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“Silence Saves” – Susan Hannifin-MacNab, MSW (’92-93 Auburn, WA)

“So there will also be another retreat option this year,” our program coordinator explained. “The three-day silent retreat, which will be offered in the springtime.”

It was right then that all six pairs of eyes opened wide and all six mouths dropped to the floor. We all gasped. You want us to be silent? For three days?! Why on earth would we ever want to do that?

men and women smiling
The ’92-93 Auburn, WA JV Community. Susan is third from right.

The year was 1992. Six of us had moved from various states—California, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania—to become JVC Northwest housemates for a year in Auburn, Washington. We all knew the foundation of JVC Northwest was constructed upon four core values: community, simple living, social (and now ecological) justice, and spirituality/reflection. But as we sat there on the living room floor in our ripped-up jeans, disheveled T-shirts, and Birkenstocks, no one had any idea the value of a three-day silent retreat. We were busy talking about our spiritual selves, chatting about what to not buy with our monthly forty-dollar volunteer stipend, discussing the challenges of living in community with five strangers, and debating the social injustices of our society. Needless to say, not one of us signed up for that silent retreat.

Twenty years later, that silence helped save my life.

The year was 2012. I was now forty-one years old. I was a wife and a mother. Until my husband went out for a Sunday drive and didn’t show up for dinner. Until he didn’t show up for breakfast. Until police and investigators were involved and he was declared a missing person. Until the search began. Until weeks went by and his vehicle was discovered. Until his body was recovered in the wreckage. Until he never returned home.

Silence. Spirituality. Community.

man in kilt kissing woman in wedding dress
Brent and Susan Hannifin-MacNab

I learned the true meaning of these powerful JVC Northwest pillars after my life shifted in monumental ways—a dead husband, a distressed child, unimaginable grief, indescribable trauma, and little desire to keep living as a young widow and solo parent to our 5-year old son. Grief and trauma had knocked me to my knees—literally. Several times a day for months and months on end, I made my way into the dark, silent, walk-in closet in my bedroom and found myself on my knees screaming, choking, sobbing, and wailing in misery, defeat, and brokenness. And one day, while on my knees, I finally surrendered. “Help me. Help me. God? If you are there? I can’t do this anymore. I am broken . . . help me…” And help came in typical JV fashion.

Silence. Spirituality. Community.

I received prayer from strangers: in school parking lots, in home prayer circles, in ministry offices, in beach chairs on the sand. I attended therapeutic church services: where pastors channeled the healing power of God to all those who came to the altar, and I collapsed to the ground in a warm heap of all-encompassing love. I met prayer warriors: who held my hands, spoke in tongues, and wrapped my heart with compassion and empathy. I signed up for silent retreats: where I experienced the power of both meditation (my listening) and prayer (my talking) especially in times of crisis.

Silence. Spirituality. Community.

The concept of silently turning inward—toward God, for self, with community—was introduced to me by JVC Northwest over twenty years ago and it continues to serve me today. By first turning inward, I gather strength from God; then turn outward to assist others.

mother and son with awards
Susan and her son holding her book’s IBPA Benjamin Franklin awards

My husband’s death led me to uncover an alphabet’s worth of helpful healing tools and local community resources. I founded A2Z Healing Toolbox, an organization that emphasizes healing with intention, education through action and post-traumatic growth and healing. As author of the A to Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention, I am now able to offer a guidebook for anyone finding themselves navigating the physical-emotional-psychological-behavioral-spiritual complexities that accompany the grief and trauma experience. As a social worker and educator, I provide A2Z Healing Toolbox group trainings and workshops at conferences nationwide; speak professionally at local universities, hospices, and hospitals on tools for practical grief and trauma healing; donate books to people and cities in crisis; and mentor individuals and families who are learning to live with profound loss.

The year is now 2020. When I hear, “There will be a three-day silent retreat, which will be offered in the springtime”, my eyes open wide and my mouth drops to the floor. I gasp. You want me to be silent? For three days?! Why on earth would I pass up that opportunity?

It is in the silence that I can truly listen within. Listen to the quiet stirrings of my own soul, which are messages to me from God. In the silence, I can regroup, reframe, rebuild, renew and remember that God is with me on all roads traveled—even the bumpy roads. Especially the bumpy roads. Because the bumpy roads are the roads that make me most human and make me most accessible to help others who are in pain. And that is right where God wants me to be. In the middle of all the humanness.

In Silence. With Spirituality. For Community.

 

 

 

 

 

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