Camp helps children with grief

Jodi Schellenberg
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After a loved one dies, many people do not know how to deal with the grief.

Luckily for children and teenagers, the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region mental health and spiritual care departments put on a Helping Hurting Hearts bereavement camp May 9-10.

“It is a camp program for children who have experienced the death of a family member or a very close person,” said Elaine Billay, one of the directors of the camp. “We offer it in a camp format but it is a therapy program.”

This is the 13th year the bereavement camp has been offered in the health region, which also receives support from local community groups and businesses.

“Thirteen years … Donna Christopherson and myself were working in this area of grief and loss with children,” Billay said. “Donna identified the need for something more than what was available and came up with the idea of a camp for kids who are grieving and to offer it in this format.”

The camp has a variety of activities and does not revolve solely around grief therapy. There are recreational activities and the children get to experience an overnight trip away from their usual environment.

“They go into a safe and very pleasant environment to focus on the particular issues of their losses,” Billay said.

“We do a craft activity, a collage they make of their loved one, and do some sharing about how that person was special to them,” she added. “There are lots of opportunities to talk about what their losses have been.”

There is also an educational component to teach the children about the grieving process and what to expect as they go through it.

The camp is very popular in Prince Albert and is full every year, she said.

“The response has always been good from the community,” Billay said. “Our referrals come from a variety of sources -- we tend to get a lot of referrals from school counselors who are aware of students in the schools they work at that are suffering as a result of a family loss.

“We get referrals from agencies and other community resource people,” she added. “It has been well received. We are full to capacity every year, so we never worry about there not being enough children to participate.”

The children may be apprehensive at first feeling like they are being forced to go by an adult but Billay said they soon relax and have fun.

“They are surprised that they actually enjoyed the experience as much as they have,” Billay said. “They show up, coming to camp anxious about what it is going to involve but by the time we are through the program … they usually have really positive things to say about it.”

She said they have fun in the recreational activities and even though the therapy side may be hard and challenging, they do well with it.

“A lot of the focus is on what we call continuing bonds work, so it is maintaining connections with people that we love who have died,” Billay said. “It is not about forgetting about them, it is about the exact opposite of how do we integrate their memory into our lives and go forward with that.”

Although they do not get as much feedback from the parents, Billay said what they have received is positive as well.

Since the program is helping children through grief, it doesn’t need to be a recent death they are dealing with.

“It can go back for a few years and it is often something that hasn’t been dealt with,” Billay said. “The timeframe isn’t that critical, it is more how it is affecting the child or continuing to impact their life.”

Anyone interested in registering their child in the camp can contact Billay at 306-765-6055 or Dennis Serfas at the Spiritual Care Department in the Victoria Hospital at 306-765-6005.

The registration deadline is April 30 and they usually only have room for about 30 children.  

Organizations: Spiritual Care Department, Victoria Hospital

Geographic location: Prince Albert Parkland Health Region

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