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Out & About: Walk on the Dartmouth Green an outlet for grief

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/29/2022 11:01:55 PM
Modified: 10/29/2022 11:01:35 PM

During the past few years, traditional ways to grieve were put on pause.

The thing that can make grief almost bearable — memorial services, support groups, even a hug from someone mourning the same person — were no longer options due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would say that’s another loss for our community, is not being able to have those opportunities to share grief with others,” said Kristen Johnson, volunteer supervisor at The Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care.

Prior to the pandemic, the center would hold a “service of remembrance” for the loved ones of patients who died. There were also in-person support groups and counseling, most of which became virtual. But it wasn’t the same. Johnson and her colleague, Dr. Kathy Kirkland, section chief and director of palliative medicine at Dartmouth Health, began thinking of ways they could acknowledge the people who lost loved ones during the pandemic and did not have the outlets traditionally available to them.

In some ways, grief also became more layered: During the worst days of the pandemic, people were not allowed to be with their loved ones when they died.

“One of the hardest things I think was for people to not have been able to visit their loved ones who were near the end of their lives,” Kirkland said.

“I think it’s added a level of complexity of not being able to mourn together as a family or a community,” Johnson added.

With that on their minds, the pair came up with the “Walk of Remembrance,” which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Dartmouth Green. There will be 400 luminary candles lining the pathway on a triangle section of the green. Origami stars made by staff and volunteers and printed copies of grief-related readings will be available to participants. The Evergreen Singers, a Dartmouth College string quartet and a Giesel School of Medicine student who plays guitar will perform.

Some people may choose to gather in groups while others may simply want a quiet moment of reflection.

One of the reasons they decided to focus on walking is because they hope “to make people feel like they’re included in something that doesn’t require a lot of them,” Johnson said.

Originally, Johnson and Kirkland were planning a gathering for the people and families they’ve cared for in the last few years. But then they got to thinking about how the community as a whole has experienced grief, from lost milestones to what people may think of as “normal.”

“We want it to feel like a gift to the community and anyone who would like to walk,” Johnson said.

By holding the event at such a public place, Kirkland and Johnson hope to encourage people who are curious about the candles to stop by.

“We’re trying to create a space where anyone who has experienced any kind of grief and loss — and we all have really over the last few years — they can come together,” Kirkland said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.


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