From Heartache to Hope at Chai Lifeline’s Annual Bereavement Retreat

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Shared grief evolved into mutual support as 25 couples from all across the United States and Canada spent an emotional weekend at a bereavement retreat hosted by Chai Lifeline’s Project Chai which provides services in hundreds of crisis situations throughout the year.  The only program of its kind in the world, the retreat provided parents an opportunity to deal with the sea of feelings that accompanies the loss of a child in a Shabbos that was filled with positivity and served as yet another step in the lengthy healing process.

Guests were greeted warmly by Project Chai director Rabbi Dr. David Fox as they arrived at Camp Simcha’s magnificent grounds in Glen Spey, New York on Fridayafternoon, with some remarking that just walking onto the property enveloped them in a sea of serenity.   After relaxing at the lake and enjoying the Camp Simcha workshops, participants got ready for a memorable Shabbos whose every detail had been thoughtfully planned and prepared by the Chai Lifeline team.

In addition to world class seudos, zemiros and davening by the Yedidim Choir, a lavish kiddush, divrei Torah by Chai Lifeline’s director of national services Rabbi Mordechai Gobioff, Rabbi Dr. Fox, Project Chai volunteer Rabbi Avraham Menachem Greenwald and special guest Rabbi Baruch Gradon of Los Angeles, couples enjoyed a keynote address by Chai Lifeline executive vice president Rabbi Simcha Scholar and participated in numerous sessions echoing the retreat’s theme, “as winter turns to spring, the blossoming of hope.”

“We work with the parents, helping them identify the stage of grief they are at, what blocks prevent them from moving on, and giving them opportunities to work though those blocks,” explained Rabbi Dr. Fox, who ran sessions along with Project Chai associate director Zahava Farbman and noted trauma therapist Debbie Fox.  “Every parent has a unique experience and we use different means to give them a chance to express the deeper parts of themselves and melt the almost icy paralysis that occurs when, G-d forbid, a parent loses a child.”

One of the most popular segments of the annual retreat was the Shabbos afternoon panel discussion, featuring a variety of professionals as well as a bereaved couple.  A fully interactive session, couples enjoyed the opportunity to both hear from, and pose questions to, the panelists and Chai Lifeline professionals made themselves available for consultations throughout the weekend, staying up well into the night talking to parents.  Also taking part in the retreat were over a dozen Project Chai volunteers who took part in numerous training sessions and enjoyed the opportunity to speak with parents.

The most moving moment of the weekend came in the final moments of Shabbos with a poignant Kel Maley Rachamim made for all of the children whose parents took part in the retreat, with the Yedidim Choir gently transitioning guests from tears to solace with a heartfelt Havdala.

The weekend closed out on Sunday with final sessions and heartfelt goodbyes.  As guests prepared to leave Camp Simcha, many exchanged phone numbers and email addresses in order to keep up the friendships forged during the retreat.

While the weekend was just 48 hours long, parents reported that they left Camp Simcha with a wealth of positive takeaways.  Eliyahu Veruzub, who lost a one year old child, said that sharing his collective sorrow with other bereaved parents was immensely therapeutic.

“Despite anyone’s best intentions, there is no environment outside of this where I have ever felt I was talking to people who understood what I was feeling,” said Veruzub.  “It was extremely helpful to speak and be understood by people who were able to relate to me, something that could only take place in this kind of setting.”

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