The Shining Light of Hope


Losing a loved one is one of life’s most difficult experiences.

For Canadian Armed Forces family members living this reality, the grief they feel isn’t always adequately addressed by civilian bereavement programs. This is the foundation of the Helping Our Peers by Providing Empathy (HOPE) program, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

The program offers compassionate, understanding and confidential support that resonates with participants. That’s because it pairs a volunteer who has lost a loved one in the military with a bereaved military family newly coping with loss.

In this peer-to-peer model, HOPE works on two tracks: it helps those who volunteer and those they mentor, as both work through their grief in their own way. Peer support has shown to have a significant impact on emotional healing and family wellbeing.

HOPE seeks to demystify grief through the unique power of peer support. No matter how resilient an individual is, and military families show this quality every day, grief is overwhelming. The HOPE program provides family members with realistic and honest expectations so they can learn how to cope with their loss.

HOPE participant Jim Davis knows this all too well. On the morning of March 2, 2006, he received the call all military family members dread; this one from his daughter-in-law Melanie about his son Cpl Paul Davis.

“It was as though I was thrown into another dimension. I was spinning out of control in total confusion,” Davis recalls.

It’s a natural reaction for someone in his situation, to want to shut down, to isolate and be alone with their pain. But Davis got another call a month later inviting him to attend a focus group in Edmonton. The topic of the meeting was how bereaved military family members can deal with their grief. He accepted because he recognized that step provided “a shining light of hope I knew I had to embrace and follow.”

At that meeting, he connected with a father who lost his son 12 years earlier, and found he was able to open up and talk to a group of strangers about the “deep dark pit that I had been thrown into” because they had all been there too.

“While I was doing that, an amazing thing was happening,” he remembers. “I could see from their reaction that they could feel my pain and they cared.”

Even more incredible, and surprising to them, the tears of the group slowly turned to laughter.

“Something magical was happening. We were inspired to move forward and form a group that would enable us to reach out and help others who were also suffering from the death of a loved one,” he says, and HOPE was born.

Helping guide HOPE from that very first meeting is Sophie Richard, the program’s manager who has watched the program evolve.

“Over the last 15 years, I was able to witness the positive impact and value our unique peer support approach has,” she says. “Support from the HOPE program has provided an anchor of comfort and empathy to families experiencing grief. Many have told us the interactions they had with program volunteers after their loss were some of the most helpful to them.”

The HOPE program is available to adult family members in the military and veteran community, at any point in time. The loss doesn’t have to be as a direct result of military service and it doesn’t have to be recent.

“I am so happy we decided to create this program and that I stayed with it because with each person I can help, it makes me feel good about my son Paul,” says Davis. “He sacrificed his life trying to make this a better world and from his death, through me, he can still help people.”

If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a military loved one and are in need of support, please contact HOPE at 1-800-883-6094, email, or go online:

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