An excerpt from my manuscript…

After the funeral service our Pastor had given us an envelope and told us to open it as soon as we felt ready for some information on a healing retreat. The envelope got lost in the shuffle of all the cards and gifts, but I found it one day while I was filling Sophia’s new hope chest with all of her belongings.

Inside the envelope was a brochure about a place called Faith’s Lodge. A North Woods retreat where parents who had lost a child could go to reflect on the past and gain strength for the future. It looked like a beautiful facility and so Chris and I agreed to give it a try. After getting the necessary papers signed by our Pastor, we booked a week at the lodge in March – six months after Sophia died.

My mom and dad, who were taking care of Annabelle, waved nervously as we drove off to Danbury, Wisconsin, where the lodge was located. Chris and I were apprehensive as well.

“So what, are we going to have to meet with counselors and watch videos on grief all week?” Chris said about 20 minutes into the two-hour drive.

“What do you think the other couples will be like?” I responded. “Do you think anyone else will have a SIDS baby?”

“Do you think we can bring beer?” Chris wondered out loud.

After agreeing that surely it wasn’t prohibited, we stopped at a liquor store for some “liquid courage,” which we later smuggled into the lodge under a blanket.

From the moment we drove up to the lodge, we felt an overwhelming sense of peace. The long driveway was canopied by bright white birch trees that shook gently in the breeze. Rounding the curve that led up to the lodge we passed a sign that read “Path of Inspiration,” and heard the gentle notes of a wind chime in the distance. The lodge was enormous and beautiful and serene looking. We parked the car and walked in through the front door, where we were greeted as “Sophia’s Parents.” I knew then and there that we were in a very special place.

Chris and I were the only guests for the first couple of days so we spent our time walking through the woods, golfing, and sipping wine out on the front porch overlooking a tranquil pond covered in water lilies. The lodge was made up of private suites that each had their own fireplace with a cozy sitting area, private patio or balcony, and plush beds with fancy mattress settings.

On Thursday, the other guests began appearing (with their own liquid courage covered in blankets!) And almost immediately, Chris and I felt a connection to these other couples. We recognized the looks on their faces, their apprehension over being in this place. The sadness, the loneliness, the hopelessness. The mothers embraced and the fathers shook hands.
Each couple had brought items that reminded us of our children, and we setup a tribute area for all of the things in the room off the kitchen. Throughout the week we would wander past the photos and blankets and journals and learn about these other children who had been taken too early. One baby had died from Trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality. Another had passed away at birth with no explanation as to why. There was as set of conjoined twins that lived for just hours after birth. And two babies who had died from SIDS.

The week was beyond our wildest imagination. The mothers sat sipping wine and telling of how their children had died; what they had buried or cremated with them; we talked about how none of us were scared to die anymore because we knew we would be with our babies; we spoke of all the things that we couldn’t speak of with other, non-bereaved, parents. The mothers made keepsake jewelry while the dads gathered in the porch area and constructed wooden planters.

As couples we each decorated birdhouses which could be used in our memory gardens or left at the lodge (we hung ours in our cabin near the tree where Sophia liked to swing.) We decorated heart-shaped stones with the names of our children and set the stones around a bridge down by the lake.

By the time Sunday came, we didn’t want to leave. We were kindred souls with these other couples – they understood us and what we were going through – they spoke our language of loss.

We did eventually have to leave Faith’s Lodge, but over the next four years, we would become involved in an outreach committee, hold a number of fundraising events to benefit the lodge, and ultimately, dedicate the bridge that was surrounded in heart-shaped stones, to our sweet Sophia.