It’s a summer camp filled with fun, friendship and fabulous activities, so it might surprises you that the kids are all here because they’re grieving the loss of a loved one.
“I lost my dad six years ago. He had diabetes; he died when I was seven years old,” says Madelyn.
“Here we all have one commonality and everyone here has gone through the same thing, so that helps me,” explains Gage.
Camp Fearless is a free 4-day bereavement camp run by ProMedica Hospice professionals who know that children have special needs when dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“Kids who have experienced a loss really need to talk about it at their age level and be accepted for that,” says Vicki, a Camp Fearless staff member. Melody, another staff member, agrees. “Our emotions don’t go away if we don’t deal with them–they come out one way or another, so if you don’t have the healthy outlets, they’re likely to come out in unhealthy ways and that can impact a child for the rest of their life.”
“Kids who have experienced a loss really need to talk about it at their age level and be accepted for that.”
For all these kids, Camp Fearless provides a safe and comfortable place for them to express their feelings openly and honestly. A place where everyone understands and accepts one another.
“It’s really fun and if you have lost someone it’s OK, we get through it,” says Rozalyn.
Kids learn how to face negative emotions like anger or frustration in a more constructive, meaningful way–feelings they might not even know they are carrying around. In one activity, kids wrote their negative feelings on boxes–then stomped on them.
“There was a little girl who stomped away,” remembers Vicki. “She was not very old… 8 or 9, and you could just see her go at it. She walked away and she said, ‘I didn’t know I was that angry.'”
The kids also learn it’s OK to be happy and to remember the happy times they shared with their loved one. A memory tree with photos helps with that.
“The first thing we do each morning is we gather together as a large group and I invite the kids to share some of the mementos of their loved ones,” says Melody.
“My favorite part about camp has got to be the tree because we put pictures or items of our loved on that tree and I like putting my item up there for everyone to see,” says Gage.
Those heartfelt exercises–combined with tons of fun–are the big reasons why many of these kids return to camp fearless year after year. Counselors want them to return because they know their grief can grow on them.
“They have had so many losses between that loss and now; so many things that special person should have been a part of and wasn’t a part of,” says Melody. “They will always know that parent is not there. That absence will be felt all the rest of their life. So they might come in the door a little nervous and afraid which is normal, but by the end of the week they’re running and laughing, they’ve made life-long friends, they open up because they’re not alone.”
“It’s helped with a lot of things, just coming back and talking and knowing that you’ll get through it and it’s OK to see all the memories I’ve made and talk about the good and bad times I’ve had with him has helped a lot,” says Madelyn.
Rozalyn says, “I love camp and I got real close to everyone here. I feel better every year.”