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Grieving children can heal hearts at hospice's bereavement camp


Along with crafts and sports, Camp T. R. promises children healing for their hearts.

Carroll Hospice is sponsoring the second bereavement camp for children who have lost a loved one.

From June 23 to 25, 7- to 15-year-old campers are invited to

Hashawha Environmental Center for grief counseling amid summer activities.

The three-day camp offers "avenues to express all the stuff that is grief to a child," said Susan P. Hannon, bereavement counselor and camp organizer.

"They can vent a whole range of thoughts they have after suffering the loss of a loved one," Ms. Hannon said. "At camp, we will try to normalize the experience for them and let them know it's OK to talk about anything with anybody."

Ms. Hannon conducts bereavement groups for children through the hospice. She knows "the profoundly sad things that happen to children" and the difficulties children have in coping and voicing their concerns.

"Adults see kids returning to their routines after a death in the family, and they think everything is OK," she said. "The child may be protecting a surviving parent or be unable to ask for help or know what to ask."

This year, instead of a day camp, 25 children will stay overnight in cabins at the center, just north of Westminster. Ms. Hannon hopes the campfires and lights-out conversations will provide more outlets for the children.

"Children really need a safe place where their grief can be validated," Ms. Hannon said. "At Camp T. R., they can look across the campfire and see a child who is going through the same things. It is so good for them to realize everybody goes through reactions to a loss."

At Camp T. R. -- named for T. R. O'Farrell, an 11-year-old Westminster child who died in a traffic accident in 1993 -- each of the children will be assigned a buddy who will listen, share experiences and give constant support.

Several adults and a few teen-agers have volunteered for the work and have received buddy training.

"I stressed in the training sessions that we can't make it all better," Ms. Hannon said. "We will be there to help them [campers] walk through their grief, to let them progress and catch them when they fall. But we can't make it go away."

The camp brochure, which has been circulated in schools, hospitals and doctors' offices, shows a drawing of a bandaged, broken heart. While she cannot promise miracles, Ms. Hannon said she hopes children will leave the camp with the skills to mend their broken hearts and cope with what remains of the grieving process.

The camp is free and space is available. Applications are at the Hospice, 95 Carroll St., Westminster. Volunteers and donations are needed. Information: 857-1838.

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