Voices of Care

Camp Stepping Stones: Magical Event for Grieving Kids, Parents

Posted on April 30, 2019 by Kelli Ann Sullivan

Kelli Ann Sullivan (center) with her family and co-worker Jane Byrne (left) are repeat volunteers at Care Dimensions’ Camp Stepping Stones.

I’m not sure how my family came to enroll in Camp Stepping Stones grief camp during the summer of 2011. I had worked for Care Dimensions for a year, so one of my supportive colleagues who saw the dazed look on my face or heard me talking about my heartbroken children – ages 10, eight and five – must have signed us up and reminded me where and when to arrive on that beautiful July day. We had lost John, our 59-year-old beloved stepfather and grandfather, and our world was forever changed.

I remember feeling nervous. What would my children think? Is this going to make them even sadder? Is it going to be a day for constant grieving? And what would happen to me?

My worries were immediately put to rest when I saw my two younger children engaging with an art activity in one corner of the field and my 10-year-old daughter playing football with Mary Crowe, a fellow social worker. There was magic in this place and I could see it for what it was immediately.

The day was a busy one filled with kid-centered activities that sometimes brought tears and often big belly laughs. Care Dimensions’ Camp Stepping Stones is a place where you can name things like feelings and make friends who ask you about your special person. My children enjoyed music, art, yoga, animals and a picnic. And there was a space for me, too, in workshops and support groups about parenting a grieving child and coping with my own grief.

A few years later, the opportunity arose for our family to return to Camp Stepping Stones as volunteers, this time at ages 16, 14 and 11. We were reminded of the support we had been given and the care that was afforded our heartbroken family. It was such a joyful ride over that morning, so different than the ride in 2011. We were excited for the day and for the comfort that we knew many of these families would feel. My husband and 11-year-old son were put in a group that had all boys in it! They had a wonderful day and got to know those kids well. My daughters and I spent our day with younger children playing, doing art and processing feelings the way kids do, through lots of play! Our favorite part of the day was watching the kids light up while holding the baby animals.

My family and I will return to Care Dimensions’ Camp Stepping Stones this year for a third time to volunteer and we are all looking forward to it. Losing someone you love is desperately painful. Watching your child grieve can make that loss so much more difficult to process. Camp Stepping Stones is a glimmer of hope in that darkness. Back in 2011 when we lost John, that little opening let more and more light into my life and the lives of my children.

Learn more about Camp Stepping Stones, including links to register or volunteer.

About the author:
Kelli Ann Sullivan is a social worker for Care Dimensions.

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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 more than 95 communities in Eastern Massachusetts."