Honor the Memory
Heidi Low lost her daughter, Alison, to a brain tumor when Alison was five years old.
When Low vacationed on Kauai years later, she realized it was the first time since Alison’s death that she was excited to start the day.
“I realized I hadn’t had that type of energy in eight years,” Low said. “Allowing yourself to experience happiness and joy is one of the hardest things to do after losing a child and Kauai helped make that possible for me.”
The experience led Low to found ‘Ohana Oasis, a nonprofit that provides weeklong retreats for parents who have experienced the death of a child.
“I wanted to provide a place where bereaved parents are given the tools, a safe space, and permission to explore the depths of grief while also exploring the heights of the amazing things life can still hold,” she said. “The parents who attend retreats come prepared to do the very hard work of healing but they do it while surrounded by other parents who ‘get it’ and immersed in the beauty of Kauai.”
This winter, ‘Ohana Oasis will be hosting a retreat designed specifically for local parents who have lost a child.
“I’m extremely excited to support our own community of bereaved parents” Low said.
The retreat will happen over a long weekend in early 2019.
“We still have spaces available and would love to hear from local couples who would like to attend. We have also held retreats for single parents and would hold a retreat for single local parents if we had enough parents,” Low said.
It’s a common misconception that if it’s been a few years since the death of a child, parents are no longer eligible, when in fact the opposite is true, she added.
‘Ohana Oasis generally serves parents who have already mourned a couple years and are beginning to ask, “What now?”
”Our focus is to find ways to honor the child’s memory while also living in the moment and starting the journey to embrace the future living a life of joy and purpose,” Low said.
Humbled by the remarkable feedback from parents who attend the retreats, Board
Member Mary Day said, “parents tell us their other children notice a difference as soon as they step off the plane, they tell us of marriages saved, lives transformed. Every parent we have served has told us it altered the trajectory of their life. That is what keeps us going — otherwise I don’t think we could keep working so hard to raise the funds necessary for the retreats.”
All of the retreats are free.
“Almost all of the parents on our waiting list have dealt with large medical bills, a lot of time off work and are at the most vulnerable point of their lives, so we don’t want to ask anyone to prove their financial need,” Low said.
As a result, ‘Ohana Oasis depends upon private donations to fund the retreats. “Retreat space is one of our biggest expenses so if anyone has a four-bedroom, four-bath space we could use for a week, please reach out to me. Our parents especially enjoy staying in Hanalei or ‘Anini, where a group can casually gather at the beach together.”
The local community plays a vital role in the retreats. Every retreat has included a special tour of Limahuli Garden guided by Lahela Keikila’au’owakanahele Correa Chandler, and each has ended with a paddle out hosted by Hanalei Canoe Club.
“We couldn’t exist without our stalwart volunteers, local vendors who provide activities and gift certificates for lunches, and local financial supporters,” Low said.
In May, Sotheby’s/Oceanfront Realty served as a title sponsor for a fundraiser.
“When you are working hard, day after day, and someone in the community like Donna Apisa steps up and says ‘you are doing good things, let me help,’ it not only helps logistically, it replenishes your emotional reserves. It means everything,” Low said.
Info: ohanaoasis.org or Heidi@ohanaoasis.org
Portland Mercury’s True Parent Magazine published an article November 1, 2016 where Founder, Heidi Low, reflects on the journey through grief to the creation of ‘Ohana Oasis.
The Journey to ’Ohana
How One Grieving Mother Followed Her Vision to Help Other Parents
by Heidi Low
Boise, Idaho NBC affiliate, KTVB featured Ohana Oasis after the first retreat in 2015. You can view the story here. OR read it below.
BOISE – Heidi Low knows the pain of losing a child all too well. Her little girl, Alison, died after a courageous battle against a brain tumor when she was just 5 years old.
11 years later, the former Boisean is helping other grieving parents heal in the most picturesque of settings – a Hawaiian oasis.
“You never get over the loss of a child, it’s devastating, a parent expects their child to outlive them,” said Heidi.
After her own heartbreaking loss, Heidi came up with an idea for other parents just like her.
“[I] really just wanted to create a safe place for parents who are grieving the loss of a child – to rediscover joy, peace, happiness and be able to heal,” she said. “If I could do anything what would it be. It would be living on an island providing this oasis for parents.”
Heidi’s island dream started in Boise with a fundraiser last summer called Ladybug Luau.
“It’s been a lot of fundraising, building of a board, raising awareness, reaching out to people and then establishing a presence in Kauai to have local support,” she said.
Heidi moved to Kauai in 2014, and Ohana Oasis was born. This past spring was the very first retreat for grieving parents.
Three couples took part, including Matthew and Cindy Moretti of Middleton. Their son, Anthony, lost his battle with brain cancer in June of 2014. The pain is still raw.
“I think sometimes people don’t want to ask, because they don’t know how to react,” Cindy said. “And I understand that because I don’t know how to react all the time.”
Ohana Oasis was something the Morettis say they desperately needed.
“We could just discuss our children with each other,” said Cindy. “One moment crying and the other moment laughing together.”
“It’s nice to have that safe environment to be able to help one another heal,” added Matthew.
Each day of the retreat was dedicated in some way to grieving and celebrating their child.
“The final day, we went out in an outrigger canoe,” said Heidi. “There are leaves that are this big that you can write on. They wrote a message on how their child blessed them. Then released that and flowers out into the bay. It was really magical and powerful.”
Heidi says Ohana Oasis is so much more than just a retreat.
“It’s really about a safe place for parents to come and rediscover joy,” she said.
Heidi has several couples on the waiting list for future retreats, but she needs donations to make it possible.