Agnesian HealthCare Bereavement Services just wrapped up its 18th Annual Kids Survival Kamp in mid-June. Through the generosity of the Agnesian HealthCare Foundation, we are able to offer Kids Kamp to grieving families completely free of charge.
Kids Kamp welcomes children entering kindergarten through seventh grade, grieving the death of a loved one, to come experience an overnight grief camp. Kids Kamp shows children they are not alone in their grief, and that there are other children who are experiencing some of the same thoughts and feelings that they are. While losing someone that we are close to at any age is difficult, Kids Kamp allows children to have an open dialogue about the love and memories that they hold onto from their loved one who has died. Conversations that they may not feel comfortable having around other children who are not experiencing the same thing as them are completely welcomed and encouraged at Kids Kamp.
This year’s Kids Kamp attendance included 22 campers, five bereavement specialists, eight wonderful volunteers, one fishing guru, two certified lifeguards, one camp nurse, and one therapy dog, named Miller. We were so blessed to have such wonderful and caring staff and volunteers help make the two days of Kids Kamp so extraordinary for all of the campers who attended.
Kids Kamp started with all staff, volunteer and campers meeting at the Agnesian HealthCare Bereavement Center. When the children arrived, they made a photo button of their loved one that they were then able to wear throughout their time at camp. Bereavement specialists and volunteers also made buttons of their loved ones who have died to promote the fact that the campers are not grieving alone while at camp. Following this, as groups, each child shared whatever information they felt comfortable sharing about their loved one that died. Allowing the children this time to share their story helped them realize that they are not alone. Throughout our time at camp, we continually encouraged the children to say their loved one’s name as often as they liked.
Once we arrived at the retreat center, the children unloaded the bus, had a snack, and jumped right into the first grief activity, creating luminary memory jars. Using glass mason jars, each camper used modge podge glue, tissue paper and a photo of their loved one to create a luminary jar that was then used later that evening. Conversations about memories, favorite foods, songs and activities were had while the children took turns telling stories about their loved ones and creating their memory jars.
After lunch, an afternoon filled with swimming in the pond and fishing off the bridge began. While Kids Kamp focuses mainly on the healthy expression of grief, as staff and volunteers we like to allow the campers time to be kids around other children who are also experiencing grief. Watching the children run around, play, fish, yell and just be kids even though they are going through so much is really what camp is about.
Following dinner, bereavement specialists, volunteers and campers took a silent walk up a hill to a chapel, carrying their memory jars illuminated by candles, and taking the time to reflect on the ways that their loved one touched their lives. At the top of the hill, we all sat in a circle and again each child took time in the large group to share their jar, their loved one’s name and a special memory they hold in their heart about their loved one. Walking with the children in silence and supporting them through their journey is always such an impactful experience for the adults as we listen to these stories and reflect upon how resilient these young children are facing the death of a loved one so early on in life. Following this sharing we took the time to read the book Tear Soup.
Once the story was complete, we walked back down the hill to a campfire that was waiting for us where we roasted marshmallows. The kids loved taking turns roasting, burning and eating the marshmallows. When all were completed with roasting the marshmallows, we finished our night outside with our Fire Remembrance Ceremony. Standing around the campfire in a circle, each camper was given a fire changing color packet. We talked with the children about how when each child throws their packet into the fire, the flames would begin to take on different colors. These colors remind us that although our loved one is no longer with us in the physical presence, they are with us in spirit. We reminded the children that our loved ones continue to guide us, be loved by us, teach us and hold a precious place in our hearts. We then went around the circle and allowed for each camper to throw their packet into the fire and say their loved one’s name out loud while we all watched the flames take on different colors. We concluded the ceremony by reciting the poem, We Remember Them. This wrapped up the first day of Kamp as the children fell asleep to the movie, Peter Rabbit.
Day two of camp started with breakfast where we allowed the children time to sign each other’s Kids Kamp T-shirt. This is a camp ritual that stays with the child so when they look back on camp someday, they can remember the important people that walked and supported them through this special grief journey. Our day two grief craft was creating wind chimes. Each camper created a wind chime to remind them of their loved one each time that the wind blows through the chimes that they created. We again talked with the children about how although we cannot see our loved one anymore, they are always with us in whatever way comforts us throughout our grief journey. We also took the time to make memorial rocks for each of our loved ones that we then as a group placed around the grounds of the retreat center to hopefully inspire other individuals who visit the retreat center to express their grief in healthy ways.
The final grief activity of camp was each group taking turns walking the large labyrinth at the retreat center in silence, focus and meditation. Labyrinths are used to help resolve inner emotions, still the mind and helps promote peace within. Allowing the children this time to silently ponder all of the experiences, emotions and thoughts that they had over the past two days of Kamp is always a great way to wrap up the emotional side of Kids Kamp.
Following the labyrinth, for the final activity of camp, we held a kickball game out back of the retreat center where the children were able to run around and work as a team throughout the game. After the kickball game, an ice cream snack and Kids Kamp award, the bus returned to the retreat center and brought us back to the Bereavement Center where loved ones were waiting to pick up the children.
Kids Kamp 2018 was such a rewarding experience for all involved. At the Bereavement Center, we would not be able to provide such a meaningful experience to our campers if it weren’t for the generosity of the Agnesian HealthCare Foundation, as well as the incredible group of volunteers that we were blessed to have join us at camp. We cannot thank everyone who was involved in camp this year enough. The Bereavement Services team is already looking forward to Kids Kamp 2019! Thank you, THANK YOU, to all of those involved in camp this year!