Winter lantern walk illuminates healing path

Sarah Smith, a bereavement coordinator with the 100 Mile House District Hospice Palliative Care Society, is organizing a Hospice Winter Walk, In Memory of Your Loved One at 100 Mile Marsh on Jan. 29. (Kelly Sinoski photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Sarah Smith, a bereavement coordinator with the 100 Mile House District Hospice Palliative Care Society, is organizing a Hospice Winter Walk, In Memory of Your Loved One at 100 Mile Marsh on Jan. 29. (Kelly Sinoski photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Sarah Smith holds one of the inspiring messages she plans to post along the Hospice’s Winter Walk this Friday, Jan. 29. (Kelly Sinoski photo - 100 MIle Free Press).Sarah Smith holds one of the inspiring messages she plans to post along the Hospice’s Winter Walk this Friday, Jan. 29. (Kelly Sinoski photo - 100 MIle Free Press).

The 100 Mile House Hospice Society is inviting people to take a walk to help deal with their grief this winter.

Hospice will hold a Hospice Winter Walk, In Memory of Your Loved One along the one-kilometre trail at 100 Mile Marsh, this Friday, Jan. 29. The self-guided walk – lit by lanterns and inspirational pamphlets – will allow people to walk alone or within their small social circles and remember those they have lost. The event runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and participants are encouraged to come later in the evening and bring flashlights.

The event is not a gathering and participants are asked to adhere to all COVID protocols, such as physical distancing and staying within their bubbles.

“I’m just providing the opportunity and inviting people to come and those who are ready will come,” said Sarah Smith, a bereavement coordinator with the 100 Mile House District Hospice Palliative Care Society. “There’s no timeline to grief, there’s no end. We’re dealing with it the rest of our lives after a loved one dies.”

Smith, a registered care aide who has volunteered with Hospice for 34 years, said this type of mourning work is important, especially with no public venues available during the pandemic. The inability to visit loved ones in long-term care, compounded with the lack of funerals and memorials – or even gatherings – to remember those lost loved ones has made the isolation even more acute.

READ MORE: New wing taking shape for palliative care patients with high-level medical needs

“January is a tough time of year for anybody regardless of COVID but that adds an extra element to people who are grieving. I found that with COVID and the pandemic and the isolation you can’t grieve the way you normally do,” Smith said. “You don’t have that physical touch and hugs … families and supports can’t see you.

As part of the lantern walk, Smith will post inspiring quotes, while participants are invited to bring a message about their loved one – or write a note to them – to place in one of the paper bags hung beneath the lights. At the end of the night, these messages will be collected by Smith and burned in a discreet location. The burning of the notes is symbolic in many cultures as a cleansing ritual, Smith said, adding that she also wants to respect those private thoughts.

“Mourning work is doing something about your grief emotions. This is safe, it’s outdoors, it’s simple, but sometimes the simplest things can be the most meaningful as long as there is an intention behind it.”

The lantern walk was suggested by a member of the hospice board, who remembered similar lantern walks along Bridge Creek in the summertime. The marsh was chosen because it’s more accessible.

Smith noted people don’t have to do an outside walk to mourn, and encourages them to listen to loved one’s favourite music, poetry or art, start a scrapbook or journal, or set up a bench or plant a tree in someone’s memory. “Those are all aspects of mourning work,” she said. “It’s counterintuitive to feel pain, to create a busy life so we don’t dwell on loss and pain.”

She invites people to remember the pain and the good times and reach out and talk to somebody. “The more you talk about it the more you reminisce, the lighter it becomes,” she said.

Smith, who started volunteering with Hospice as a teenager after her grandmother died, said she felt a desire to give back to others in the same way.

“I think the takeaways that you get are so incredibly rewarding,” she said. “The gift of trust people give you, it’s quite an honour to be that person to be there and provide care or bereavement care.”


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