It was a beautifully warm spring day when I drove to the Hiding Place lodge, located about an hour outside of Nashville. The retreat center was tucked at the end of a private, winding, and wooded road. It was spacious yet still felt cozy, with a central sitting area that boasted soaring views of budding trees and the winding Cumberland River below.
I couldn't help but think of the contrast—the beauty of the surroundings paired with the unimaginable pain that each of the 11 couples who gathered here had brought with them. The group had come to attend Respite Retreat, a weekend sanctuary of sorts for couples from across the nation who've faced the death of a child.
Their losses are every parent's worst nightmare—children who've died from cancer, rare diseases, SIDS, dwarfism. Others had faced tragic accidents. A 15 month old who choked on his vomit during the night. A nine-year-old girl run over by a parade float trailer. It's the kind of horror and grief many of us have never faced and frankly can barely stomach.
But at the center of the weekend is the couple who created Respite Retreats—Nancy and David Guthrie, and they are no strangers to loss. The Guthries, who live in Nashville, lost two children themselves to Zellweger Syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder. Their journey of loss began more than a decade ago, when Nancy gave birth to Hope. She lived only six months. Unbelievably, their circumstance repeated itself less than two years later as the Guthries had a son Gabe. He was born with the same disorder and lived the same short amount of time.
Organizing retreats for couples who've lost a child is the latest remarkable way that Nancy and David have allowed God to use their own suffering to comfort others and provide help in healing. Nancy's authored numerous books, including her latest, Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow. She and David also are the co-hosts of the GriefShare video series, used in grief groups at more than 6,000 churches nationwide. It was through communication with GriefShare classes that the Guthries first announced the formation of Respite in late summer of 2009, and during the past 18 months the Guthries have hosted five retreats, with additional ones on the horizon.
The goal of each retreat is the same. "The aim is healing," Nancy says. "Not fixing. It's wanting to move forward—not just 'move on.' We want to be a unique voice in honoring their grief but also challenging them not to stay there forever."