Nothing can prepare anyone for the trials of grief and trauma, but self-care and sharing your experience with those who understand can help to ease the path to recovery.
That’s a core belief behind Feeling Fab Foundation, a Dairy Flat-based charity that organises wellness days for women who have experienced bereavement, loss or trauma.
After two low-key years due to Covid-19 restrictions, the group is starting to increase the number and frequency of local events again, including a recent afternoon at the Warkworth Hotel on April 10.
Founder Elizabeth Caines-York says the aim of the sessions is to provide a safe and supportive space where women can reflect, share stories and bond over their shared experiences, while having feel-good treatments to give their morale a much-needed boost.
She readily admits that most women who come along can be reluctant and often need a bit of coaxing to face a room full of strangers when they are still experiencing the immeasurable pain and intense process of grieving.
“We are here to help them to leave that blanket of grief and their worries at the door. These days are about being heard and about finding yourself again,” she said. “Women can come here, get out of that deep, dark hole and feel better about themselves.”
Elizabeth knows only too well how horrendous bereavement can be. After her grandmother’s sudden death 24 years ago, her husband Allan died the next day in a road crash as he drove home to be with Elizabeth and their three young sons.
“You never think you’re going to be the one to get the knock on the door, but when I looked out of the window and saw the police and two victim support people, I knew,” she says. “From there, it was hell on earth. Grief is massive. It’s like childbirth – you don’t know what to expect. And whatever anyone tells you, it’s 50,000 times worse. If it wasn’t for my three boys, I wouldn’t have got out of bed.”
It took three years before Elizabeth felt strong enough to seek help and share her story, and she subsequently went on to run a grief support group herself for nine years.
“In 2014, a friend of mine asked me what I missed most since losing Allan and I just said ‘feeling fab’, and I thought that’s it, that’s what I’ll do. I thought it was time to bring some joy back into my life and help others to do the same,” she says.
From working with one North Shore grief centre and running two events a year, Feeling Fab has expanded to provide several events a month, and works with more than 20 organisations in Rodney, Hibiscus Coast and North Shore, including Hospice, cancer charities, women’s groups, counselling services and funeral directors. Feeling Fab is also extending its programme to include activities for men and young people and it has local teams in Warkworth and Mangawhai. However, the charity is reliant on the goodwill of its volunteers and sponsors to help make events happen.
“We get funding by begging, borrowing and almost stealing – no one’s ever been paid,” Elizabeth says.
Anyone can suggest a person who could benefit from a Feeling Fab day, providing they have the agreement of the recipient. It might be someone who has lost a partner or child, or someone who is in palliative care themselves.
“We provide hairstyling, make-up, manicures and hand massage, goodie bags to take home and yummy food throughout the day. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet others who have had a similar experience and to make new friends,” she says. “Our team of volunteers have huge hearts and understand that those grieving need tender loving care in a safe environment, and we all feel blessed and honoured to have these ladies come along and tell their stories.
“Unfortunately, due to Covid, we’ve only been able to run seven events last year and eight the year before, but this year we are starting off with a bang with two for Harbour Hospice in Stillwater and Warkworth, where the venue was kindly donated by The Oaks.”
The next Feeling Fab wellness days will be at Dairy Flat on May 22 and in Mangawhai on May 23.
Comfort in a shared experience
Like many women who attend Feeling Fab sessions, Rosie Shaw of Mahurangi West was reluctant to go to the organisation’s recent wellness day in Warkworth. Her husband, Peter, died in August and it was only Warkworth Wellsford Hospice staying in contact with her since then that resulted in her hearing about the event and going along.
“I didn’t want to go,” she said. “But hospice rang me – they’re so caring, they keep in touch – and they said get yourself along to this. My response was if they’re kind enough to put this on, I should go.”
And, like many others before her, once she got there, she was glad she did. Any initial nerves were quickly dispelled and she left with several phone numbers and a keenness to keep in touch with other attendees.
“I had a lovely day – I had my hair done, my nails done, and a massage. But it was more just meeting people and sharing with people who have been through the same as you,” she said. “It was nice to share with people with empathy, they were all interested and like-minded.
“You can’t blame people for not knowing what it’s like and, as much as you might try, you can’t understand grief unless you’ve been through it.
“You feel loved, which is important. I would definitely come again.”