Healing Grief Retreat at Mountain Light Center
Everyone has a different journey with grief, but since the pandemic, there’s at least one thing we have in common. “Our lives have changed, and that is a grief we all share,” said Debbie Scott, who runs the Mountain Light Retreat Center on Blackwell Hollow Road. As one of the first offerings of the Center, she’s scheduled a “Healing Grief” retreat to be facilitated by Mary Polce, Ph.D., a licensed counselor and developmental psychologist.
“I feel we’re living in a time of so much change, we’ve all lost a way of moving casually through our community, not minding long lines, or a crush of people entering a sporting event or concert,” Scott said.
For many people, the situation is much worse: They’ve lost close friends, family members, a part of themselves that was more carefree, less worried, healthier. Those suddenly dealing with terrible loss don’t always feel like they can be open about it. In an interview, Dr. Polce explained one reason for this: “As a society, we don’t especially like being vulnerable. But if you think about it, if you love, then you’re vulnerable.”
Our discomfort with outward vulnerability as well as the inevitability of death extends to those of us trying to help someone who’s grief-stricken. We’re awkward, she said. We think if we don’t acknowledge it, they might forget it. Elaine Clark knows first-hand that doesn’t work. She suddenly lost her healthy three-year-old 36 years ago, then more recently another son to a senseless local accident. She had friends who simply avoided her because they didn’t know what to say, and who apologized later. While agreeing that there may be no spoken word that can help, Clark encourages those with bereaved friends to make some expression. “You can even say that you don’t know what to say,” she said. “But your silence and absence are hurtful.” Plunged into a terrible dark place at her first child’s death, she sought counseling, and had a bit of structure for how to deal with the second horrible death. And she remembers very vividly the small kindnesses. One friend texts her every day; another walks with her; another came over to mow her grass and pull weeds.
“Don’t overthink it,” she suggests. “Show up and do something. Don’t say, ‘Call me if you need anything.’ That’s not going to happen. Just find something and do it.” She’s learned that the grief doesn’t ever go away; that it comes in waves. She expects them, and endures them.
That’s why it’s not kind to tell those who suffer to just “get over it,” or point out ways that loss could have been prevented or foreseen, Polce said. “That’s making it about us instead of the grieving person. We search for some kind of cause and effect because that means, if we’re more careful, it won’t happen to us.”
Grief is especially difficult in a culture of death denial, Polce said. “Initially, denial helps a little, by portioning out the suffering in small bits. But if denial lasts too long, we do not go through the grief door, which is the only way to get on the other side. To get on the other side, we have to go through it.”
How do we go through it? Like Clark, she compares grief to waves. “We experience our thoughts and emotions, letting grief waves come and go, hour after hour, day after day; we seek the comfort we need based on our life circumstances and personality. This comfort may involve a project, memorial, spending time in nature, creating art and music, talking with supportive and caring people – or all of these,” Polce said. She acknowledges that those experiencing a sudden or traumatic loss might require medication to reset the nervous system and help with sleep. But ultimately, there’s the reality, she said: “If we love someone, we will grieve when they die and we need to allow suffering, our own and others.”
Faith traditions that provide rituals as well as hope comfort and inspire those grieving, but they need to accept it in their own time. That’s how it was for Stephanie Moon, who lost her husband to Covid last fall. Moon said she wanted to stay in bed and die, and found it hard to function at all. “My children would point out that I hadn’t changed my clothes since they saw me last,” she said. “I had trouble going anywhere, eating or sleeping, really doing anything.” She and her husband had shared a strong faith: “We prayed together every night,” she recalled.
Several months after his death she woke up one morning with a jolt, determined to resume her normal routine. Just like that, she wrote down a detailed plan: Get up, shower, eat, then go outside and read her Bible. She prayed, and believed that her husband also heard her prayers. She began to see that their strong mutual bond could be a comfort, rather than a cause for greater suffering. She also recognized kindnesses, sometimes from strangers. “I was trying to deal with the bank,” she said, “but I kept crying. The lady on the phone said, ‘Honey, you just cry whenever you need to.’”
Both Clark and Moon had complications that increased their pain. In Clark’s case, it was dealing with the legal issues surrounding the recent fatal accident; in Moon’s there was an unfeeling acquaintance pressuring her to sell her house two days after her husband died. Both also had unanswered questions about some of the medical issues involved.
For the faithful, pointing out that death is part of God’s plan is not going to comfort someone newly bereaved, Polce said. But when well-meaning friends and family fail in their attempts at comfort, she said that it might be helpful to those grieving to realize the beauty of the intention, not the awkwardness of the words. And every human experience is different. She remembers one family with so strong a faith they truly could rejoice in the death of their mother; another whose entire world view was shattered by a sudden death. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and nothing surprises me,” Polce said. “I have complete reverence and respect for the human condition. We show up and do the best we can.”
The June retreat will focus on understanding grief, ways to cope, and explore what is, and is not, helpful. It will include grief education, meditation, mindfulness in nature, journal writing, and group discussions for those who wish to share. Those who attend will discuss various rituals and memorials. Polce said that attendees do not have to be of a certain faith tradition, or any, to attend. “I won’t be lecturing on grief,” she said. “It’s a small group of people, and first I’ll find out what they want.” She said her goal is for those who come to leave with more strength, hope, and lightness.
The Healing Grief Retreat is Saturday, June 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Mountain Light Retreat Center. Participants bring their own lunch. There is no charge, but donations will be accepted. To register, email [email protected]
Fill Your Bowl and Help the Hungry at Holy Cross Event
What started out as a creative but humble event to benefit the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has turned into a bit of a gourmet experience with one-of-a-kind artistic creations for each attendee.
Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Batesville is holding an “Empty Bowls” fundraiser June 17. The idea, which has been used by various churches and charities, is to fill a bowl for each donor with simple food as a reminder that there are plenty of local people without a spoonful of soup or a crust of bread in their bowls. Thanks to the generosity of the area potters donating the bowls and the chefs and restaurants donating food, the bowls as well as their contents have been bumped up above the ordinary.
Barbara Spencer, who’s been managing the event for Holy Cross, found that local restaurants responded with wonderful food. Blue Mountain Brewery will brew up gallons of chili, Kristen Rabourdin of the Batesville Market will fill many of the bowls full of Gazpacho, and Shantina Hash at Lovingston Cafe will bake 12 loaves of sourdough bread. Martin’s in Waynesboro will provide sheet cake for dessert. At publication time, additional food donations are still being sought to fill the 60 or so bowls.
The bowls are varied and individual, the creative work of many potters. Tam Smith, a potter herself, collected them from potters in Afton, Wayneboro and Batesville. Jake Johnson, who runs and teaches at “Make Waynesboro Clay” collected a bunch from potters at his studio. Dozens of other bowls have been donated by artists too numerous to name, with some larger ceramic pieces selected for the silent auction.
The event is June 17 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Holy Cross Church in Batesville. To make a reservation, email [email protected]