Bereavement camps offer support in relaxed environment

Two camps help kids deal with grief with animation, workshops and other activities

Grief is a powerful emotion that manifests itself in many forms. After the loss of her husband, Paula Ciampini’s children each expressed their sorrow very differently. Her eldest daughter, 12-year-old Grace, found comfort in speaking openly about her father and sharing her memories of him. But her 13-year-old son Luke found it painful and difficult to express his feelings. After Grace’s teacher sent her home with a flyer for a local bereavement camp, Ciampini sought a new avenue to help her children cope with their grief.

Camp Erin, which is part of the organization Eluna, formerly the Moyer Foundation, helps youth and families through the grieving process. With more than 40 camps across North America, the Montreal chapter of Camp Erin is run in collaboration with the local non-profit Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA.

“We want to honour the person who has passed in a safe place where kids can be kids and enjoy themselves,” says Corrie Sirota, clinical director and camp director. Sirota, who is also a grief, loss and bereavement specialist, says many parents’ natural inclinations are to shield their children from painful experiences. “There is no avoiding the pain; it’s there and it has to come out,” Sirota says.

First opened in 2017, Camp Erin is located in the heart of the Laurentians at the Harry Bronfman Y Country Camp (YCC), which provides a serene backdrop for children to heal. Over the course of a weekend in August, children between the ages of 6 and 17 take part in traditional outdoor fun like swimming and barbecues, along with activities designed to help with grieving.

For example, children are asked to bring a photograph of the loved one they have lost, explain who they are and when they passed, and put the image on a memory board. Ciampini said the exercise impacted Luke greatly and provided him with the powerful visual representation that he is not alone in his grief. 

“The camp gave my children the opportunity to honour their dad, and learn to deal with the hurt of his loss while bonding with other kids just like them,” Ciampini says.

One of the most powerful moments of the weekend for her daughter Grace, though, was the outdoor luminary ceremony. Each child paid tribute to their loved ones by placing a tea light on the lake, and quietly speaking to those they have lost.

Camp Carousel, organized by NOVA West Island, also provides young people with an outlet for their emotions with its spring camp that will take place from May 24-26.

Along with group healing sessions led by counsellors and volunteers, young people under the age of 17 can express themselves through arts & crafts, outdoor activities and sports, and can take part in campfire games at Parc Nature du Cap St. Jacques. A remembrance ceremony is also held for campers to honour their loved ones surrounded by nature. NOVA West Island also offers year-round support for children and adults dealing with loss.

For more information on Camp Erin, visit ymywha.com/camperin.

For more information on Camp Carousel, visit novawi.org.

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