Planning programs and outings for children with special needs is nothing unusual for the Friendship Circle of Montreal, but a recent weekend retreat for the mothers who care for these children proved to be an most amazing novelty.
The women were expecting a few days of respite and a relaxing getaway; they left with new sisters and a fresh perspective on their children, each other, and themselves.
The retreat, called “Shabbat at the Spa,” took place from June 3 to June 5 at the luxurious Tremblant Manor in Mont Tremblant. Attendees enjoyed spa services on Friday afternoon, swimming, outdoor ceramic painting, and welcomed the Shabbat with a group candle-lighting ceremony. Women participated in a variety of Shabbat-oriented activities, throughout the following day, and ended Shabbat with a Havdalah ceremony and bonfire.
The women came from different neighborhoods, lifestyles, economic circumstances and Jewish backgrounds. But none of those differences mattered when they joined together to talk about their lives and share their collective pain at having children with daunting challenges.
For many of the women it was their first time away in decades. It was amazing to see women with such different lives, yet so connected, as if they all were standing in the same place.
The spa treatment included in the package was only the beginning of the nonstop pampering the mothers received. Welcome gift baskets with monogrammed spa robes were followed by a continuous stream of treats throughout the weekend: pillow-soft spa socks, breakfast in bed, and candle holders. Each gift was accompanied by a printed card with an original poem.
The meals, including a complete Shabbat dinner, consisted of delicious kosher fare prepared by Blossom catering, served against a backdrop of magazine-worthy table settings. The menu included unique gourmet dishes, elaborate breakfast buffets and even a mid-afternoon ice-cream bar with all the toppings.
The weekend was special on so many levels—new friendships were made, women were strengthened and most valuable it was the beginning of a circle of support that was much needed in many lives.
In between meals and snacks were enlightening and entertaining group activities. Small group discussions about various ethical issues, a lively energize stretching class, a pajama party complete with hilarious charades and delicious cocktails.
The guest speaker was Mrs. Goldie Plotkin, a worldwide lecturer and a mother of seven including one with Downs Syndrome. She lectured on topics such as “Faith under Fire” “The Pursuit of Happiness” and “The Five Love Languages.” As a special mother herself, she spoke openly about her personal struggles and challenges and about Judaism’s beautiful perspective on individuals who have special needs. Through a mixture of Jewish teachings and personal stories, she empowered the women to view their children as perfect holy souls sent down to this earth to help us complete our mission. She challenged them and gave them tools to choose positivity and happiness.
The amazing group of women who attended shared openly, and bonded honestly and genuinely, the environment was imbued with an aura of out-of-this-world holiness.
Words like “life-changing,” and “awe-inspiring” were heard throughout the weekend, but the overriding sentiment was how refreshing it was to be with other women who “get it” in a way that even well-meaning friends and family members do not.
Mothers felt inspired to keep going amidst the chaos, celebrate the little milestones, and to appreciate all the amazing things their special ones do for the world and those who live in it.