DARKE COUNTY – A total of 43 youth attended State of the Heart Hospice’s 15th annual Camp Bearable for grieving children held July 17-19 at the Spiritual Center in Maria Stein.
Camp Bearable is an annual weekend camp that serves children who have experienced the death of a loved one. Children grieve differently than adults and have special needs to work through their grief and loss. Of the total attending, only one had any prior association with hospice care. Campers are welcome to come back for a second year after their loss and because of the positive experience, many choose to attend again. Children enjoy traditional camping activities as well as therapeutic opportunities to share and heal their grief.
Hospices nationwide conduct similar grief camps. State of the Heart Hospice’s Camp Bearable is the only one of its kind in this area and this year served children from three different Ohio counties and one child from Virginia.
Hospice bereavement specialists believe that early intervention with grieving children can prevent problems such as drug and alcohol addiction and suicide, later in life. Camp provides a “safe” environment for kids where they are surrounded by their peers and with adults they trust. Camp is a mixture of fun and games mixed with serious dialogue. Each child is paired with a specially trained buddy who is with them for the weekend.
Ashlee Carder, Bereavement Specialist and Music Therapist for State of the Heart Hospice, also serves as the Camp Director.
“Watching the children come to camp at first timid and afraid, and leaving with a sense of empowerment and friendship through this difficult time is one of the most rewarding experiences. We give the children the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment with positive coping skills,” Carder said.
“Without the support of our volunteers, camp would not have been as successful. I am very grateful to everyone involved in camp that made it so successful this year. Seeing the group leaders and buddies create a sense of support and community for these kids makes Camp Bearable so wonderful,” said Carder.
This year, a panel made of up a physician (Dr. Anna Hatic); a chaplain (Eric Muhlenkamp), and a funeral director (Mary Jo Hellwarth of W.H. Dick & Sons-Hellwarth Funeral Home) listened to questions from the youth, then responded to them. The children were given the freedom to ask whatever was on their mind that they may have been afraid to ask before. Tom O’Neil, Family Support Specialist and Social Worker for Dayton Children’s Hospital, joined camp this year and lead a trust/team building activity. Other activities included making a memory box and balloon launch in honor of their lost loved one.
Music Therapy is unique to Camp Bearable. Amy Pearson, Music Therapist for State of the Heart Hospice felt it was a definite highlight of the camp.
“Music Therapy is another means of expression for the kids and an additional tool to get them to open up when they may not have in the past,” said Pearson.
Music Therapy techniques were altered for each age group. The younger age groups used music to create a song story. Teenagers listened to a song about loss and discussed the lyrics.
“The kids were very open and honest with the group,” Pearson added.
Exit surveys from campers expressed that music therapy was an overall favorite.
Cindy Dobmeyer was the welcome speaker on Friday evening of camp; this was her first experience with Camp Bearable. She lost her sister in a car accident on prom night. She spoke on the importance of having a support system.
“Find someone to talk to. Even if you feel you can’t go to your parents, there is always someone else; a friend, a family member or even me,” encouraged Dobmeyer.
She enjoyed her experience overall and hopes to come back in the future and help with camp.
“I think it’s great to have this camp available to children, I wish there would have been something like this around when I was younger,” she said.
Children are segmented into groups by age. Anthony Borzi, music therapist, served as a group leader for 10 year old campers. Borzi spoke on the incredible insight that 10 year olds provided to him.
“The most enjoyable part of camp for me as a group leader was talking with the kids in group and hearing their stories. They showed me different aspects of grieving and understanding that I can’t begin to understand as an adult,” Borzi said adding he learned a lot from the kids and they are “wise beyond their years.”