As soon as I finish typing, I am getting into the car and heading north to Wonderwell Mountain Refuge (www.wonderwellrefuge.org) in Springfield NH. As some of you know, twice each year, usually spring and fall, I organize and facilitate a retreat for women living with advanced cancer. This will be the 6th one, and I am as excited and slightly nervous as I was for the first. Each experience is different, and this one brings its own benefits and challenges.
Wonder Well can sleep something like 20 people, but that includes the use of a large dorm room in addition to the more typical hotel-type spaces. The dorm room is actually the most gorgeous spot in the house; it is absolutely enormous (so there is lots of space between the 7 or so beds) and the whole back wall is floor to ceiling windows overlooking the mountains. The other rooms are completely comfortable, but don't offer the same dramatic view. Clearly 20 people would be too many for a retreat, so I have had a maximum of about 15 in my head. The numbers have varied each time; we did have 15 once, and the smallest, until now, was 10.
We all know that people drop out at the last minute before any event. For this particular group, the drop off rate is higher because women living with advanced cancer are sadly more likely to have something come up. Two weeks ago, we had 15 women planning to come. One week ago, we had 11, and today 7 will be heading north. Four women cancelled yesterday! All of the reasons were completely sound, and each was disappointed. One woman had incorrectly planned the dates and is receiving chemo daily this week. Another spent Sunday night in the ER with reactions to a new chemo drug; she is home, but feeling pretty awful and exhausted. Another had a death in her family and has to travel to the funeral, and the last had unexpected deadlines/pressures at work that she felt she could not ignore.
When I was worrying a little about managing well with 15 women, I reminded myself that there would be cancellations, but I never anticipated so many. This potentially was a problem as the retreat center has a minimum number, and 7 is below it. I had several conversations with Liz, the so lovely manager there, and she stressed their welcome for our group, and we will be there. I, of course, will make sure that Wonder Well does not lose money on us! The second potential challenge is how it will work with such a small group.
Liz was helpful with this concern as they have had experience with other small retreats. Her excellent suggestion was to frame it as "This is your time. Use all that Wonderwell has to offer and concentrate on yourself." This means walks in the beautiful neighborhood, sitting on the deck or porch or window seats with a good book, having tea at the kitchen table or taking a nap. I suspect that everyone will benefit and heal.
I am so looking forward to the intense rush of pleasure and peace that I feel when I turn down the road, drive up and down the hill, and then see WonderWell on the left. The mountains provide a spectacular backdrop, and there likely will be hints of crimson and gold. Surrounded by green gardens and meadows, the house opens its' arms to all who come. At our first retreat, Lama Samten had lunch with us the final day. She said something like this: "Each person who comes here leaves a little of herself behind. Your presence has enriched our house, and all who follow will feel your grace."
To be continued from WonderWell.....