Stemming from a Grief Services Department Retreat in early 2015, the idea of what would become “Steps of Hope: A tribute walk with butterfly release” was formed. A committee of Gilchrist staff and volunteers decided on a “meditative/contemplative walk” at Cromwell Valley Park in Maryland, using the book “How to Walk” by Thich Nhat Hanh as a guide. The event was held on May 22, 2016 and each attendee was given a bandanna with “Steps of Hope” printed on it, as well as paper fans that included the lyrics to songs played during the opening gathering.
OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS, THE DAY WAS PLANNED:
1) Memory Badges & Memory Flags. The memory badges included a picture of the participant’s loved one. The picture was also used to create memory flags that lined different parts of the walk.
2) Opening Gathering. The opening gathering included two songs sung by one of Gilchrist’s Music Therapists, Emily Mahoney: “Broken Heart” by Sarah McLachlan and “Fields of Gold” by Sting.
3) Readings from “How to Walk” by Thich
Nhat Hanh. Readings took place at two different locations on the walk:
“Collective Energy: When we walk with others, the collective energy of mindfulness we generate is very powerful. It helps heal everyone. When we walk together, producing the energy of mindfulness, going home to the here and the now, we can feel paradise right under our feet; you can see this paradise all around you.”
“Touching Peace: The possibility of peace is all around us, in the world and in nature. Peace is also within us, in our bodies and our spirits. The act of walking will water the seeds of peace that are already there inside us. Our mindful steps help us cultivate the habit of touching peace in each moment.”
4) Butterfly Release and Closing Gathering. This portion of the day incorporated the release of over 100 butterflies, reading the names of attendees loved ones, and another performance by one of Gilchrist’s Music Therapists – “To Where You Are” by Josh Groban. Children in attendance were invited to help with the release.
Despite the rainy and unusually cool weather for this time of year, it seemed to cooperate when it needed to. It may have even added to the tone of the day – somber with moments of peace when it got brighter and the rain stopped.
In the days after Steps of Hope, several attendees reached out to share their experiences from either during the walk or after a few days of reflection. One attendee compared her walk in the rainy weather, along muddy trails and up steep inclines, to her grief journey:
“it was challenging, slippery but we made it- and we will make it through our grief.”
Another attendee said since her mother died in January 2015, she has been stuck and has not wanted to participate in any grief support but was encouraged by a friend to try Steps of Hope. She said she felt the day “moved her forward” and detailed her experience:
“right before I walked across one of the bridges on the walk I said ‘Mom, I am not going to be sad anymore, I am going to be okay’ and took the walk across raising my hand in a victory sign.”
A young child was overheard talking with his mother. She asked him if he thought the butterfly on his hand was his grandmother and he said yes.
This emotional and healing day would not have been possible without the compassion and dedication of Gilchrist’s Grief Services team. Their vision flourished – much like a caterpillar that cocoons itself before it transforms into a butterfly.