In the After
Updated: Jan 30
When I first moved back to Fargo this past summer, I was excited to visit all my favorite coffee shops, escaping the home office to the energy of downtown. I was walking to Nichole's Fine Pastry along 8th street and saw a sign in a window display. It said, Haven: Redefining Life After Loss. Umm....what? While window shopping to one of my favorite spots, I did not expect it. After living with loss for 9 years, I never expect to be seen or understood like that. That one line: Redefining Life After Loss. Wasn't that my life? Wasn't that what I'd been trying to do every damn day for the past several years?
What is this place? How do they know? Well, of course I knew how they knew. Not because I had any details of what this place was or who created it. I knew because a place like this could only have been born out of loss. I knew that someone, somewhere had gone through hell and more before this sign was ever even dreamed to be put on this window. My heart hurt. It hurt for the person who had obviously suffered a great loss. It also hurt because I wish I had seen this sign, read these words, knew of this Haven, nine years ago or 8 years ago or seven or six or five or four...or today. The door was locked, but I stood staring at the window, looking in, trying to glimpse a reflection of knowing.
I had to know more. What is Haven? And who is this incredibly strong survivor who dared to redefine their life after loss. I soon reached out to Jen Burgard, the executive director and founder, and was incredibly honored to hear her story. We shared a connection that can only be known by another mother whose heart has been ripped out of her chest. Jen offered such a beautiful, safe space to share my own story as well and then she invited me to be a guest on Haven's podcast, Landscape of Loss. That experience - of opening my chest wide open to show my memories, my experience, my journals, my son, my pain, - it was the ultimate acknowledgment of survival. And it was a new acknowledgement that I was ready to redefine my life after loss. Thank you Haven. Thank you Jen. Thank you Henry.
In The After
by Jen Burgard
Executive Director of Haven
I like to start this story on what I call “the before”. Like so many women, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my second child, a little boy, and everything was perfect. A boy joining our family, with a 2-year-old girl already in our home, felt like the rounding out of a picture perfect existence in our first house and settled life.
It’s really amazing how quickly anything can change, truly, any of it when you let yourself think on it much. And it did. At 39 weeks pregnant to the day, and two days shy of a scheduled induction, tragedy struck. The seemingly perfect pregnancy, family, and life we set our sights on came crumbling down.
Without warning, a pregnancy complication so seemingly rare snatched our sweet little boy from the life he was meant for with us. In a moment - we went from expectant parents to grieving parents. Our son, Henry, took his last breaths in our arms at just 13 hours of life outside of me. We held him and took photos and memorized his face and his scent until we couldn’t any longer and left with empty arms and an empty car seat.
The “after” was filled with shock first, then confusion, the deepest of heartache, guilt, angst, and isolation. As that heavy fog lifted, in time I was able to see what was missing - answers to my questions, direction for my heavy heart, and a network of others who could sit with me and say “yes, I get it.”
Our organization, Haven, was built out of this longing for something more, and something better for parents who, as I learned in the “after” were going to follow at a steady pace behind me. As we defined our mission and created our programing, every detail was intentioned specifically with that parent in mind, that broken beyond broken heart that seemed impossible to mend into any recognizable version of itself.
Haven exists to bring light to the darkness of loss and make a lasting impact on the healing of parents forced to face what others simply refer to as unimaginable.
Haven is a community of support for parents who have endured the tremendous loss of a child. Haven is a catalyst of change and awareness surrounding understanding and supporting grief work. We do this work through providing resources, events, and healing gifts.
One very intentional resource that was missing in my dark grief journey was simply time and space. With a busy child at home, and new career, there was hardly time to contemplate my loss, miss my baby, or care for myself in an impactful way. I needed dedicated time, outside of my regularly scheduled counseling sessions, to connect with myself, other mothers, and my child. A flight across the country was hardly an option and seemed so distant from my safe space I had built around myself in my home. So Haven created time and space and healing right here in our own area through our retreats.
A retreat is defined as a quiet or excluded place in which one can rest and relax. Notably, it is also defined as a withdraw from enemy forces because of their superior power or after a defeat. I believe both work in this instance. It is a place to seek respite to rest from the heaviness of grief and its physical and mental toll. It is a surrender from the extremeness of it all and the defeat of your expectations of what your life was supposed to be.
Throwing your hands up and backing away slowly to reset and find yourself again is not a failure, but an opportunity.
The Harbor retreats have been a pillar of our organization and the parents we serve. It is an opportunity to provide dedicated time away from work, home, and other family obligations in order to focus solely on one's own mental health and processing of grief and trauma. Held for mothers who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, infant or child loss, we hold space
and work together to find healthy ways to continue to honor your child, and move through the grief that is limiting the ability to live fully. We bring in professional counselors, facilitators, healing practitioners, and more to make this experience as positive and rewarding as possible. To do this we spend time curating a detailed schedule of events and opportunities for group work, self reflection, rest, community, and gratitude. Included parts of
the retreat are guided journaling exercises, group discussions, one-on-one coaching and mentoring, movement including yoga and stretching, and of course tools the attendees can take with them when complete to carry on the positive work they have done. This opportunity is the only one of its kind anywhere close to our region.
This retreat is an opportunity for growth, connection, rest, intention, mindfulness, and so much more. Allowing yourself to immerse your time and energy in yourself and the child you hold in your heart truly opens you up to an “after” that is more full than you could ever imagine. The experiences, transformations, and friendships we have seen come out of this retreat are beyond measure. Mothers who have been hesitant to come but then resistant to leave, those that open up a new tool to manage their everyday triggers back home, and simply those that found a friend who they could message at 3 a.m. on a tough night. It’s real change, and real empowerment and we bring this experience to others because it’s what we needed, and what we still need available to us today. This isn't a girl's getaway - it is specific to the mother who carries with her the knowledge of loss, and who knows about “before” and “after”. It holds space for you, for your children, for your grief, and your unique path forward.
I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the experiences I have had, and in a way I am thankful for them. The people I have met, I may never have met without losing Henry. I always wish it was under different circumstances, but that is one thing I cannot change, and I am forever grateful for the path I am on now and the people in it. If you have a story, and want to share, I would love to hear it. Whether at the Harbor retreat or just over coffee with another mom who gets it. Haven and myself are here to ensure no parent walks this path alone, and your decision to keep going is met with love and light each step of the way.
A native of the upper midwest, Jen Burgard is a mom to two living children and one who lives solely in her heart. Her titles include loss mom, living mom, wife, founder, podcaster, director, and most proudly - survivor. Upon the death of her second child, she set out to fill a gap in accessibility to resources, support and community for others also experiencing trauma. With personal experience of her own and her newly formed network she launched Haven as a service to grieving parents in and around her region. Today, Haven has touched nearly each of the 50 states with their healing gifts, podcast content, and online grief workshops. With a goal to bring awareness and understanding not only to child loss, but our grief culture in general, we are creating and building conversations around the vast Landscape of Loss.
To learn more or register for our upcoming Harbor Retreat, visit our page at https://havenmidwest.org/events/
Check out our podcast and share it with those who may find comfort and support https://havenmidwest.org/podcast/