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Camp Good Grief

Hospice of Michigan Offers Day Camp for Children Coping with Loss

One in 20 children under the age of 18 will have experienced the death of a parent and many others will grieve the death of a sibling or another important person in their lives.

Because children can grieve differently than adults, the extent of their grief can often go undetected. To help prevent this, Hospice of Michigan introduced Camp Good Grief in 2012, a day camp designed to help children cope with the loss of a loved one. This year, camp is scheduled for Friday, June 20.

The free one-day camp is held at Camp Newaygo and invites children ages 8-17 to partake in a combination of fun and adventurous camp activities with grief education and emotional support. Hospice of Michigan grief professionals and trained volunteers facilitate the camp, which is open to all children in the community who have experienced the death of a loved one.

“Children are often the forgotten grievers,” said Tangela Zielinski, grief support manager at HOM. When someone dies, people tend to focus on the adult closest to the deceased, but children can suffer from a unique grief that’s important to address.

A child’s grief is far different than an adults; it often comes in spurts and small doses. Camp Good Grief provides a safe, nurturing and fun place where children can process what they’re going through in a healthy way.

By around age 9, children begin to understand that death is a permanent and real biological process. This is also when they develop a strong desire to belong to a group and fit in. It’s when moods and feelings of stress and anxiety appear and when children become more susceptible to peer influence and pressure.

Studies have shown that unresolved loss and grief issues can manifest themselves in poor school performance, acting out, truancy, drug abuse, depression and suicidal tendencies—behaviors that trail into adulthood with disastrous consequences.

HOM recognizes that children can be the age group most affected by death and can have a more difficult time processing and understanding their grief. Camp Good Grief gives these children a safe place to grieve and helps them make sense of the emotions they’re feeling.

“At a time when they’re trying to fit in, the death of a loved one can make kids feel isolated and alone,” Zielinski says.  “Camp Good Grief allows children to connect with others in a similar situation and leaves them feeling they’re not all that different.”

The camp is designed to provide children with a welcoming environment where they can express their grief, be comforted by peers that are going through something similar, enjoy camp activities and find peace in nature, which in itself is healing.

Camp activities include arts and crafts, kayaking, rock wall climbing, a zip line, swimming, gaga ball, a kite memorial and other team building exercises – all activities that can be tied into discussions on grief.  For example, when children climb the rock wall, it can be scary, which provides an opportunity to discuss fear.

“It’s our hope that kids leave the camp feeling that they’re not alone,” Zielinski adds. “We want them to understand that their grief is normal and while it’s okay to be sad, better days are ahead.”

Hospice of Michigan’s 2014 Camp Good Grief will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 20 at Camp Newaygo, 5333 Centerline Road, Newaygo.  Space is limited and those interested are encouraged to register as soon as possible.  For applications and more information, parents or guardians should call Zielinski at 231.527.0913.

Grief is a personal and individual experience that takes place over time.  While it’s okay to give the child time to be sad and work through their grief, if you see a pattern of worrisome behaviors, you may want to contact a grief professional.

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No one dies alone


Hospice of Michigan volunteers sit vigil during patient’s final moments

After caring for her sick mother for months, doctors tell Stacey that her mother’s death is approaching.  Stacey’s focus has shifted from finding a cure for her mother to making sure she’s comfortable and that she doesn’t die alone. Stacey finds herself overwhelmed. Her grieving process has already begun and while she spends countless hours at her mother’s bedside, she fears she might not be there during the final moments.

“When it’s apparent that a patient has reached the end of life, it becomes very important to family and friends that the patient has support through the dying process,” says Kathy Julien, volunteer services manager at Hospice of Michigan. “It is our goal that a patient never dies alone. To achieve this, we have an incredibly compassionate and dedicated team of volunteers who go anywhere a patient is and ‘sit vigil’ during the final days and hours.”

HOM typically sends vigil volunteers for a two- to four-hour time frame. Volunteers play music, read inspirational readings or scripture, light candles, hold the patient’s hand, pray with the patient or just talk about the day. Julien says that in addition to sitting vigil with the dying when their family can’t be there, volunteers often sit alongside loved ones to offer comfort, reassurance and a shoulder to cry on.

“This isn’t a new concept,” Julien explains. “People have been sitting vigil with the dying for centuries. Traditionally, family, friends and clergymen would gather around the dying person to offer comfort and support to the patient and to each other.”

Julien explains that when people begin actively dying, their sense of sound is the last sense to go. While they may be unresponsive or appear unconscious, it’s very possible the patient can still hear what’s happening around them. In addition to creating a peaceful and comforting surrounding, sitting vigil is also the time to reassure patients that they are not alone, it’s okay to go and that their family will learn to cope with their passing.

“Hospice of Michigan vigil volunteers are very special and important people,” Julien says. “Most volunteers feel it’s a privilege to be with someone during the final moments in life. There is a love they have for their patients and this shows in the way they care for them and interact with their families.”

All prospective HOM volunteers go through a 12-hour training course where they learn more about HOM, the principles of hospice, the grieving process and how to help patients, families and staff. There’s an optional three-hour grief support session that, while not required, is recommended.  Julien explains that vigil volunteers also receive direction on:

Recognizing the signs that a patient is actively dying

Talking with the patient to provide comfort

When and when not to comfort patients through the physical touch of hand holding, rubbing their arms, etc.

Comforting family and friends and sharing details and stories from time spent with the patient

“When someone accepts that their loved one will die, their fear of the loved one dying is often replaced by a fear that they will die alone,” adds Julien. “It’s our job to help ease these fears and provide comfort, support and reassurance to patients and their families.”

If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities for Hospice of Michigan or sign up as a volunteer, contact Kathy Julien at 888.247.5701 or kjulien@hom.org.  For those who have experienced a loss, HOM encourages a waiting period of one year before becoming a volunteer in order to allow for processing grief.


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