selah retreat: day 3

Day 3: Going toward grief

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Finger labyrinths we made after walking the labyrinth on day 2. Mine is the first on the left. On it is a purple lavender flower given to me by a mom who heard purple reminded me of Kade, and a sugar skull bead.

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the view out my casita door as I left for morning meditation

6:20 a.m. meditation again. No tears this time. It was a guided meditation, similar to yesterday’s small group exercise. We were to acknowledge where in our bodies we carried our grief, what it looked like, talk to it, listen to it. My grief was in my stomach, because sometimes I feel sick to my stomach when I think of Kade being gone. It was a ball of molten lava, or fire. I tried to throw it away but it was too dense and heavy and wouldn’t go. But…I was able to press it down into a small ball. Compress and compact it.

I ate breakfast with my shuttle buddies.

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Tami, Eileen, Claire and Jenny

Let me tell you about the meals, that I wistfully missed after I got home. We ate al fresco in perfect, breezy temps. The buffet was filled to the brim with colorful, mostly vegetarian options. My favorite was the coffee: cinnamon vanilla flavored. Now sometimes I sprinkle cinnamon in my morning coffee. Meal-times got a bit noisy, with other groups at the communal dining hall. There was a group of Japanese tourists, and a few of what I presumed to be yoga or wellness retreats. When these happy, vacationing people would merrily and loudly enter the dining area, someone in our group (her name might have started with a “Dr.”) joked, “Tone it down! Kids are dying over here!”

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on the walk to Earth Hall

Our morning small group exercise was pretty excruciating. Dr. Joanne was our leader. We were to fill out a short form finishing the sentences:

Since you’ve been gone, physically I’ve felt _____________.
Emotionally I’ve felt ___________________.
Spiritually I’ve felt ____________________.
I wish ____________________.

We were then paired up. In front of the group we were to look our partner in the eye as if she was our child. And she was to hear and acknowledge what we had to say. Oh my goodness, the tears. It was super emotionally-charged.

The exercise was topped off with a natural segue discussion of tears. What happens biologically when they’re released. Which led to the topic of the “flight or flight” response. I learned there are a couple additions to fight or flight I didn’t know: fighting, flight, feeding and…reproduction. It was a fascinating and informative discussion!

After lunch we were to go off with the person we’d been paired with and spend the next couple hours learning each other’s child’s life story. This would lead to tomorrow’s topic: looking outside yourself to others. We were to create something for our partner in their child’s honor. An art project. A drawing. A poem. A song. Anything. To present on the last day in front of everybody.

Oh the pressure!

We headed to a waterfall oasis. For the next two hours, it was just Tami, me, the lizards skittering across the rocks, and Kade and Joel.

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the waterfall oasis

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Tami

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Me

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walking back from the oasis

That night was my least favorite part of the retreat. Singing, dancing, and working on our art projects without letting our partner see. The singing and dancing were cute at first, but went on a little too long. Then the art project. At that juncture of the retreat I was just too tired to give it the focus it deserved.

Poetry usually comes pretty easily for me. I can bust out funny songs or rhymes without much trouble. So a poem was the route I was heading for Tami. But that night I Could Not. Nothing came. I had material and stories and felt I knew a little about funny, sarcastic, and likeable Joel. My brain felt slippery. Evidently I’m not good at time-sensitive poetry.

Tami is one of my favorite people. I spent the most time with her, and I loved our opportunity to learn about each other’s boys. We have a bond and I have a feeling the retreat isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of each other. It gave me great joy to give her something from my heart to honor Joel. Had it been for her eyes only I think I would have felt more at peace with what was coming to me. Instead, I second-guessed and felt as if it wasn’t good, or grand, enough. If I encounter this type of project again I hope I leave the anxiety out of the creating and giving.

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I finally got a picture of the evening light on the rocks the last night.

Stay tuned for day four–the last day!

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selah retreat—day 2

Day 2—Being with Grief

The first full day focused on mindfulness. Hearing, feeling, smelling, experiencing. We mindlessly go through the motions of our day. We were to hear the crunch of gravel as we walked. Notice the breeze, and the sun, on our face. Acknowledge the thoughts that came into our head. And the emotions. That they are fleeting. Even the dark ones we think will consume us and never leave, and we are afraid to face. Tears give way to laughter, and so on and so on.

If you know me, you know that getting up at 5:30 in the morning for an optional meditation is a big deal. But I was only at the retreat four days, and was going to get the most of it, gosh darn it. And incorporating more meditation and mindfulness in my life is a personal goal of mine.

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Earth Hall, pre-meditation

As soon as we settled for meditation, the gong strike signaled the start, and all was still…the tears came. I made it to the retreat. I walked the pink sunrise walk to Earth Hall. It was the start of the first full day. And why was I even there? Why had I made so many arrangements, and traveled across the country? Because Kade died. The gong sounded. And I wanted Kade there with me at Mago Retreat Center. Not to be there by myself because of his death.

Later in the morning, our small group’s facilitator, Karla, led our group of around 10 to a tiny island in a picturesque lake. In the middle was a huge weeping willow shading the entire island. There was a small waterfall that I can hear flowing now.

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We were to close our eyes. Ground/root ourselves to the earth. Give our grief a form. An object, animal, anything. We were to talk to it. Bring it closer. Send it away.

Mine took the form of a big black rock with a jagged edge. I told my grief to stay away. I asked it why it had to pick me. Why it had to exist. Why there had to be this flip side to love. I wanted to kick it away, but knew that wouldn’t work. I cussed it out.

It was very interesting doing this exercise, and hearing others share the forms of their grief. I think this exercise was to illustrate that when you really stop and face your grief, it loses some of its power. And you gain some of yours when you can engage with it. What do you think?

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In the afternoon the whole group walked a large labyrinth. We were to take our time and be mindful of each step, of what we saw, heard, and felt. You may get tired of me saying this, but it, too, was a powerful exercise. I saw teeny purple flowers peeking through the fine gravel. I was alone on the journey, taking it at my own pace—but yet surrounded by so many others. There were countless grief analogies on that labyrinth walk. And in that painting-like setting, it took on a mystical, sacred feel.

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At dusk we circumambulated the lake. New term for me! It means to walk around something sacred together. We were to do this at our own pace in silence. It was recommended we go barefoot, to help us be ever-present and mindful. I didn’t, for a silly reason like I had lace-up hiking shoes and didn’t want to be bothered, or something like that. But I’d like to try it sometime.

The walk began with plenty of evening light, and ended with stars and a glowing moon in a blue-black sky. I remember looking up at the moon on my walk through the leaves of a tree. I went off the beaten path, like someone I know would have, and was rewarded with a huge owl gliding low and silent.

After that final group activity of the day, I had some priceless chance experiences that I hope to always remember. Three of us: Karla, Tami, and I, meandered back toward our casitas together in the dark. Karla led us to a higher part of the property that we hadn’t seen yet, to show us the pool and hot tub. Up there she told us about the Sedona vortexes, and that there was one on the premises at the site of an old gnarly twisted juniper tree. Atop the high plateau, the nearly full moon lit everything with blue light. Karla was thrilled to stumble upon two new labyrinths up there. She took off her shoes and immediately started walking them. Tami and I took a trail to find the nearby vortex tree. I think we spotted it, but couldn’t walk up to it at night with so many cacti around.

There was a large formation of puffy clouds and jet contrails encircling the moon. Not just a round-ish shape of clouds over it, but a ring encircling it. It took up half the sky. I wanted to lay on a rock and gaze at it, and at the stars. None of us wanted to leave that quiet wild desert and thrill and mystery of the vortex so close. But tomorrow was another early morning and full day. So back to the casitas the two of us made our way, while Karla finished her moonlit labyrinth walk. Barefoot.

Stay tuned for day three!

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On the walk from casitas to Earth Hall

 

selah: a contemplative retreat for traumatic bereavement

April 30 to May 3, 2015 I was lucky enough to attend Dr. Joanne Cacciatore’s MISS Foundation’s “Selah Contemplative Retreat for Traumatic Bereavement.” Say that five times fast.

I’ve loved everything Dr. Joanne has said on the topic of traumatic grief (child loss) since I stumbled upon her foundation’s website over two years ago. It was beyond my means to attend last April, and wasn’t even on my radar this year. That is…until I happened to see that there were two days left to apply for a scholarship. Scholarship, you say?! I whipped out my laptop. In just days I was informed I was a recipient!

The realization that I was ACTUALLY going to meet Dr. Joanne in person, or EXPERIENCE this amazing retreat, or SEE the red rocks of Sedona, didn’t hit me until a day or two before I left. But when it did I was excited!

Of course I won’t be sharing all of the experiences I had at Mago Retreat Center. I want to give you an idea of the surroundings, the exercises, the friends I made, and the tools I learned. But like my relationship with Kade, some things are just between us. Most of it I couldn’t describe if I tried. And some, I’m sure you’d appreciate me not trying.


Day 1—Lunch in Cottonwood with my cousin at a hot yoga studio

My Sedona adventure began with a very early flight. Cloudless and stunning. We flew over Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes. I’ve never been, but Kade has!

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The van from PHX to Cottonwood shuttled four of us. It was nice to get to know some retreat mamas on the way, while admiring the rugged beauty of the desert. Big cacti!

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I got to meet up with my cousin from Michigan, Aubrey, en route to Sedona! She lives in Prescott now, and was kind enough to drive 45 minutes to meet me at my shuttle transfer stop. Seeing Aubrey was definitely a highlight of my whole weekend.

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Aubrey’s a sweetheart just months older than Kade. I remember they’re so close in age because of this memory: When I was pregnant with Kade, on a family trip to Lake Michigan, I laid on the beach…and felt him kick for the first time. (Maybe he was saying, Mom, get out of the sun! I’m hot!”) Nearby, in the shade of a tent, lay sleeping blonde baby Aubrey.

We had a fabulous hummus wrap at the local hot yoga studio. Sounds strange, but it came highly recommended. Then we strolled Cottonwood’s Old Town. What was the first item that greeted us inside an antique shop? An old Michigan Bell Retirees directory. We stopped and stared at each other for a second. We have two uncles and a cousin that worked and work for that company. Such a back home coincidence!

I’m glad I had those hours with Aubrey. She’s a kind, intriguing, strong young woman. She’s not afraid to talk about Kade with me. She was courageous enough to ask, “Is it better to bring up Kade, or should I not?” When I told her it’s better for me to talk about him, she recited a funny poem he taught her and the cousins:

One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other,
drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard the noise
and ran to save the two dead boys.
And if you don’t believe it’s true,
go ask the blind man, he saw it too.

A little macabre…as was Kade I guess you could say. She said she would teach it to Asher (when he’s older), and more about her relationship with his big brother. I appreciate that so much. And I just appreciate Aubrey.

The 11-mile road leading to Mago Retreat Center was long, slow, and bumpy. Surrounded by nothing but desert I got the feeling of being removed from the world. Which was perfect.

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After arriving at the resort I unwound in my room and met my roommie, a nice lady from Pheonix. I made my way to the dining hall where I sat with her and shuttle buddies for dinner.

As we 40 participants and several facilitators gathered to walk to the bonfire that night for the first formal activity, I met HER. Dr. Joanne. She was a petite, approachable, likeable bundle of energy and true compassion. Who could drop precision f-bombs. I didn’t think it was possible to like her more than before but I did.

From what I could tell, over the course of the weekend she remembered EVERYBODY’S name and EVERYBODY’S child. Here’s an example of her personality: After the bonfire where we introduced ourselves, where we were from, and our children, there was a huge heavy bucket of water to douse the fire. I strained my neck, looking for one of the handful of guys in attendance to lift it. She said, “I got it!” and wobbled it to the fire.

It was hard to hear so many sad stories around that fire. It was going to be an intense weekend.

Stay tuned for day two!