Death doulas and bereavement circles: the rise of grief tourism

Pacoda Gloria has a resident death doula (Pacoda Gloria)
Pacoda Gloria has a resident death doula (Pacoda Gloria)

If death is the ultimate journey, then it’s no surprise that a whole programme of travel has sprung up around helping us handle our grief.

The last few years have seen both personal and collective bereavement on a scale none of us could have imagined. So, in some ways it's unsurprising that many have begun to venture beyond the traditional avenue of talking therapies, and invest in a holistic adventure to deal with these turbulent emotions.

It’s not just death that can leave you in need of a healing refuge – perhaps it is the end of a relationship or another traumatic event. Grief-focused retreats can be tailored to whatever it is you need to escape from, and prescribe everything from chakra realignment and gem therapy to acupuncture and surfing. Everyone handles trauma differently, and some retreats are tailored to group workshops, while others are less structured and allow more space for private recovery.

For those who have lost loved ones or need time to process, Portugal’s Paço da Glória is a beautifully secluded 18th-century country estate in the lush Minho region that has been carefully building a community to support their residents in need of refuge — starting with its own resident death doula. The house itself is steeped in mysterious history, from ghosts walking the grounds to an otherworldly mist hanging above the river that runs nearby.

For others, physical pursuits might be the salve needed to mend a broken heart. Resurface offers Surf Therapy as a remedy for depression and trauma, providing a profound connection with nature and creating new positive memories, with retreats in Morocco, the UK, US and across Europe. Their week-long trips include daily surf lessons as well as mindfulness practices and group therapy sessions.

Surf therapy can be a remedy for sadness (Resurface)
Surf therapy can be a remedy for sadness (Resurface)

The month-long grief recovery program at New Life Portugal, a wellness center in Serra da Estrela Natural Park, incorporates two counselling and three psycho-educational sessions per week, alongside mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga and connecting with nature. You’ll also be able to share your experiences with others going through similar feelings of loss in group workshops, which follow themes such as ‘gratitude and generosity’, ‘wonder and awe’, and ‘transitions’.

In the UK, the Grief Space channels the healing power of nature during its five-day Grief Alchemy retreat. On the sprawling grounds of Erth Barton manor, which sits on its own peninsula in Cornwall, yoga, breathwork and ‘grief tending circles’, encourage guests to cultivate a new relationship with their traumas.

If you feel the need to get further away from the heartache, Kamalaya hosts an ‘embracing change’ programme in the verdant hills of Thailand, promising to rejuvenate mental health with a gentle focus on emotional healing via holistic practices such as acupuncture, cupping, herbalism and gem therapy.

For those unsure about sharing their feelings in a group setting, The Place Retreat in Bali focuses on private healing. Set in the heart of cosmopolitan Seminyak, all guests have a minimum of three weekly psychotherapy sessions with Jean-Claude Chalmet, a psychotherapist and family therapist with more than two decades of experience who set up The Place. There is also Kundalini yoga and meditation, clinical hypnosis, Japanese acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine on offer.