‘Wild Grief’ Set Free

Wild Grief is an Olympia, Washington, nonprofit that offers both in-person hikes and virtual hybrid DIY outings for people who are grieving. The group started after dinner table conversations in 2015 by a group of longtime grief peer support group facilitators about their desire to get teens out into the healing spaces of nature. The group describes its work as “merging peer support with the healing power of nature” and offers a variety of programs for all ages. “Simply walking together, being under the trees, and doing reflective activities leads to release, relief and rootedness,” the group website explains.

Solace Director of Digital Marketing and Performance, Erin Kelley, took part in a Wild Grief event and shares her experience with us.

I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up to do a virtual grief hike, but being no stranger to online meetings at this point I was open to giving it a shot.

Like many, I lost multiple family members during the pandemic. Personally, my grief had taken the form of a blinding, hot rage which I kept to myself; mainly out of not wanting to burden anyone else. Besides, how could anyone else possibly understand my pain in the same way I do? What called me in to participate in this particular grief group was the added element of an outdoor hike during the virtual experience. I love being outdoors. It has always been one of the places I feel most at home so I signed up with an open mind.

The day of the virtual hike arrived and along with it was stormy weather. It was rainy and the wind was gusting up to 20 MPH making the temperature feel like 36° F. I had selected a nearby Portland park as my hiking destination, admittedly not quite as “wild” as I would have liked, but I wanted to be able to get to and from my computer with ease in order to have the full experience.

I logged on with the other participants and was welcomed by a kind facilitator, who was leading the group but also shared with us that they were working through their own grief, which immediately put me at ease. They explained the sequence of events and then we all took turns sharing what had brought us there today and including the names of those we were carrying on our hearts. My turn arrived and I shared my anger at how unfair it felt to say goodbye over video chat. The hot tears came and I cried in front of strangers while they witnessed me. After which, we all let out a collective sigh as we had for each participant before.

After we all shared, it was time to hike. Before we logged off and ventured outside, our facilitator shared a suggested approach for our time. I bundled up and set out.

The cold wind and rain hit me in the face and was a welcome relief. As I walked, I took notice of the trees, the trail, and the sky, taking in everything around me through my senses. I attempted to follow the guidance and “invited” my deceased grandfather to walk beside me, but he didn’t come. Instead, I was joined by my grandmother. She passed five years earlier, and we were always close. In fact, the day of her funeral was a windy, stormy day just like this one, this was her signature.

The message I received from her was one of comfort, that even though it felt unfair, my grandfather was ready to go. He was ready to join her and had been for some time. With each step, I felt the pressure lift, my body relax and the tears fall. I continued along until it was time to return to the group.

We reconvened and shared our experiences. In just a short amount of time, I was able to receive that message from beyond and realize my blinding, hot rage was anger not of the situation but directed at myself, for not being able to be there with him in person at the time. Finally, I had something I could name and begin to process.

As we closed our time together, our facilitator encouraged us to continue to spend time in nature and shared resources with us that would support us to find more time outside. We expressed our gratitude for each other and logged off. I felt a combination of relief and exhaustion but was honestly surprised at how effective and wonderful this experience was for me.

Wild Grief’s mission is to “facilitate peer groups for children and adults who are grieving a death by creating the space for sharing, connection, and healing in nature.” They offer both in-person and virtual events. The next in-person day hike is scheduled for June 18. They also offer monthly virtual hikes. You can learn more on the Wild Grief website.

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