Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grief Camp...

Well, if you have been a follower of this blog for long, you know that I am off to Camp El Tesoro de la Vida. This is a week long grief camp for kids who have lost a family member due to death (mostly parent or sibling...but sometimes the grandparents or others if they were the caregivers). The camp is just outside Fort Worth in Granbury, Texas at a Camp Fire camp that has been around for over 75 years.  We are expecting  110 kids (our biggest year EVER) from ages 6 to 17.  Luckily, we have the GREATEST 73 volunteers and Therapists who make this such a special week for these kids. We like to say that camp is 90% fun and 10% grief work, however the entire experience is therapeutic. These kids are surrounded by 109 other kids who understand what they are going through and feeling. You can only imagine how your childish safety is pulled out from under you when your Mom or Dad dies. Maybe the oldest son assumes the father figure role in the family or the oldest daughter starts caring for her younger siblings. We want this week to be about them being a kid (they are kids first and grievers second). We want them to play, hike, ride horses, do archery, swim, paddle canoes, do arts and crafts and so many other wonderful activities. They can do this and laugh without fear of being disrespectful to the parent who died. They can just be kids and have fun. For one hour a day they participate in a group session with their cabin mates and a professional therapist. Younger kids do a lot of art therapy (their attention spans are not very long) and older kids do more talking and processing. I hate to paint the picture that all we do is sit around in canoes and cry all day....camp really is about having fun. I remember my very first year when I had seven 3rd grade boys. Immediately after they arrived, they starting asking each other who died in their families. When it came to me, I had to confess that I had not lost anyone. As direct as 3rd graders are, they immediately asked, "Then why are you here". I told them that I just wanted to help them have a great week and that one day when I did have someone in my family die, I hoped this experience would help me. They seemed okay with the answer and we had an amazing week. When the parents pick up the kids on Saturday, we have a ceremony where we plant a tree and the kids surround it with rocks they have painted in memory of the person who died. When it was time to get them to the ceremony, I found them in the corner of the cabin all huddled up. When I asked what they were doing, they showed me that they had my staff shirt and had written their phone numbers on it so I could call them when someone died and they could help me as much as this camp had helped them. Well....needless to say, I was hooked and 19 years later I am not only still going, I have been the Director for the last 16 years. I am attaching a link to a video about the camp if you are interested. It tells the story better than I can. Wish us luck in the 100 ++ degree weather with no air-conditioning. It will be hot but WONDERFUL!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK7RkCxhLUg


  1. Oh my gosh, this is so wonderful. My mother kept my son when I worked so she was like a third parent and she died when he was just shy of four years old and it was traumatizing for him. He's now 14 and has lost all of his grandparents but he is doing really well. This is an amazing thing you do. I work with children and see first hand children going through this so this camp is a wonderful thing. Even at my age it's hard to lose parents, I can't imagine what it would be like as a child. Hope everyone stays hydrated and safe in the heat but has an awesome time.

  2. I am so touched by your post and by what you do for these children, I can imagine your being hooked. My 7 year old daughter who went to her gramma's two nights a week is experiencing that loss and has trouble daily I seem to be doing better than she, but they were so so close, and now she has no other place to go to, it was like a second home. I can imagine it being devastating if my mother was the main caregiver. What you are doing to make a difference in these childrens lifes is wonderful. Wow I am so touched!

  3. You amaze me. What a beautiful post and a wonderful, loving thing you did with these sweet kids. You made a big impact on these kids with all your love and understanding. You are a sweetheart! (plus, you were in my neck of the woods!)