Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Raleigh grief camp helps kids see they're not alone

Posted April 27, 2015

Children participating in Transitions LifeCare's Camp Reflection will take part in activities to help them cope with the loss of a loved one. Courtesy: Transitions LifeCare

Since 1979, Transitions LifeCare has been helping families through the process of a terminal illness and grief.

But the group, founded as Hospice of Wake County, offers a variety of other services, including workshops, short-term individual counseling and other programs for children who have lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or other loved one. These services are offered free of charge and are available to anybody in the community, regardless of whether the family was served by Transitions LifeCare.

Those programs include an upcoming day-long Camp Reflections at Lake Wheeler Park on May 16. The camp, which has been held for more than a dozen years, is designed for kids ages 5 to 14. Pre-registration is required. May 1 is the registration deadline.

During the camp, kids will break into four different groups based on their age. In those small groups, they'll play games and take part in activities where they can express their feelings, but also have fun.

Jennifer Kreimer, a child and teen bereavement counselor, tells me that many kids, after the death of a loved one, feel like nobody understands what they're going through. At the camp, Kreimer said, they'll be able to meet 30 to 40 other children, who are walking that same path.

"One of the big goals of camp is to reduce that isolation," she tells me.

I chatted with Kreimer, a child and teen bereavement counselor, about Transitions' programs. Together, Kreimer and her colleague Molly Chaffee answered some questions by email about their programs.

Here's our email conversation:

Go Ask Mom: Most people are familiar with your organization's work as a place where people who are terminally ill and their families can find comfort and support, but you actually offer other kinds of free services for the community. What do you offer for families and children?

Jennifer Kreimer and Molly Chaffee: Transitions LifeCare is a nonprofit organization, which means we never turn anyone away for services, including our hospice and palliative care programs and our bereavement programs. Many people don't realize that our bereavement services are free of charge and are open to anyone in the community who has experienced the death of a loved one. We provide individual and group grief counseling for children, teens, adults, and families, and their deceased loved one did not have to be served through Transitions LifeCare. We also provide other specialized programs throughout the year, such as our Healing Hearts grief workshops, Camp Reflections (our annual day camp for grieving children and adolescents), parenting grieving children workshops and other programs like a service of remembrance twice a year. We are funded through the Hospice of Wake County Foundation, grants, and through donations. The clients we serve are welcome to make donations if they would like, but there is no billing for services.

GAM: Some people might think that kids can bounce back easier after a loss or may be too young to really understand it. Why is it so important for them to get support and care during this time?

JK and MC: Some people may think that children aren't grieving because they aren't talking about their grief or they may act at times as if "nothing happened," but this assumption that they aren't grieving is a misconception.​ Alan Wolfelt, a prominent author and presenter in the field of grief counseling, says that if you're young enough to love, you're young enough to grieve. Children experience many of the same grief reactions as adults, but they express them in different ways, such as through their behaviors and their play. It is important for children to get support and care after a death so that they comprehend what death means, learn ways of expressing themselves and their feelings, and integrate ways of honoring their deceased loved one, not just immediately after a death but throughout their whole lives.

GAM: What are common things that you hear from children who have had a parent, sibling or close friend or relative die?

JK and MC: Grieving children experience a range of many different kinds of emotions, like sadness, joy, loneliness, guilt, anger, and fear. We frequently hear about behavior changes such as anger outbursts or difficulty in school academically. Grieving children commonly experience grief reactions in their bodies as well, such as through headaches, stomachaches or experiencing nightmares. They often feel as if no one else understands them or has been through what they have. It can be a very frightening and isolating experience. They may experience anxiety and worries about other family members dying and/or the ripple of changes in their lives, financial concerns, who will take on the roles of their loved ones.

GAM: In your job, you obviously see a lot of grief, but you must see a lot of strength too. What do you find most satisfying about your job?

JK and MC: Seeing the strength and hope that emerges from so much pain is so meaningful and powerful. Grieving people have often been through what they imagined was their worst nightmare. Yet they are able to find peace and hope again, and find the strength to rebuild their lives. It is especially powerful seeing this process with grieving children and adolescents. It is a privileged to walk with families and the children during this time of their lives.

GAM: You'll be offering a grief camp in May. Tell us more about that program and who can benefit from it?

JK and MC: We host a grief camp every year called Camp Reflections, for grieving children and adolescents who are 5 to 14 years old in elementary and middle school. All of our campers have had someone special in their life who has died. Grieving children and adolescents often feel as if they are the only ones who have had a loved one who has died, or that no one will understand their pain. We bring them together so they may feel connected with others who do understand them and that they know it's OK to laugh and it's OK to cry, among other reactions.​ At Camp Reflections, we conduct some large and small group activities centered around making connections, finding ways of expressing grief, and honoring and commemorating loved ones who have died. We also do fun, lighthearted activities like face painting and stomp rockets. It is incredible to watch children and adolescents come to camp feeling unsure and lonely, and at the end of the day, not wanting to leave their new friends. It is one of the most powerful programs that we offer at Transitions GriefCare for this reason.

For more information about Camp Reflections and to register, go to Transition LifeCares' website.


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