The loss of a child hurts.
Heidi Low knows this.
The Kilauea woman lost her five-year-old daughter to a brain tumor in 2004.
Overcoming that death took spending time in nature, reflecting, feeling, writing and reading — and getting help — the kind of help Low now gives to other parents who face similar heartache.
“I was fortunate enough to have the skills, resources and broad group of support that got me through there,” Low said. “With all of that, it took me a good eight years to be genuinely happy, to enjoy and embrace every single day and not feel guilty about it.”
It started her on a road that led to the creation of Ohana Oasis, a nonprofit that provides a safe, peaceful retreat on Kauai for parents who have suffered the death of a child.
“There’s nothing out there like that, safe space for people to gain tools, process the way they needed to and be able to do it in an internal way,” said Low, executive director and founder of Ohana Oasis.
“I want to be able to provide that for them and I wanted to be able to do it in a way that it’s not grieving parents to grieving parent; it’s human to human, who have a shared experience of losing a child.”
The organization’s retreat coming up the first week of May offers parents daily activities such as snorkeling, helicopter tours, site seeing, bike riding and family dinners as a way to get to know each other and recover from their grief.
Each evening, parents can sit around a fire and can share their stories, the highs and lows, and if they want, talk about their child. They can hear about the fears, struggles and questions others have, too.
Parents can also practice healing activities in the morning and focus on different concepts, such as honoring the past, living in the present and embracing the future. At week’s end, there’s a paddle out into Hanalei Bay for a final memorial ceremony.
Everybody heals in different ways, Low said. Some are external processors and talk things through. Others are internal processors. Ohana (which means family) Oasis (which means refuge) brings them together and lets the healing begin.
“For a lot of them, it’s the first chance they had no distraction of daily life,” Low said. “They can let things sink in, grasp what’s happened, grieve, and say, ‘I can move on.’
“It’s a big shift in how they operate in life.”
For some, continuing on without their child, trying to live again with joy, is the hardest part.
But there can be “new normal.” Parents can find peace, Low said, and learn to laugh again.
“It’s not your identify,” she said. “You are a whole person beyond having lost a child.”
This will be the fourth retreat since Ohana Oasis started in 2015. Twenty-two parents have attended one.
“It’s small enough that everybody can feel comfortable to share, but not so small they feel pressure to share,” Low said.
She raises money to pay for the entire retreat. It’s free for parents. The upcoming one is for eight moms, while past ones have been for couples.
Word of Ohana Oasis is spreading. Shortly after the first retreat, nearly 50 parents were on the waiting list. Today, that waiting list is about 100.
Each retreat runs about $20,000. To help raise money, a golf tournament to benefit Ohana Oasis is scheduled Friday.
Kauai, Low said, is nurturing and healing for grieving parents.
“They get so much just from being here with the island and the people,” Low said.
And it has changed lives, she said.
“I see a huge difference from day one to the last day,” she said.
Parents come to know they are not alone, that others have survived what they are going through.
During the retreat, parents connect with each other and help each other. Some become friends and support each other as they go on.
“They can embrace it and move forward,” she said. “Every single one of them, you can see a lightness in them.”