the first time I had been on the bridge after both my grandparents died, and the last time I was there I was with them) I finally arrived to the retreat center. I was running late so I left my stuff in the car and ran inside. Little did I know I was about to walk into opening circle where each participant was about to introduce themselves and their person who died (one of the heaviest parts of a grief retreat).
When I sat down, Claire Bidwell Smith welcomed me and asked me to go first...perfect timing. We all laughed as I gathered myself to share who I was, why I was there, and who my people who died are with the group. Then it was my turn to listen and be a witness. The rest of the night consisted of person after person sharing about their grief and their people who died. The whole room felt dark. Like we were all deep in a black hole, too weighted down to get up. There were lots of tears, and lots of nerves about how this weekend was going to turn out. I hadn't eaten all day and was exhausted, so the weight of having to hold all of these stories was intense. But when the last person shared and I looked at all the people in the room who were about to dive deep into their grief over the next 3 days, I couldn't help but be excited.
My role at this retreat was a little different from previous ones. Not only was I a participant, but I was also a leader. On Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to lead a "Flowing with Grief" yoga class with all of the participants and facilitators. We moved, we danced, we breathed, we cried, and it was all just as magical as I imagined it would be. I was honored to get to share about the physical manifestation of grief, how we can move grief through our bodies, and how we can connect to our feelings and our people through movement. The overwhelming response to this portion of the retreat confirmed my belief in the mind, body, spirit connection and in how much the body and movement can help support us in our grief process. I am forever grateful that I get to share this tool with others, as it's helped me so much in my own grief journey.
Over the next few days I watched each and every person open up, be vulnerable, give space to their grief, and connect to their people who died. The bond between the participants was one of the strongest I've seen and it reminded me just how beautiful and powerful groups can be. The validation, connection, support, and compassion that develops out of a grief support group is indescribable. Especially in a retreat setting, where the days are so thoughtfully structured to support the grief process that occurs over a short period of time. I am in awe of my fellow facilitators and role models Claire Bidwell Smith, Barri Leiner Grant, and Jacqueline Bush for their ability to hold space for and share knowledge with the tender hearts of participants, and I am honored I got to share this experience with them.
By the last night the energy gently shifted from dark and heavy, to light and twinkly. I will never forget the feeling of our circle that night. We each went around and shared about the life of our people. Their names, who they were as a human, what they liked/disliked, and other funny stories or memories we had with them. The room filled with love and laughter and it was almost like we could feel our people in the room with us. To say this was a transformation from the first night is an understatement. I almost couldn't believe it was the same group. My heart was full as I got to witness all of these individuals grief and the transformation in their grief, while also feeling witnessed in my own.
It was sad to leave the next day and break the circle of trust and understanding we created with each other over the last 4 days. But it also reminded me why I do what I do, and what I love to do most...groups.
This fall I will be offering a Virtual Grief Support Circle called Ripples of Courage! This is an 8 week live grief support group for those who have experienced the death of someone important to them and are looking for support as we head into the holiday season(Ages 18+).
In Chinese Medicine theory the lung and large intestine (Chi) energy represents courage and reverence. When these organs are in a state of imbalance, particularly the lungs, the chi becomes linked to grief. Even though all emotions connected to our organs are considered natural responses to life (and loss), depleted lung energy can lead to a feeling of stuckness or an inability to express grief (Powers, 2008).
Ripples of Courage invites participants to process their grief courageously by acknowledging and expressing their feelings of grief in a healthy way, and learning to stay present in their grief experience. My hope is that this in turn will ripple out into the community creating a more grief aware and grief accepting culture, allowing individuals and communities to feel supported in expressing their grief freely.
There will be movement, journaling, grief education, sharing, and connection infused into each session as we explore how to navigate grief through the holidays.
$275 includes all 8 sessions
To sign up please email email@example.com.
I cannot wait to start offering group support in this way again and I hope you will join me!