The person to blame is probably who ever said "this cannot be the last time we all see each other" (it may have been me).
When the Launde Abbey retreat was drawing to a close, it seemed inconceivable that the group would never see each other again. For everyone the retreat had been a transformative experience and we instinctively knew that our companionship should continue.
Little did we know at the time that the retreat itself would be just the beginning of a life-long story of fellowship and love.
Ten months on
From a practical angle, comparing notes ten months on from the retreat was bound to be hugely beneficial because we would all have applied the knowledge and solved the challenges in slightly different ways.
That exchange of collective wisdom would surely enrich each person's MS Recovery Toolkit. My own previous experience of organising events is one of difficulty.
Not so here. Such was everyone's enthusiasm that the reunion came together remarkably easily. Finding the correct venue required serious heavy lifting and we are grateful to Jane-Marie Harrison for discovering Charney Manor in rural Oxfordshire.
At lunchtime on Friday 21st March the reunion attendees began gathering at The Chequers Inn, situated in the beautiful small village of Charney Bassett. Immediately the retreat's energy and enthusiasm abounded as we reacquainted with each other and traded stories from the past ten months.
A week of highlights
After lunch, we headed for Charney Manor (via a few rustic wrong turns). A rich programme of events had been organised by the reunion team, intended to update the group on our progress, consolidate knowledge and impart new and fun activities.
Each day would be a comfortable balance between guided sessions and free time. With that in mind, the group activities began on Friday afternoon with everyone seated together in Charney Manor's conference room.
Each person chose one word with which to describe their own ten months post-retreat. Overwhelmingly the adjectives were positive, with "awesome" featuring several times.
Indeed all attendees were in visibly good health with some exhibiting quite dramatic improvements. That then was a great lead-in then to the fun ice-breaker: a game played in teams where real and fictional character names are placed into a bag. Each team member in turn must describe a character pulled from the bag.
Naturally the game was quite competitive and I expect that my team won.
Mindfulness and fun
A tea break gave us a chance to relax before a self-hypnosis session led by Linda Bloom. This was one of several such sessions held typically in the mornings before breakfast and in the evening before dinner.
Claes and Malin Nermark had volunteered to lead four exercise sessions, accessible to all and designed to inspire. The first was a Nordic Pole Walking class, followed later in the weekend by Mindful Movements (similar to a Pilates class) and Get Into The Groove!
We had all been looking forward to Friday evening's entertainment and we were very much not disappointed. Alia Alzougbi performed a story called The Tiger's Whisker, about conquering challenges which at first seem to be insurmountable: a clear metaphor for overcoming multiple sclerosis.
Next on the entertainments bill was a gig by Claire and Nev Dean, performing songs from their album Love and Carrots. The couple captivated the whole room with songs written from the heart and beautifully performed.
Among our group we are fortunate to have Jack McNulty, a professional chef based in Zurich.
His recovery story is included in the book Recovering from Multiple Sclerosis. Jack's Jumbo Juiceathon introduced the group to the powerful healing of this supercharged-nourishment.
Jack described the correct techniques for maximising and retaining ingredients' nutritional content and how to combine flavours.
A practical session followed where many delicious juices and smoothies were created. The writing of this article in fact was powered by one of Jack's smoothie recipes.
Q+A with George Jelinek
A highlight of Sunday's programme was a Skype session with Professor George Jelinek, creator of this life-giving programme that we all follow.
While the time in Charney Bassett 10am, in Melbourne Professor Jelinek had returned from an evening performance by John Cleese.
We all were very grateful to the Professor for agreeing to stay up beyond bedtime in order to talk to us. The questions to be asked during the Skype session had been agreed by the group the previous day.
That process in itself was deeply interesting because almost all of the questions proposed could be answered by the group, clearly illustrating the profound expansion in our collective knowledge base.
We discussed issues such as the latest drug therapies, advice for MS prevention during pregnancy and for children's health. A key question was raised about the best way to discontinue disease modifying drugs which was another interesting barometer for the group's improving health.
Fellowship and community is a critical part of your recovery from multiple sclerosis. Nowhere else will you be with people who are on the exact same journey as you and only your fellow travellers truly understand the challenges that you face every day.
You are not alone. I'd like conclude this article with a few words from a personal perspective.
Final thoughts from Launde Abbey
When I attended the Launde Abbey retreat in 2013, I was deeply burdened by the disease and my skies were sullen with leaden clouds. I had become cold inside.
During the week's retreat, the love and care I received from the group gently turned my cold grey skies into blue. After the retreat I now always travel with a flask.
That flask contains some of that love and energy which made the Launde Abbey retreat such a life-changing experience. When clouds appear in my skies I sip from that flask and those clouds are banished; when I reunite with the group, the flask is recharged. I feel blessed to have all of those people in my life.