Healing hikes help parents who have experienced loss share their journeys
Sharing the Journey Hiking Support Group
Third Sunday of the month, 3 p.m. at Hugo Coffee, 1794 Olympic Parkway in Kimball Junction
Contact Michelle Coyne, 913-488-5545
One of the hardest trials any parent could go through is the loss of a child, said Dr. Katie Grace MacElveen, a Park City-based counselor.
“Some people would say something is out of order if a child dies before a parent,” MacElveen said. “And a loss like that changes how we relate to ourselves, our families and the world around us.”
To help parents cope with losing a child, MacElveen facilitates Sharing the Journey, a hiking support group that meets every third Sunday of the month.
The next session is slated to start at 3 p.m. on July 21, at Hugo Coffee, 1794 Olympic parkway in Kimball Junction.
“We meet and get an idea of what the group is up to,” MacElveen said. “Then we choose a hike that everyone can do.”
The hikes change, depending on the needs of the group. If there are a lot of new people, for example, the hikes tend to be on wider trails that give participants space to get to know each other, according to MacElveen.
“It’s about being in the midst of the beauty here, and feeling that sense of connection with other people with whom your loss has context,” she said.
During the hikes, parents will share experiences and different ways they deal with their losses, she said.
“Something as simple as the question ‘Do you have children?’ can put these parents in a dilemma,” MacElveen said. “Before answering, they will go through many thoughts such as “How well do I know you?’ or ‘Do I say three children, but only talk about two because one is not here anymore?’”
Sometimes questions can place parents in an emotionally raw place, where they are forced to decide whether to explain their full journey, she said.
“The hikes serve as safe places where parents can share their strategies,” MacElveen said.
These strategies can come in handy when an anniversary of a death approaches, she said.
“Some families go on trips, because it’s too hard for them to remain in a place where it happened,” she said. “Others share how they support their surviving children over time. One of the questions addressed is, ‘What happens when a younger sibling at the time of a death surpasses his deceased brother’s or sister’s age?’”
The idea for the hikes came from MacElveen’s clients.
“They approached me and said they needed a way to converse with people who understand the particular challenges of the type of loss they have experienced,” she said. “We talked about different forums, and decided a hiking group that meets once a month would be a great way to connect these people. And if members of the group wanted to meet later at different times, that’s fine.”
While the group includes local residents who have lost children, it also includes parents who lost children before they lived in Park City.
“We’ve been like a relief to them, because it wasn’t like they could move here and introduce themselves to everyone as parents who have lost children,” MacElveen said.
The counselor knows it sometimes takes time before people are comfortable opening up about their losses.
“We just want them to know we are here when they feel it’s time to join,” MacElveen said.
Sharing the Journey is also supported by CONNECT Summit County, a nonprofit that raises awareness of mental health issues, MacElveen said.
“CONNECT has a mission to address grief within our county in terms of our mental well-being,” she said. “Grief is a natural process, but if it isn’t well tended, it tends to exacerbate into more difficult mental health issues. So the hikes are a mental wellness strategy.”
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