By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, January 11, 2016 –
It’s not a secret. Children who lose a loved one often struggle to process the loss, understand death and comprehend the changes that take place in their families as others mourn. While support groups for parents often take the form of monthly meetings, kids need some different formats and activities.
Youth First, Inc. launched the first Camp Memories to support grieving children and families in the Evansville area. Camp Memories supports children who have lost parents, siblings, grandparents and other closely connected loved ones. Youth First, Inc. partnered with the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana to provide the camp. Children ages 7-12 were invited to share in a day of healing and hope.
The camp provides a safe place for kids to have fun with peers, talk about the emotions related to grief and participate in activities designed to create a safe place for experiencing strong emotions.
Research shows that one in nine Americans lose a parent before 20, and one in seven will lose a parent or sibling before 20. Seventy-two percent believe that life would have been “much better” if they had not lost a parent when they were so young.
Young people who have the opportunity to participate in a grief support program report the benefit of talking to other kids who have also lost a loved one is very helpful in their grieving process.
In a 2009 study published by Camp Comfort Zone of Richmond, Virginia, it was noted that memories of losses remain and color experiences in life well into adulthood. About seven of 10 adults who lost a parent growing up say they still think of their parent frequently — a sentiment that holds true regardless of how long ago the loss occurred.
For many, however, those memories are often insufficient and fading — about eight of 10 say they wish they had more memories of their parent. The desire to have one more moment with the lost one runs deep. More than half of adults bereaved as children say they would trade a year of their life for one more day with their lost parent.
Findings also included the idea that many kids feel different from their peers after losing a loved one, and many families seem to avoid dialogue about their loved one, primarily because it is uncomfortable and awkward.
Opportunities to talk about loss and grief are hard to find. Camp Memories was designed to create opportunities for young people to find language about their loss, to find support from peers and to learn some tools to manage the overwhelming feelings experienced in grieving. A parent’s group is included, providing support to them as well as information about how to support their kids.
At the close of the day, one parent commented, “This was such a help for my son. He has started to open up.”
Youth First plans to offer Camp Memories as a daylong grief workshop two times a year. The November camp helped all participants focus on holidays and anniversary dates. The June Camp will focus on summer, getting along with friends and ways to remember while also moving on in the grieving process.
For more information and resources about grief and children check outhellogrief.org ordougy.org/.