This past Saturday, a group of volunteers led by Holzer Hospice offered an opportunity for area children who have experienced the grief associated with the death of a parent, friend or other loved one to express their feelings in a positive fashion and to help facilitate the healing process.
Camp Beaver, a bereavement camp for children, was held at the French Art Colony in Gallipolis. According to organizers, 18 area children who have lost loved ones participated in the camp.
Sharon Shull, RN, BSN, program director of Holzer Hospice, said the bereavement camp provided the children the chance to see that people outside their usual circle of relationships care about them and what they are experiencing.
“We’re strangers, but within the few hours that they’ve been here, they’ve become attached to us and have been able to share what they have lost,” she said. “We have given them such fun activities to do to relate to that loss that it’s taken that sadness out of it.”
Shull said the inspiration for Camp Beaver came from various sources, including the experience her own granddaughter went through following the loss of the girl’s grandfather.
“I have been looking at as a hospice director because there are other hospices that do this in our surrounding area, like Huntington and Charleston and Kentucky,” Shull said. “My granddaughter lost her grandfather tragically and I watched her grieve and not be able to show her emotions because she didn’t want her father to be upset or her other relatives. I just thought, ‘we need this here in our community.’”
Volunteers organized a variety of craft activities and helped the children make masks, memory boxes, stuffed animals and sun prints. All of the activities were designed to allow the children to express their feelings through art. The day wrapped up with a butterfly release that was designed
Volunteers included Dr. Fred Williams, director of chaplaincy services for Holzer Health Systems, as well as nurses, social workers and counselors.
“I feel it’s been well dispersed as far as the staff that we have here with the children,” Shull said.
Williams, whose family dealt with the wide range of emotions associated with the death of a loved following the death of his wife several years ago, said Camp Beaver is a safe, positive place for kids to express themselves.
“It provides them an environment where they’re together with other people who are going through the grieving process,” he said. “It gives them a place where they feel free to let their feelings out, but in a way they want to. No pressure is applied. The activities generate thoughts and talking about their feelings in a very non-threatening, assured way. They feel free to let the feelings flow. It helps them to be in that environment.”
Williams said he and the other Camp Beaver volunteers who may have lost loved ones through the years also experienced some healing just by reaching out to the children who participated in the camp.
“One of the things about grieving is finding new meaning in life without your loved one,” he said. “For me, this is part of who I am now after losing my wife. To me, it is a way I’m finding meaning to invest in other people’s lives and help children, and other people that I encounter, find new meaning for themselves in remembering their loved ones. That provides hope. When you find new meaning in life to go on, that provides hope that I’m going to be okay. That’s how it’s helped me. That’s the process we hope they’ll find here.”
Shull said Camp Beaver was offered at no cost to the participants. She said she hopes that the bereavement camp will become an annual event and that it will be expanded in the future to three days or even a week.