In July, Care Dimensions welcomed 26 families to Camp Stepping Stones, the annual experience for children and families who have lost someone close to them. After two years of curtailed programming due to the pandemic, everyone was thrilled to be back and outdoors at the Glen Urquhart School in Beverly.
“Being together in person creates an important synergy for campers and adults; it’s so important for our families to be at Camp as a group,” said Cammy Adler-Roth, children’s program manager. “We foster a healing journey, which is assisted by group interactions and supports from the entire Bereavement Team.”
Child Life, Bereavement and Music Therapy staff members and a pediatric nurse spent months preparing for the successful Camp, which was almost fully reserved within days of the registration announcement in April.
Camp activities always begin with the heart puzzle, an activity developed years ago with the help of Mary Crowe, director of professional and community education, who is skilled with a jigsaw.
“The puzzle is representative of how campers are all connected, not only by their losses, but also by the support they provide to each other brother to sister, parent to child, and kid to kid,” Adler-Roth said. “When they arrive to camp, each participant paints a piece of the wooden puzzle, which is later assembled, then everybody takes their puzzle piece home at the end of the day. It’s a ‘heartfelt’ memory.”
After the large welcoming circle, children joined volunteers to enjoy music, pet therapy, storytelling and a rock-climbing wall. Parents and adults attended the interactive “Grief in the Context of Family Life” workshop, led by Boston University Clinical Associate Professor Paul Thayer, who has worked with Care Dimensions child life specialists for several years and taught some of them at BU.
In a follow-up note to the team, one dad wrote, “Thank you especially for making room for my daughter. This is the first time that she has been able to engage in any such program, and I can tell that it meant something to her. It certainly meant something to me to have her there with my other daughter and me, at the same place at the same time. And, as I know you know, it helps with the continuing conversation at home.”
“One dad told me that, since his wife died, he had forgotten how to have fun, but Camp reminded him of the importance of having fun and spending time with his 5-year-old daughter and even to have tea parties with her,” said Bereavement Counselor Ellie Frechette. “In our closing activity, children and teens wrote messages on dissolvable paper to their person they had lost, dipped them in a bubble solution and made long, colorful bubbles to send their thoughts out into the world. At the end of the day that dad told us how much fun he and his daughter had.”
Other age-appropriate activities for children included singing, a drumming circle, story hour, and an art workshop. Bereavement counselors led a painting project and a self-care workshop for adults and managed the resource table, a first-time Camp feature that included bereavement calendars and books for children and adults.
“At the very end of the event, about a dozen kids came into the middle of the full circle of campers and adults to take the microphone to speak the name of those they were there to remember: their father, their mother, their brother, their grandparent,” Adler-Roth said. “Some shared a memory or story. One girl sang Adele’s ‘Go Easy on Me.’ I could feel the collective breath of the group, holding and loving those brave kids. What an honor it is to be part of this beautiful event.”
“The closing circle was most touching part for me,” said Patrice DePasquale, director of bereavement services. “It capped off a successful day: allowing these kiddos to feel supported and safe enough to open up in this large group and I hope they always remember and carry that support with them.”
“Everyone felt the love, support, respect, and heart for all the campers and their families whose lives have been forever changed by their loss,” Adler-Roth said.
About the author
Robin Ellington is a Care Dimensions Communications Specialist.
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Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.