Brightly colored love
by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Electronic Communications Manager
Loss is hard. It hurts. Loss chews up your heart and then spits it out like a piece of gum that’s lost its flavor. But loss can also make you tough; make you appreciate what’s important in life. And out of that appreciation can come something wonderful and overwhelmingly beautiful.
Like quilts. Lots and lots of amazing quilts.
Confused? Here’s the back story: About five years ago, Lisa Verrier-Christy very suddenly lost her husband, Jason, in an accident. Just like that, she was a single mom to two kids, Alyssa (then six) and Damien (then 5). Managing her own healing process was hard enough, but she worried even more about her children and how they were handling such unimaginable loss. She engaged the teachers and guidance counselors at school and set up weekly sessions for Alyssa and Damien. Alyssa’s counselor was the one who first suggested Chameleon’s Journey™ as a resource to help with the grief.
Part of our Kids Path® program, Chameleon’s Journey (CJ) is an overnight grief camp at Camp Thunderbird in Lake Wylie, SC for children and teens (ages 7-16) who have lost a significant person in their lives. It’s a place where kids who have suffered tremendous loss find their “tribe” — others who understand exactly what they’re going through because they’ve been there. It’s a place where they can relax and have fun, and not feel guilty about enjoying themselves.
The grief doesn’t go away over the course of the two days. Just as the Catawba river silently guides the camp canoes around Lake Wylie, the sense of loss flows ever so slightly underneath the surface all weekend. The loss is their common ground — it’s what makes them equal and what binds them uniquely together. The camp gives them an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. They acknowledge their grief and give it the time it deserves. And the rest of the time, they can be a kid — no strings attached.
Lisa’s daughter, Alyssa, absolutely loved her weekend at Chameleon’s Journey. Even though she didn’t open up too much about herself that first year, she knew that the other kids understood. The overnight experience moved her on her path of healing. In fact, it was healing for the entire family. When her younger brother, Damien, came along to pick her up on Sunday that first year, he was allowed to participate in the balloon release and the photo booth. He left camp totally excited for his turn to go.
Alyssa and Damien have gone back to Chameleon’s Journey year after year. The anticipation and excitement start to build soon after the first day of school; they know they will be CJ-bound not long after classes begin in the fall. After five years of attending the camp, Lisa has noticed a difference in her kids. So has her mother-in-law Rebecca (her late husband Jason’s mother) and her grandmother-in-law, Pat. “It’s wonderful seeing how they have progressed. You can’t tell anymore that they’ve been through a traumatic loss,” Rebecca notices. Pat agrees. “They’re normal kids again. They’re well-adjusted, happy children.” “They’ve learned that it’s all right to have a good time and enjoy life,” Lisa adds. “Chameleon’s Journey has been such a blessing for our family.”
Which brings us to the quilts. Lisa, Rebecca, and Pat are all members of the Cabarrus Quilters’ Guild. Rebecca, in fact, is an award-winning quilter by trade (see her website here), with quite the production set-up in her home. (Trust me, I saw it.) Anyway, in January the three were at a quilters’ guild meeting where they were discussing ways to give back to the community and Lisa had a wonderful idea. She had recently completed her thesis on childhood bereavement and had Chameleon’s Journey on her mind. She knew it would be an amazing treat (and a unique gift) if each camper had his or her own quilt to have at camp and then take home as a reminder of their weekend. Lisa pitched the idea to HPCCR and (naturally) received approval. And thus, the challenge began.
The three women had only nine months to somehow produce 125 quilts. They asked friends, family, local quilt stores, some of Rebecca’s clients, and other quilters’ guild members for help. Some people helped by actually making and contributing quilts. Some helped by donating fabric, and others donated money for materials. A friend who wishes to remain anonymous made 125 pillowcases to go along with the quilts. Many of the individuals who donated their time, talents, and money said they wanted to help because they too had lost loved ones. Because they know how hard loss can be, they wanted to do their part in making the Chameleon’s Journey kids feel loved.
These three amazing women — Lisa, Rebecca, and Pat — have been the heart and soul of this noble project. As of Monday, they were only five quilts shy of their goal. Rebecca, the professional quilter, has made the largest dent in the total needed for camp. Pat has made over 35 and Lisa has also made a handful (which is extremely impressive given that she is a full-time mom to two very busy kids). What you probably don’t know (I certainly didn’t), is that it takes about three to four days to put together a quilt from start to finish. And that’s for an easy pattern, working on it for hours a day. Plus, a quilt costs somewhere in the range of $300 to $500 to construct. If you do the math, this project is a substantial financial donation. But, really, what it comes down to is a true labor of love. “This is our way of giving back. Our way of saying thank you for everything Chameleon’s Journey has done for us,” Lisa explains.
They’ll reach their goal. Rebecca herself said that she would work non-stop for days with no sleep if she has to. That’s because these three woman have the same image in their minds as I do. When I close my eyes and imagine Chameleon’s Journey this year, I think of kids in their bunks wrapped up in beautiful, hand-made, warm quilts. I see them resting peacefully because they are surrounded by brightly colored love, lulled to sleep by happy memories and new friends. I see hearts healing and it’s happening underneath those quilts.
Lisa and the kids are in a very good place these days. Lisa found love again — with a man who understands her journey. Her new husband, Kirk, lost his first wife years ago and his youngest son was able to go to Chameleon’s Journey three years ago, when he was 16. The grief camp has truly sewn itself into the family. And because of their passion for Chameleon’s Journey, Lisa, Rebecca, and Pat would like to continue the tradition of making quilts each year. But they’ll need lots of help to make that dream a reality. If you’d like to help, please contact Gerri Cummings at 704.335.4334.
Chameleon’s Journey grief camp takes place this year on October 12 and 13.