Back in Summer, I saw a Facebook post from the charity Teddy’s Wish, about a retreat for bereaved parents. I instantly put my name forward. I didn’t even really consider what would be involved. I just knew that I wanted to go.
For me, one of the biggest challenges in parenting after loss is time. Time of grieve, to sit quietly with my thoughts, to dedicated proper time for Leo (that isn’t snuck in to the odd moment here or there), time to just be still. That is what I was craving in Summer, and knowing the activities that we had planned over the next few months – I knew it would be even more craved.
As time approached, it sat comfortably at the beginning of what had become a very, very hectic plan for Baby Loss Awareness Week (something I’ll write about in one of those stolen moments another day). I was unsure whether the retreat would have been better planned before or after this hectic week, but either way – it was so incredibly needed.
Teddy’s Wish is a charity set up by Jen and Chris Reid in the memory their little boy, Edward, who sadly died at three months old in 2014. In their own words “Edward Louis Reid was born on 18 January 2014. Our first baby, he was the brightest light to ever shine in our lives. Tragically 3 months later on 16 April 2014 he left us, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), formerly known as Cot Death. This was the most devastating loss imaginable and that light was extinguished. We have set up Teddy’s Wish to support other grieving families and continue research into the causes behind SIDS, neonatal death and stillbirth. In short, we want to search for answers and do something meaningful in Edward’s name.”
I’ve only just realised that Leo was born the day before Edward’s second birthday.
I have followed the work of Teddy’s Wish since Leo was born, and have been so inspired. Mostly, because of what they choose to fund – they are the funders behind the evaluation of the National Bereavement Care Pathway, 36,000+ MAMA Wellbeing Wallets at specific trusts and many other research projects. These activities really are game changers, and whilst I would wish more than anything that Jen & Chris had no need to support these ventures, I’m so pleased for parents of the future that these projects are being supported.
What I wanted as we approached the retreat was for a giant emotional hug, a massage and warmth. What I got, was that and so much more.
The weekend was held at a rural retreat in Buckinghamshire, only an hour or so away from us and was ran by charity patron Jenni Thomas, founder of Child Bereavement UK, and Nicki Whitworth, co founder of SLOW (a support group for bereaved parents). Both were exceptional facilitators for the weekend, they gently encouraged us, left plenty of space for people to share, were incredibly inclusive and were so generous with their words and experience.
We were all welcomed, showed our rooms, and had the chance for a cuppa before the weekend got started mid-morning. The house had lots of areas that we could explore – it was like diving into your grandparents loft and finding old gems.
The first part of the weekend was for an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to the group of approximately 15 other bereaved parents – some on their own, others there as couples. We were asked to take something that represented our child, and share their story. I’m quite used to saying the words out loud, but hearing other peoples experiences always hits me in a whole different way. Whilst I won’t share the experiences of the others who were at the retreat, there were a huge range of losses, but an intense amount of love. The emotion in the room was felt, deeply, by us all. A process that was needed to create a space of safety, openness and compassion – and quite swiftly we were now at ease, having heard what others had been through, and been able to fill in many of the gaps through empathy and our own lived experiences.
We had plenty of opportunity to explore peoples stories more over lunch, dinner, and then a log fire and a glass of wine until the dark hours (I think I was one of the last to bed at 11pm!). Theres always something so magical about speaking to other bereaved parents – regardless of their form of loss. Theres a unspeakable sense of knowing and a shared sense of feeling lost, that once you start speaking, disappears somewhat. I think its telling that you can sit with people for about 36 hours, yet feel so deeply connected.
In the afternoon of the first day, we discussed the different behaviours that our grief manifests into and set off on a classic cut and stick exercise of searching for images or words in a magazine that represent those behaviour to us. I really, really loved this exercise. In grief, I explore it all through writing. Sometimes speaking. Occasionally through pictures. But I rarely step back an evaluate my own grief behaviours and style – not in a positive manner, anyway. This exercise really helped me to see that whilst I clearly have behaviours that are my way of expressing all the different aspects of grief and loss – they are okay. As Jenni said to us, “there are no healthy or unhealthy ways to grieve, there is just your way”. I found that really powerful for me – as I often debate with myself whether I get it right. It was the first thing I noted in the thoughtful notebook that we were given for the weekend.
Late afternoon was exactly what I wished for – a guided full body relaxation, a long walk (aptly in the rain, although there was a close encounter with cows that wasn’t as relaxing!) and a massage. Self care to the max. Two ladies known to Jenni and Nicki came in and offered us all aromatherapy massage – and it was incredible! My massage habit has sadly been lost for far too long but its such an brilliant form of self care.
We ate, drank, ate some more, and drank a little bit more with the log fire and it was a warm, emotional hug to the end of the day. We all tried our best to get around everyone and find out more about our children – which was just so heartwarming. It felt like so much had already happened, been shared and felt over a few short hours.
On the Sunday, we reflected as a group on the experiences so far and how we felt that morning compared to the day before, emotionally. We spoke about a sense of ‘stillness’ and calm, a relief from not having to ‘be’ anything for anybody, and a the benefit of congruence. Jenni shared with us the concept of congruence and I found it incredibly powerful. She spoke about it in the sense to be congruent with yourself, inside and out. As in, to just be you, no acting or forcing yourself to be anything that you aren’t, or don’t feel. Its often how things are in grief – you don’t quite fit, your mind races in another direction, you aren’t at ease, or relaxed, so you try hard and maybe over-egg it in social situations or under-egg it… either way you are constantly fighting and its exhausting. To be in a room with others who were also at ease and congruent, meant we all could just be and that is a great gift to give yourself.
We then had some time for further relaxation and yoga, or to explore the grounds some more. The retreat is housed in some gorgeous grounds, that also has a walled garden, so a few of us just explored in quiet and sat with our thoughts for a while, or took some pictures. It was a valuable opportunity to digest everything that we had discussed over the past 24 hours.
Before lunch, we spoke about ‘endings’ and how in loss, endings now have new emphasis – whatever they are, and therefore we must be gentle with ourselves. So we had an extended goodbye to the group. We explored the house and found an object each that reflected what the group and retreat had given us – together, we collected items that resembled time, comfort, changes, fullness, stillness, rarity, connection, hugs, love, being held, bittersweetness, and home. It was really quite poignant to see the impact such a short space of time had had on people.
Once we had said goodbyes, we were joined by some of our families for a picnic lunch and a chance to say goodbye… again! When you feel so deeply alongside others, its quite hard to part ways. For some, I am sure having that time and opportunity, and then leaving those connections in the safety of that bubble is as powerful as walking away with them in your phone – either way, I think we all felt the impact of each others presence, our children and our grief.
One thing that I found especially poignant, was to take an opportunity to be with other bereaved parents away from this space that I have here. Whilst I am forever grateful of the community I have found on Instagram, I do acknowledge that ‘the bereaved parent who openly grieves on Instagram’ is still a select group of people – people who are inevitably similar due to their method of grieving. I found it really valuable to meet others who all had their own unique journeys with grief – we are all different after all. Sometimes its good to get off the squares and the screens, and connect – face to face, and soak up the joy in a brand new, fresh, and very real, honest conversation.
I’d recommend soaking up the restorative benefits of a retreat to anyone. We are all different, and the things that help will vary for us all – but I always reasoned, that we won’t discover what helps without giving it a try. Whilst short, I absolutely learnt new things about my grief, felt deeply connected to Leo, and felt a million times better for giving him that space for reflection.
My final thoughts on this retreat are simply, thank you. To those who helped put it together, and to those who came. Thank you.
You can keep up to date with Teddy’s Wish and future retreats by following them on social media and by emailing Jenni at firstname.lastname@example.org. The weekend’s are fully funded by Teddy’s Wish – a purely exceptional gift form fellow bereaved parents.