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Coping with grief at 10-thousand feet

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – For eight years, Gilda’s Club in Grand Rapids has provided a uniquely special way to aid grieving families.

White Feather Flights connects those families with volunteer pilots who offer up their time and equipment free of charge, taking those families on a short flight that can leave a big impact.

Once in the air, the families drop decorated white feathers to honor their lost loved ones and hopefully, gain some closure.

“It was therapeutic – it was great,” said Brooke Slocum, who took the flight with her daughter Isabel last year. “A lot of letting go of the feather is releasing and just letting it go. We’re not stuck in grief any longer because of Gilda’s Club and because of that experience.”

Slocum started bringing her kids to Gilda’s Club after the unexpected passing of her mother in a car accident. Gilda’s Club provided them with counseling and picked them along with over a dozen other families for the flight.

“Once you really get up there and see what it’s really about and what you’re doing and dropping the feather…it really refreshing,” said Isabel. “You can live again and you don’t have to be grieving 24/7 over it because that’s not what they would want you to do.”

And for the volunteer pilots, it’s the intersection of passion and therapy.

“We like to take other people up and show them what flying is like. So for us, it’s a great experience,” said Herb Harney, one of the pilots with the program. “We understand the situation. And so therefor we try to mold ourselves into some sort of a counselor [or] helper.”

Now, Gilda’s Club, along with their partners at Steelcase and University of Michigan are trying to expand.

They’re directing all those interested in beginning a chapter of their own to visit their website, complete with guidelines on getting started.

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