A year ago, on March 26, 2012, Dave Thomas, 52, died suddenly from a heart attack. The unexpected loss broadsided his family — wife, Robin, and children Jordan, 16, and Kendall, 14. "It has been a rollercoaster year," said Robin, who works at St. Gregory's School in Virginia Beach, where Kendall is an 8th-grader.
As part of dealing with their grief, the family attended Camp Lighthouse, a two-day grief camp for children, parents and caregivers, run by Sentara. In October 2012, the Virginia Beach trio attended the first camp held on the Peninsula, making the drive to Jamestown each day.
The camp, now in its eighth year on the Southside, draws between 40 and 50 children, ages 5 to 16, from throughout Hampton Roads. They participate in team-building games, crafts, music therapy, horseback riding, archery and rock-climbing. Children are encouraged to discuss their feelings in small-group sessions conducted by licensed counselors. The camp concludes with a memorial service.
"We did crafty things. They taught us a lot of art therapy techniques. We made memory boxes. We played some music — it's a good way to get energy out. They encouraged us to talk things out. The point was to build relationships," said Jordan, a junior in the legal academy studies program at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach.
Not being an "artsy person," Kendall preferred the carnival rides and meeting a veterans' group of bikers. "Everyone had a chance to tell their story in their own time. Both of mine are teens. It allowed them to find a kind of soul-mate, someone else who had a loss," said Robin. "I think it's a wonderful program."
Parents and caregivers are also encouraged to attend for their own interactive group counseling sessions and Robin found it very helpful, particularly in understanding her children's experience. "I liked the way they talked about the different way people can experience grief. They showed a very insightful movie," she said. "Kids and teens compartmentalize. It helped me be more understanding of what they're going through. There's no set time frame. It doesn't end, but you can develop skills and tools to move forward."
In the past year, the family has moved house and confronted a series of illnesses in their extended family. They've already learned that the anticipation of holidays and anniversaries is worse than the actual day. "It just hits me at weird points, little insignificant things," said Jordan. That sets them to talking about Dave's love of the Redskins and Hawaiian shirts — and watching hours of NASA tapes. "Just the take-offs and landings," says Jordan. "Who does that?"
They've all been comforted by the attention of friends, people just stopping by, pitching in with errands, and taking them on excursions. And Jordan still exchanges texts with some of her peers from camp. "We're just doing the best we can. I'm really proud of the children. It's all an evolutionary process," said Robin.
What: Two-day bereavement camp hosted by Sentara's Hospice Program
Who can go: Children ages 5 to 16 who have experienced the death of a close family member or friend within two years. Parents and caregivers encouraged to attend.
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday April 20 and Sunday April 21
Where: Triple-R Ranch, 3531 Bunch Walnuts Rd., Chesapeake.
To register: Costs are underwritten; $20 registration fee; scholarships and transportation are available; call 757-553-3004, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun