Vickie, Mike's Mom Donna Simmons Helen, Michelle’s mum

Vickie, Mike's Mom

On September 23rd I gave myself the gift of attending the first-annual Gift of Keith retreat in Ogunquit Maine.

I knew that it would be a great experience to meet some of the wonderful women who have walked with me along this path of grief after losing my son, Mike to suicide on April 9th, 2008. I didn't know was just HOW special this retreat would be; how wonderfully comfortable it would feel. There is something so incredibly familiar and connecting about looking into the eyes of a fellow survivor.

As was expected, there were some tears, but Carol didn't plan it to be a weekend for tears. She planned it to be a time of bonding and further healing.

There were 9 of us. We traveled from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Virginia, Maine and Australia! We represented the loss of five sons, a daughter, a husband and two brothers.

We met on Friday evening at the scenic, quiet and inviting Anchorage By the Sea; an absolutely perfect place for us. It was located right on a rocky Atlantic beach with many, many very smooth, oval, black stones. I don't know if it's legal and it's probably not appreciated by the natives, but I had to bring some home as a momento. When I left for home, the young man at the airport x-ray machine said, "um...it looks like you have rocks in your bag." I said that yes, I did and asked if it was alright. He said he guessed it was, but wondered why. "They will remind me of this wonderful weekend and that awesome, rolling sea", I said.

I didn't tell him that they represent how the waves of grief have smoothed ME. The constant ebbing and flowing of grief over my hurting heart for the last 3 and a half years have worn away many of the rough parts and have left a quieter, more compassionate, more introspective and tolerant heart.

I'm not the same person, but in so many ways I think I'm a better person. Like my dear friend said at the retreat, "I like the person I am now better than the person I was then". I feel like we are weathered old trees that have withstood a terrible storm of lightning and the bitter, cruel winds of winter and still we stand. Stronger, wiser...but different. A huge section of ourselves violently snapped off and gone. And still we stand.

On Friday we met on Carol's hotel deck overlooking the dark sea and shared our journeys over some scrumptious appetizers, fruit and wine. When we got sleepy we retired to our rooms and met again on Saturday morning for breakfast at the cute little dinner on site.

After breakfast we went across the street to the conference room that was reserved for us and played a game of "missed" aka "bingo" which had facts about our loved ones scattered on a bingo sheet. When each fact was read (ie:he loved fly fishing) we put a marker on that space and the survivor of that person would tell a story about a time he went fly fishing or a memory of that part of his life. It was a great way to share the personalities of our loved ones. Memories brought tears, smiles and laughs and we got to know a bit more about the sons, daughter, husband and brothers that are gone from sight but never from heart.

We took a walk along a most beautiful pathway edging the sea and stopped at a cove to draw hearts in the sand with our dear one's names in the center. We were honored to be asked to help sprinkle some of a beloved daughter's ashes in the sea. This was a very touching and quieting moment that I will never forget. How generous to be invited into that very special and tender moment.

After breakfast on Sunday we gathered one more time on Carol's deck to say goodbye. We joined hands and said a prayer together for continued healing and safe travels home.

Thank you, Carol, for your work and planning to make this such a memorable weekend! I so look forward to our next time together. It is a highlight of my year.

If you missed this 2011 retreat I encourage you to join us next year. You will be so glad you did! With Blessings of peace and comfort to all.

Donna Simmons

I'd never participated in a retreat before, but I looked forward to the experience. We were a small gathering of nine women brought together by the common loss of a loved one’s death by suicide. As a lead contact for the last several years to all 200+ members of this cyber support group, I’d often conversed with each of them by e-mail, giving support to survivors in need, letting them know that someone else remembered, someone else knew their pain.  Although I’d not met the others at the retreat in person, the leader and her husband had shared meals with my husband and me in the past.

So when I arrived at the resort in Ogunguit on the last weekend in September I was both excited and anxious to make a good impression. I had only a forty minute drive to get there but the others had come quite a distance from Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Australia. They came such great distances to share a sisterhood of grief and healing, tears and laughter.

The forecast had been for rain throughout the weekend. That first night we gathered on the balcony as the rainy mist and fog blanketed the outside world. We shared food and wine, stories of travel, and memories of the loved ones we'd lost.

The next morning the struggling sun burned off the fog and we walked the Marginal way, climbed down the rocks, and wrote messages in the sand to those no longer with us. We sprinkled some ashes from the daughter from Australia into the calm sea. We spent time together in a cozy homelike meeting room sharing our pain and the sweet memories so dear to us.

We forged a bond with each other that weekend. We shared memories of love, broke bread together, prayed in a circle of handheld strength, and headed home with stronger friendships, peace in our hearts, and a promise to meet again next year.

God bless us all in the journeys we must make, the compassion we pay forward, and the love we so willingly share.

Helen - Michelle’s mum

Traveling to the other side of the world for Carol’s first retreat in Ogunquit Maine (for me)

was  like putting the pieces together on a beautiful patchwork quilt.

I knew most of the people only by internet contact, but as I saw their faces & felt their warmth , their colours began to show .

My  quilt began to take form.

I noticed we  were all  joined together by  a beautiful golden thread,  the thread of our grief,

I never fully understood until the retreat just how powerful  that golden thread could be.

Hearts that had been wounded, shut down,  and damaged by grief, slowly began to open up and smiles began to form on loving lips.

In beautiful Ogunquit we shared so much together,

We shared our sadness, our hopes and dreams that had been shattered by the suicide of our loved family member,

We shared our   laughter.. good belly laughs, both at ourselves and each other, how good that felt.

Wandering along the craggy cliff tops I watched this little group of ‘broken souls’ gaining strength with each step.

When I think of my time with these beautiful women,  will always think in beautiful colours….and my next quilt will reflect these colours.

Thank you Carol & Dick for sharing the life of your beautiful son Keith with us ,

It  has allowed us the freedom to explore our own grief journey with safety in the knowledge that we too will survive.

I look forward to the next retreat.