By Michelle Breyer, Co-founder, NaturallyCurly
At the age of 30, Glenn Lord was a hard-charging executive, climbing the corporate ladder with the goal of running a Fortune 500 company. Then his son, Noah, died from complications during a tonsillectomy, and everything changed.
“After he died, I lost interest in all the things I thought were important,” Lord recalls of the 1999 death of his son.
Lord wanted to find a way to help the bereaved, and left the corporate world behind. He started the Grief Toolbox, a website where people can find all the grief resources they need. Through the grief network, he met Linda Findley, the founder of The Bereavement Cruise and partnered with her to expand the business.
The week-long Bereavement Cruises are held in conference centers on Royal Caribbean ships. The first three cruises averaged 70 people. He’s expecting 125 participants for each of 2020’s planned cruises.
Permission to Grieve
“I wanted to have experts who can explain the normal stages of grief,” says Lord. “I wanted to create a place where people are given permission to feel joy and happiness as they grieve, realizing there is life to be lived.”
Grief is a strong, often overwhelming emotion. Mourning can last for months or years.
Grief is both a universal and a very personal experience, influenced by our relationships with the people we’ve lost. It’s an unavoidable part of life that people experience it in different ways.
Grief retreats and workshops provide a safe space where people can gain tools to cope with their pain. At a time when there is a tendency for people to isolate themselves, grief retreats provide a place to connect with others who understand what they’re going through – a place to encourage, support and inspire each other.
The formats and locations vary - ranging from one-day workshops to Caribbean cruises.
While some focus on specific groups – parents who have lost a child, widows, children who lost a loved one – others encourage a mix of participants, including people grieving the loss of divorce or losing a job
Some retreats are run by nonprofit organizations and are free of charge, while others are more luxurious, with price tags topping $2,000. Each has a different mix of activities, whether it be yoga, meditation or drama therapy.
Grief retreats recently were spotlighted on Netflix’s hit, “Dead to Me” – a show that explores the complexities of the grief process.
Judy and Jen, the show’s two main characters, meet at the fictional Friends of Heaven Grief Retreat in Palm Springs. While the show puts a satirical spin on grief retreats – a margarita-fueled weekend that mixed group therapy, “Carry On-Oke” and a lot of flirting – the benefits of grief retreats are very real.
Fighting the Stigma of Grief
Often in our culture, we put a value on being strong and muscling through the pain.
One of their most important values is to provide a place where you are given permission to feel all the emotions of loss in an authentic way.
“A lot of people ‘should’ on us – tell us what we should do and how we should feel,” Lord says. “We should be able to define what is right or wrong for us. It’s not about other people’s timeline. It’s about finding purpose and meaning.”
When yoga instructor Wendy Black Stern and her husband lost their 9-month-old son, Noah, in 2008, they were devastated.
“(Our friends and family) wanted us to move on and feel better,” says Black Stern. “But loss doesn’t just go away. We saw how taboo and stigmatized grief is in our culture.”
Through yoga therapy, a strong network of friends and family, and the birth of their two daughters (now 6 and 10), she was able to heal. She wanted to use her own experience to create a positive way to help others, creating the Boulder, Colorado-based Grief Support Network.
While the signature offering is yoga therapy – grief, she says, lives in the cells of the body – the 6-week and 9-month programs also integrate meditation, group sharing and journaling.
Black Stern will be hosting a Grief Wellness Retreat Sept. 10-15th in Maui, Hawaii where people will have the chance to step away from everyday life in a beautiful, stress-free setting to give them time to “go in deep and do their work so they can heal.”
A Catalyst for Personal Growth
“Our beliefs is that grief can be a powerful catalyst for personal growth and change,” says Black Stern. “There’s a beautiful transformational aspect of loss.”
Ty Alexander-Williams, founder of Destination Heal, was a successful beauty editor and blogger when her mother was diagnosed with lymphoma in July 2012. She passed away barely a year later at the age of 56. The experience of spending time with her dying mother changed the way she viewed death and grief.
“Grief is the final act of love for me,” she says. “It’s the price you pay for loving someone. I had this great love and relationship with her mother and I’m grateful. That’s what I preach.”
In 2016 she wrote “Things I Wish I Knew Before My Mom Died: Coping with Loss Every Day.” She received an outpouring of support and advice on her Facebook page, and wanted to find a way to take the conversations happening online, offline.
In 2017, Destination Heal was born, creating a place for Black women to share their wellness journeys. It includes a Facebook Group, local events and annual #SelfCareIRLRetreats.
A Place to Unpack
“When we’re grieving, we don’t want to be a burden to people and you may not be able to see beyond that moment or circumstance,” says Ty Alexander-William, owner of Destination Heal.
“Destination Heal is a healthy place where you have permission to unload your worries, your trauma and your grief. There is no judgment. This helps you shift your focus and go through your day in a more positive, intentional way.”
At her most recent 5-day retreat in May, 27 women gathered at a resort in the Mexican city of Cancún for five nights of affirmation, meditation and therapy as well as plenty of time to forge friendships. The women are given assignments to work on during the retreat.
“Sometimes we suffer in silence because we don’t have a place to unpack,” says Alexander-Williams. “You’re a mom with kids, you have a job and wear a thousand hats. The retreat gives women space to open their suitcase and unpack everything. Then, go on and live.”
“Some people need hand holding through that trauma, and we provide a brave space with other women who are like them. Knowing that you’re not alone can be the biggest hurdle to get over.”
“I’ve Seen Unbelievable Healing”
Brave Heart Work Shops, which recently held its seventh weekend retreat, uses drama therapy to help people dealing with the loss. Drama therapy is an experiential, theatrical approach, where participants use role playing and storytelling to help address their grief.
“When things are painful, like the death of a loved one, we tend to push it away as far as we can,” says Jill Reynolds, owner of Brave Heart Workshops. “Our workshops allow people to come into a circle and play different parts. You’re actually reliving it in a powerful way, which gives you the opportunity to embrace the grief. I’ve seen unbelievable healing.”
There are plenty of resources to research the retreat that best suits your needs, ranging from local grief support groups to online searches. Look for the retreat or workshop that offers activities that resonate with you, and research the teachers involved. You will also want to read the reviews and testimonials.
Here is a sampling:
Retreats for Individuals
Breathing BEYOND Grief™ - held in locations from California and North Carolina – are 3-day retreats that use writing and communication techniques along with transformational Breath® . It is designed to give you the tools necessary to move beyond the pain of loss. There are homework assignments each night and during lunch.
Located at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the famed Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health offers a variety of weekend retreats for those grieving, including Grief Shifting, Grief Loss & Renewal and The Six Stages of Grief.
The Six Stages of Grief is a weekend retreat led by David Kessler, a well-known expert on healing and loss. It is designed to help people move beyond the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kessler believes finding meaning can transform loss and help bring about a more peaceful, hopeful experience that honors those who have died.
This program includes optional session with Grief Yoga teacher Paul Denniston, who guides simple movements to help release grief that gets stuck in the body. Come learn how to remember your loved one with more love than pain, and bring about a more meaningful new year.
3. Destination Heal.
Destination Heal is a social wellness community designed to help cultivate life-shifting healing experiences through workshops, retreats and social platforms.
#SelfCareIRLretreats range from full-day workshops to 5-day, 4-nights self-care destination retreats. They include conversations about gratitude and forgiveness as well as group meditation and affirmation exchanges.
A STAR Retreat is a10-day intensive healing retreat held at the historic Rancho De La Osa located in Sasabe, Arizona. The retreats are designed to provide a supportive environment to heal losses, be they long ago and still unresolved or current. The goal is to help participants begin to understand that what you are feeling is a natural way of finding acceptance and healing.
The STAR Retreat uses a balanced approach to heal the whole person. Although it occurs in a group context, participants find their experience to be highly individualized.
The 5-day Bereavement Cruise is led by Linda Findlay and Glenn Lord, providing a healing opportunity for those that have experienced loss. Participants will have the opportunity to participate as much or as little as they want as well as take advantage of the amenities of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
Workshops, activities like Reiki and yoga and mini rituals take place on the days when the ship is out at sea, providing an opportunity for guests to better understand their grief journey, receive compassionate support and enhance their coping skills.
Small group sessions are available during the entire cruise. For those who want to participate, there is a “Burial Out to Sea” Ceremony where loved one’s ashes can be dispersed.
Held in Samara, Costa Rica, Bare Feet offers grief retreats and workshops that integrates nature therapy (including talking to trees and bee vaping), biofeedback and meditation. The retreats also provide tools for clients to take home with them to better handle the stress.
Bare Feet Retreats also offer time for excursions around Costa Rica, enjoying the beaches and body work.
Founded in 2012, The Grief Support Network (GSN) is a community–based, non-profit organization that offers a positive perspective on the process of healing from grief and loss at any phase of the process.
GSN’s goal is to connect individuals and families through our yoga therapy programs, peer support program, grief rituals, retreats and individual referrals, we create meaningful relationships that help personalize the experience of grief.
In September, GSN will host its first annual Awakening Through Grief Wellness Retreat – a 6-day, 5-night retreat at the Wailea Inn on Maui, Hawaii. This retreat is an opportunity to practice radical self-care, exploring the relationship between mental, emotional, physical and spiritual bodies where your grief may serve as a catalyst for personal growth and transformation.
Sacred Journey Gatherings are the centerpiece program of The Grief Project, which offers services to people who have lost a spouse. Held quarterly for four hours on Saturdays, they offer opportunities for reflection, renewal and connection with other widowed people.
The workshops include time for a speaker as well as an art project, time to socialize and workshops on topics including financial management, home repairs and how to support children on their own grief journey. Many Sacred Journey participants have connected and formed lasting friendships outside of the group.
Grief Retreats for Couples and Families
1. Respite Retreat.
Led by David and Nancy Guthrie, who lost two of their three children, Respite is a weekend for married couples to spend unhurried time with other couples who understand the devastation of losing a child.
The weekend retreats take place twice a year and are located in Henrietta, Tennessee. The focus is on finding meaning and purpose in the loss of a child and grieving together with other couples that have also lost a child.
Golden Willow Retreats is a 5-acre residential sanctuary located at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, nestled in the small village of Arroyo Hondo, 8 miles north of Taos, New Mexico.
Golden Willow offers personalized therapeutic retreats for individuals or families who wish to address their unique grief issues and circumstances. The program can last from three days to two weeks. Participants call Golden Willow Retreat to set specific goals and therapists and counselors work with them toward healing and recovery.
3. Camp Sol.
Camp Sol is a non-profit organization that provides support for families that have lost a child. The services are for families that have children under the age of 18 at home and they host several events throughout the year. All the services are free for families.
The Family Retreat Weekend, held twice a year at Camp John Marc in Meridian, Texas, encourages families to connect with other grieving families as well as heal through their shared experiences.
The retreat also provides support groups and specific programming for children, parents and the family, and traditional camp activities to facilitate family bonding.
At the conclusion of the weekend, a remembrance ceremony is held and gives families the opportunity to grieve for and remember their child. Parents have stated that coming to Camp Sol is like coming to a healing family reunion.
4. Faith's Lodge.
Faith’s Lodge provides support for parents and families that are facing the death or have suffered the death of a child. Located in Northwester Wisconsin, the site offers weekend stays for parents and families that are going through a similar experience
At Faith’s Lodge, families and parents can reserve a weekend to connect with one another and other families that have experienced a similar loss.
There are Bereaved Parents weekends, children’s activities and group therapeutic projects that are designed to help parents and families reflect on their loss and build hope for the future. The lodge was started by Mark and Susan Lacek who lost their daughter Faith at birth.
“It is our desire that by providing this special facility we can help other families through their darkest hours,” say the Laceks. “We do this in honor of Faith, so her name and memory will live on.”
Sunrise Grief Retreats are for individuals looking to understand their grief and gain tools to heal. The society has a spring and a fall retreat and the retreats are held in British Columbia. Each retreat accepts 4-8 and individuals who will then attend group sessions as well as individual sessions.
The program use such tools as guided meditation, yoga and expressive therapy to help people recognize their grief, talk about it and learn to heal.
The Sunrise Grief Retreat provides you with the opportunity to encourage and inspire others that have experienced loss with the idea that you as well will be encouraged and inspired by the stories of others attending.
For more information visit Sunrise Grief Retreat.
Grief Retreats for Children
The Comfort Zone Camp is the nation’s largest bereavement camp for children that have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or guardian. The non-profit camp, for children from age five to 25, are held year round in Virginia, California, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
At Comfort Zone Camp, campers have the opportunity to engage in typical camp activities such as arts and crafts, sports, hiking and campfires.
Throughout the weekend, campers are also given the opportunity to share their loss either in Healing circles or in age-based support groups. The focus of the camp is to not only help build self-esteem but learn coping skills to manage their grief in day to day life.
2. Camp Erin.
Camp Erin is for children ages 6-17 that have lost a significant person in their lives. The camp is free of charge for families and is a weekend camp that is funded by the Moyer Foundation. The camp is offered in cities around the United States and Canada.
Camp Erin combines traditional, fun camp activities with grief education and emotional support, free of charge for all families.
Led by grief professionals and trained volunteers, Camp Erin provides a unique opportunity for children increase levels of hope, enhance self-esteem and be around other children experiencing what they are.
3. Experience Camps.
Experience Camps are week-long camps for children who have lost a parent, a sibling or a guardian or caregiver. Campers have the opportunity to meet and connect with kids who are coping with similar challenges, while getting all of the benefits of the traditional summer camp experience like water sports, hiking and arts and crafts.
Under the guidance of professional bereavement staff, campers have the opportunity to share stories and remember the one who died, while exploring skills that will help them after camp.
With locations in Georgia, New York, California and Maine, the camp staff are licensed social workers, doctors, college athletes and others that have a passion for helping children that have lost a family member. There is no cost to the camper.
A Place to Feel Normal
Lord of The Bereavement Cruise recalls a conversation with a client that perfectly summed up the benefits of Grief Retreats.
“At the end of the conference, she said it was the first time she felt normal since before her child died,” he says. “That is what it’s all about. It’s that ability to feel normal, and to realize you’re still alive, and you have a life to live.”
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About The Author
Michelle Breyer is the co-founder of NaturallyCurly. Named one of the 50 Most Influential People in the Multicultural Market by Women's Wear Daily in 2015, Michelle Breyer is a visionary entrepreneur who took a personal frustration over out-of-control curls and built it into the largest social media platform for hair. TextureMedia grew to 16 million influencers a month, and became the authority for textured hair.
The 21-year-old company has grown to include consumer web sites, an ecommerce site, a market research division. The company - which has worked with a wide range of retailers and brands – gained a reputation for innovation and creativity. The company’s Texture On the Runway show has become a staple for both New York Fashion Week and the beauty industry. NaturallyCurly was acquired in September by Essence Ventures.
Over the past 21 years, Michelle has consulted with numerous companies to help them develop the right products and communication strategies to most effectively connect with this valuable consumer. She has been a speaker at events focused on beauty, empowerment and entrepreneurship. Breyer has also been a mentor for MassChallenge and DivInc.
In 2017, she published The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories & Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community, which launched at #1 on Amazon for Grooming & Style.
Before launching NaturallyCurly, Breyer was an award-winning business reporter with daily newspapers in Texas and California.