Written in loving memory of Avery, Colin, Kacie, Korie, Lauren, Lucas, Maite, Olivia, Shelby, and Willow

My husband and I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend at Faith’s Lodge, a retreat center for grieving parents in northern Wisconsin. We had been desperately awaiting this weekend for months. We were craving the chance to surround ourselves with nature and devote time to healing, without the distractions that daily life places in front of us. But as we made our way up the long gravel driveway nearing the lodge, anxiety bled into my excitement. For the first time, it dawned on me that we were placing ourselves in a vulnerable position, that we would be sharing our sweet girl’s story with complete strangers. I worried that our high expectations would fail to be met, that we would go home feeling disappointed and raw. But the moment we stepped inside, my anxiety was abandoned. While the rest of the world sees us only as Calla’s parents, here we were greeted warmly as Willow’s parents, and I knew instantly that this place was something special.

Our first walk around the property left me in awe. We visited during fall in Wisconsin, which never fails to impress me. Natural beauty abounded, and Willow’s presence was palpable all around us. Memorial birdhouses and painted rocks could be found in every direction, and I imagined each of these names as a person - a person treasured, cherished, and deeply missed. My heart ached for the devoted parents who had walked this path before us. 

My photos from the weekend make it abundantly clear that Faith’s Lodge is a stunning place. But while the center’s grounds are undeniably beautiful, what is perhaps even more beautiful is that which happens once inside. We gathered together that first night as a group of complete strangers, stitched together only by the common thread of child loss. We hailed from all over the country, our hometowns scattered from coast to coast. One by one, we shared our stories, and we wept for these babies whom the world cannot see. We learned that while our experiences are different, our pain is the same, and in no time at all, something magical happened within those walls.

We laughed. Oh my goodness, how we laughed, and it was unlike any laughter I’ve known since our world became an after. We laughed freely, wildly, for we knew that no one would mistake our laughter for being “over it”. We shared openly about our fears and our worries, for we knew that no one would mistake our darkness for being “stuck”. We cried for ourselves and for each other, for we knew that no one would mistake our tears for weakness. We discovered safety and kinship within this group of beautiful, broken souls and learned that shared experience has a peculiar way of speeding relationships along. While the actual amount of time we spent together amounts to no more than a mere blip on the timeline of our lives, we have made connections and memories that will last a lifetime. We entered the doors of Faith’s Lodge as perfect strangers, and we exited as friends.

Before we drove off to begin our trip home, we stopped to take one final photo of this beautiful place that brought so much color to our world. I gazed at the lodge rising above the lake and considered the tremendous amount of pain that has been felt by all who have visited. But pain and sorrow are not the only emotions that propelled us to Faith’s Lodge. No, certainly not. Above all, it was love that sent us there, the deepest, purest, most transcendent love. Love for the daughter we can no longer hold, love for each other, and love for ourselves.

We returned home from Faith’s Lodge with a memorial birdhouse, two coffee mugs, and very full hearts. We found all that we needed at Faith’s Lodge. We found community. We found acceptance. We found hope and healing and a home away from home. If you have a child whom you hold in your heart and are given the opportunity to visit this special place, I implore you to take it. We left a piece of Willow’s story there, and I hope that someday, sweet soul, you have the chance to find it.