What Exactly Are Grief Retreats?

October 8, 2021

Grief is both a universal and an extremely personal yet unavoidable experience. It’s felt in a multitude of different ways, but the common notion is that it is an overwhelming sadness that can last for months or even years. It's a completely natural process that can be all-encompassing but nothing can quite prepare you for it.

When we're in the process of grieving, a lot of it happens in our own minds. It can make us lose sight of who we are as we struggle to find ways to move forward after an impacting loss. In these moments, it’s not uncommon to feel alone. Death is often trivialised because it makes people feel uncomfortable, and throughout history, humankind has always placed value on being 'strong' and pushing through pain because society doesn’t seem to know how to handle grief. However, there is so much more strength in admitting our struggles.

It's been said that grief’s best friend is isolation and grieving individuals often have a tendency to isolate themselves to prevent becoming a burden to those around them. That’s why grief retreats have become quite the modern phenomenon, providing a safe space to help people cope with their pain, unload their trauma, voice their worries and feel all the emotions of loss authentically while connecting with others who’ve been through similar. It’s a space in which feelings are validated rather than brushed under the carpet, guiding broken hearts back to wholeness.

What exactly is a grief retreat?

Grief retreats are gentle, caring, and nurturing places that not only help you connect with others who share similar grieving experiences but drive you to reconnect with yourself after suffering loss. They welcome vulnerability and help to ease your anxiety by harmonising your body and mind through a range of different activities and exercises.

The retreats come in a variety of formats. There are both short-term and long-term programs that vary in intensity and approach. Some are pricy and others purse-friendly. Some are located in exotic places to soothe the soul and spirit while others gather in conference centres local to our homes. Some use yoga, meditation, and experimental holistic activities such as integrative breathwork, others use more traditional workshops and therapy methods. Although the programs vary in scope, they all share the common goal of facilitating emotional healing in a judgement-free zone.

Are there different types of retreats for different types of grief?

There are a variety of grief retreats that focus on the different types of loss we experience as individuals, so whatever kind of loss you’re dealing with, there will be a retreat aimed at helping you.

When searching for your retreat, include specific key terms that describe the type of loss you’re dealing with. While many retreats encourage a mix of participants, some focus on specific groups such as widowed spouses, bereaved parents, and children dealing with grief if you want a program more aligned with your circumstances.

What should I expect at a grief retreat?

All grief retreats are intended to be transformative experiences, and each will provide its own activities in order to accomplish this goal. Generally, there tends to be a staff-to-participant ratio that allows for individualised attention. Participants decide how much they would like to engage depending on what they feel they are able to manage.

As mentioned previously, each program defines its retreat differently. Some will focus on mindfulness, group work, and individual therapy. Then there are those that are activity orientated; some creatively driven focusing on healing with art, music, drama, and writing, and others are more physically centered with activities like hiking, swimming, horseback riding, and cycling that complement the therapy offered. To sum it up, the list is pretty exhaustive suiting the needs of all different types of personalities.

Dealing with grief is strenuous and healing from loss is an individualistic experience that no one else should strive to shape or dictate. Therapists will provide the tools and inspiration, and the participant will choose what to utilise for their own particular needs. Each participant is likely to respond differently to each activity, similarly to how we all experience grief differently. Think about what your personal needs are when looking at different programs.

What’s a typical schedule like at a grief retreat?

For the most part, grief retreats tend to be relaxed, casual, and not too strict on following rigid protocols. Usually, on the first day, there will be an informal check-in process followed by a meet-and-greet to go over the retreat's planned activities. For the remaining days, there will be a pre-planned schedule of activities and workshops to keep the retreat flowing from one day to the next.

Many retreats provide food and drinks within their program, sometimes presenting opportunities to get dressed up for more formal socialising. You should check this is the case in the retreat you’re interested in, just in case drinks, meals and snacks are extra expenses that you might need to account for.

How much should I be looking to spend on a grief retreat?

There are retreats out there available for every budget. There are those on the higher end of the spectrum that can cost a few thousand dollars and are usually located somewhere luxurious and tropical. There are retreats that don’t offer accommodation that will typically set you back $150-$250. There are also some organisations that offer their programs for free as long as you are willing to travel to attend.

If you’re interested in visiting a grief retreat, invest some time into looking at different retreats that fit your budget and offer programs that suit you and your personal needs. Professional travel planners can also help with finding the right retreat for you.

How do I know if I’m ready for a grief retreat?

Grief retreats are not easy and there is no set timeframe before you’re eligible to attend one. You’ll find that you’re ready to experience a retreat when you feel ready to move on from your grief, better understand it, and enhance your coping skills. Many grief retreats are set up for all stages of the grieving process, all types of loss, and all different age groups.

Grief retreats might not be the right process for you but look to other resources to help you through your journey of loss. If we don’t process our grief, it can lead to unexpected complications in the future. Although there are no time restraints on when you should stop grieving – it might not ever fully go away – there are healthy habits we can adopt to help us work through these emotions and step away from the darkness. Grief retreats are just one way that supports us in working towards that goal.

Emily Davies

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