This past summer I had the great privilege of working with the Peace Hospice program in Great Falls, Montana. Twenty some years ago, the staff at the hospice realized that adults deep in grief have little ability to help their children navigate through the deep, confusing sorrow they were feeling also. Plus, many children are involved with traumatic deaths of loved ones and there just wasn’t a mechanism in place to assist them.
The Good Grief Camp was established to assist these children and help them learn how to understand death and trauma and their feelings. One highly trained counselor is attached to each child attending the camp. Altogether there were 35 kids and about fifty adults at the camp. I was amazed at the professionalism of the staff and soon learned that many of the staff were people that had attended the camp as children. Now they had advanced degrees and were paying back the help they had received as children.
Someone at one of my classes somewhere had watched my kite program and recommended me to the Peace Hospice staff. I arrived on a Monday evening at campfire time. While sitting on the logs, I noticed a young man circling the outside of the group. His head and shoulders drooped, and he was obviously in emotional pain. After a while he sat down near me and we started to talk. His mother had experienced a violent death during the previous year, and he was hurting severely, unable to process his emotions. I just listened and encouraged him to talk.
The following day I hung around, meeting the kids and showing them some large, flashy kites and listening to whatever they cared to share. All day the staff had wonderful sessions that got the kids talking and sharing and expressing their feelings. There were hikes and crafts and singing but the hard work of getting deep, conflicted emotions out continued throughout the day and evening. Ceremonies honoring their departed loved ones were held with candles lit and stories told and much crying and hugging and, yes, laughing also. It was a remarkable experience, watching these professionals that had so much love work their magic.
The following day was kite day. Two two-hour sessions were held, with a total of 70 bird kites built during the morning. In the afternoon I flew some large kites for the kids while showing them the techniques needed to keep a kite in the air. Winding line, launching while standing still, safety issues, and kite physics were all touched on and then they got to fly their kites. For the next two hours, all these hurting children forgot about all their problems and had expressions of joy on their faces. They succeeded in doing something that took them out of their pain and showed them that they still had great capacities for happiness inside them. The kite flying time ended with two Ian Tyson songs playing loudly over the kite field and the children were bouncing and laughing as they flew their kites to the sounds of great music all around them.
One of the counselors mentioned to me that this might be the best therapeutic activity she had ever seen. And the young man I met the first evening came out of his shell and felt happy again for a while. When I left the camp that evening, he was on the field still, playing like a ten-year-old should, and I can’t express how it made me feel to see him laughing and engaged and feeling joy for a while.
The Good Grief Camp makes a huge difference in these children’s lives and I am so thankful for being a part of this extraordinary place. Thank you to the Peace Hospice program for letting me be a part of it. I plan on returning yearly for as long as possible.
If you would like to schedule Terry and her amazing workshop: