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Grief walking group returns to in-person sessions

Hospice Yukon pleased to resume sessions along the Millennium Trail
Suzanne Greenshields poses for a photo outside Hospice Yukon in Whitehorse on Oct. 7. Years ago when Greenshields found herself grieving the loss of both her parents who died within a short time of one another, she took a friend up on the invite to participate in a grief walking group offered by Hospice Yukon. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Years ago when Suzanne Greenshields found herself grieving the loss of both her parents who died within a short time of one another, she took a friend up on the invite to participate in a grief walking group offered by Hospice Yukon.

Her friend was a facilitator with the group.

While Greenshields said she didn’t feel she needed one-on-one counselling (also offered through Hospice Yukon) at that time, she was grieving and in the walking sessions found a supportive group of people who were going through or had gone through their own losses.

“It was non-judgmental,” Greenshields said in an Oct. 8 interview, recalling walking with others who were also dealing with grief as a good outlet where she could talk openly about her experience or choose not to talk at all, depending on how she was feeling.

Hospice Yukon has offered the weekly group walks two times each year — spring and fall — for many years.

When it gets too cold for the walks, some members have reunion dinners together and it was at one of those dinners where Greenshields began thinking about volunteering as one of the facilitators, wanting to provide others with the same support and listening ear she experienced with the group. As a facilitator, she’s also pleased to offer additional resources through Hospice Yukon those going through grief may benefit from.

For some participants, the walking group alone provides what they need, while others attend it as well as using other services offered by Hospice Yukon as they deal with their grief.

“It’s healing for everyone,” Greenshields said, noting there’s something about the combination of exercise, being outside and with others that helps in the healing process.

While the group had seen up to 10 participants on some walks before COVID-19, this fall, there’s been between two and four participants each week.

Three facilitators are typically available for each session, walking with individual participants, available to listen if need be or just there as a presence.

Both as a facilitator and a participant, Greenshields said she has gotten a lot out of the walking group.

The beginning of the fall walking group sessions got underway in-person in September after moving to Zoom sessions for the spring due to COVID-19.

The Zoom sessions saw members meet via Zoom then go for individual walks before connecting via Zoom again at the end of the session.

While it provided a virtual option that allowed the group to continue meeting, both Greenshields and Debbie Higgins, Hospice Yukon’s communications coordinator, both said they are pleased to be able to offer the in-person sessions again with COVID-19 measures in place.

“I think it was a reasonable replacement,” Higgins said of the Zoom option.

Greenshields noted the format of the walking group lends itself well to the current requirements for COVID-19 and distancing as the group meets outside starting at the SS Klondike Mondays at 6 p.m. and walks the Millennium Trail.

Given the pandemic, participants are required to register for the group and prescreen. If they are feeling unwell or have any symptoms they are asked to stay home for the evening.

Greenshields said there have also been some changes to the end of the meeting, as Hospice Yukon can no longer provide a shared snack, thus participants are asked to bring their own snack if they want one.

There’s also a quote or reading presented to the group at the end of the walk. Printed copies of that quote or reading were previously provided, but that is no longer the case due to COVID-19 restrictions. Greenshields said instead it can be emailed to any who are interested in getting a copy.

The pandemic has also resulted in a time that many have to find different ways to deal with grief as they have not been able to gather in large groups with loved ones to share the experience and remember the deceased, Higgins said.

Grief can be lonely and the global pandemic has made it that much more difficult, she noted, describing grief as a “unique, individual experience for everybody”.

Hospice Yukon, both Higgins and Greenshields said, provide a number of services to those who dealing with grief. In addition to the walking group, there are counselling services, healing touch sessions and a library of books on the topic.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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