116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For children coping with the death of a loved one, connecting with other kids who have been through the same thing can be an important coping tool.
Camp Embracing Memories, hosted by UnityPoint Hospice, is a chance for kids to make those connections.
The free overnight camp gives kids from ages 5 to 16 who have lost of a close family member or loved one the chance to learn ways to process their emotions and cope with grief.
“Our goal of camp is to provide all the campers with a toolbox of coping skills to learn how to cope with death and grief and the feelings that come when we experience the death of a loved one, ” said Jaime Siela, bereavement coordinator for UnityPoint Hospice.
Siela said the camp gives kids exposure to different types of therapeutic activities they might find helpful.
“We try to balance the opportunity to grieve and to express their emotions, and also just to have fun and be kids,” she said. “A big part of the camp is connection with other kids and the camp experience — hayrack rides and bonfires and the fun stuff, too.”
One of the most beloved activities at the camp, which has taken place for the last 13 years, is memory pillows.
“They’re able to bring an article of clothing from their loved one, and that’s really to make that linking object where they’re able to squeeze and have that pillow when they’re missing them or thinking of them,” she said.
The camp was July 17-18 at Camp Io-Dis-E-Ca in Solon.
Stephanie Baker has been a volunteer at the camp for the past nine years and brought her daughter, then 9, to the camp around five year ago.
She said the camp helped her daughter learn coping skills to process the death of her father — and also helped Baker learn to help her navigate that process better.
“I think it was refreshing for me as a parent to see, because she didn’t talk a whole lot to me about it and didn’t want to talk about it,” she said. “But when she spent time with these campers and felt like it was a safe zone, she opened up to them about it.”
Siela said the camp also helps caregivers learn about helping children through grief.
Part of the camp offers caregivers a chance to connect with experts about helping kids cope with difficult emotions.
“That is an opportunity for those caregivers to ask questions about what they’re experiencing, if they’re having a difficult time with anything, to bounce ideas off professionals and connect with other parents and caregivers supporting kids in grief,” Siela said.
Baker said the camp helped her realize that everyone grieves differently — including her and her daughter.
“She may not show the emotion outside that she’s super sad, but internally she’s super sad. It’s OK that she’s not showing the emotions outward at all — which was hard to accept, because I’m the complete opposite.”
Beth Kirton, hospice administrator for UnityPoint in Cedar Rapids, attended the camp with her daughter last year.
Her daughter, 14, lost her father when she was 3 years old.
“When we opened up the forum to talk about it, it really was surprising to me how much she had held inside,” Kirton said. ”We were able to have that discussion because of the camp. Otherwise, I don’t think we would have every really had that discussion.“
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