Relieve grief

Published 9:42 pm Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grieving blankets: Left, Amanda Becker, an organizer of Camp Lighthouse, sits with Natalie and Katarzyna Foster, a mother and daughter who benefited from the Camp Lighthouse program for children and their parents who have experienced the death of a close loved one. Mother and daughter sit with the blanket Natalie was given at camp as part of Project Linus, a program that donates blankets to children grieving the death of a loved one.

When children and teens are grieving, it can be hard for adults to know how to help them and make sure they have the support they need.

The Sentara Hospice Camp Lighthouse program, however, may offer the guiding light that your child needs to get through a time of grief.

Registration has begun for this year’s Camp Lighthouse that serves children from ages 5 to 16 and their grieving parents. The camp will be held April 16-17 at the Triple-R Ranch in Chesapeake.

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“It was so important for us to attend this,” said Katarzyna Foster, who attended with her daughter, Natalie, after the death of Natalie’s father Vernon in 2009.

“It was a pleasure,” added 8-year-old Natalie.

Camp Lighthouse is in its sixth year and serves 50 children and 26 parents at a time. The camp has a very different approach from other support groups, Foster said.

It serves parents, but the focus of the camp is to help children overcome grief, said Amanda Becker, licensed clinical social worker and one of the organizers of the camp.

On the second day of camp, parents learn about the way children work through grief. Becker said that when children reach a new level in the grieving process, they begin to grieve again.

“We try to give them the tools on how to deal with that grief,” Becker said.

Participants are supported by their peers and volunteer counselors who are there to listen.

Children are able to talk to someone about their grief even if they can’t talk to anyone at home.

“It’s a very empowering thing for these kids,” Becker said. “When they go home, they might not be able to talk.”

The camp accepts children and their parents who have lost a close friend or family member between three months to two years ago.

“They have to be at a point where they can talk about their loss,” Becker said.

The first month after a death is usually very busy with family and friends visiting. The second month is very quiet, Becker said. During that month, people begin trying to figure out how to get back into life without the loved one.

In the third month, most people are ready to begin working through the grieving process.

The camp utilizes a peer support model in helping both children and adults. Counselors are there to help the grieving children and adults to explore their grief, while participants learn from one another, as well.

“They learn skills from each other,” she said.

Participants frequently have conversations about loved ones while participating in camp activities like arts and crafts.

“You didn’t need to explain too much. It was really something,” Foster said. “They could talk about things in a certain way.”

Foster said that the experience of Camp Lighthouse was good for her and Natalie.

“It was a very good experience for her psyche as well as her mind,” Foster said.

A good husband makes a wife feel special and cared for, Foster said. When her husband died, there was no one there to make her feel that way. She explained that camp counselors made her feel important.

“Someone took care of us from A to Z,” she said. “It was a really good experience. The people who organized it really knew what was inside us. It’s only two days, but it’s something.”

“All of the friends I made over there had a parent or someone who has died,” Natalie said.

For Natalie and her mother, Camp Lighthouse helped them to realize they are not alone.

“Now it will be one year and she still remembers everything. It was an important event in her life,” Foster said.

The camp is held at a ranch with a number of fun activities for children to participate in with their peers while working through the grieving process.

“There are very fun projects there like horseback riding,” Natalie said.

Children can also take part in arts and crafts projects, throwing raw eggs to relieve stress, wall climbing, games and more.

“It is very nice. The kids are nice too, and it’s fun over there,” Natalie said.

The registration is $15, but scholarships are available. To register for the camp, call 553-3000 or (888) 461-5649 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.