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Grief Through A Child’s Eyes
“Life is hello, life is goodbye.” This is the mantra every child and teen is encouraged to take to heart at Camp Aloha, a children’s bereavement camp that takes place every year in Savannah, Georgia. The weekend-long overnight camp is facilitated by the staff of Hospice Savannah and its volunteers. Although every camper is different, they have one key thing in common- the loss of a loved one. Some of those loved ones received hospice care; others did not. Camp Aloha exists for the sole purpose of helping children and teens between the ages of 6-17 to understand and normalize their grief.
The Commencement Ceremony
Camp begins with a special treat – a trolley ride from the city to the outskirts of town, where the campers will reside in cabins. From an outsider’s point of view, Camp Aloha may seem like any other summer camp. Children laugh and play games, enjoying pizza for dinner. But the opening ceremony soon sets the tone for what the campers will truly experience – comprehensive grief counseling, surrounded by kids sharing feelings like theirs.
The opening ceremony begins with a short story illustrating how children may be feeling about the loss of a loved one. In each camper’s hand is a talisman. Written on each talisman is a message to their loved one who has died. “I wish you were still here,” “We had so much fun together,” and “I miss you so much” are just some of the messages. The campers hang their talismans on totem poles before its time to say goodnight.
Day One at Camp Aloha
The first full day of camp begins bright and early. Breakfast is served and campers are divided into groups. Each group engages the children in new ways to process grief. Bereavement experts will tell kids are resilient. They are open to learning more about the grieving process, participating in activities like laughter yoga and role-playing to help them release pent up feelings. After a day filled with emotional ups and downs, everyone gets ready for the pivotal event of Camp Aloha – the campfire.
Each camper is asked to write his or her deceased loved one a personal letter. This gives kids an opportunity to put into words what they wish they could’ve said if that person were still alive. In a somber procession, campers circle the blazing campfire, letters in hand. A bereavement counselor explains that the letters will be placed in the fire and the messages carried up to the heavens in the smoke. By the time the letters are placed in the flames, most campers are teary-eyed, but supporting each other.
After the smoke clears, microphones are turned on. Campers are given the opportunity to tell their new community how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking. Some stories are joyful, recounting memories of favorite times spent together. But other children talk about their loneliness and loss.
The campfire often brings out the most intense feelings and an emotional release. Many children hide their faces in their shirts and team bandanas; others cry openly. But Camp Aloha also teaches that grief can be followed by joy. The evening concludes with basketball, night swimming and even karaoke.
The trolley is back Sunday morning and campers hug their counselors with intensity. The ride home is a quiet one, as the kids reflect on what they’ve learned and shared. “Life is hello, life is goodbye.”
Hospice Provides Grief Counseling
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Roberto Carmona is a film producer/director based in the Washington DC metropolitan area. He is the founder of his own production company, Tag Cinema. To learn more about Roberto and Tag Cinema, please visit: www.tagcinema.com.
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