2022 - March - Gazette - A Walk with Grief

By: Jackie Naginey Hook
Thursday, March 31, 2022

A Walk with Grief

My husband and I went for a “four-season” walk at Spring Creek Canyon a few weeks ago. When we arrived, it was overcast, foggy, rainy and cold – it felt like winter. After about two miles of walking, the sun started to peek through the clouds, the fog began to dissipate, and the temperature warmed – it felt like spring. Once we turned around and started to walk back, the clouds were gone and it was so warm and sunny I began to sweat and had to remove multiple layers of clothing – it felt like summer. At this point, I began to wonder, where is fall?

Fall began when I was drawn to picking up a long branch with a Y shape at the end. An epiphany had occurred to me during the walk and it was about a way of thinking that served me well earlier in life but was no longer helpful. This old way of thinking no longer felt authentic. As I carried the branch, I pondered and decided I was ready to release the old. The straight part of the branch came to represent my authentic life and the Y at the end, my divided life if I held onto the old thought pattern. Since I wanted to continue my authenticity, I snapped and pulled at the branch until the Y separated. Then I threw the Y into the creek and watched it float away. I let go of a piece of myself just as the trees let go of their leaves – it felt like fall.

We returned to our car and I was transformed – not in major ways, but I felt better and lighter in spirit. And all of this on a walk in nature.

Walking in nature can be such a healing experience. One reason is because nature models so much for us. For example in my walk, the four seasons modeled the seasons of our lives and how quickly they can sometimes change. When I’m in a season of winter with grief, coldness, less color and light, I hold onto the hope that spring and new growth is coming. And when I’m in the fullness of a summer with activity and abundance, I seize it even more knowing impermanence is a part of life and the endings of fall will come.

Another reason nature is healing is because science has proven it to be true - it helps heal our four dimensions. Some of the many benefits Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. discusses in his book, Nature Heals: Reconciling Your Grief Through Engaging with the Natural World, include:

  • Physical dimension - lowered heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels and improved immune system, sleep quality and vitamin D absorption. And the physical benefits are even greater if you add exercise!
  • Cognitive dimension – less rumination, clearer thinking and a rested brain with sharpened short-term memories and a restored ability to focus.
  • Emotional dimension – improved mood and increased self-esteem and resilience and decreased anger, anxiety and depression.
  • Spiritual dimension – increased meditation-like brain waves, experience of awe, wonder and epiphany, ability to connect with our true and authentic selves, contemplation of our beliefs and values, sense of being a part of something larger and ability to transcend the mundane of our lives and decreased sense of the significance of our own concerns.

And these benefits are available regardless of the season or setting. Together they make us feel better and therefore improve our social health too.

For these and many other reasons, we are very grateful to be partnering with Centre Region Parks and Recreation in offering A Walk with Grief on Tuesdays, April 19 through May 31 (with no class on May 10) from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. at local parks. This is a time to walk with others who are grieving and reap some of the many benefits of nature while also moving some of your grief from the inside to the outside. Please register at www.CRPR.org. We hope you will join us!

We also hope you will join us at these other outreach programs:

For more information, please visit the Bereavement Gatherings and Events page on the Koch Funeral Home website. To reserve your spot and receive the invitation links, email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-237-2712 or visit the Koch Funeral Home Facebook page @kochFH. If there are changes to our in-person gatherings because of COVID, we will provide updates on the website.

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.

 

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