The Holistic Alliance of Western New York started a dozen years ago this month when six people gathered in Nancy Weil’s living room. It now has more than 1,400 people on its email list – and holds monthly meetings in what some might consider a most unlikely place.
"I'm pretty sure we're the only holistic group meeting in a funeral home anywhere in the world," said Weil, former director of grief support with Catholic Cemeteries in the Diocese of Buffalo, and head of the Laugh Academy, which focuses on how laughter can address grief and help relieve stress.
“The face of funeral homes is changing,” she said, “and in general they are more open to welcoming the community for different events. It's done very respectfully.”
Weil moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., two years ago but continues to help plan and promote alliance meetings with co-founder Clay Dinger, a hypnotist. She will lead the next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Lakeside Funeral Home (formerly Curtin Funeral Home), at 1340 Union Road, West Seneca.
Funeral Director Charles Castiglia, who also owns Lakeside Funeral in Hamburg, has hosted three holistic health fairs with help from alliance members. He opened the café in the rear of the West Seneca site when the alliance needed to find a new gathering place last year.
“They did so much to help build our holistic health fair program, I thought it would be nice for me to give back in a meaningful way," Castiglia said. "Sometimes, when people are grieving, it manifests itself in physical ailments, not just emotional ... and we wanted to provide whatever we could for our families." He described the café as a “family kitchen” big enough for 30 people and has scheduled the monthly meetings on a night that is almost always otherwise free of funeral home activity.
Holistic Alliance of WNY meetings are free and open to all. Weil also runs the group's Facebook page, and welcomes all those interested in holistic health in the region to request to join it.
Q: How has the group changed over a dozen years?
Most of the people who are coming are not practitioners anymore. They're coming because they're curious and they want to learn.
Q: What has been the reaction from meeting attendees and others when they learn about the meeting site?
There has not been a pushback. The people who come and see the space and how beautiful it is – it's a very inviting space – and it has worked out really well. It has parking. It's a centralized location for people in the Buffalo area.
Q: What is the mission of the Holistic Alliance? What are its meetings like?
This is an organization that is there to help educate our community and bring professionals in to speak on different holistic topics. Every month, we have a topic and a speaker. We have time to network and meet each other. The alliance takes a complementary, integrative approach. This is about welcoming other modalities combined with more traditional medicine. This is not an either/or. This is a yes/and. When I'm helping select speakers, my philosophy – whether I'm working with a grief support program or any work that I do – it is always based on can't hurt, might help.
For example, if it's something like EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique, which is a tapping – it's not going to harm you to try it. We've had programs on plant-based eating and nutrition. We have had topics on EMDR: eye-movement desensitization reprocessing, a therapy. We had a panel discussion once on holistic practices that can support someone struggling with addiction. We've done programs on meditation. We try to go through all different types of resources: homeopathic remedies, flower essences, essential oils. Everything from things that people may have heard about but didn't know how to use, to things that people have never heard of.
Q: You’re leading the 12th anniversary meeting. What will that be like?
The topic is natural home remedies. We're going to talk about the things your grandma or great-grandma used to reach for in the cupboards or out in the yard. For example, if a bee stings you, you can use honey or toothpaste to help reduce some of the pain and swelling. You can take a chamomile tea bag, brew your tea, let the teabag cool and place it on your skin if you have a skin irritation.