Working through our grief on The Bridge retreat in Somerset
Sasha Bates goes on The Bridge retreat at 42 Acres in Somerset to explore her feelings after the unexpected death of her husband and finds an amazingly well-held space in which to switch off from the outside and world and reconnect with herself, her body and humanity.
‘I’d be worried if you weren’t feeling nervous and apprehensive’, said Bridge Retreat facilitator Donna to me and the 10 random strangers I’d agreed to spend the next 6 days with in our first group session. And yes, I was feeling both those things. My husband, Bill, had died unexpectedly just 6 months before, and I was here in deepest, darkest, most beautiful Somerset at the 42 Acres retreat to spend some time thinking about, and grieving, his loss. Having spent those preceding months veering wildly from moments of complete meltdown to moments of frantic distracting activity and back again, I knew I needed to re-balance myself by shutting out the outside world and properly spending quality time with ‘him’ and my feelings. But I also knew how painful that was going to be – there was a reason I’d been trying to avoid just such a scenario.
As I had barely slept in the preceding months, and found reading, podcasts and texting were the only things that got me through the long, unbearable nights, the most terrifying thing for me was handing in all reading matter and all digital devices on arrival. But sitting above the terror – distracting me from it – was cynicism. As both a psychotherapist and journalist I was pretty sceptical that I would get much from The Bridge experience. What could they possibly hope to deliver in six days? Were they careless and unprofessional? Would they try to crack us open and then negligently throw us back out into the world more raw and broken than before? Or would it all be ineffective? I’d been working on myself for years, had done group work, individual work, bereavement work – and as therapist myself had helped many others through such things. Really, what more could they teach me? A quiet time to process on my own, in beautiful surroundings, while half heartedly taking part in the exercises and venting some of my rage and pain out loud was the most I hoped I would achieve.
And yet, before long the cynical me was reassured, the terrified me soothed. It was hard and sad, yes, but not scary, not unprofessional, and far from ineffective. Donna and Frederique, our main therapists and facilitators, alongside the ten amazing men and women I was lucky enough to meet and share our collective pain with, gave me so much more than I could have imagined. I’ve made wonderful friendships, been privileged to hear others’ stories of loss and grief, and experienced a truly loving, warm, cathartic, sad, yet often hilarious and fun journey towards processing some of my sorrow over Bill’s death. Of course nothing can ever make it better, but by experiencing the cleverly, kindly thought through and administered programme of exercise and rituals, movements and journaling, discussion and silence, I do feel more at peace with my loss. Still desperately sad, but less afraid of that sadness. I know that healing is not about leaving Bill behind, but taking him with me into the next stage of my life, and I now feel better equipped to do that.
What I found so beautifully done was the open, non defensive, attuned way Donna and Frederique held us so safely and bravely in this highly charged space. They’ve devised a programme that manages to speak to both an experienced therapist such as myself, in the raw depths of recent bereavement, as well as to those who had never done a minute’s therapy, and who weren’t even entirely sure what losses they were grieving, but just knew they hadn’t felt quite right about themselves, often going back years. Because it’s not just someone dying that needs to be grieved. We also need to grieve lost childhoods, lost innocence, lost relationships, lost health – the list of sadnesses we hang on to are endless. And it may only be by going through The Bridge process that you understand just what it is that you have lost.
I’m not being cagey by not talking about the actual day to day experience – there’s nothing sinister or secret about it – but it was special and private to the 11 of us there, and describing some of the exercises out of context would bear no relation to the power they have in the doing of them. Alongside all of this was a gorgeous house, quintessential English scenery, and amazing food. I felt healthier internally and externally than I had done in months, and I even slept through the night without need of books, phone or iPad.
Quite apart from the emotional calmness I now feel, one of the most important lessons I’ve taken away is that it is so much nicer not having my phone on all day, everyday. Becoming more disciplined around that constant need for virtual connectivity is a massive take-home for me, and one that I will hang on to alongside a more concrete and real-life connection to my new friends. Most importantly, I have also regained a connection to my body, from which I had been dissociated, held in a tense, suspended animation of shock until the wonderful movement exercises helped reunite us. Now being listened to again, it is finally letting me breathe, and sleep, more easily. I found what I was looking for on The Bridge, as well as a whole lot I didn’t even know I was seeking.