Last week at Launde Abbey’s “Living with Loss” retreat

I always think it takes quite a bit of courage to attend a retreat. You don’t know what to expect and it is natural to be nervous. So I thought it might be helpful to describe a retreat in a bit more detail.

The first thing to say is that I don’t believe anybody has ever regretted attending one of our “Living with Loss” events. 84% of those who filled in the feedback form from our retreat last week (February 2018) “strongly agreed” that they were glad they took part.

Each retreat is a bit different, depending on the location, duration and how many people attend. Usually there are between 8 – 14 people, of all ages and backgrounds.

At Launde Abbey we were fortunate to have a dedicated room where we had a collection of books and resources to use during our time together. There are books on grief, on coping with particular types of losses, and a bit of relevant fiction too. Plus we have colouring materials as some of us (yes, adults) often enjoy this as a way of relaxing.

The retreat schedule fits in 2-3 sessions a day, but also plenty of time to rest, reflect and enjoy our surroundings. Oh, and food. We have a full buffet breakfast, a 2-course lunch and a 2-course dinner, and tea, coffee, cake and biscuits between meals. We discuss at the retreat about the need to be “kind to ourselves” and mealtime is at least one time “we practice what we preach”!

On the first day we usually spend a bit of time getting to know each other and having a little introduction to the retreat, then on day 2 we start in earnest. On this retreat we had a morning and late afternoon session, then in the evening we came together for a glass of wine and listening to songs that brought us comfort or hope, or just simply favourites or ones that mean a lot to someone in the room. Thanks to Spotify I’m usually able to find whatever songs people would like to hear.

On the first full day our focus is on the grief journey. The second day we look at “Bonds of Love”. If it is a week retreat, then we usually manage some time for craft in one or two of the afternoons. This is an opportunity for those who would like to have a go at something new and not too technically demanding, and usually produces quite a bit of laughter. On this retreat we did wet-felting making hearts and other items, and on another day John introduced paracording.

On the third day we looked at life strategies, and finally on the final morning we looked back at where we had travelled together and prepared ourselves for the journey home.

As mentioned, each retreat is a bit different but we do hit most of these topics to one degree or another. We fit in a film when we can, and most people get out and about for some exercise.

The retreats are Christian – gently presented, ecumenical. We listen to some inspirational readings and also have a time of candle-lighting prayer which is both a remembrance for our loved ones and also lighting candles of hope for our onward journey in life.

From running these events over the past couple of years, I have noticed how those who participate often seem surprised at how much we laugh together and how it can actually be enjoyable. Of course there are tears too, but it just seems that due to the mix of activities and being in the company of those who are also grieving, that it turns out to be more relaxing than you might have expected from a bereavement retreat.

I hope that gives you a feel for what the retreats are like. We have more booked for this year, and we’ll be returning to Launde Abbey next February. (Click on the retreat tab if you want to find out more.)

My goal is to start doing support days and sessions, using the same ideas as from the retreats, but making them more accessible for those who can’t get to a retreat (or who can’t afford it, as there is a cost involved). I’m looking for openings for these events – perhaps if you’re part of a support group or a church you might have some ideas?

To finish this up – and before you scroll through the photos – I’d like to add that everyone who comes to a retreat is unique and is on their own unique journey, but we do also find we have things in common and it is lovely to find friendship in our midst. When we walk through the Valley with someone else – whether to support or be supported – we discover we are not walking alone.

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Launde Abbey from the back view. The Abbey is surrounded by beautiful Leicestershire countryside and though it was cold, most of participants made it out for a walk on some days at least. The Abbey was founded as an Augustinian priory in 1119 and was surrounded by a deer park. Of course there have been lots of changes since then. https://www.laundeabbey.org.uk/about/history/

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We had the use of the “Oak Room” – a wood-panelled room that is in the old part of the building dating to the 1550s, although the bay window you see here was added in the 1630s. This is one end of the room. Comfy seats are always a must for our retreats. (It wasn’t as dark as it appears here – just a poorly lit photo.) The back table had our retreat lending library on it. The view out of the window was green fields and sheep and cows. At Lee Abbey we had cliffs and the sea. At the Briery it is a quiet garden. Every place has its own unique space and views.

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Not all of the decor was original to Launde Abbey but wherever it was from, there was a sense of history as you can see from the date on this fireplace.

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Distinctive wood carvings – a place for candles

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There was a beautiful snowdrop walk around the grounds. Members of the public were also coming in to enjoy this and finishing up with a cream tea. We had the advantage of walking the grounds as often as we wished. How appropriate to see the signs of spring, even when we were still in the cold of winter. Quite symbolic for our own journeys of loss and grief, as we might feel in the winter of our lives but there is still hope for spring, and then summer will follow again.

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Wet felting. It’s a simple activity. Everyone created the same basic shape to begin with and then adapted it into something they wanted. Each item is unique as far as shape and colour – as unique as we all are.

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Launde Abbey chapel. There was a service every morning that anyone who wished could attend, although it wasn’t an official part of the retreat. This is also where we had our candle-lighting. There were some contemporary tapestries alongside the historic features:

The Chapel is the only part left of the original Priory Church and dates mainly to the 12th and 13th centuries. … The stained glass windows are particularly notable — the three large windows above the altar and the small windows on the south side wall date to about 1435. The monument to Gregory Cromwell, which is to the left of the altar, dates to 1551. The paintings to the back of the chapel are very fine examples of English cubism and date to the 1950s.

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Paracord crosses. Paracord is the string used for parachutes – the kind you might also use for shoelaces or on a lanyard. “Paracording” is a process of winding, weaving and knot-tying.

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This was a group reflection activity with scrabble letters. The goal was to think of words that describe what people do or say, or their attitudes, that have helped us in our grieving (light-coloured tiles) or have not been helpful (dark coloured). It was interesting to see that each group had some similarities in the words they chose. (This activity was still in process when we took the picture – there was a lot more by the end.)

Many thanks to Launde Abbey for hosting our retreat, and for each one who took part.

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