“This should be a sad story when you think about it. But it’s not. Not entirely.”
That’s how Kelly McDyre, Executive Director at Faith’s Lodge, explained why she wanted Life In Minnesota to tell this story. “Crazy enough, it is not depressing. It is energizing to be a part of people’s path to hope and healing.”
You see, Kelly’s nephew died in a tragic accident while playing at a park when he was only 12 years old.
That’s the sad part.
“My sister and her family learned about Faith’s Lodge, and it helped them in ways they never thought were possible,” Kelly explains.
That’s the hopeful part.
It’s a soft place to land when you’re broken.
Faith’s Lodge is a non-profit organization based in Plymouth, MN, with a retreat facility in Danbury, WI. Founded by Mark and Susan Lacek after the death of their baby, Faith, the retreat welcomes parents and families who are coping with the death of or medically complex condition of a child.
“It’s a soft place to land when you’re broken,” Kelly explains.
Jenna Rogers couldn’t agree more. She became part of the Faith’s Lodge community when her son, Noah, passed away from SIDS when he was 11 months old.
“Our visit to Faith’s Lodge was such a great experience in such a dark and horrible time in our lives. We didn’t know how we were living and breathing and surviving to the next day,” Jenna explains. “Then we were able to connect with other parents who had also lost a child. They really understood what we were going through. The impact that had on us—and the hope that gave us—was so huge.”
Eventually, her appreciation for Faith’s Lodge became a dedication to the work that is being done there. She is now the Director of Advancement for the organization.
“I truly knew that it was an opportunity to do something in memory of my son and to be a part of a place that has helped so many parents and families including my own,” she explains.
Faith’s Lodge provides many different forms of programming specific to every family’s needs. Parents-only programming and family programs are offered and are specific to the age of the child—three years to mid-20s, and infant and toddlers. Some weekends are designated for parents and families who have lost a child to SIDS, while other weekends are exclusively for mothers or fathers navigating the death of a child.
“We have scheduled programming throughout the calendar year,” Jenna explains. “During the school year, our programming is Thursday through Sunday. During the summer, it’s Wednesday through Sunday.”
When you’re here, we accept where you are in your grief.
Activities are scheduled throughout a weekend, but everything is optional so that families are able to stay busy and occupied without feeling overwhelmed. Many families enjoy time creating memorial crafts and find it very therapeutic. Yoga, massage, and mindfulness are other options for families to relax and reflect.
Certified, licensed grief therapists are available at all times to work with parents and surviving siblings throughout the program weekends. Faith’s Lodge has recently partnered with Park Nicollet’s Growing Through Grief program, which offers grief counseling specific to surviving siblings.
“We’ve heard kids say they didn’t know how to explain the feelings they were having or if they should even talk about their sibling with their parents for fear it would make them sad,” Jenna recalls. “After visiting Faith’s Lodge, they know how to cope with those feelings better.”
Jenna confirms grief is different for every family member, and so is their relationship with Faith’s Lodge. Some guests come once and feel they leave with tools they need to begin to heal. Some return for additional programming weekends, while others rent the facilities for private use when programming isn’t scheduled.
Kate has found Faith’s Lodge to be a continued source of hope and healing after her daughter, Josie, was stillborn at full term. She and her family have attended five weekends at Faith’s Lodge and anticipate they will return in the future.
“It’s different every time I go, but it’s also the same in that I know I will always feel safe and relaxed and comfortable. I never have to explain or justify what I am feeling,” Kate explains. “During my first visit, I was doing magical thinking, like ‘How can I turn back time and prevent this from happening?’ It was relieving to know I wasn’t weird or crazy for feeling that way because others were feeling the same way.”
Jenna echoes these sentiments, “It is a completely unnatural experience for a parent to feel the grief of losing a child. You start to go a little bit crazy in the things you are thinking. When I shared my story and the feelings I was feeling, no one looked at me like I was crazy. It made me feel so comfortable.”
Kate confirms that subsequent visits have been a refresher to remind her that she’s not the only parent who is riding the roller coaster of emotions. “It’s almost as if there’s an aura around Faith’s Lodge that says, ‘When you’re here, we accept where you are in your grief.’ There is no other place like that for people.”
Another Faith’s Lodge parent, Holli, appreciates the opportunity to talk openly about her daughter, Hannah, who passed away from pneumonia at 14 months. “I found myself sharing stories about Hannah’s life—not just her death.” She explains how that was a small turning point for her, “I learned how to talk about her without breaking down, and that has made a world of difference in helping us day to day.”
One common theme throughout all three mothers’ experiences at Faith’s Lodge is summed up nicely by Jenna, “At Faith’s Lodge, joy and grief can coexist.”
Holli agrees, “No one is judging you. A smile and a laugh do not mean I am ‘over it.’ I will never be ‘over it’, but I do get to allow myself to feel joy again, allow myself to feel happy about the time we had with her without feeling guilty or guarded.”
“I think too often parents who are grieving think they won’t—shouldn’t—ever be allowed to smile or laugh or feel joy again,” Kate explains. “At Faith’s Lodge, you get a piece of your life back that you had assumed was just gone. It gives you back the gift of hope. I don’t think you could get a bigger gift.”
It’s a lot of sadness, a lot of grief, but also a lot of hope.
And that’s exactly why Kelly and Jenna have made their careers at Faith’s Lodge.
“We will help every family who needs Faith’s Lodge in their life,” Jenna explains. “No family is ever turned away.”
Rates are kept at a very affordable cost of $50 per night. Scholarship assistance is available and gift certificates can be purchased to help a family pay for their stay. This is all made possible by the help of donors, partners, and volunteers. Among other events, the organization hosts a rocker-sheik-themed gala every fall called Hope Rocks and a fundraising walk every spring called Hope Walks and Rolls.
Volunteers are always welcome at both events and also at the retreat in the form of landscaping and meal preparation. And supplies are accepted year round for wish list items that are always in high demand at the lodge.
And while no one wants a place like Faith’s Lodge to be necessary, all of these families are infinitely grateful that it does exist.
Jenna confirms, “You meet so many families in their darkest days. It’s a lot of sadness, a lot of grief, but also a lot of hope.”