Walking therapy group on the Northern Beaches a beautiful way to process grief

Bereavement Walking therapy group Northern Beaches manly process grief walk coast beach blue sky water ocean green grass peopleEvery fortnight on the Northern Beaches, a group of people experiencing the anguish of losing someone dear to them come together to walk and talk along some of Sydney’s most panoramic coastline spots.

The Bereavement Walks Group, facilitated by HammondCare’s Northern Beaches Palliative Care Service staff, began as a pilot in July 2020 for people living with loss to meet in an informal setting in order to share feelings and emotions while getting some exercise.

It’s been such a success that the trial will be expanded to new walking groups, which are now being organised for the Lower and Upper North Shore.

HammondCare Bereavement Counsellor Susan Brooks said the walks were less formal and emotionally demanding than a traditional indoor sitdown bereavement counselling session.

The one-hour walks take place every other Monday from 9.30am-11.30am at locations along the coast at Fisherman’s Beach and Long Reef like Narrabeen Lake.

“People can have informal conversations with others experiencing similar feelings as much or as little as they want,” Susan said. “It’s a safe place where people can share their feelings while connecting with nature.

“We know that physical activity improves mood and it creates a positive focus during a challenging time.”

Registration is required to participate. The eligibility criteria for involvement in the Northern Beaches group was the loss of a partner, child or parent following palliative care either at a HammondCare Hospital or HammondCare Community Service, or at a Northern Sydney Health District Hospital. Most people doing the walks have lost a loved one within the past year.

Groups of up to 10 come together with a trained counsellor from the Bereavement Counselling Team and the help of volunteers who are trained in grief and loss.

The success of the Bereavement Walks Group pilot is outlined as HammondCare marks Palliative Care Week Sunday 23 May-Saturday 29 May. HammondCare is a recognised leader in providing world-class care and innovation in palliative and supportive care.

Susan said at the start of every walk she asks people to “check in” with each other to express how they are going. Many often visit cafes together afterwards to continue their conversations.

Susan also explains to members that everyone experiences their grief differently. “You don’t want to to try and be an expert on what someone else is feeling. We want them to be respectful of each other’s lives."

David Calandra, a volunteer musician who calls the Northern Beaches his “spiritual home”, joins Susan to help out with the walks and be a sounding board for anyone who wants to chat. “Being outdoors in nature, getting some exercise and not stuck in a room is a great way to talk. There is no pressure at all to talk about serious things if people don’t want to."

David experienced the loss of a parent as a young child and so feels he can offer support in his own way understanding grief.

Later this month, Susan will meet with a group of more volunteers to train them in grief counselling to expand the walks program.

Two other bereavement walking groups will commence in Wahroonga and Lower North Shore at the end of June 2021, also run by the bereavement counselling service with the same registration process and eligibility criteria.

Find out more about National Palliative Care week