In July of 2019, my daughter Alexa was on top of the world! She was engaged to the love of her life, Blake, and we were planning their wedding in December of that year. Both Alexa and Blake had careers that they loved, a close group of friends and family, causes that they were passionate about and were excited to be starting their life together. Alexa and I spent many late-night hours talking about her hopes for the future and the life and family that she and Blake would build. She was truly at the height of her happiness and their future was very bright.
However, in an instant…we went from planning a wedding to planning a funeral. Alexa and Blake, both 29, were driving home together on a Friday night and were killed instantly in a tragic car accident. In the blink of an eye….life for those of us that knew and loved them would forever be changed.
This past fall, a year and a half later, I was really struggling with my grief. I had previously been to an 8-week course on grief and while it helped my ‘head’ to understand the grieving process….it did not help my ‘heart.’ And while I am so fortunate to have the loving support of many friends and family walking with me on this journey…I was struggling. Struggling to the point that I shared with my small group at church that the past several weeks had been extremely difficult, and I was overcome with such deep sorrow.
Two days later, I was contacted by the Pastoral Care minister at the church that Alexa and Blake were to be married at. I had not spoken to him for many months, but he was reaching out unexpectedly to let me know of a retreat coming up for parents who had lost a child. While I read with interest, I also noted that the retreat was to be held at Mo Ranch, a Presbyterian Retreat and Conference Center in the Texas Hill Country. Mo Ranch was very special to me as it was where I spent many years of my youth attending youth camps and family conferences and retreats. It had nothing but joyful memories of friends and family, community and love. I felt like God was calling me to be there.
As I made the 5-hour trip from Dallas to Mo Ranch, I didn’t know what to expect. And I was a bit apprehensive about showing up alone….but I knew I was supposed to be there.
The first night of the retreat, our leaders were so warm and welcoming and instantly made us all feel comfortable. The group was very small and intimate and represented the loss of eight children ages four years to twenty-nine. What transpired over those 2 days was amazing. It was not the usual ‘stages of grief’ lectures and discussions….but the experience was much more spiritual and often times felt sacred.
Our evening began with each of us sharing our story of how we lost our child. It was raw. It was heartbreaking. It was also powerful and intimate. In the telling of our stories, our group immediately became bonded in a very unique way as we shared something that no one can understand unless they also have lost their own precious child. For the past year and a half, I had often felt alone in my grief and thought few could understand the pain and heartbreak that I had been experiencing. I was now part of a group who knew every single heartbreak and every single tear.
What made this retreat so unique was the structure and activities. There were prayers, discussions, teachings, spiritual practices and daily blessings. For me, the spiritual practices were extremely meaningful, and I felt they helped me to see that there was a path forward through my grief and loss. They took me to a deeper place of understanding than I had experienced before….and through that understanding I also found strength and hope.
I met an amazing group of people that weekend and there was tremendous healing power in the sharing and connecting on a deep and personal level. We cried together, we laughed together, and we supported each other in our journey. And even if we never see each other again….our stories are engraved in each other’s hearts. I think and pray for each of these families often and it was an honor and privilege to share this time together.
More importantly, I think we all left with a profound sense of gratitude for the precious gift of our children, hope in the midst of the darkness, the assurance that we will have the strength to move forward and the knowledge that we are never alone. The retreat provided a beautiful, safe and sacred place to grieve, heal and honor the children we love so dearly.
“Bravely sharing our truth and encouraging others to share theirs creates a type of magic that has the power to heal and connect us more deeply to one another.”
Jennifer Rudolph Walsh
“All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them.”