Wednesday, April 20, 2016


My sister and I spent last weekend at a yoga & meditation retreat in the middle-of-nowhere Hohenwald, Tennessee. There were no TVs, no phones, no computers, no clocks and no communication to the outside world allowed. I brought a book (which I barely opened) and a journal to document my experience.

Before you continue reading, I have to preface my post with this: None of it makes any sense. The weekend was just one strange and emotional experience after another, but somehow these 3 days became the most life-changing weekend of my life.


After driving miles and miles through back roads, we finally arrived at a discrete entrance with an old wooden sign that read, Gray Bear Lodge Retreat Center. We followed the gravel driveway for a good mile into the woods and pulled up to a wooden cabin. We were greeted by a woman with long white hair wearing a flowy hippie outfit. She was smiling as she helped us out of the car.

I immediately felt out of place. Everyone was so Mother Earth and I was so Working Mother.

I got up to my little room and immediately changed into yoga pants. I sat down on the bed, opened my journal and wrote: What in the hell am I doing here?

The weather was perfect outside. 80 degrees and sunny. It was like nature was begging me to stop and take notice. My sister and I decided to just do our own thing for a little while, so I found my way to the nearest hammock. It seemed like the most logical place to clear my mind and relax. 

After a few unfortunate and embarrassing attempts, I finally got settled into the hammock and watched the other retreaters arrive. Everyone else seemed so earthy and peaceful, yet there I was feeling anxious. The bees kept swarming around my head and I tried to swat them away. I figured with my luck, I would be the girl to get stung. 

I opened my journal again and the second thing I wrote was: Am I doing this right?

I felt awkward and uncomfortable--in the hammock, in my body, in my head, even in what I was wearing. And then, the guilt started to sink in. James had such a hard week at work, and now he had to take care of Joe by himself all weekend. He deserved this retreat far more than I did. I took a deep breath, shoved the guilt in the back of my head and wrote the words: What do I feel?

I stared at that sentence for a solid 5 minutes. Then I circled it, underlined it, then underlined it again. I didn't have an answer.

I heard the bell ring for dinner and headed toward the main cabin. All of the food was vegan and home grown from their own gardens. I grabbed a plate of veggies and found a pillow at the Japanese floor table. I couldn't feel any more out of place.

After dinner we had opening circle where we went around the room and shared what we were hoping to get out of the weekend. There were about 30 people on the retreat, and everyone seemed pretty comfortable expressing themselves. I kept my introduction as brief as possible.

Hello, I'm Hadleigh. I live in Franklin, TN. (awkward pause) I've been dealing with a lot of grief lately and I'm hoping to leave here a little lighter.


I woke up to the bell signaling breakfast was ready. Without clocks, the bell was all we had to go by. After some fruit and granola, I made my way to a little massage hut for the Thai massage I had signed up for the previous day. I had never had one before but my sister said they were great, so I decided to try it.

The masseuse's name was Lucas. He was tall, completely bald and had a prominent long beard. I kept thinking he was going to start levitating at any moment.

He welcomed me into his space. "Any recent surgeries or body aches I should know about?"

That question always smacks me across the face. I've now heard it from multiple massage therapists and new doctors, and I never quite know how to answer. I want to scream--YES! This body was just 4.5 months pregnant. This body just carried another human being. This body just went through the most devastating surgery it has ever gone through. YES! This body aches--to be pregnant again, to be happy again, to feel whole again, to hold my daughter again...

It wasn't the time or the place. I shook my head no.

"How is your spirit?"

"Not good," I said.

I laid down on the floor and Lucas told me to let go of all my tension and move with him. My sister had tried to explain to me that Thai massage combines yoga, stretching and massage into a full-on experience, but I couldn't quite grasp it until I actually experienced it. I felt like he kept pressing on pressure points, releasing everything I had been holding onto.

(Side note: When I later tried to describe this experience to James he immediately laughed and referenced the yoga instructor from the movie Couples Retreat. I will say, he isn't too far off.)

I left feeling more relaxed, yet for some reason, I was sadder. I grabbed my yoga mat and made my way to the morning class, which was being held on a wooden platform in the middle of the woods.

As soon as the class started, I realized that yoga is meant to be done outside. There were birds chirping, trees swaying in the breeze and fresh air all around me. It just felt so good. Our instructor's name was Bliss (I can't make this stuff up), and she started us in child's pose. As we held there, she asked that we tell ourselves something our hearts needed to hear.

My answer required no thinking, no analyzing, no questions. It just fell out of my heart before she even had a chance to finish her request.

Let go.

I pushed further into child's pose and repeated it over and over in my head.

Let go. Let go. Let go.

With my head still down, tears started dripping up my eyelids, into my eyebrows and up my forehead. I couldn't control it. It just started pouring out of me.

We sat back up and she told us to look around at our neighbors to feel everyone's presence. Embarrassed, I glanced at the girl sitting next to me and we made eye contact. She didn't look away. She just kept eye contact with me as tears kept falling down my face.

We then moved into apanasana, which is a position where you lay on your back and hold your knees to your chest. As I laid there with my eyes closed, a very strong image of my Grandpa holding my daughter came to me. I can't really explain it, but the image was clear as day. He was smiling, and she was wrapped in a blanket in his arms. He leaned forward and I could see Grace's sweet face. She was perfect... exactly what I pictured her to look like. Then, in that moment, the sun must have come out from behind the clouds and beams of light shined around Grace's face like an angel hovering over me. The sunlight warmed my body and her image became even more vivid. I squeezed my knees tighter and I could feel Grace snuggling in tight against my chest, the way Joe used to do. Her breaths were synced to mine. Tears kept pouring from my closed eyes and onto my mat. It felt like an out of body experience. It didn't make any sense.

Once the class was over, I felt pretty horrified that I cried through the entire thing. As I rolled up my mat to make a quick escape, the girl next to me came over and gave me a hug. She whispered into my ear, "I feel you."

I ran off the platform and rushed further into the woods. The second I got far enough away, I dropped all of my stuff onto the ground and just lost it. I mean, really really cried. No one could see me and no one could hear me. I just let go of all of it...the decisions leading up to the diagnosis, the decisions after the diagnosis, the decisions we made in the hospital room and the minutes and hours following. I just let it all go.

I fell to the dirt, opened my journal and started writing--about Grace, what I miss, what I want, what I've lost, my sadness, my anger, my guilt, my questions, my prayers--it just poured out of me and onto pages and pages of my journal. My pen couldn't keep up with my thoughts. And then, I just stopped. I stood back up, walked out of the woods and rejoined the rest of the group.

That afternoon, the group took a hike to a nearby waterfall. I fell towards the back of the group with another woman and we started conversation. Remembering me from opening circle, she asked what grief I had been working through. It was an open invitation and I took it.

I told her all about my pregnancy, about Grace and my decisions. We walked together side-by-side through the stillness of the trees, me talking and her listening. After I was done sharing just about every personal detail of my life with this complete stranger, the woman stopped and turned to me. She grabbed both of my hands and said, "I have a daughter with a severe disability. I have had many many days, years even, that I wished she were dead so she didn't have to suffer anymore. You did the absolute right thing. You are a good mother."


Reiki is an old Japanese healing technique that uses the power of touch to move energy and heal the body. The literal translation is Rei, meaning "Higher Power" and Ki, meaning "Life force energy."

There was an open time slot for Reiki on Sunday morning with Bliss and I was intrigued. I was at a yoga and meditation retreat in the middle of nowhere run by a bunch of hippies...when in Rome, right? I figured I could use any drop of the good ora kool-aid I could get.

I consider myself to be a fairly straight-forward, no bullshit kind of girl. I'm certainly not a person that would buy into voodoo "energy healing," but I walked into the session with an open mind (and low expectations).

The session began with a high pitched bell to remove all of the negative spirits from the room. I laid on a table fully clothed with the lights dimmed and she walked around ringing the bell. I could feel my eyes roll, even while shut. She stood at my feet and said a prayer, inviting my guardian angels into the room.

I felt her move closer to my face and could feel her fingers moving above my forehead. It felt like she was massaging my head, but she wasn't touching it. My face got really warm and relaxed feeling. It was the strangest sensation I've ever had.

I could feel and hear her moving quite a bit behind me, and then all of a sudden, I saw an image of my brain opening and white lights came out of it. My eyes were still shut, but I started seeing flashing lights behind my eyes like a strobe light. My whole body felt like it was being pressurized. Then, she began pulling from my ears. Not pulling on my actual ears, but I could feel her pulling energy from my entire body out of them. It was almost painful feeling and I had to fight the urge not to tell her to stop. This lasted a good minute or two--the flashing lights, the feeling of my whole body rushing out of my ears, the intense painful feeling throughout my body. And then, it stopped suddenly. With my eyes still shut, I saw only the color purple and felt a cold chill rush through my body. My body felt calm and extremely relaxed. I remember literally saying in my head, "what the actual f*ck just happened."

She then placed both of her hands on my chest and I could feel my heart beat slower. She moved her hands to my lungs, and I actually started breathing slower and deeper. She touched my stomach, hips, knees and ankles, and I could feel the warmth of her hands beneath my skin.

She placed her hands on my feet and I could feel the energy moving towards them. Then, it felt like she was pushing something back into my body, as if I was getting filled with air.

I'm telling you, I can't make this stuff up. It was insane. I'm fully convinced she is a sourcerer.

After the session, she sat down with me to walk through the images and energies she felt. She told me that I had a lot of negative energy that needed to be removed (surprise, surprise). She said that she saw a leather bag hanging around my neck that was holding doubt and negative, self-destructing thoughts. It was a large bag, and it was pulling my head down and causing the pain I've been experiencing in my neck (which I had been feeling).

She said that my heart had a wooden barricade in front of it, similar to the ones you see in old western movies. Behind it, she could see beautiful open fields, but the wooden fence was blocking it. She said she had to pull down the wooden pieces one by one like Lincoln Logs. Apparently my liver was full of anger, and she told me to drink warm water with lemon to cleanse it.

When she was done explaining all of the images that came to her, she looked and me and said, "You are holding on to anger, fear and expectations, and you need to let them all go." She continued with, "I can feel that you lost something very important, something very close to you...but I also see that you gained something just as significant. Once you stop focusing on what you lost and start focusing on what you gained, your mind, body and spirit will follow."

I cried, hugged her and walked out of the session feeling like a different person. I'm not kidding you--it felt like a weight had been physically lifted off of my back. I didn't even question the insanity I had just experienced, I just went with it. I walked back to the main cabin, sat on the porch and just stared into nature. I didn't fidget, I didn't think, I just sat there completely still, enjoying being in the moment.

Shortly after, it was time for our closing circle. This time, the energy of the room was completely different. One by one each of us shared what we were taking away from the weekend. Everyone seemed more open than in our introductions. It was raw and emotional, and I felt honored to hear everyone's truths and discoveries.

It came time for my turn to share, and I didn't get nervous or mentally practice what I was going to say like I normally do. I just spoke from my heart, which went something like this.

Hello, my name is Hadleigh. Four months ago I said goodbye to my daughter, but this weekend I actually let her go. From the moment I arrived here, the words "let go" were woven into everything I experienced. In yoga, Bliss asked that we tell ourselves something we needed to hear, and I told myself to let go. Lucas told me to let go of my body during the Thai massage, Diane told me to let go and jump into the waterfall, and Bliss told me during Reiki to let go of all the negative energy I've been holding onto. And that's just what I did...I let go of everything. Regret, guilt, sadness and unanswered questions. I've felt my daughter's presence so much here. I will never forget her, but I'm ready to start moving forward. Thank you for creating a space for me to do just that. 

I cried, the group cried, and I could feel the love from everyone pouring into my heart. After everyone was finished sharing their closing thoughts, one of the owners stood up and said that he wanted to do something special to honor my daughter. I was so taken aback by his beautiful gesture.

He passed around a bowl of water from their fresh springs and asked that we each place a drop onto our foreheads. The water was meant to unite us, and to represent that the group shared in my grief and strength. As the water was shared around the room, the owner put his hand on my back and told me to open my eyes and look up.

I opened my puffy red eyes and looked around the room. Everyone's eyes were closed, sending me strength and remembering my daughter. It was so freeing, and emotional, and surreal. My sister grabbed my leg and we cried together. I was so grateful she was there to experience it all with me.

Bliss was asked to sing a song for the ceremony, and without knowing my daughter's name, the song "Amazing Grace" came flowing out of her soul. It was cosmic perfection. A room full of strangers gave me something that I didn't even know I desperately needed: A funeral for my daughter.

I left the retreat a different person. When I got home, James even said that something about me had changed. I can't explain any of it. Maybe I imagined the entire weekend, or maybe someone slipped some hallucinogens into my vegetables. I really don't care. I got exactly what I needed.


Diane, Adam, Bliss and Lucas...thank you. As the wise Rose Dawson once said: You saved me. In every way that a person can be saved.