Friday marks the start of my first “Writing as a Pathway Through Grief, Loss, Transition and Change” retreat since before the pandemic. This is a retreat I created with my colleague Nancy London and co-taught with Nancy and David Colin Carr for several years. I was inspired to create it after my mother died in July of 2014, when I was awash in grief over her death and launching our youngest child, Lizzy, from home. They say that teachers always teach what they need to learn and that seemed to be the case for me—I have always written about what I need to write about and taught what I need to learn.
Once we held the first Writing as a Pathway Retreat, I knew it was a keeper. And I’ve taught it every year since, except during the pandemic. Now I’m bringing the retreat back, this time with my friend and colleague Evelyn Hall, a wonderful circle leader and ceremonialist, by my side.
Over the course of the next week or so, I’ll be sharing with you some of what is necessary to prepare for this retreat as well as sharing some of daily content. I’ll post every few days in digest form so as not to inundate your inbox, and I hope what I share will give you a sense of what it means to be on retreat with me—and what a grief retreat is like.
Right now, as I write this post, I’m working through my long list of logistical pre-retreat preparations before—making name tags, figuring out roommates, finalizing the schedule, getting in touch with Commonweal (our retreat center) for final arrangements, making a list of who has a birthday during the retreat and a list of everyone’s emergency contacts, starting to pile my personal gear on my mom’s chair in my office, reviewing curriculum, making signs (COVID TEST HERE, SHOES OFF HERE, REGISTRATION THIS WAY), charging the speaker I’ll use to play spoken word and music. Buying supplies and a bar of chocolate for everyone’s pillow. Since it’s been three years, tending to the details of an in-person retreat feel unfamiliar and familiar at the same time.
While I’m going through my preparations and my co-teacher, Evelyn Hall, is going through hers, twenty-two participants from around the country are making their own preparations—packing their bags, closing out their work, saying goodbye to their families, getting ready to meet the moment with an open heart. Invariably people are nervous, wondering, “Now why did I sign up for this retreat anyway?” I just them all a reassuring note that it will all be okay.
I love retreat teaching. Just as my students flower and open, I do, too. There is always a gift in what we create together. In the synergy of community we build. In the stories we’ll share. In the wonderful meals we’ll savor. In the opening of our hearts.
Commonweal, here I come.
I can’t wait.