Chilliwack Hospice Society, in partnership with Freedom Reins Equine Connections, hosted their annual day of children’s grief activities on Saturday, June 24. Organized by Child and Youth Program manager Franceska Hills, children and their grownups participated in horseback riding, grooming, creative arts, and time for reflection as part of this special day for group grief support.
Each year many of the youngest bereavement support clients at Chilliwack Hospice Society are invited to experience a day of reflection, remembrance, and resilience in the company of gentle giants, the beautiful horses who reside at Freedom Reins Equine Connections in Yarrow and their friends through connections of ranch owner, Dora Isaak. Unlike previous years, the children’s parents or grandparents were welcomed to accompany them for the whole day beginning with the welcome circle. The opening event under the tent donated by RE/MAX Nyda Realty, included a game of ‘The North Wind Blows’ which made clear the many commonalities shared, including the loss of someone special, by each of the children and adults present. After which, each family shared a story about the person they were remembering and attached a photo of them to a wall of remembrance. Following some safety instructions from Isaak, families were divided into their groups and sent to their first activity station.
As always, the most popular area was the ring where horseback riding was taking place. Children donned their helmets and riding boots to ride one of the beauties at Freedom Reins, many for the first time. Led by caring volunteers, children placed a heart sticker on the fence or on the horse with their loved one’s name on it. Intimate conversations between horse and rider took place, some tears were shed, and many smiles shone as the children rode around the ring and between obstacles along the course.
Other activities included grooming the horses, painting pictures and words on their bodies, and learning about the emotional intelligence of these incredible animals. Another station for creative expression encouraged children and their grownups to paint their feelings on canvas and paper. Time for guided reflection was facilitated in the stables where grief was explored through various mediums including Play-Doh, books, rock painting, and more time spent with the calmest, understanding horses.
This year’s event was dedicated to the memory of Hills’ nephew, Andy, who died when he was five-years old. The family of the special boy said in a written statement that he reminded them to “be in the moment, that the ordinary can be special, and that connection with one another is a gift.” In honour of Andy’s great taste, and in support of gathering to grieve and celebrate loved ones who have died, pizza was generously provided by Jim’s Pizzeria, ice cream treats were kindly donated by Superstore and Save-on-Foods (Promontory), and a package of waffle mix was sent home with every family with love from Anita’s Organic Mill.
Equine connections is just one of many programs Chilliwack Hospice Society facilitates for bereaved children and youth in Chilliwack and the surrounding communities. One-to-one supports, in-school outreach, and grief support groups are offered throughout the year to children, pre-teens, and teens free of charge. To learn more about the Chilliwack Hospice Society Child and Youth Program, contact program manager Franceska Hills at (604) 795-4660 or go to https://www.chilliwackhospice.org/programs-and-services/child-and-youth/
Desmond Devnich is the Marketing Manager at Chilliwack Hospice Society where adults, youth, and children in Chilliwack, BC and the surrounding communities may receive free bereavement and palliative care support programs and services, educational opportunities, and resources for coping with grief and loss.