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Camp Good Grief, Journey complete another year

Gracelynn Graham, 9, holds an orange flower as a symbol of grief for a loved one during the closing ceremonies of the Albany Community Hospice Camp Good Grief and Journey Memorial Service at Potter Community Center Thursday.

Gracelynn Graham, 9, holds an orange flower as a symbol of grief for a loved one during the closing ceremonies of the Albany Community Hospice Camp Good Grief and Journey Memorial Service at Potter Community Center Thursday.

ALBANY -- Death is a part of life, a reality all people are forced to accept.

Even children.

Albany Community Hospice and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital recently sponsored another year of Camp Good Grief and Camp Journey, two-day camps conducted annually that are designated for children who have recently lost someone close to them -- whether it be a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, sibling or a close friend.

The camps were held Wednesday and Thursday. Camp Good Grief is for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Camp Journey is for those in sixth-12 grade. Programs included team building, sports activities, arts and crafts and group sessions.

Some of the specific activities included writing a letter to the loved one they lost, karaoke as well as putting together reflection cards and memory collages.

The participants from Camp Journey were able to take advantage of the rock climbing wall at Darton College.

"It (the rock wall) makes them realize that it's OK to ask someone for help," said Patty Woodall, director of Albany Community Hospice. "You don't have to be alone. A lot of them don't know (that they have someone else)."

Kirsten Burney, 8, came to Camp Good Grief after her school counselor told her about it following the death of her mother.

"It has helped me," Kirsten said. "We get to talk about our mothers and stuff.

"We've learned that (these deaths) are not our fault, and we get to do really fun stuff. We learn how to talk to parents and write letters (to our lost loved ones)."

Kenadi Dyer, 9, came to Camp Good Grief following the death of her mother and sisters.

"It was fun," Kenadi said of her experience at the camp. "We get to share our feelings, and there are others here going through the same thing. (At the camp), you aren't nervous, and you have nothing to be afraid of.

"If (I see other people) feeling down, I'll persuade them to come to Camp Good Grief."

Anthony Buck, 11, came to Camp Good Grief after the loss of his grandmother.

"We've been talking about our friends and family," Anthony said. "The counselors have been great; they encourage us to share with everybody. It's good to share about how loved ones have passed.

"It has helped us to understand."

In short, Anthony said he learned that it is acceptable to wear his heart on his sleeve every once in a while.

"It is OK to talk to your family; it is OK to express your feelings," he said. "You can cry and you can pray to get through your grieving and your loss."

This year, Good Grief had 39 attendees while Journey had 11 attendees. Some of the counselors at the camps over the years have included area school counselors, as well as junior counselors who were once campers themselves.

The camps make for an improved attitude in children, officials say, because it helps them deal with their loss from a new perspective.

"We get reports from parents and school counselors saying their (the camps attendees') behavior has improved and they are dealing with their grief in a different way," said Woodall.

Depending on the age of the child, there can be varying ways in which they deal with grief. Younger children will feel terribly sad and may not know why, while older children will likely be overwhelmed with anger, experts say.

"(Younger children) may grieve for a couple of hours, go out and play and go back to being sad or revert to wetting the bed (or other behaviors)," Woodall explained.

Coordinators say Camp Good Grief has been ongoing for 17 years. Several years ago, the older children were split up into another group to form Camp Journey.

There is no cost to the childrens' families to participate in the camps, as they are funded through donations to Albany Community Hospice -- which is based at the Willson Hospice House -- as well as fundraisers such as the Nancy Lopez Hospice Golf Classic, Woodall said.