GOLDEN, Colo. (KDVR) – Some grieving Colorado kids are taking to the trails to help cope with loss. They woke up bright and early Saturday morning, ready to navigate the path forward – both on the hiking trail, and in life – as part of a “grief hike.”
The hike was organized by Shimmering Wings, a Denver nonprofit dedicated to helping people cope with a childhood death loss. The same group organizes Camp Erin Denver, an annual summer camp in the Colorado mountains that allows grieving children the opportunity to be around other kids who can relate.
Many of the children on Saturday’s hike on South Table Mesa in Golden were grieving the loss of a father who had died by suicide. The hike was a chance for the adults in their life to learn coping exercises, too.
At each resting point along the trail, the group started a conversation about the person in their life who died.
“A lot of these kids have had very recent deaths,” said Barb Kamlet, executive director of Shimmering Wings.
They’re not alone. Never before has grief been such a collective experience. A new international study shows that from January 2020 to May 2022, nearly 8 million children aged 18 or younger lost a parent or primary caregiver to a pandemic-related cause. Studies show bereavement is one of the top predictors of poor outcomes at school.
“When kids don’t have the opportunity or possibility to process their grief, high incidence of things like mental illness, depression, substance abuse, suicide,” Kamlet said.
It reinforces the importance of the grief hike. Hard to ignore the metaphor that can be found on the hillside: a long, winding and uncertain path, riddled with obstacles. But easily navigated with the help of others who are right there with you, going through the same experience.
“The kids get it, they know and they support each other when they’ve had a death loss,” Kamlet said.
In addition to the hike and grief camp, Shimmering Wings offers several resources for families coping with a childhood death loss.