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Grief Recovery Essentials


Recovery in any area must be rooted in total honesty.

One of the first people to attend a Spark of Life Retreat, in 2010, came into our meeting room on Friday morning and announced to everyone within ear shot: I hate God, and if this is a religious retreat, then I am out of here. She and her husband had lost an 18-day-old baby a few months earlier. Her anger toward God was fully accepted. No one made an attempt to talk her out of this feeling. By Sunday, her anger toward God had subsided, not totally, but enough for her to state to the group, "I do not hate God any longer."

In 2017, a mother who had lost her teenage daughter to suicide a few weeks before the retreat, stated loudly: I am so angry at my daughter for doing this, that if I died tonight and met her in heaven, I would not hug her right away, but I would tell how angry I am with her. Total honesty.

When we give ‘voice’ to our pain--an honest voice--those feelings are lessened a bit. When I ‘give myself permission’ to grieve, to be honest, hope has an opening to seep in. There are days when that window is shut tight, but then moments when that window is opened a bit.

The mother who stated those words above obviously would hug her daughter in heaven. But by being honest with her feelings, she actually made a huge step in ‘living forward.’

‘Living Forward.’ I like those two words. At Spark of Life, our goal is to give hope, that though life can never be the same again after loss, life can be meaningful, rich, and fulfilling again. We can Live Forward.

And honesty, total honesty, is a good starting point.


--David Mathews, Co-Founder of Spark of Life

GREIF RECOVERY ESSENTIAL #2: Grievers Do Not Need to be Fixed

Grieving the Loss of a Loved One is “As Normal as Breathing”

One of the first phone calls we received after we began Spark of Life was from a grieving husband who had suddenly lost his wife. He had 3 children who were of course grieving deeply, as he was. He was completely lost and not knowing what to do with all the ‘mess’ surrounding him. ‘Hopelessness’ and ‘give up’ were lurking.

“I need help”, he began. “I read about your retreat online, yet I am skeptical. Tell me if this retreat will fix me, and fix my children. You have to convince me this will work, or I am not coming.” 

Welcome to working with grievers, I thought to myself.

Of course, I responded with honesty, that I could not fix anyone, and could not guarantee that the retreat would work. What does that even mean?

All I could say to this man who was in intense pain was that we would promise to walk this journey with him and his children, to acknowledge his feelings of hopelessness, and to share some grief recovery strategies that have helped many people to live forward—with the pain, and with hope.

Then, I stumbled upon something that ultimately helped him to decide to come to the retreat:

We do not believe those who are grieving need to be fixed. Grievers need to grieve, and often need help to grieve in healthy ways. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with those who are grieving.

Grieving deeply, and feeling lost and hopeless, and being in intense pain is natural and normal, and as many have said, is the price we pay for love. I am so sorry for all of your pain. Our goal is not to ‘fix you,’ but to give you hope to live forward.

Since then, over 1300 grievers have come to a Spark retreat and have not been ‘fixed,’ but have been given hope, even though life can never be the same again after loss, to live with purpose and yes, even with joy again.

There is always hope.

GRIEF RECOVERY ESSENTAIL #3: Recovery from Any Loss is Possible

Last Sunday, we completed our 98th Grief Recovery Retreat at Burnt Fork Ranch in Montana. On Thursday, as we shared our stories of loss, many appeared to be on the brink of hopelessness. ‘Recovery’ seemed like an unreachable destination for many.

On Sunday, we received these notes (among many) from a couple of our participants who, on Thursday, had given-up written on their hearts.

I came to this retreat feeling hopeless after my dear father’s suicide. This retreat, I am pretty sure, saved my life. To those who donate to SPOL, all I can say is THANK YOU, for your donation that made this retreat possible. You [donors] have made a difference in my life and I thank you.

Another wrote:

I have been a guest at Spark of Life Retreat #98. It has been an incredible and moving experience that has changed my life for the better by the love, compassion, and knowledge I have received while here. I have been given tools to use to process my grief and understand myself and my journey in a new light.

Thanks to all of you who give to Spark of Life…your generosity has made a huge difference in my life.

Many who are in deep grief certainly, at times, can think recovery from their loss or losses is impossible. After all, the intensity of their pain cries out against any thoughts or hopes of recovery. And what does ‘recovery’ even mean?

To have hope that recovery from our particular loss(es) is possible, we must define recovery in a way that it is possible to ‘recover.’ Read that statement again, and perhaps again.

‘Recovery’ from loss does NOT mean that life is going to be the same again. Our goal at SPOL is to give hope, that though can never be the same again, life can be rich and fulfilling and meaningful again. So if I were to define ‘recovery’ as life returning to the way it used to be, then, no, I would never recover.

A healthy recovery is possible. It does NOT mean I will never cry again, or have sad days, or weeks, or even seasons. It does NOT mean that my recovery looks like someone else’s recovery. And it certainly does NOT mean that the hole in my heart is suddenly gone, or that I forget the one I have lost.

A healthy recovery DOES mean that life, with the pain associated with the loss, can be meaningful and rich again. Certainly, I do not always think that or feel hopeful. Feeling hopeless is part of grief. But in the midst of deep pain, I must give myself permission to have hope, that a healthy recovery is possible.

On Tuesday of this week, I received a phone call from a participant of Retreat # 98. He shared with me that his hopelessness had turned to hope. He was still in deep pain of course, but now he was hopeful and thus determined to live forward.