Retreat helps grieving adults find comfort through nature

Peace: Buoyed by the success of bereavement programs for children and teens, a program extends its scope to help people of all ages.

September 11, 2005|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Six years ago, Linda Turner's world was turned upside down when her 28-year-old husband, Kurt, was killed by a drunken driver.

Turner, now 37, was unable to find sources of compassionate care outside of her family.

"I felt like the youngest widow in the world," said Turner, whose son, Jonathan, is now almost 7 years old. "The whole trial thing was very difficult. [Survivors] don't know what to expect in the long term."

Two years ago, Turner, who has a degree in marketing from the University of Maryland, decided that she could best use her experience in grief and healing by becoming a pastoral counselor and enrolled in Loyola College's Pastoral Counseling Program. As part of the requirements for her master's degree, which she hopes to complete next year, the Severna Park resident is doing a 1,000-hour internship at Hospice of the Chesapeake's Spiritual and Bereavement Care Center, where she serves as community outreach coordinator for Wabanaki Bereavement Retreat.

Wabanaki Retreat, created for adults who are grieving the loss of a loved one from any cause - natural or accidental, homicide or suicide - is being offered to adult residents of Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. The retreat's inaugural session begins at 5 p.m. Friday and concludes at 2 p.m. Sept. 18 at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville.

The primary mission of Hospice of the Chesapeake's Spiritual and Bereavement Care Center is to provide spiritual support and grief counseling for hospice patients, their caregivers, family members and friends. The center also provides bereavement follow-up for hospice families for up to one year after the death of their loved one. The summer retreats are an extension of this mission.

Prompted by the success of its other retreats - Camp Nabe for children, started in 1992, and Phoenix Rising for teenagers, inaugurated in 2002 - Hospice of the Chesapeake's bereavement center began work on a retreat for adults, adopting for its name a Native American term, Wabanaki, which means "living at the sunrise." The retreat is held in woods along the banks of the Severn River.

"I love the model of bereavement outside," said Karen Frank, a registered nurse who directs children's bereavement at Hospice of the Chesapeake. "I embrace the opportunity to use the river as a metaphor of grief, [to use] nature, trail walks, fall."

Frank saw the positive response of children and their parents toward Camp Nabe and Phoenix Rising, and heard parents say they wished there was a similar program for them.

"Now there is," she said.

"I think this is an idea that has been long in the making," said the Rev. Christine Kennedy, vice president of spiritual and bereavement care at Hospice of the Chesapeake. "Our kids and teens do so well, and we all benefit so much, why not adults?"

For `specific needs'

The bereavement center receives so many referrals from crime events, Kennedy said, "we thought, `here is a specific population with specific needs.'"

Wabanaki Retreat will address the needs of adults experiencing loss from trauma, as well as any kind of loss, Kennedy said. A team of professional counselors and trained volunteers will guide participants through a variety of activities: recreational, creative arts, facilitated storytelling, restorative rituals and commemorative celebrations.

Quiet retreat

Through these activities, organizers hope participants will find it easier to relax and share their feelings and memories in a safe, accepting environment; discover that they are not alone in their experience; explore the impact of loss and its effects; and identify effective coping strategies.

Participants stay in air-conditioned cabins with full bath facilities.

Wabanaki Retreat is partially funded by a grant from the Maryland Victims of Crime Initiative, and there is no charge for survivors of a victim of violent crime. For all others, the fee for lodging, meals, snacks and activities is $125. The retreat is limited to 50 people. For more information or to register, call 410-987-2129.

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