Marisa’s Saddles Up to Help East Enders Process Grief

Marisa Striano with Joker
Marisa Striano with Joker
Credit: ©Sharon Hallman Photography

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all could use a little emotional support during this pandemic that has hijacked our life plans and goals. And with no possible way to have predicted something like this during our lifetime, no one really has the innate grief-processing tools to deal with. This realization inspired Marisa Striano, founder and board president of Spirit’s Promise Equine Rescue in Riverhead, to take the next step in her mission to help others by creating Marisa’s, a new brand dedicated to helping others reclaim their lives from the clutches of grief and anxiety.

“I knew that we were going to have a grief/anxiety epidemic on our hands, because people were sleepwalking through life just doing what our superiors tell us to do,” Striano says of the way COVID-19 has rewritten our everyday lives. “After the sleepwalking and everything else goes away and we realize how many people we’ve lost and how much our lives have changed, we’re going to have a grief pandemic where people will be in a state of loss.”

After surviving breast cancer and two divorces, Striano, a certified Equus life coach, sees Marisa’s as the culmination of her professional and personal journeys and a chance to share her survival story. “I know that our heart is so resilient because it keeps getting broken over and over again, but it still beats and we’re still here,” Striano says.

The brand will offer three-day wellness and grief retreats for adults, as well as one-day anxiety and depression retreats for youth ages 15 to 20 beginning in March. Each retreat is held with a small group and a horse, an evolution of the one-on-one Spirit’s Promise counseling, at a private destination in the Hamptons, North Fork, Florida or Rhode Island.

“Your grief can be a purse, a suitcase, a crossbody bag or a steamer trunk—some days you can carry it with you and it’s a little heavy, but other days you just have to lie down beside it,” Striano explains. “I realized that through groups, the love and understanding of, ‘Hey, I feel that way too,’ helps people so much. Grief and anxiety is a very solitary place to be. People tend to hide, they throw the covers over their head, they just don’t want anyone to know how sad they are, because they feel like it’s an indication that they’re weak. But groups actually help people get through it together.

“When I speak to people, it’s a very big metaphor to think of a giant piece of plaster shattering on the ground during an earthquake. That’s what loss or grief looks like, so that’s our life when we go through this loss—it’s shattered into a million pieces. In the dust, some of the pieces are missing little pieces. You have to put it back together, but it just won’t fit the same anymore. You’re working in a new life, a new way of living. You can see through the cracks, and it’s just different. People have to get used to living life without that particular person, that job, that house, everything. Things that we’re used to are no longer there. That’s what the earthquake does.”

The three-day retreats take place on select weekends through the year, each with a different grief source to conquer. The retreats that begin on March 5 and October 1 are for women of divorce; March 12 is for anyone who’s lost a beloved pet; the April 9 and November 19 dates focus on the death of a spouse; and May 28 is for the loss of a child. The one-day youth retreats are available on select Saturdays—March 27, May 22 and October 9.

“You don’t have to make a kid vulnerable, they already are,” Striano says, explaining why shorter retreats are ideal for young people. “For the adults with three days, you’re dealing with people who have walls up, who have bubble-wrapped themselves, who have armor on, and you actually have to crack them vulnerable. Then you actually have to have a safe place for them to come back, so they can mend themselves and take that armor off.”

For those who find it hard to open up and be honest in a group therapy session, Striano promises that the horse on-hand will always know the true contents of your heart. “A horse will feel your anxiety, and I will know what the horse is doing. You may not even realize that you’re lying to me, because you want to tell me what I want to hear,” she explains. “Horses mirror back to us what we’re actually feeling, because what we say isn’t always the truth.”

In addition to the grief and anxiety retreats, more Marisa’s services will be offered in the future—such as wellness and rejuvenation retreats and virtual coaching to help others become grief counselors in this unimaginable time in our lives. Striano adds, “Marisa’s is going to give people tools to help them live this crazy life so they can help mend their hearts.”

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