When A Loved One Dies: Helping Kids Cope With Grief and Loss

Feb 28, 2019

Christie Berkie has been a Camp Jamie volunteer since 2013 – the year after her two oldest children attended as campers. “I saw the difference in them, and I wanted a chance to say thank you.” Another of our longtime volunteers, Nissa Quill, also decided to become a Big Buddy because of her own experiences with grief and loss, “I know firsthand how hard it is to go through the death of a loved one and I wanted to help kids going through that,” and Zack Tinney is just one of the people who volunteer because they attended Camp as a child and experienced what a difference it made in their lives.

Although the spirit and many of the activities have remained the same, in the past year volunteers like Christie, Nissa, and Zack have seen a number of exciting additions to Camp.

One of these changes was the involvement of our music therapist, Georgia Wells. Music, perhaps, invites an even deeper expression of emotion than other creative methods of helping grieving children. According to Georgia, music is “an accessible, relatable, safe, and nonthreatening” way to explore and express difficult experiences, like grief. Georgia helped the kids write an original song: “The Camp Jamie Jam,” which included lyrics about remembering their loved ones, but also about being strong and hopeful as they move forward in life.

Our staff and longtime volunteers were also eager to help create Hospice of Frederick County’s first-ever Camp Jamie Day Camp, which presented the opportunity for children and families uncomfortable with the idea of a night away from home to still experience the benefits of Camp Jamie.

Camp Jamie has for years benefitted from visits with our “HosPet” therapy dogs and alpaca, and at our one-day camp, the kids also got to meet chickens, rabbits, and Icelandic horses. The horses are used for Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), which uses horses to help participants better understand how to more effectively behave and communicate in their relationships with others. “I was surprised how quickly the campers were able to adjust to the needs of the animals – and how they interacted with them,” says volunteer Walter Hood, who knows that building trust with a camper can sometimes be challenging, “it was like they were telling their story to the animals too.”

Because children process their grief and communicate about their feelings differently than adults, programs like music therapy and EAL are particularly useful therapeutic tools. When children have the opportunity to talk about their experiences while simultaneously engaging in an activity, kids often “open up” more than they might in a traditional clinical setting.

One of Nissa’s favorite things about Camp Jamie is that it’s “a place that makes people smile,” but Camp Jamie, whether for one day or over an entire weekend, is more than just a fun experience for kids. The activities, relationships, and focus on healthy coping all cooperate to help develop a child’s resilience through grief and loss. Camp Jamie aims to give kids the tools they’ll need to thrive, even in the face of suffering; tools that can be used throughout their lives. Christie says of her own children’s experience nearly seven years ago: “Every time they go through a milestone that hurts, they go back to those skills they learned at Camp Jamie.”

At Hospice of Frederick County we are always looking for ways to make each camp even better than the last, because we know that Camp Jamie is more than just a day or a weekend: Camp Jamie can transform a child’s entire life – or a volunteer’s, for that matter.

This spring’s overnight camp will be held May 31st- June 2nd and next fall’s day camp will take place on Saturday, September 28th. Both camps are currently accepting applications for campers and volunteers.

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