by Karla Helbert
My opinion on this is always YES!
My opinion on this is always YES! We live in an extremely busy, fast-paced, hustle-driven, hurry-up world that is also extremely death denying and grief aversive. Grief is a process that requires—demands—attention, nurturing, space, and heavy doses of ritual.
We know from current research that those who have the best outcomes—meaning those who are able to best carry and integrate their grief and have more functional, productive, healthy lives, are those who have good self-care and good support. We also know that help-seeking people tend to do better than those who do not seek out help and support.
Attending a retreat is help-seeking, good self-care and provides excellent support. It can help you grow your tribe and make lasting connections. Additionally, going on retreat gives you space and time to be with your grief. You might think that being with your grief on purpose is the last place you want to be, but traumatic grief—death of a child, grief after suicide, homicide, violent, unexpected deaths, deaths out of the expected order of things—is the kind of grief you really can’t avoid. You can try. But it will find a way around all your defenses and distractions and it will demand your attention.
People who are practiced at being with their grief are people who can manage their grief better. Grief is never something we want, but since when we find ourselves in it, powerless to change circumstances with no other choice, being better equipped to manage it is a good thing.
Retreat gives a place to practice being with your grief safely. There is something sacred and healing about being in a place where you can openly talk about your beloved dead and no one runs from you, or changes the subject, or tries to talk you out of your grief. Being with others who understand, with whom you can share your heart and your love is incomparable.
Attending a retreat is the closest thing that we can come to being on that imaginary island that so many bereaved talk about—the one where we all wish we could go and no one else except other people like us are there. Where we can cry and not feel ashamed or, in the next moment, we can laugh not worrying that someone is thinking we must be “getting better,” or that we’re “over it now.” It’s a place where we know that we can be exactly who we are, where we are, in grief. When you find a good retreat, this is the energy you are surrounded with. I’ve seen it over and over. The fellowship and understanding, the silent companioning, the deep connection that comes when others walking the same path as you can truly see you and accept you. It’s like coming home.
I often tell my therapy clients who see me for grief that if they need to skip seeing me in order to make attending retreat more feasible, they should. I regularly tell them that they will get so much more from being at retreat for 3 days than coming to see me for an hour, or hour and a half, or however long they are there, once a week or every other week. The intensive time in solitude, as well as with like-hearted others, away from the world, learning skills and doing practices to better help you carry your grief, honor your beloved and become more equipped to carry grief is beyond valuable. Additionally, usually there is opportunity to eat good food that is good for you, to get some needed rest, to be in nature, to be creative, to move your body in ways that feel good, to take a deep breath and pause. These things are also good for you.
Some Things to Know:
1. It is terrifying. And it okay to feel terrified. Everyone who comes to retreat the first time is terrified. You will be afraid to show your pain, afraid of being with the pain, afraid you won’t connect with anyone, afraid you’re the only one who is struggling in your grief. And yes, while sharing and confronting pain and grief is terrifying, you are not doing any of those things alone. Everyone else is afraid too.
2. You will connect with others. Remember that you already have a lot in common with everyone else there. You will find others with whom you connect and likely will make lifelong connections. You won’t connect with everyone, but the connections you do make can be profound. Likely, you’ll be leaving with several phone numbers and emails from the newest members of your support circle. You’ll also likely feel more connected to yourself, to nature, and to your beloved dead.
3. It will be exhausting and it will be hard. There is a reason it’s called “Grief Work.” It is hard work. Grief, and traumatic grief especially, is a huge stressor on all levels of your being. If you’re early in your grief—and this can mean in years 1 to 3, or sometimes 4 or 5 and beyond, depending on how much you’ve been able to be yourself in your grief—just getting there may suck your energy reserves. It will be hard. Retreat asks you to be present, to show up for sessions, be part of rituals, participate in activities, be with the stories of others. It can feel exhausting. But the work is also deeply rewarding and you will leave with the indescribable feeling of having faced fears, with likely some new skills, and possibly some hope and optimism about the future, even in the midst of deep grief. And knowing you are not alone.
4. You will get to spend precious time with your beloved dead—something we don’t always get to do when the swift moving currents of life’s river pulls us back into the world. Retreat is a chance to sit on the banks for a bit while the river goes on without us for few days.
5. It will be uncomfortable and at times, very painful. If you can allow this to be okay, you will benefit from allowing yourself to be vulnerable. You will see that you can be afraid and you can be in pain and you can get through the other side. The more we do that, the more we grow in our own strength and our own trust in our ability to hold this grief. To help with the discomfort, I recommend that you bring things to help you feel comfortable—special items, a blanket, your journal, photos of loved ones. At the MISS Foundation Selah retreat and at my Yoga retreats, we always have a group altar where we place items that are connected to our beloveds. This community altar space helps to ground everyone, remind us all of the love we share, and is
6. Try not to tell yourself a story about what you think it will be like. Try to be as open to the experience as you can with as much self-compassion and as little judgment as possible, for yourself and the retreat. You will most likely find that you will be incredibly glad you came. We have many people who attend the MISS Foundation’s Selah retreat over and over—which helps them to see and experience how they change and grow in their grief, as well as gives them space and time to devote to themselves and to their beloved dead that we rarely have in our day to day lives.
7. One final bit of advice: Choose your retreat wisely. Find out about the facility, what it’s like, where it’s located. Research the retreat leaders. Find out who they are, what they teach, what training they have in the area of traumatic grief, and what you might expect from the retreat. If you can, find others who’ve been on the retreat you’re thinking of attending. Testimony is powerful.
A good retreat is an incredibly valuable experience, but one that is disappointing, is not aligned with your values or beliefs, or is poorly run, can be unsatisfactory at best, and damaging at worst. That said, I think retreat really is for everyone if you find the right one that resonates with you.
This world we live in is not very hospitable to grieving people and bereaved people need safe spaces and places to be themselves, fully express their grief and their love and a retreat is an ideal place for just that.
Sending love and best wishes,
Karla’s Grief Retreats
Fully Inhabited Grief: A contemplative retreat for traumatic bereavement. For men and women suffering loss of a loved one. Most participants have lost a child.
Yogaville (about two per year)
Here is a link to my most recent Yogaville retreat– there are no current ones scheduled, I’m thinking there may be one in December.
Elaine Alpert’s Grief Retreats
With love and respect for your healing journey, you are invited to join other mothers facing loss by suicide and overdose. “Given what I know after the complicated loss of my 16-year-old Rand by suicide in 2004, if there is EVER a time in a mother’s life to put the oxygen mask on first … this is it. Healing at a deep level is paramount. For ourselves … and for all who count on us.”–Elaine Alpert
Karla Helbert is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), internationally certified yoga therapist, (C-IAYT), registered yoga teacher (RYT), award winning author, and a Compassionate Bereavement Care Provider certified through the MISS Foundation, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust. and the Center for Loss & Trauma. Counseling and supporting those living with traumatic grief and bereavement is her main focus of work. Her book, Yoga for Grief and Loss is below. To find out her upcoming retreats, you can subscribe here to her newsletter.