Children who lost a parent or a sibling can attend a grief camp, where they’re taught to advocate for themselves, express grief, and cope with their feelings.
The shock was overwhelming. A friend in my neighborhood died suddenly. She left two young children and a brokenhearted husband. Neighbors reached out, and one suggested that they go to a bereavement camp.
The hospice social worker at the hospital where my friend died gave the widow information on counseling for him and his two children. She also told him about camp, a free program for children who lost a parent or sibling.
Also known as grief camps, bereavement camps are offered to children in their home states throughout the country. At Good Grief, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) based in New Jersey, children, teens, young adults, and families get peer support through programs, education, and advocacy.
Good Grief takes pride in its name. “Grief is good,” said Melissa Parrish, MA, and program director who runs Grief Expressions summer camp. “Grief serves a purpose. You have to grieve and feel and be able to understand death and all the feelings that come with it. That way you can continue living and loving.”
Good Grief teaches families, educators, therapists, and others how to talk about death. “Most people want to avoid the subject,” Parrish said. “They feel uncomfortable. Often after a death, the grieving family member wants to talk about and remember the person who died. People don’t always understand that.”
At Good Grief families are taught how to advocate for themselves, express their grief, and cope with their feelings. “Our hope is that grief becomes more manageable over time,” Parrish said. “We have days that are really hard, and then we experience moments of happiness and moments of sorrow. Being able to talk about it, let’s us face it, go through it, and manage it.”
Those teachings carry over to camp. Set up like traditional day and sleep away camps, grief camps offer support to children who lost a parent or sibling. Grief Expressions, the camp at Good Grief, runs for four-days for children in grades 1 through 6.
Grief Expressions summer camp and other bereavement camps offered through various grief counseling not-for-profits are similar. Some host a week of sleep away camp for children in the summer. Others have day camps at different times of the year for different periods of time.
All offer peer support, performing arts, singing, art workshops, and other programs one would find at a traditional day camp. The differences are at bereavement camps children work through their emotions and share them with peers who also lost a parent or sibling. Plus, there are no costs to the participants.
At Grief Expressions and other bereavement camps throughout the country, there are programs for older students, too. The 7th through 12th grade programs at Grief Expressions teaches children leadership skills. The students in this program have a similar role of camp counselors.
Bereavement camps and all of the services at these grief support centers are free to all participants. Not-for-profits like Good Grief don’t receive any money from the government. Their programs are funded through grants and donors. They also hold fundraisers, including a 5K on June 4 and a golf outing in August.
For more information on grief camps, contact the hospice department of your local hospital, or you can call the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at 703-837-1500 and ask them about bereavement camps.
You can also get a good idea of the services at grief centers and at bereavement camps by watching this video from Good Grief:
April 01, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN