Camp Courage is JourneyCare’s bereavement camp for kids who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Twenty-five years ago, my dad's cancer returned. I was 9 years old at the time and didn't fully understand the magnitude of the situation. He declined quickly, and only four months after his diagnosis, he died. This trauma still lives with me today, but I have been able to live with it thanks to the support I received in the aftermath.
The most significant boost I received at that time was from JourneyCare. My mom immediately enrolled our family in their monthly grief support groups, and it was there that I learned that I wasn't alone in this world. While my experiences were unique — like anyone else's — I took comfort in knowing that there were other children that would be going on a similar life journey to my own.
Losing a loved one is difficult for anyone. For children, grief is experienced differently and every child grieves in his or her own way. As an adult, you serve as a role model to the children and teenagers in your life. By encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills through the grieving process and for the future.
Learn how you can help the children in your life through the grieving process with these helpful tips in mind:
“What can I do to help?”
That question often weighs on the minds of the parents or guardians of a grieving child.
Some children instinctually express their emotions through verbalization, art, music and play. Other children need guidance on how to express feelings of grief and loss.
“It is helpful to children when the adults in their lives provide opportunities to acknowledge the grief everyone is feeling,” The National Alliance for Grieving Children states. “It is also helpful when children can gather with peers grieving similar situations.”
Bereavement camp is a place where children can meet other kids who are facing grief, and are given the opportunity to bond and process loss with them.
Life happens and for many of us that moment comes when the phone rings and suddenly our world is thrown upside down as we race to the rescue of a loved one or friend who has been diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness.
But you are not alone.
Ask people how they feel about the holidays, and you’ll get a variety of reactions. It may be because, even when things are going well, the holidays can present additional demands that increase stress levels and anxiety. If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one, that ordinary holiday stress can quickly turn into a complex, overwhelming, exhausting endurance race.
After a loved one dies, it automatically becomes a year of “firsts.” The first anniversary of every event no longer experienced or celebrated with the person who is now glaringly absent. What was once a reliable or comforting ritual may suddenly feel like an emotional roller coaster of unwelcome change. Grief triggers may be seemingly everywhere: old movies, familiar scents, a favorite song on a playlist. For many, the initial reaction is to avoid and distract. Although it’s a natural response, over time it becomes increasingly ineffective at moving through the grief.
Perhaps when coping with grief during the holidays, instead of connecting with friends, family and others to primarily distract from grief, consider a choice to deliberately “include” the loved one who is no longer present, with intention.
I look forward to our Tree of Lights celebrations every year. My personal experience with grief and loss has been eased by participating not only as a staff member, but a grieving person in my own right. Let me share a story with you ...
In the past 18 years, I have had the privilege of providing grief support to family members of hospice patients as well as members of the community at-large. Little did I know when I began my connection to JourneyCare as a volunteer over 20 years ago, I would become part of one of the most compassionate organizations that serves people at the most critical juncture in their lives. What was once a small agency now reaches across 10 counties in the Chicago region.
The loss of a loved one turns your world upside down and, for a teenager, this loss can be especially bewildering. In my role as a bereavement counselor, I talk with teens that often feel like there is no way out, like the light of their lives has been diminished and they can become immersed in the stress of their own feelings. It is overwhelming for anyone, but especially for a teen finding their place in the world.
Camp Courage is JourneyCare’s bereavement camp and activities for children and teens, ages 6-13, who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
When I took it on, I assumed being a Camp Courage volunteer would be tough. I knew that spending a week with kids ages 6-13 who had recently experienced a significant death would challenge my emotional wherewithal. Given my career working with the juvenile justice system and the skills I developed in that role, I decided I could handle it. But I learned, until you are there, you can’t truly anticipate the reality and rewards of Camp Courage.
I will always remember my hospice patient’s dog, Jack. Jack was a medium-sized, furry mutt, with all the friendliness of a well-loved and trained dog. My patient was a man who was deeply loved by family and friends... and his dog, Jack.
As the patient was dying, Jack was lying awake with his head on his front legs, under the patient’s bed. The family told me Jack had been there over 24 hours and was refusing to come out to eat or drink. Jack and his human friend were inseparable in life. And Jack stayed there, under the patient’s bed, until the funeral home arrived.
His wife died. He is now a single parent to two young children. His daughter comforts him. She hugs him tight: “It’s okay, daddy.”
Other families in the room acknowledge, they are just like us.
Just like us, this family lost someone very dear and special to them. Just like us, they grieve. Just like us, they journey forward.