Children Benefit from Grief Camp Hosted by Clearfield Hospital Hospice
CLEARFIELD – Losing a loved one is difficult, especially for children.
Renee Kelley of West Decatur knows that better than most. After her husband, Rick, passed away in 2006, she worried about how their three children, Richelle, Raeanne and Rylan, would cope with his death.
In the months and years following, the family soldiered on, getting through one day at a time. But Kelley knew that wasn’t healthy for them.
“When he (Rick) died, we were all in such turmoil, and I know we didn’t grieve properly. We needed support to help us heal,” she said.
She enrolled her children in a bereavement program in State College, which helped a great deal, but what also helped in the healing process was Camp Promise: Grief Camp for Children and Teens, a four-day summer camp designed to help children and teens cope with the death of a loved one. It is sponsored annually by Clearfield Hospital Hospice, in cooperation with Temple Baptist Church of DuBois.
Kelley learned about the camp through a guidance counselor at the Philipsburg-Osceola School District, and registered her children for the 2011 session.
Daily activities at camp include art therapy projects such as creating memory boxes, ornaments, personalized pillowcases and t-shirts; music therapy; and games such as water balloon volleyball, relay races and hiking. Quiet time is spent writing in journals.
Journal writing was the most therapeutic activity for Richelle and Raeanne, now 13 and 9, respectively, during their time at camp. They wrote about activities they and their father enjoyed together, such as fishing and going on vacations.
“My dad liked to write songs too, so I wrote about that in my journal. It was nice to sit outside, think about him and write down my feelings,” Richelle said.
Richelle and Raeanne said in addition to journaling, the other activity they liked best about camp was a hike led by Pastor Kevin Orndorff.
During the hike, each camper carried a backpack, and at various points along the hike they were asked to place rocks in it. The backpack and its weight symbolized how negative emotions can be a burden to carry.
At the end of the trail, Orndorff asked each camper to take the rocks out and write words on them that represented how he or she felt after losing a loved one. Pastor Orndorff talked about those emotions and asked the campers if they were ready to let them go. He then gave them the option of throwing the rocks into the river.
“I told them, ‘If you let go of the burden, God will carry it for you.’ Negative emotions overwhelm good emotions. Emotions like anger will prevent them from experiencing memories of the loved one that bring them joy,” Orndorff said.
Richelle agreed: “That was probably the most memorable moment; everyone was crying.”
Raeanne added, “I felt a lot better after I threw the rocks.”
Younger campers like Rylan, who was 6 at that time of last year’s camp, took part in activities geared toward their age group. He has two creations from camp that he displays in his room: one is a memory box filled with items that remind him of his father, and the other is a collage featuring photos of toy trains, outdoor scenes and a boat.
His mother explained the pictures in the collage: “They show activities he would like to have done with his dad. Rylan didn’t have a chance to do those things with his dad because he was only 1 when he passed away.”
She said the grief camp had a profound impact on her children, and she noticed a change in them by the camp’s end.
“It was a good week for them. This camp was God’s way of helping us deal with the grief that we had been living with for five years. When you face those emotions, they don’t have the power over you as they did before. My children are now free to remember and heal,” Kelley said.
In fact, the hospice team had such a positive influence on the children that Kelley decided to have her children once again attend the grief camp, scheduled to take place June 25-28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily at the VFW Picnic Grounds in Clearfield.
“My children bonded with the hospice staff and the other campers so much they wanted to go back and be with them again. They made us feel special, and welcomed us with unconditional love. They were all awesome,” Kelley said.
The Kelleys weren’t the only ones who walked away with a renewed sense of optimism last year – the hospice staff and volunteers at the camp said the experience was uplifting.
“Lives were touched that week, but the greatest was to see how a whole group of people came together, campers and volunteers, and gave each other that unspoken bond that will always remain in each one of us. We expect the same uplifting experience again for this year’s participants,” said Lori Parks, bereavement counselor for hospice.
For more information about the grief camp or bereavement services offered by Clearfield Hospital Hospice, please contact Parks at 768-2157.