When Ute Amann-Seidel’s fiance David died suddenly just four weeks after they’d become engaged in March 2015, her world crumbled around her.
Devastated by grief and struggling to cope, she gradually started spending more time outdoors and getting creative by writing, drawing and painting which helped her find meaning in her changed world.
Walking along a pretty canal path 18 months after her bereavment, Ute took in her surroundings and realised she had begin to feel that her life really was worth truly living again. As she began to heal around own her loss, Ute wondered if her own experience of holistic self-care could help others journeying through the grieving process after the death of a loved one.
“I started thinking about what made me feel better – nature and mindfulness and the power of words,” she says, explaining the thinking process behind the ‘soul spas’ she has pioneered.
“I wanted to create something for widows and widowers, to help them take time out of their lives, and enjoy things again.”
Ute Amann-Seidel, left, and a soul spa guest
Ute, who had worked in the holiday industry, wondered if away-from-it-all breaks in the company of other people who have lost a life partner, would provide people with peer-to-peer support that could be life-changing.
Inspired, she hosted her first Fire and Rain soul spa, on the Isle of Arran in July 2017. The name came, explains Ute, from David’s favourite James Taylor song – a ballad about loss and survival that she’s drawn great comfort from.
Available to book in some breathtaking locations including the Isles of Mull, Arran and the Scottish Highlands, her soul spas are a healing environment for anyone who has been widowed or experienced the death of a partner.
Open to up to ten guests at a time, a typical six-day programme at the grief retreat includes yoga and mindfulness sessions and delicious home-cooked meals, in a relaxed environment that opens people up to conversation.
The holidays provide a safe space for people to talk about and explore their emotions, spend time in the beutiful outdoors and express themselves creatively; pottery, drawing, yoga and writing are among the activities to try.
Ute is not a grief counsellor, but guides the events through the day. Challenges opening people up to self-expression and laughter, include drawing blindfolded and creating pieces of artwork from treasures collected along the sea shore.
“Everybody gets a beautiful journal at the start to takes notes, for random drawings and to reflect on their days,” she says.
Ute believes that time spent outdoors can be an important part of the healing process, helping people reconnect with their sense of self.
“Being in nature really helped with my healing” she says.
“Taking the time to allow ourselves to observe the world around us reminds us of how important it is to look after ourselves well.
The Fire and Rain soul spas’ beautiful settings are part of the grief healing journey
Soul spa guests also find they rediscover forgotten joys when they become immersed in the activities that are offered during the stay.
“They appreciate having some time away from everything else to focus on themselves and the things they enjoy,” says Ute.
“They are often inspired and get new ideas for activities they want to do more of in their lives.
“We need to try out things that can inspire us and help us to heal such as yoga, meditation, mindful living, tasteful surroundings, music, exploring, and very importantly, peer support”.
Ute says any Fire and Rain guests worry that friends and family will grow tired of talking about their loss and so often keep feelings to themselves. The retreats give them the freedom to talk about grief among supportive strangers, without feeling judged.
“They find it wonderful to have a friendly peer group, where they can be themselves,” says Ute.
“They find it a safe space to chat and talk openly, and just be. Sometimes they bond over their stories and have a good laugh. It’s a wonderful experience for all of us.”
Ute has now also begun to offer private soul spas for people who do not yet feel ready to engage as part of a group.
These one-to-one stays can be tailored according to each guest’s needs and interests.
“Some are interested in the arts, so we’ll have more sessions visiting artists’ studios, exhibitions or taking painting classes. Others want to spend time being outdoors, so then we organise long-walks, day tours and trips around the coastline,” says Ute.
In a supportive group setting, many people who have been on the retreat have forged bonds set to last.
“One thing I find really beautiful” says Ute, “are the new friendships people form after these retreats.
“We have a closed Facebook group which people use to keep in touch. Some have become so close that they even plan to spend Christmas together.”
Discover more activity-based and creative alternative grief therapies providing healing support after bereavement.