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Healing at Retreat

Irene Peterson lives in Sonoma, where she enjoys year-round gardening, swimming, and enjoying the great outdoors with her husband, John (traveling from mountain to ocean in their hippie van). She also relishes time spent with her daughters Michaela and Grace, & grandchildren Hailey and Tommy. Irene lost her beloved son Kai in December 2010.

You keep track of all my sorrows,

You have collected all my tears in a bottle,

You have recorded each one in your book.

Psalm 56:8

When I had the good fortune to attend my first-ever retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center ("El Retiro") in Los Altos, (put on by Sacred Sorrows), I did not know what to expect. I was nervous because, despite being a lifelong Catholic, and being educated until grade 6 in Catholic school, I had not had the experience of attending one of these retreats. I had been grieving the loss of my firstborn and only son for about 11 years at that point, and I was sort of at my wit's end attempting to get lasting relief from the sadness that permeated my life.

My son Kai died suddenly at the age of 30 because he was immunocompromised. A childhood illness led to splenectomy, leaving him vulnerable. When he fell ill on December 9, he got increasingly sick and eventually, we had to take him off the ventilator on December 13. After 4 days in intensive care, my boy was gone.

I tried group therapy at hospice, individual therapy for about 10 years, and any number of alternative therapies. All helped temporarily, but, after a time, the sadness and hopelessness would return. Through all this, I attended mass every Sunday and listened to the best of my ability, but many times walked away more depressed than ever. Therapists said I had PTSD and complicated grief. I’ve heard many times that losing a child is the most stressful thing a human can endure.

Then, my sister-in-law, who had attended retreats at El Retiro, saw that they were going to have one exclusively for grieving mothers. I thought, "I’ll try anything" - but truthfully, I was nervous and didn’t hold out much hope. I was afraid it would be more of the same.

Thankfully, it was so much more than “more of the same.” Even though I had been a lifelong Catholic, I had never been much exposed to the bible. The retreat gave us all our own bibles, and I was exposed to comforting passages that I had never been exposed to. We got our own rooms and bathrooms. We were sent on a labyrinth walk alone and instructed to pray, and we did the stations of the cross at night by candlelight. We did mass a couple of times, and we did an early morning walk up to the top of the hill to see the sunrise and pray. We received meaningful counseling from spiritual advisors, and we were pampered with 3 healthy meals a day. We prayed, and had group assignments (there were 12 other grieving mothers).

After I left the retreat, we had Zoom classes every other Saturday for 6 weeks (at no extra cost) to continue our healing process. We got to know the other mothers, and we supported each other. All of this is very well run by Ms. Rita Morton, and overseen by Father John Auther, SJ. We have continued to have “Afternoons of Remembrance," and lunches to continue with our healing. You see, grieving the loss of a child is pretty much a lifelong challenge, but the retreat finally put me on the right path. I have continued on this path, and have volunteered to help, as have many others.

In addition to helping where I can with Sacred Sorrows, I write letters to moms on the anniversaries of their child’s passing, and on their child’s birthdays. Both of these markers of time are very unnerving for a parent. I also try to spread the word about retreats such as this, and the Sacred Sorrows community of grieving mothers and grandmothers. We can be such a source of comfort to each other.


What are some ways that Sacred Sorrows or other experiences have been a source of comfort to you? Share them in the comments or email

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1 Comment

Lani Bogart
Lani Bogart
Sep 26, 2023

Thank you, Irene. What a beautiful witness to the good work of Sacred Sorrows and to the comfort that Sacred Scripture can give us in our grief.

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