The death of a loved one, or someone close to us, is very difficult to deal with. Grief is a challenge for even the strongest of faith. Grief is particularly frightening for those between 6-years-old and somewhere near 16-or-so. Before 6, most children can find some relief in fantasy, after their teens, a person usually has had more life experiences to equip them to deal with grief. The loss that death brings to any life is difficult but even more so for children and teens.
The hope is someone should never have to deal with a child in grief. But most of us will have family members, friends or neighbors that need just such help.
When we know of a child dealing with the death of one close to them — a parent, grandparent or sibling — what help can we recommend?
We have a new way of helping right here in our community. An outreach called Camp Kate. It is available in the Newton and Rockdale county area. Funded by the Longleaf Hospice Foundation, the camp’s goal is “Healing hearts one day at a time.”
“Camp Kate” is a one-day experience in which a child receives help on their journey with grief. It is not the answer but a part of the answer. The first Camp Kate happened in May of 2015 with 19 children. The next session grew to 40 children.
Each session was followed by a gathering to help continue the mourners’ journey with an experience just for fun. One such experience was a “scoop” on the Square and the other an afternoon of skating. The next Camp Kate session is coming on Oct. 22. It will be at the Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Conyers.
Time at the camp offers each participant a chance to learn about and discuss grief issues. To understand that others are going through the same thing the participants themselves are going through is arguably the most helpful part of Camp Kate. But more will be accomplished. There is a combination of small group activities involving among other things music, arts and crafts, as well as dog therapy.
One example of an arts and craft activity is the children, with adults helping them, taking pieces of a broken clay pot and gluing the pot back together. The experience gained out of this project is how they too can find “wholeness” in their “brokenness”.
In the comfort of a small group and with a trained facilitator, each child is encouraged to be able to share their name, the identity of who died in their life and how they are feeling. That, in itself, is a big step for some children.
For the upcoming session, on Saturday, Oct. 22, the entire family is invited. While the children are in their activities, the other family members will have time to discuss with others their own journey in grief, and how others are relating to their children and their grief.
Working with the participants at Camp Kate are trained counselors and social workers, as well as other staff from Longleaf Hospice. Trained volunteers, as well as trained youth and young adults from nearby colleges and high schools, assist with the camp and of course the owners of the therapy dogs that are involved.
The Camps are open to all who need this help. There are no fees, it is fully funded by the Longleaf Hospice Foundation. You can get more information by calling Jane Caruso, bereavement coordinator at Longleaf Hospice at 404-374-2312
The families of the children that need Camp Kate, after a phone interview with Jane can register by phone for an upcoming session.
One of Jane and Rick’s daughters, Kate, died in March of 2011 from cancer. She was a member of the faculty of the Young American Christian School in Conyers. In dealing with their own grief, and in conversation with Phil Stone, the president of Longleaf Hospice Foundation, the idea of a camp to help children dealing with grief emerged. It was truly a family affair for the Caruso’s, as their other daughter, Hannah, a student at the University of Georgia is a counselor for Camp Kate. It was decided to name the camp in memory of Kate, the late daughter of Caruso’s. Kate’s brothers Nick and Chris are also involved as they capture the essence of the day through video.
Your help is needed in several ways. One as I suggested earlier, is that if you know of a child or family that could benefit from such an experience as Camp Kate, encourage them to call Jane Caruso at 404-374-2313. You can also help by getting the word out about Camp Kate to your church and its staff. This could prove to be a very helpful tool for the church to have in dealing with a family in grief.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.