Kids Kamp 2019 Recap

Megyn Wirkus, MST
Kids Kamp

Bereavement Services hosted the 19th annual Kids Kamp in mid-June. The support of the Agnesian HealthCare Foundation allows Bereavement Services to offer Kids Kamp to children entering Kindergarten through seventh grade grieving the death of a loved one in their life.

The focus of Kids Kamp is to show grieving children that they are not alone in the grief emotions they may be experiencing. The death of a loved one 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 and questions about death and dying that children may not feel comfortable talking about at home or at school are completely welcomed at Kids Kamp.

Kids Kamp 2019 welcomed 23 children ranging in age from five to 12 years old. Additionally, three bereavement specialists, one nurse, three full-time volunteers, one Tuesday morning volunteer, two therapy dogs, two drum circle leaders, one fisherman and one lifeguard were at Kids Kamp. We are blessed to have supportive volunteers each year; without their support, we would not be able to offer the same experience for the children who attend.

At Kids Kamp 2019, we started a tradition where each child created a memorial button with a photo of their loved one on it that they wore over their heart for the duration of Kids Kamp. This tradition originated as a means to start conversation about who the loved one is on each memorial button. In addition to the children, bereavement staff and volunteers also wore a memorial button with photos of their loved ones to promote the fact that as adults, we grieve the death of our special people too. We continued that tradition this year as the first thing that was created as the children arrived for Kids Kamp.

The energy within the Bereavement Center buzzed as we waited for the bus to pick us up to take us to Kids Kamp. Once we arrived, we all unloaded the bus, got our things situated, had a snack and then headed outside to start with our opening circle. During opening circle, we went around and shared our name, age, and the name of our loved one who died. Within the circle, we took time to do an ice breaker activity where we noticed the similarities and differences between our personal grief journeys with all in attendance at Kids Kamp.

We stayed outside to create luminary memory jars. Using glass mason jars, each child used modge podge glue, tissue paper and a photo of their loved one to create a luminary jar that we 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 luminary jars. Another Kids Kamp tradition is that each child receives a Kids Kamp T-shirt. We had a special T-shirt that has the image of a white heart on it with prompts that state: “People I love, things I love, places I love and activities I love.” The children can color the heart on their T-shirt to show the uniqueness of their grief experience. During this time, the therapy dogs were available for the children to spend time around them as they felt needed.

The retreat center provides wonderful meals for us while we are at Kids Kamp. Lunch on Tuesday consisted of hot dogs and hamburgers, mac n’ cheese, fruit, vegetables and cupcakes. Following lunch, our afternoon was filled with fun kid activities, a Kids Kamp favorite, the paint tarp slip and slide, as well as swimming in the pond and fishing off the bridge. While Kids Kamp focuses mainly on the healthy expression of grief, as staff and volunteers we like to allow the children 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 what Kids Kamp is about. A few of the children and volunteer, Erin, saved a frog and nursed it back to health while we were at the pond.

After our afternoon out in the sun, we went back inside to have a snack and took time for our grief support groups. In two separate groups, we went around the circle talking about our grief experiences. Passing a ball of string back and forth each child answered a grief related question before they threw it to a child across the circle from them. Once everyone in the circle was holding a piece of the string, we looked at the web that was created and discussed how the resulting web symbolizes the connectedness of the group, the available support for all people in the circle, the trust factor between each child as they shared about their grief, and the hard work that had been done and was still to come during our time at Kids Kamp.

We were served lasagna, salad, fruit, breadsticks and cookies for dinner, yum! Following dinner, we set up our bedding, put on our sweatshirts and went outside for the evening activities. Once outside, each child was given their luminary memory lantern and a battery-operated tea light. We headed up the hill to see the chapel and read a grief story entitled, “Because the Sky is Everywhere.” After walking back down the hill, we were greeted by two volunteers that had many drums and instruments set up around the fire.

Chad, the volunteer, took time to talk with children about how we are all going through a difficult time in our lives and sometimes when friends don’t understand, they say harsh words, making our backpacks become heavy and hard to carry. The children talked about how sharing nice words with a friend having a difficult time can help remove some of those heavy stones they may be carrying in their backpack. We moved right into the drum circle where the children loved banging on the instruments, singing songs, and making music together. Coming together in this way and watching the children express themselves through music was inspiring for staff and volunteers looking on from the outside.

Before we ended our united time outside around the campfire, we did a biodegradable balloon release allowing each child to release a balloon for their loved one. Soft music was played as each child stepped up and released their balloon in their own timing. We also read the poem “We Remember Them” and discussed how we can remember our loved ones through every aspect of our lives. Following the balloon release ceremony, the children finished the night running around outside, playing tag, soccer, eating popcorn, etc. The rain clouds rolled in around 9:15 p.m. so we headed inside, got ready for bed and started the movie “Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.” The children fell asleep and day one of Kids Kamp ended.

We woke up on day two of Kids Kamp and got ready for breakfast. We had french toast sticks, cereal, bagels, fruit, yogurt and milk. The weather was dreary and rainy so we stayed inside all morning. We took time for a favorite activity at Kids Kamp, signing one another’s Kids Kamp T-shirts. The signing of the orange Kids Kamp T-shirt allows each child to take a piece of one another and stories that were shared home with them. Looking back on the T-shirt, children will see again, they are not alone in their grief and that other children grieve too.

Our final grief related craft for Kid Kamp was the breaking and mending of our hearts project to symbolize the way in which our hearts felt whole prior to the death of our loved one and shattered and broken after the death. Each child was given a broken pot to glue back together. While the children glued their pots back together, we talked about how even though we can mend our hearts back together after the death, the grief is always a part of us as we see in the cracks. Likewise, through the cracks, sometimes our grief leaks out and that is OK. The children decorated their completed pots in memory of their loved one. Following that, each child was given a coffee filter to put inside their pot to symbolize the support people in their life that are there when their grief emotions leak out. Each child also filled their pot with dirt and seed paper in the shape of a butterfly that will grow wildflowers.

Our final meal together was grilled cheese, french fries, fruit and vegetables! Following lunch, we packed up our things, worked as groups on Kids Kamp evaluations, and then had a small amount of free time before we had our closing circle. During closing circle, each child was presented with their 2019 Kids Kamp certificate. Each child was then invited to the front to pour a cup of colored sand into an empty vase. Closing the ceremony, we read the following:

“We started with an empty vase to represent hat same empty feeling that many of us felt after the death of our loved one.

While each individual grain of sand was poured into the vase to represent the individual aspects of our loved ones- their wishes and their personal dreams - the vibrant colors remind us of our own wishes, our dreams, our hearts.

This vase, empty no longer, holds the stories of each of our loved ones, is now a beautiful blend of colors.

No longer am I, or you, an individual standing alone. Our stories are now irreversibly linked, like these grains of sand, and together our individual stories are now part of a bigger story. These different grains of sand are now so intertwined that they are one. And while we are different people, with different paths, different losses, different struggles, we are one. We no longer walk this journey on our own. We are not alone.”

We carried our belongings downstairs and waited for the bus to pick us up to bring us back to the Bereavement Center. Once back, the Bereavement Center was once again filled with buzz and excitement as parents and guardians picked the children up. With excitement, the children shared with their loved one the things that they did while at Kids Kamp. The children said good-bye to new friends that were made and talked about how they would see them again at Kids Kamp next year!

With that, Kids Kamp 2019 ended. Kids Kamp 2019 was a rewarding experience for all involved. The Bereavement Center would not be able to provide this meaningful experience to the children 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 Kids Kamp. We cannot thank everyone who was involved in Kids Kamp this year enough. The Bereavement Services team is already looking forward to Kids Kamp 2020! Thank you, THANK YOU, to all of those involved in Kids Kamp this year!

With heartfelt thanks and appreciation,

The Bereavement Services Team

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