Camp Aloha is a weekend long grief camp for kids ages 6-17 put on by Hospice Savannah. Most people have a hard time handling death, especially when it comes to explaining it to a child. Since it's generally an uncomfortable topic & we don't really know what to say or do, often times we do nothing. We don't want to bring it up for fear of further upsetting the person, or we try to sugar coat it by saying "They're in a better place...or...everything's gonna be okay." Well, everything's not okay. Nothing we say can bring that loved one back. Nothing we say takes their hurt away. So, Camp Aloha to the rescue. Its a safe place where we can celebrate the life of that person who we miss so much. It's a place to tell their story without fear of being shushed or being told not to cry. We can spend time with others who are on the same journey.
This was my 4th year as a counselor at Camp Aloha (after taking 2 years off...) and it was probably one of my favorites so far. This year I felt at home on those camp grounds. And as I write this, it's all hitting me at once. I didn't shed a tear over the weekend, but now that I'm home by myself and in the stillness, I can feel the tears coming. Sometimes that happens. The hustle and bustle of camp distracted me, but now it's all settling in. Everybody needs a good cry every now and then!
I was on the Blue team this year, made up of 7 super rambunctious boys and 2 angelic girls, ages 10-12ish. My favorite age group so far, for sure. They are just old enough to truly grasp the concept of why they are at camp and they can really work through their grief. In years past I've worked with the 6-8 year olds and sometimes it feels more like babysitting to me. This year, our boys pretty much fought the whole time, but for some reason, the basketball court was magical for them. It was their place to bond. It didn't hurt that one of the counselors on our team played college basketball and they thought he was a god. Apparently our girls did too because they didn't leave the poor guy's side after witnessing his mad skills.
Lots of people are confused as to what happens at grief camp so I'll give you the run down of a few our activities. We did music therapy where the kids did some beating on the drums to signify what they were feeling in that moment about being at camp. Before we started, the music therapist gave them examples how they could play to show their emotions. Sad= a soft, slow beat. Happy= Upbeat and loud. Confused= a mixture of the two. Other examples of emotions could be: angry, overwhelmed, reflective, excited. As each of them played their emotion, we all had to guess their what they were feeling by the way it sounded. No matter what anyone played, for each person they would yell out... "Overwhelmed!!??" It was a popular emotion...
Storytelling was combined with music this year. There were different topics written on the board to evoke memories of their loved one. For example: Food, Vacations, TV Shows, Songs, etc.
One of the boys talked a lot about going to Italy (vacation) with his dad and eating the best pasta in the world (food).
In another group there were obstacle courses where they used teamwork and had the chance to burn off some much needed energy. One station was a brain teaser.... putting together a life sized puzzle that came out to be a roller coaster. This signified how our emotions can be like a roller coaster when someone dies and that we need to rely on each other for help.
Large, smooth river rocks were handed out during another session. The children were given paint pens to decorate their rock with the character traits of their loved one. When they were finished writing, we went around the room and shared those traits and the feelings it brought up for us to write them on the rocks. Being able to hold the rocks is a tangible way to have that special person with us all the time.
Family Feud was my personal favorite group activity. When I tell you the topics, they're going to sound morbid, BUT! It was a cool way to get the kids thinking and working through their feelings with out sitting in a dark room with candles lit, discussing deep emotions. It was light and fun and they knew when to be serious when the time came. The topics were: 1) Foods You Eat At A Funeral
2) Places Where Funerals Can Be Held 3) Emotions You Feel About the Death of Your Loved One 4) The Most Hurtful Things People Have Said to You in Regards to the Death 5) I'm leaving one out.....dang it...I knew I'd forget one. What better was to get them talking about their own experience at a funeral and how it made them feel.
The unstructured activities seem to be the best ones of all for the kids. Pool time, relaxing in the cabins, taking walks, and of course- basketball. It's usually a time when they open up the most. They aren't being prodded to talk about their grief....it just comes out naturally, on their own time.
The final & most sacred activity is the campfire on Saturday night. We spend an hour beforehand writing letters to our loved ones, then tie them up with a ribbon. We are invited to the campfire one group at a time. The kids seem to understand that its a special time, so we all gather silently around the flames, then after listening to a story, the kids go up individually and place their letter into a wooden box. When everyone has placed their letter into the box, it is thrown on the fire and the smoke signifies our words reaching up to heaven! When the flames die down, they kids have a chance to tell their loved one's story around the fire for everyone to hear. So- yeah- bring your tissues for that part.
On a lighter note, I slept right through breakfast this morning. Its kind of a rule to be in the cafeteria at 8:00 am. Pretty embarrassing to have the CEO of Hospice Savannah have to wake you up at 9:15 and tell that the group is heading to their activity time. Way to go Caroline. Next time check the day when you set your alarm. I diligently set my alarm for 7:15 am on Saturday morning....which was the day before. Cool.
Thinking about my sweet campers tonight....Come volunteer next year. It's amazing!