Grief Takes A Hike Camp 2018
Pam Bills, LPC
Child Bereavement Specialist
July is always my favorite time here at Fox Valley Hands of Hope. There is a palpable buzz in the air as we prepare for camp. Colorful bins filled with games, art supplies, and provisions can be found in every nook and cranny of the office. That is when it becomes clear, that Grief Takes a Hike, our annual family model for grief support is at hand. Perhaps you have been to “camp” as we call it, or maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. I want to share with you why this family model is so unique, special, and vital to grieving families.
This year, Grief Takes a Hike 2018 took place on August 3rd-5th and was a great success. We had the privilege of serving 9 families with a total of 26 participants and 25 trained volunteers. Why do we do a family weekend camp in Walworth WI, centered on grief? We do it because it makes a profound difference in the lives of grieving families.
When families experience a death loss the family structure is impacted in a traumatic way. There is a reorganization of roles that often comes with feelings of tumult as members of a family grieve together yet separately. Simply put, grief is a family affair. Grief Takes a Hike is a program that acknowledges this and is designed to provide families with compassionate support, grief education, and a safe place to grieve.
This makes sense, right? Imagine my surprise when I found out that we are one of very few agencies in the country providing this family model!
In June, I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Grieving Children Annual Conference. This is a time for professionals who work with grieving families to gather, share, and present ideas and learn about what others in the field are providing. Of course, when registering for these sessions, I enrolled myself in a forum that was entitled “Camp for Grieving People.” I was shocked when the presenter asked who provided a family model of camp and I alone raised my hand. Many other agencies do provide day camps for children, but the presenter and I were the only ones in the room who could relate to the absolute power and transformation that a family camp provides.
I am very proud that we at Fox Valley Hands of Hope provide families with age specific processing groups and support. At Grief Takes a Hike we have times when families are working together on something like a craft aimed at remembering their loved one, or cheering each member on at the family relay race. Then there are times when parents and children are with their peers. This is so critical when we are grieving. One participant stated, “I had felt so alone, like I was the only person in the world going through this. Now, I know that I am not alone and other families have to go on this journey too.”
One of the most beautiful memories I have from camp this year takes place around a craft table where a family was working together. They were placing pictures, favorite quotes, and personal memorabilia onto a wooden butterfly that will be sealed and sent home with them. There was soft music playing in the background and I hear Mom say, “Do you remember when he (referring to their loved one) wore that funny shirt? Uh, oh, I think I’m going to cry.” The child to her left said gently while touching her mother’s face, “That’s ok to cry, mommy. We talked about that in my cabin. We can miss him together.”
So, as we put away the colorful bins and supplies from Grief Takes a Hike 2018, we are already starting to plan for next year. The glow that the volunteers and I have after camp sustains us as we reflect on families who came together. They did not know one another as they tentatively arrived in WI, and then by the end of the weekend were exchanging emails, numbers, and many hugs. Grief brought these families together. Grief Takes a Hike provided them companionship and compassion on their grief journey. When asked, “What would you tell other families about Grief Takes a Hike?”, one participant responded, “It’s a wonderful way to connect, show support, be supported and create friendships.” If there is one thing we know for certain, when we journey through grief together, we are not alone.