More than 50 children between the ages of 6 and 17 spent four days learning to navigate through the grieving process at Delaware Hospice’s Camp New Hope at Killens Pond State Park last week.
Brady Kish learned that it’s okay to talk about his older brother’s sudden death last summer.
“It was difficult at first, but after I did, I felt so much better,” the 10-year-old Ross Elementary School student said. “I found out that talking about him gets him on my mind and that helps tremendously.”
Brady is one of 55 children between the ages of 6 and 17 who spent four days last week learning to navigate through the grieving process at Delaware Hospice’s Camp New Hope at Killens Pond State Park.
“The whole idea of the camp is for these kids to have a place where it’s okay to express their sadness and their anger, while looking forward to a future in which they are able to relinquish those feelings,” explained Vicki Costa, Delaware Hospice’s associate director of family support services. “A part of camping is being able to improvise and that’s also true of the grieving process. It’s about finding something else that will work.”
The camp’s theme this year was “The Amazing Voyage.” Each day the campers ‘sailed’ to different ‘islands’ that represented various stages of the grieving process.
On the first day, they “travelled” to the Lands of Acceptance, where they shared their loss with their fellow campers. The next day, they stopped along the Shores of Rememberance, by sharing mementos and fond memories of the person they lost.
Later, the campers ascended a climbing wall that represented the Mountains of Feelings. Finally, they spent time on the Seas of Change, where they discuss how their lives have changed since losing a loved one and the ways that those people live on in their hearts.
“They get to express themselves and share their feelings with their groups, who give them the additional support that they need,” camp director Robin Murphy said. “We also do a lot of recreational activities, because we want to help them understand that it’s okay to have fun. Some of these kids have been through some pretty traumatic experiences and we want them to learn that they don’t have to feel guilty for having fun.”
Costa said it is important to strike a balance between what she called “memory work,” and play time.
“We want visit the grief throughout the day, but we don’t stay there,” she said. “We also want to give them reprieve from their sadness, but at the same time, we don’t pretend that it isn’t there.”
Costa said the program is funded entirely through donations and grants, yet everything from attendance to food is provided to campers at no cost.
Since 1991, more than 1,800 children have participated in Camp New Hope, which is held in each of the state’s three counties every summer.
Clayton resident Michelle Edwards is one of several former campers who have returned to Camp New Hope as a counselor.
“This camp helped me so much that I wanted to come back and help other kids going through the same thing,” the 20-year-old said. “A lot of them are angry or sad, and some are happy to have gotten through the grieving process, while some of don’t know how they feel. I know I didn’t when I was a camper, and I think that experience helps me to know what those kids are going through.”
Nine-year-old Jocelyn Argo, who recently lost her grandfather, said her favorite part of camp was discovering that she is not the only person dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“I was afraid people would make fun of me for being sad or upset, but then I found out that all kids here are just like me,” the Banneker Elementary School student said. “We talked and we did fun activities that made us all feel better. Just interacting with those other kids made me feel good. It helped a lot.”