A Love Letter to Kanuga

05.28.2020 - Kanuga Stories

Following the initial weekend of Kanuga Cottage Retreats, we received some moving and meaningful feedback from guests. We share with her permission the following letter from Eleanor Shell, who wrote about her family’s experience:


Dear Micheal,

I am writing to send you and the entire staff a very personal thank you for a wonderful and safe weekend at Kanuga. I know the decision on how to open and the logistics of changing your model, could not have been easy. Our family is grateful that you and the staff took on the challenge. Having a safe place to get away gave our family the renewal, we desperately needed. I want to share our story with you because I want you to truly understand what Kanuga’s opening in this way has meant for one family.

In September, we welcomed our second son. Two weeks after he was born, my husband’s grandfather in Mississippi passed away. So, I was home alone with two boys under two. Two days after he left, our two-week-old Jake took an extremely long nap. When I went to wake him, I discovered he had a very high fever. Depending on community in ways I never had to before, our two-year-old was taken to a friends house and I went to the ER. What I thought would be a few hours, turned into a two night stay with viral meningitis. Luckily, it was only viral meningitis and he responded well to treatment. When you are sick for a week the second week of your life, you lose half of your development. We discovered at 3 months Jake had feeding issues and developmental delays. The next 3 months were filled with a lot of prayers, worry, doctors and therapists. In March, he finally began to be cleared from specialists and therapists. I was able to start working a bit more, have time with friends, return to worship, and plan fun things for us all. We felt like we were emerging from 6 months of isolation, when covid-19 hit. The three trips we had planned for April, including Easter at Kanuga, were soon canceled and we settled in at home.

The last twelve weeks, I have been home with both boys 24-7 with no help, while helping my clients figure out how to navigate Covid-19. Our two year old has struggled with no longer going to preschool and not seeing his grandparents for 8 weeks of that time. My husband has been bounced around from being essential, to non-essential, to essential. All while worrying how we could assure we could keep everyone, especially Jake, healthy.

As the weeks passed, we canceled more and more plans, worked to make our backyard a 2 year old’s summer dreamland, and accepted Jake’s first year would not include many of the first we had planned. As many pushed and prepared to reopen the world, we knew we were not going to be able to take any risk with Jake (or me either as I have lupus). However, our mental health was in desperate need of a break. Last Monday, I was completely overwhelmed and in tears.

When the email arrived Tuesday, it was truly an answer to prayers. We signed-up without question because we knew we could trust Kanuga. We were happy to be the guinea pigs to help you work out any kinks because we love Kanuga so. I shared the information with my network with confidence because I knew others were desperately looking for safe retreats that I knew Kanuga would provide.

Our expectations were not only met, but exceeded. We felt completely safe while being able to relax at the same time. For the first time in 12 weeks, we were able to live in the wonder and joy of childhood with our boys. Being away from media helps the adults truly live in the moments together. We felt surrounded by community and safe all at the same time. While some are in a rush to return to “normalcy,” we were happy to have a bit of peace and joy in the world we are in now.

Charley spent his days exploring, touching, climbing and getting dirty the way two-year-olds should. My absolute favorite moment was sitting Jake on the edge of the bitty (sic) pool and enjoy sand and water for the first time. It was one of the few milestones of Jake’s first year that will be completely normal. I already sent the photo to an artist to paint for us.

We cannot thank you enough for providing our family respite we needed during this time.


With deep gratitude,

Eleanor Shell