Nestled in the picturesque scenery of the Catskill Mountains is a place where a juxtaposition of emotions stream. At Camp Simcha, joyful screams of children from all ages can be heard throughout the summer, while at other times during the year; tears of bereaved parents are shed for their loss.
On Parshas Chaya Sarah Chai Lifeline will host its 20th Annual Healing Hearts Bereavement Retreat in the bucolic 125-acre campgrounds. Coordinated by Project CHAI, the division of Chai Lifeline that helps families and communities cope with the emotional devastation that follows an timely death, this weekend gives parents who have lost children to disease or other calamity a chance to unite for a weekend. The Healing Hearts Bereavement Retreat is a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear or just a place to process their loss in a safe and tranquil environment amongst fellow parents and experienced professionals. This year, more than 40 couples will be attending.
Director of Client Services at Chai Lifeline Rabbi Mordechai Gobioff summed up the core success of the weekend by stating, “Parents feel a sense of security in the company of fellow bereaved parents and professionals and tend to let their guard down- something they might find difficult to do even with family or friends.”
Chai Lifeline Program Director Nachman Maimon added, “This is the only time and place for some parents to feel safe with their emotions. Nothing can take the place of the comfort that one parent receives from the other. The relationships made during the weekend extend many times throughout the year, whereby continuing the healing process well beyond the weekend.”
Yitzy and Debbie Smith, who lost their 3 ½ year old girl to cancer, come back to the retreat not only to get chizuk, but also to be a pillar of strength to others whose pain is still raw and hard to cope with. “Emotionally, it’s difficult for some to find the courage to go the retreat the first time” says Mrs. Smith. “Once they go however, almost everyone comes out with tremendous chizuk that gives them the emotional backbone to continue live a fulfilling life despite the loss that has beset them.”
Chai Lifeline’s Executive Vice President, Rabbi Simcha Scholar adds, “There is perhaps nothing more isolating than the death of a child. Even the most well-meaning friends may pull back because they don’t know what to say or do to comfort the family. The Healing Hearts Bereavement Retreat gives parents three days together with the only people who truly understand the pain: others going through the same experience.”
According to Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, Project CHAI’s director of interventions and community education, the weekend offers opportunities for parents to share with one in groups that reflect both their gender (mothers and fathers tend to grieve differently) and the circumstances of their child’s death. One group consists of parents wh0 have lost a child suddenly while the other group is for parents who lost a child after a prolonged illness.
Among the highlights of the program is a panel consisting of professionals, Rabbanim, and returning parents who answer questions and concerns that a parent might have. Rabbi Gobioff shared, “the panel is a highly successful in affording parents the opportunity to share what’s in their heart.”
Arguably the most moving part of the weekend is when all parents gather together on Sunday afternoon for a siyum Mishnays l’ilue nishmas the children that passed away. Kel malei rachamim is recited with all names of the deceased mentioned. A member of the Chai Lifeline staff relates, “when I daven Neila on Yom Kippur I think about the siyum. The thought of this brings more chizuk than anything else.”
Since 1987, Chai Lifeline has given families the social, emotional, and financial support that enables each member to meet the crises and daily challenges of serious pediatric illness. Two dozen year round programs enable young patients, their parents, and siblings to find joy and hope in everyday life as they fight the devastating effects of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses or chronic conditions.
The Healing Hearts Bereavement Retreat is part of the Donald Alan Harris Healing Hearts Bereavement Program a program of Project CHAI.
(By Yehuda Farkas – YWN)