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Spark of Life Retreat at Whitestone Country Inn

I’m just back from a long weekend at the Whitestone Country Inn and I’ve missed all of you!  I attended a Grief Recovery Retreat there, along with my siblings and our spouses.  If you’re new to the Pretty/Hungry blog, you may not know about the tragedies this year has brought our family.  It began with my recent double mastectomy, which I wrote about here.  Shortly after that, our family experienced a devastating conflict with our Dad, which I chose not to share on the blog (though many of you have faithfully prayed for me even without knowing the details.)  Then, barely a month after that, we lost Dad very suddenly to advanced esophageal cancer.  There were only 13 days between his diagnosis and his death.  I wrote about that here and here.

You all have lifted me up immensely with you words, prayers, and loving gestures.  One such amazing gesture was that many loved ones came together and donated the funds to send all six of us to a Spark of Life retreat.

Since many of you took part in gifting us with this retreat, I brought a camera along with me to capture some of the beauty and the deliciousness we experienced in the mountains of Tennesee this weekend.  The pictures don’t nearly do it justice.  Whitestone was breathtaking!  Truly a peaceful refuge away from the usual hustle and bustle of life.


Grief Recovery Retreats at Whitestone Country Inn


I want to tell you a bit about Spark of Life Retreats because, if not for my brother, I never would’ve known such a thing as a Grief Recovery Retreat existed!  (And it amazed me how the other people at the retreat with us had heard about it… some just looked it up on Google!)

Spark of Life is a foundation that seeks to provide hope for people who have experienced great loss. Though life can never be the same, it can be rich and fulfilling.  They offer 3-day intensive retreats designed to surround you with support, dynamic group interaction, tools to guide you toward healing, and plenty of time to reflect in solitude… reading, praying, hiking, & resting.

I confess I did not know what to expect when I signed up to come.  I think I envisioned a sort of “group therapy session.”  Now, reflecting back, I’d adjust that description slightly.  There was a very meaningful element of group interaction and sharing our burdens with others who have experienced their own losses… but our group sessions were a bit more practical than just “talk therapy.”  We discussed what grief really is, and what it isn’t.  What RECOVERY really is, and what it isn’t,  (Hint: Your recovery never looks just like someone else’s.  It does not mean life will return to the way it was before.  It does not mean you ever forget the loss.  And it does not mean that you never have bad days.)

In fact, we were encouraged to come up with a personal definition for what we each (as individuals) believe would constitute a healthy recovery for us.

I said, “I’ll know I’m in a healthy recovery when…

…I’m not consumed with the loss during every non-busy moment.”

…I can pray for others and their needs.”

…I can feel happy for others in their successes/triumphs.”

…I can remember the good times without immediately becoming sad or bitter about the losses.”

Are you grieving a loss in your own life?  Have you been holding yourself to someone else’s standard of “recovery”?  How would you describe what a healthy recovery would look like in your unique situation?  (Please tell me in the comments, if you don’t mind sharing.)


Spark of Life Grief Recovery Retreats

(image credit to www.sparkoflife.org)


Anyway, I certainly don’t want to present all the retreat material to you here… that was just a snippet of what I found extremely helpful (among many other things.)  I will also add that I’m definitely glad the retreat was at such a relaxing location… because dealing with your grief is work!  That is why so many people stuff those emotions way down deep and refuse to experience them.  It is terribly painful.  (Grief can often be compounded by other emotions such as guilt or resentment.  Resentment was a big one for me!)  But one thing is certain.  After a loss, you must go to the pit of grief.  You cannot go back to where you were before, and you can never move past the pit without going into it first.  I feel like this retreat allowed me the time and space to do that.  I simply couldn’t muster the strength or set aside the time at home.

Also, I was especially blessed by the precious, precious people we met while we were there.  My siblings and I spent the entire (8-hour) car ride home talking about how much we loved those people.  Our losses varied widely, and my heart broke for each person as they shared their stories.  But being together was healing in and of itself.


And before signing off, how could I NOT talk about the food?

If you live anywhere near Kingston, TN… I cannot recommend Whitestone Country Inn enough!  It was so luxurious!

Every meal we had was delicious, and dinner was an especially fancy affair, served at a leisurely pace in multiple courses.  But my favorite meal (hands down) was the breakfast!  A buffet of amazingly crispy bacon and fried potatoes… biscuits & gravy… bread pudding, cinnamon scones, & muffins… the most perfect oatmeal I’ve ever had, with ALL the fixin’s… fresh fruit, buckwheat waffles, & pancakes… scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs with veggies and cheese… I could go on and on!  I couldn’t wait to wake up each morning, seriously. :)


Grief Recovery Retreat at Whitestone Country Inn


So if you’re grieving a loss (of any kind), I hope you’ll consider attending a Spark of Life retreat.  They are held throughout the year and all over the country, at no cost to you (other than your transportation to get there.)  I’m so grateful my family was able to go.

And if you aren’t grieving a loss, bless you.  I hope trouble continues to stay far from you!  And perhaps you can tuck Whitestone Country Inn into your list of “places to visit” someday.  You will love it!  (Enjoy at least one gigantic bowl of oatmeal for me while you’re there, please.)

Now that I’m home on this lovely, sunny Monday morning, I must say I did miss the fabulous Whitestone breakfast buffet.  But I also have to say that nothing compares to green smoothies in the morning with my little chunklet!  It’s good to be home.


Green Smoothies are for babies too!

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Hope you all have a terrific week!



9 Responses so far.

  1. Tiffany says:

    Thank you Carissa for sharing…my family and I have been dealing with my Dad’s terminal diseases (he was diagnosed with three of them all at once!) and it’s just me and my Mom, so it’s great to know support like this is available…be blessed!

    • Carissa says:

      Oh Tiffany, what a nightmare! As if one isn’t devastating enough. Thank you for sharing your situation… I will pray for strength for you and your mom, and healing for your dad!

  2. Sherry Romero says:

    All I can say is YOU ROCK!!

  3. Karen Winnett says:

    Thank you for sharing Carissa. I am planning to attend a. Retreat later this year. My husband Mark of 32 years died unexpectedly. Just a few weeks before we had been apart for two weeks as we prepared to move to St Louis. He said when he first saw me “2 weeks is too long to be apart”. And yet here I am almost 7 months later leaning on God to survive these days without the love of my life. You are a blessing to many. Karen

    • Carissa says:

      Hi Karen,
      Yes, I definitely know your story. So very sorry you lost Mark too soon… such a shocking thing. Two weeks IS too long to be apart… 7 months and beyond is terribly painful! You and your family have been in my prayers. I’m so very glad you’ll be attending one of these retreats. God bless you.

  4. Amy says:

    Carissa….are these retreats mainly for adults or are families (teens/pre-teens) welcomed and included in sessions? Wanting to mention this to Rachel (Z’s high school girlfriend) and her sweet momma after their devastating loss.

    • Carissa says:

      Families are welcome! (Although they ask that the youngest attendees be at least 15 or so.) I hope Rachel and her mom can make it to one.

  5. […] To give you a short recap: My family suffered two huge losses at the end of 2013 and start of 2014.  Attempting to process those losses was a mind-boggling feat.  (To be truthful, my siblings and I didn’t have the slightest clue how to begin to process what had happened to us.)  And so we decided to attend a special weekend retreat in the mountains of Tennessee that was put on by the Spark of Life Foundation.  Spark of Life is a ministry devoted to helping those who have experienced tremendous loss and are in deep grief.  It was a very healing weekend for us, in many ways.  You can read about our experience in greater detail here. […]