When Ute Amann-Seidel tells me she is building “a community of enjoyment and self-care”, I want that to be as good as it sounds. Later in the interview, when I get round to my list of silly questions – the ones I would think but not normally say – the way she answers them, with kindness, patience, facts, examples and sometimes with a laugh, makes me think she’s the right person for the job.
Ute runs Fire & Rain Soul Spa®, a holiday company exclusively for widowed people. She offers short breaks in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where you can enjoy great food, stunning scenery and choose your own program of activities in a supportive atmosphere of people who get it.
The idea came after Ute’s fiancé died suddenly in 2015. She’d already been running holidays for people interested in the arts and her company Wild at Art Ltd had just been awarded Best Creative Travel Agency in the 2014 Creative Tourism Awards.
Once caught up in grief she recognised the need for widowed people to have an escape and to be around people like themselves. Another important aspect of Fire & Rain is learning to reconnect with life: with the simple pleasures and fun that grief tramples but that we need to keep us going.
To create the right kind of experience, Ute has assembled a team. There is Alison Taylor, a qualified counsellor and also a widow; Dr Avinash Bansode, a medical doctor who now specialises in mindfulness training, and Lesley Gillespie, an award-winning chef. Based in luxury accommodation on the Isle of Mull or Arran, you can choose from sightseeing trips, excursions to the neighbouring islands, courses in meditation, yoga, learning a new creative skill or just sitting on the beach with a book if you prefer.
“It is warm, welcoming, thoughtful and inspiring,” says Ute, “Everything is planned and put together with love.”
Listening to the words Ute uses I consider how often bereavement resources offer us “support”, “comfort” and the ones I regard as over-stating their powers, offer “healing”. What they don’t usually talk about is “enjoyment”, “warmth” or say that they have put together what they offer from a place of “love”.
And so to my silly questions, because newly widowed people, feeling too raw and fragile for words, have a bunch of concerns about, well, everything.
“Do people cry all the time?” I ask.
“No,” says Ute slowly, “but they could if they wanted, without getting judged” She goes on, “There is a lot of laughter. Mostly people have fun but sometimes something comes up and it’s okay, it doesn’t matter because everybody understands.”
This chimes with my experience of successful support groups. When I first attended one at the local hospice I was worried about being further traumatised by everyone else’s pain, being an incoherent sobbing wreck sitting in a circle of people holding it together or being the only one who didn’t cry. In practice, we all had the same fears and once they were out in the open we were all surprisingly normal – laughing at the silly stuff and crying at the sad stuff, like people do when they feel they’re allowed to.
“What if I get an attack of the giggles when I try to meditate?”
“That’s okay!” says Ute with a laugh, as if everyone worries about giggling when they meditate. Maybe they do. I know nothing about this but that seems to be perfectly acceptable.
“And if I changed my mind when I got there, panicked and needed to leave – how easy is it to get back?”
“No problem, “ say Ute. “Obviously I would help you arrange what you needed to get back.” She goes on to say that one of their holiday makers this year said that when she got to the airport she wanted to stop, turn around and go back home. “That feeling is normal,” says Ute, “but once she arrived and met people she said she was so glad that she’d come.”
The pricing is in line with specialist breaks in the Highlands, which is not cheap. However, unlike most holidays anywhere, if you feel you need to bring along some moral support, if you book a twin room and share with your buddy then your buddy only pays 50%.
I’m glad to have found this alternative to the usual options of solos and singles holidays. And it’s part of an important movement we’re seeing, of widowed people working together to create the communities and experiences we need.
I hope Ute is at the start of a trend of holidays tailored to the needs of widowed people because joining a community of enjoyment and self-care sounds like a good destination to have in mind to get us through the depths of winter.
For more information you’ll find Ute’s website at:
Ute on the lack of understating around grief:
“No one said it openly but I felt as though people were thinking, ‘Get a grip!’ As if they expected me to get over it like a flu.”
Ute on the food:
“I couldn’t cook for two years. I lived on oven chips. So the food we offer is about enjoyment. It’s not clean-eating, politically correct food; it is tasty, to help you connect with enjoying food again.”
Ute on creating Fire and Rain:
When I went back to work my mind was very slow. I thought maybe my brain is trying to tell me that what I’m doing now is wrong for me and I need to do something else. I left the work I was doing at that time and created Fire and Rain.”
First published in Issue 17 of Widows and Widowers magazine