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An opening to life with Wild Grief’s teen wilderness programs

“I went out for a walk, and found I was really going in”*

Wild Grief is an Olympia-based non-profit whose mission is to facilitate peer groups for teens, young adults and families who are grieving a death by creating the space for sharing, connecting and healing in nature. We do this because we know and have witnessed that nature heals. Our vision is for a vital, resilient, and connected community with a healthy response to death.

Our programs combine peer grief support with an immersive experience in nature. During our time together, participants focus on what’s happening to them and around them in nature. We lead peer discussions on the experience of grief while simultaneously focusing on their experience in the natural world through exercises that bring attention to their surroundings.

We do this by encouraging participants to use all their senses. We allow them to find the metaphors of life and loss surrounding them in nature, teach them about the history of where they are, and simply support them in connecting with each other and sharing about their experience of loss.

Teens on a Wild Grief wilderness hike in the Goat Rocks in 2019

People may experience barriers to accessing the outdoors based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability and poverty. For grieving youth and families, all these barriers are magnified.

Our families report being overwhelmed as they rebuild their lives without the person who died. Youth who are grieving, teens in particular, can be resistant to asking for help. Wild Grief’s emphasis on outdoor experiences opens doors to young people who may be hesitant to look for grief support elsewhere.

One applicant wrote “I think that out of all the tedious and depressing ways to deal with my grief, backpacking sounds actually enjoyable.” Our program creates an entry to outdoor recreation that is low-pressure and focused on group support, connection and skill building.

To help further reduce some barriers, our programs are offered at no cost. We provide all gear, and we recruit trail leaders that reflect the diversity of our participants. This year, thanks to a generous sponsorship from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, all participants will also receive a Washington State Discover Pass.

Our cornerstone program since 2018, the Teen Wilderness Trek, is a four-day backpacking trip for grieving 13-18 year olds. We also offer guided day hikes for youth as well as a monthly drop-in Hike Habit for all ages. In 2020, when COVID hit, we developed a series of programs combining virtual peer support experiences with independent nature connection and grief activities, including a Family Journey and Solo Together for Teens and Young Adults.

This summer, we have both in-person and virtual + independent programs available, for teens, families, and all ages. Read more about our programs and sign up.

Monica Anney is the Program Coordinator for Wild Grief.

*The full John Muir quote is: “I only went out for a walk and concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

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