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Finding Joy Again

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Photo provided by Bonner Community Hospice Photo provided by Bonner Community Hospice

Bonner Community Hospice provides a kids' grief camp

When little Manny was born he was greeted by his loving mother and grandparents, but not his father. His father had been tragically killed in an accident a few weeks before. That was in 1913 and Manny never got to grieve the dad he missed.

Today in Bonner and Boundary counties he would have been able to attend Bonner Community Hospice Kid’s Camp at no charge. It is open to all children ages eight to seventeen who have lost someone significant to death. Kid’s Grief Camp is offered to everyone by Bonner Community Hospice and is held at the Clark Fork Field Campus. This year the camp is being held from June 13 through 15.

Ginna Maus, MSW of Temanos Counseling Center, is one of the volunteers who make this camp happen. She said, “We do activities around life and death, hikes looking for new life, life in full bloom and death. They do team building for trust and safety. My co-director, Bambi Lassen, LMSW of Temanos Counseling and Community Cancer Services also talks to the kids about emotions and how to deal with it, give them some coping tools.”  

Other activities include grief education, group discussions and memorializing. Group process is a way the kids can learn they are not the only ones who are dealing with a loss. One of the intentions for the kids at the camp is to create a relationship based on Spirit with the person who died.

Maus said “All we ask is what did they learn from that person?” Many of the kids will talk about specific things they had done with that person so every time they do the activity again they feel the presence of the deceased with them.  Another goal for the kids going through the process is to find joy again and renewed life. One child whose mother died when he was three didn’t remember her, but by talking with an older sibling got to know her better when he was old enough to understand.

The young people are taught that as they mature their brains will change and they may see the lose in different ways later. They also discuss secondary loss. Not just the loss of having the person gone the role that person played in their life; such as the loss of the person that took them fishing, or made their lunch. They learn how to deal with that loss at crucial times in life, for example that first ball game or graduation day.

Some students go through the program two years in a row so there are two different programs they switch between each year.  

It is not important how long ago the death was. In Manny’s case he could have attended any time between ages eight and seventeen.  The only requirement is the death was at least three months prior to the camp.

Many times when a child is in grief their parents are also, and may not be as emotionally available to help the kids with their grief. Sometimes this lack of attention may be resented later.

Kathryn Cooke Volunteer/Bereavement Coordinator for Bonner Community Hospice said, “This is a volunteer driven program, and everyone who works on it is a volunteer. Each volunteer at the camp must do 30 hours of Hospice training, nine hours of bereavement training and nine hours of training for the camp.”  

She also said it is very well supported by the community, “Wal-Mart gave us $1000 and the Community Assistance League gave $770.” She continued, “There are more volunteers than just at the camp, people must shop for meals, a box of necessities for each participant and, after camp, clean-up.”

Registration forms for camp may be picked up at Bonner Community Hospice. They can be faxed or mailed by calling Hospice at 208 265 1185. It is recommended they enroll as soon as possible.

Little Manny grew up, worked hard and raised a good family, became a leader in his community and church, but had a missing piece he didn’t understand. He struggled with it his whole life, often looking for help in destructive rather than positive ways.

He was my dad; I wonder if his life would have been easier had he been able to attend Kid’s Grief Camp.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

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