Body & Soul: Grief Counselling for Kids and Teens
Written & Photography by Cece M. Scott (cecescott.com)
Nothing tugs at our heart strings quite like seeing a child in physical, or emotional, pain. It was an unbearable parenting philosophy, but generations ago the feelings of children were often dismissed – they were to be seen and not heard.
All it takes is something to trigger our own memory to take us back to childhood, and to what may have been a tragic event. It’s difficult not to be affected by the commercial where the young boy drops his glass of milk in slow-motion at the realization that his father isn’t coming home. Perhaps you lost a loved one to illness or an accident, and as a shy child you didn’t know how to express yourself. Living with emotional pain is something that many of us never get over.
THE BIRTH OF CAMP ERIN
In honour of Erin Metcalf, major league baseball pitcher, Jamie Moyer, and his wife Karen, founded Camp Erin – a bereavement camp for kids and teens. The Moyers met Erin when she was 15 through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They were so inspired by Erin’s courage and her passion to help other children, that they supported the grief camp as a tribute to Erin after her passing at the age of 17.
Camp Erin Toronto is fully funded by sponsors and donations, and is open to children between the ages of six to 17 who have lost an immediate family member or a custodial caregiver through death. At no cost to the family, kids are referred to the program and chosen from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.
RITUALS AND REMEMBERING
Of the 54 Camp Erin’s, four of them are located in Canada. As part of the therapeutic portion of the programming, the camp embraces grief rituals, such as creating a memory board compiled of pictures of the person who died. The campers choose a grief activity during grief rotation – providing them an opportunity to help process grief. During ‘Ask the Doctor’ sessions, campers can ask anonymous questions about what they are experiencing as a result of their loss. During the camp luminary ceremony, campers light a candle and spend time in remembrance.
At Camp Erin, they want the children to know that they are not alone in their grief, and that their feelings are perfectly normal. For some campers, it’s their first out-of-the-city experience. Over three days they get to be with, and relate to, other kids. Often strong bonds are formed as a result of their losses. Most importantly, these young people are equipped with a tool box to help them to cope with their grief and to work through their emotions. “We strongly believe that the Camp Erin experience is life-changing,” says Lysa Toye, clinical director Camp Erin Toronto, Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Centre.
Post-camp care, counselling and support services are provided by Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Centre, The Moyer Foundation and community partner agencies.
If you know of a child who’s suffering, and would like information on how to send a kid to camp, visit drjaychildrensgriefcentre.ca.