Published on September 1, 2022
Children grieve differently, and there is much to learn from the ways in which a child grieves. Each year Alive hosts Camp Forget-Me-Not for kids and teens who have experienced a significant loss.
At each stage of childhood, grief can be complex and complicated. Because it is important that children can express feelings about their loss and grief in their own way, the two-day camp at YMCA’s Camp Widjiwagan included age-specific exercises, led by grief counselors, to help campers cope with feelings of anger and sadness paired with free time to do fun activities like ziplining, lake swimming, and water slides.
“Children grieve in all kinds of ways, and most express their grief using the same strengths and resources that get them through other hard times in life,” said Alive’s Senior Director of Mission Based Services, Alissa Drescher. “That might be writing, music, exercise, baking, or being with friends. Sometimes grieving children need to talk about the loss, and other times they need quiet. Our programs are designed with this in mind and allow young grievers to learn how to connect with, and then set aside, their grief, so that they can integrate it into their life going forward.”
Over the course of the weekend, the 59 campers collectively grieved the loss of parents, grandparents, siblings and loved ones from tragic accidents, terminal illnesses, sudden deaths, and other heart-wrenching losses. Many who volunteered are also touched by grief with stories just as complex. One volunteer recalled her father receiving hospice care from Alive, for another, a close friend. For nearly all, it is a way for them to reflect on their own grief, finding comfort in community.
“All of us agreed that we thought camp was going to be sad, but we ended up making good friends and having a great time,” said a teen camper. “We even created our own hand symbol to show support of each other throughout the weekend.”
From poetry workshops and sound bath meditations to creating altered books filled with their loved one’s life and songwriting, each trauma-informed activity aids in the development of healthy habits and models of coping with loss.
One exercise during the camp encouraged campers to write the feelings they would like to release on a plate. Then, with the guidance of a grief counselor and others encouraging them with the hand symbol of support and phrases like “Let it go!” and “It’s okay,” they released the plates and watched them shatter into tiny pieces below. Once the activity was over, the campers moved on to play freely in the open air.
This idea of taking life, and our emotions, in small doses, giving ourselves a chance to feel, but not letting it consume us, is at the heart of Camp Forget-Me-Not as it is life itself.
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