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Project CHAI Retreat Gives Families, Volunteers Strength to Go On

bereavement retreatAmid the peace and tranquility of a spring weekend at Camp Simcha, 20 families came together to mourn beloved children and find strength for the days ahead during the Donald Alan Harris Healing Hearts Bereavement Retreat.

This was the 22nd year that Chai Lifeline’s crisis and bereavement staff, now working under the Project CHAI banner, invited parents for a weekend of healing. They share their stories, their pain, and their strategies for getting through each day after devastating loss. Assisted by Project CHAI’S professional staff, Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox and Zahava Farbman, LMSW, members of Chai Lifeline’s professional staff, and invited clergy and therapists, guests have a unique opportunity to explore their feelings among the only people who will ever truly understand them.

Families who came early (most of them!) had a chance to sample the recreational activities at camp. Almost everyone made their way to our Candle Shop, where they discovered why the Candle Shop is utilized almost 24/6 during the summer. Sitting at long tables, dipping the paraffin molds into color after color, the activity relaxed both parents and children. They introduced themselves to one another, and before long the room was buzzing. The two arts and crafts instructors had their hands full as they demonstrated techniques and encouraged the craftspeople. By the end of the session, every family attending had at least one beautiful new candle to take home with them.

As one staff member noted, the candles were a gift to retreat participants in many ways. “It was something tangible that families can take home.

The long Shabbos gave Retreat guests an opportunity to look back and ahead almost simultaneously. They spoke with one another about their children and families and of a life before illness or sudden passing drastically changed their lives. Sessions with Project CHAI and Chai Lifeline professionals offered ideas on how to integrate the loss into their lives and how to build on the new realities in which they were now living.

“We heard from several couples that the Retreat was the first time they had ever discussed the impact of their child’s death,” remarked one of the professionals. “The Retreat gave them the structure to talk about each person’s way of mourning and what they needed individually and as a family to make it through.”

Training for Project CHAI volunteers part of the weekend

For the first time, the Bereavement Retreat included a module for Project CHAI volunteers, the “first responder” force that can be first on the scene for families in the midst of tragedy or trauma. The volunteers met several times with the Project CHAI professionals, Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Chai Lifeline’s executive vice president, and other Retreat staff for both practical instruction and spiritual support.

“These volunteers take the pain of the families on their shoulders, and it’s a very heavy burden,” said Rabbi Scholar. “Coming together to share and learn over the weekend gave them both knowledge and emotional strength.

“We Need to Keep the Momentum Going”

By Sunday, deep connections had been made among many of the Retreat guests, Zahava Farbman, associate director of Project CHAI, reported. Both guests and the professionals agreed that Project CHAI could and should reach out to do more during the year.

There were many suggestions for follow-up and ongoing activity, and for increasing participation among people who did not or could not attend this year’s Retreat. Before any are implemented, Rabbi Scholar suggested surveying those whose lives have been touched by Project CHAI in the last year. Based on the responses, Project CHAI will move forward.

Retreat. For parents of departed campers, it was a way to connect with the fun that their children had at Camp Simcha.”

One mother explained that she and her family had been using the Havdalah candle made by her daughter at camp. That candle was almost gone. “Now I have a new one just like hers,” she smiled.

A Time to Heal and Reflect

The long Shabbos gave Retreat guests an opportunity to look back and ahead almost simultaneously. They spoke with one another about their children and families and of a life before illness or sudden passing drastically changed their lives. Sessions with Project CHAI and Chai Lifeline professionals offered ideas on how to integrate the loss into their lives and

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