During a time when seeing fewer faces in wider spaces was very important, participants of the Chilliwack Hospice Society Supportive Walking Group have continued steadily through the challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While a supportive walking group had been held at Townsend Park when the Society was in downtown Chilliwack in years past, the program had not been held recently.  In January 2020 Laurie McNaught, manager of community outreach, borrowed the idea from former program manager Coletta Holmes, to begin a small supportive walking group.  The group faced several challenges during the early start-up months with the many COVID-19 restrictions but eventually managed to establish a regular walking program.  The importance of this outdoor group became very apparent when many of the other in-person group programing was not available due to COVID-19.

One group participant says, “Sometimes this [walking group] has been the only time I was able to get out of the house to be with others. I feel like the other participants understand this. This walk is a highlight of my week.”

Many members of the group have experienced the death of a loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic and have shared their mutual frustrations over not being able to gather with family members, hold a funeral or honour the deceased in traditional ways.

“When a new person joins the group, there will sometimes be a lot of tears during our walk,” says McNaught. “The volunteers are so amazing, as they listen and walk beside those who are struggling in these early days of grief. Then as the weeks go by, I notice that the conversations change to chats about life and challenges, weather, even plans for future events, and some good laughs.”

Participants are encouraged to share as little or as much as they feel comfortable about their grief. Knowing that others walking alongside are also suffering a significant loss can be of great comfort. Volunteers offer familiar, consistent smiles each week, though participants are welcome to drop-in anytime to join the walk. Bereavement clients are often referred to the walking group which complements other Hospice programs well.

Fresh air and movement can be healing for those who are grieving. The park is continually changing and so full of nature, life, and things to experience. Often observed are herons, an eagle, several kinds of ducks, Canada geese, and many songbirds. Despite seasonal changes, the Supportive Walking Group has continued through 2021 and into the current year undeterred by rain and snow. Sardis Park offers a warm, safe, and beautiful setting to share and listen to others as the lives of the bereaved grow around their grief.

A group member says, “Even though it is a short walk I am sure all the participants benefit from the walk. It allows them to share the things they do.” Another one says, “The comfort of knowing this community gathering is there for me every week is something that gives me a sense of belonging. I know my grief is welcome and it matters.”

The weekly walk begins and ends at the Chilliwack Hospice Society and, when restrictions allow, include time for a complimentary coffee and further conversation in the group programming space indoors following the walk.

Our Supportive Walking Group meets weekly on Thursdays mornings at 9:30am, starting at 7112 Vedder Road. For more information about this and other community outreach programs, contact Laurie McNaught at (604) 795-4660 or visit www.chilliwackhospice.org