Grief’s companion

by Gerri Cummings, HPCCR Spiritual & Grief Care Services Program Manager

Chameleon’s Journey wish lanterns floating on the river

I first notice Andre as he stands with his Mom and older brother at the registration table I am manning to welcome campers to the Chameleon’s Journey Grief Camp weekend.  I tell him the camper group and sleep cabin to which he has been assigned.  The look on his face tells me that he is listening and he is here, but not really present.  Grieving children usually attend camp a few months (sometimes longer) after the death of a very important person in their lives — a parent, a sibling, perhaps a grandparent or other significant relative.  The feelings of isolation and uncertainty are not uncommon.  Right then I think to myself that, like this cold and bright October morning, Andre will warm to his fellow campers, as the morning warms into day.

Later, as I walk the camp grounds in the vicinity of where I dropped my glasses the night before (setting up supplies in the teaching cabins), I see a young camper sitting alone on the stone wall, just a few feet below the cabin where his group is gathering for the morning assembly. I walk over to ask if everything is okay.  As he turns, I recognize him. “Aren’t you Andre?  Weren’t you at my registration table awhile ago?”  After he confirms my suspicion, I remind him that his group is preparing to leave for the recreation hall, and that he should join them for the walk over.  He blandly says, “I will.”

The day passes by like a burst of colors splashed onto a canvas, one blending into another yet coming together in a common theme.  First there is a play about loss, then on to the zipline, climbing wall, canoeing, and other activities focused on expressing and coping with grief.  Activities that include music, art, story telling, journaling, and physical movement. 

At night, with bright stars shining in the sky, the memorial service begins.  Through song and poems, campers give voice to the longing for their loved one, leaning on others for support and continuing on with hope.  Then, into the dark night and the cold, slow-moving water, each group launches a glowing wish lantern with written expressions of love to the special individuals who are no longer with them. 
A camper is walking along the pathway watching what appears to be his group’s wish lantern.  Focusing my flashlight, I see that he is actually following a small handmade paper boat with the number “1” written on a tiny sail.  He stoops to push it further into the water.  His counselor and I gently call him to guide him back to his group.  A fellow camper in his group says, “Let him do what he wants to do.”  I respond, “Well, I want to keep him near and safe.”  To which she answers, “He’ll be safe, but he will still be sad, too.”  

Two counselors and I negotiate quickly.  I say, “I will keep the flashlight on the boat to make sure it doesn’t get tangled on the rocks.”  And the counselors come to the paper boat’s aid, pushing it out further into the water.  In the dark, not seeing well (remembering the glasses I lost the night before) I ask the camper his name.  He responds “Andre.”  

I then make a promise.  “I will stay here and keep watch on the boat while you go with your group to follow the sailing wish lanterns.”  When Andre returns moments later, the flashlight is still on the paper boat as it makes it way out further into the water.  “See,” I say, “it’s still floating.”  Andre says he will come back in the morning to see how far it has gone.  I respond, “In the morning it will be well on its way to the river”. 

With Andre satisfied, I move the flashlight off the paper boat and the light briefly scans the ground where he is standing.  As he looks down, there is a crisp one dollar bill at his foot.  Picking it up he cries out, “Oh boy, this is the happiest day for me!”

And in that moment, Andre and I both experience one of the lessons that Chameleon’s Journey Grief Camp teaches — in the midst of grief, joy can often be a companion.

Explore posts in the same categories: Chameleon's Journey, grief, hospice, Kids Path

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One Comment on “Grief’s companion”

  1. […] We kicked off October by recognizing our pharmacist, Mike Bolewitz as well as two special HPCCR clinicians.  Dr. Philip Hess and RN Martha Gilbert were awarded Physician of the Year and Nurse of the Year (respectively) by the Charlotte Business Journal.  A few days later, our Compassionate Soles once again walked in the Komen Race for the Cure.  And then we held our very first Corks & Karats, an extremely well-attended and outrageously fun wine and fine food tasting event.  We finished off the month with another incredible weekend in Lake Wylie, hosting our annual Chameleon’s Journey Grief Camp. […]

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