“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.
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.
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.
Camp Courage is JourneyCare's annual grief support camp that helps children and teens cope with the death of a loved one while having summer fun. Entirely supported by charitable donations, the program helps campers deal with their loss while they enjoy art, music, sports and other activities with friends.
I cannot begin to explain how remarkable Camp Courage is for everyone involved in just a quick blog post. My intention here is to convey what Camp Courage meant to me as a camp counselor this summer, and what I hope the kids can take from camp to use in the future to help cope with the loss of a loved one. The most wonderful thing I observed was how these kids recovered the hope and confidence they may have initially lost along with their loved one.
In our fast-paced, success-based society, people often feel stigmatized for the need to seek out counseling support. There’s this expectation that people will “pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” and the desire for help is deemed a failure. Men in particular are taught early on to withhold their emotions, and those who remain stoic in the face of adversity are considered heroic. Although we each carry a unique perspective, there are certain universal experiences that alter the course of our lives and inevitably affect our way of thinking.
Children can, and do, grieve and children process their grief through play. Two concepts that my training has taught me and two concepts that I have witnessed firsthand countless times as a child life specialist. Yet, somehow, these two concepts became more real to me than they ever were as I sat with a five-year-old sibling of a three-year-old hospice patient in her backyard, providing support as she learned that a frog she caught and had been caring for had died.
She talked about playing with him the day before, how he seemed to really enjoy the dirt, and how sad she was that he had died. She cried as she talked about how much she would miss him; kissed him as she talked about saying goodbye. We picked flowers, prepared his resting place, and said what we would miss about him. Throughout the interaction, she discussed the parallels between her brother’s anticipated death and the death of her frog. She cried for both as she attempted to reconcile what was to come.
This was my first year and first experience as a Camp Counselor. I will honestly admit that it did take some coaxing from our CampCare Director, Sheila Yousuf-Abramson. Her strong belief in the program sealed my commitment. On August 12, 2015, I boarded the bus to Holiday Home Camp in Wisconsin with a nervous excitement and ready for adventure.
CampCare is a grief support camp for children and teens who have lost a loved one. This past summer, campers experienced camp in very meaningful ways and created memories that they will carry with them always. These experiences have had a profound influence on our campers.