Stepping beyond the tears

Overcoming grief is more than just wiping the tears away.

  • Sep. 22, 2011 6:00 p.m.

Overcoming grief is more than just wiping the tears away.

That’s why Interior Health and Moog and Friends Hospice House are inviting Penticton residents to try moving forward with a little walk, one step at a time.

The hospice palliative care program’s bereavement walking group has started up for fall, setting aside seven Fridays when those who have suffered the loss of a loved one can lace up their walking shoes and spend an hour with others struggling with the same thing.

“We’ve structured it so it would be totally open or a drop-in type of group. They come as the spirit moves them and as they wish to come,” said Dawn Hill, Interior Health’s palliative care social and bereavement support worker.

The group meets at the Japanese Garden gate rain or shine by the southeast parking lot of the Penticton Art Gallery at 9:45 a.m., with a departure time at 10 a.m. sharp. Hill said participants need to be comfortable walking the distance along the lakeside at a casual pace.

“There are people who have come out in the past who have just been able to walk part of the way, and then sit out on the benches. Then we pick them up on the trip back,” she said.

The group arrives back at the gallery, where they can sit in a café-like setting and drink coffee or hot chocolate that has been provided. Grief information in the form of handouts and books are also available.

The group doesn’t have a mandate on fitness, Hill adds, but does want to help each other heal.

“It’s not about getting fit, even though we’re going outside and getting fresh air,” she said. “It’s walking the path of grief.”

All adults are welcome, although four-legged friends are best left at home.

“What happens is the dogs become more of a focus than the actual walk,” she said.

Hill said most groups start out relatively quiet, with the participants ranging in number from a handful to 25 passing the first few weeks in relative silence or offering polite conversation.

But as the weeks go on, walkers begin sharing their stories.

“The first session, everyone is very cautious. … People make connections, they develop these friendships and they go for coffee. As the group progresses, they get closer,” she said. “It really does take on a significant importance in people’s lives as it goes on.”

Hill said they stole the idea from a Victoria hospice which found bereavement support in the form of a walking club appealed to individuals prone to “instrumental grief,” or those who feel the need to sort through their loss introspectively and in the process of doing things.

“They’re described as ‘doers.’ Often people who are doers and grieve in a way that is action oriented have been chastised for not being in touch with their feelings,” she said, citing examples of men who take on several projects upon the passing of their wife, only to find none of the projects get completed.

“Now we know, and those in grief counselling know, everyone processes their grief differently.”

The fall group runs seven weeks, ending somewhat early due to impending winter, but leads into a drop-in grief education series that runs for five weeks, also at the gallery. It covers a range of topics like how men and children grieve. The winter session resumes with a registration-only grief support group which typically fills with families who have used hospice services, although others can register if space permits.

Hill said there is no right or wrong way to take part in the bereavement walking group or other programs.

“You can choose whatever way you want to do this walk,” she said. “Everybody knows you’re walking at your own speed, and that’s a great metaphor for grief, too.

“It takes as long as it takes. Everybody’s reconstructing their own personal world after this loss.”

The program is completely free, but participants are asked to register in advance by calling Hill at 250-492-9071, Ext. 2203 or e-mailing dawn.hill@interiorhealth.ca.