Austin summer grief camp helps kids cope with loss

Campers participate in activity during Camp Red Bird

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Summer camps in Austin are full of arts, crafts and games.

But the kids who go to Camp Red Bird in Austin have something in common they’d rather not —  they’ve all had someone close to them die.

“Yeah, I miss him,” said Quenton Owens. “Our baby brother Mathis passed away when we were really little.”

Quenton and his younger sister Allanah are Camp Red Bird campers and share the story of their 2-year-old brother who died from brain cancer. They’ve been learning how to grieve ever since.

But it’s hard to mourn for someone you love when no one else gets it. At this camp, though, they’re not alone.

“They understand — it’s not just somebody that thinks they understand and knows what’s happening when it’s never actually happened to them,” Owens said.

Campers participate in activity during Camp Red Bird

The day camp is hosted by the Austin Center for Grief and Loss which specializes in grief therapy. Camp Red Bird is designed for kids ages 6 through 12 who have experienced a loss. Campers participate in a week of therapeutic games, activities, arts and crafts, while also sharing with peers who are going through similar loss.

“Kids want to belong, and this gives them that community,” said Mary Dickerson with Austin Center for Grief and Loss. “You don’t want children to know that we are performing therapy on them. It’s through play that they come to terms with their grief and loss.”

On Tuesday, the project of the day involved campers writing their biggest fears on tissue paper, ripping them up and gluing over them with what makes them happy. Then put a candle in the middle of the jar, showing even through the bad and good, you can still see the light.

“It kind of made me lose a bunch of my fear,” Owens said.

None of these kids would choose the circumstances that led them to camp. But they make the most of it, have fun, heal a little and hope it sticks with them when they go home

“It’s good to remember and it’s OK to grieve,” Owens said.

Across the nation, 1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18, according to Kenneth Doka, Editor of OMEGA, Journal of Death and Dying. In a poll of 1,000 high school juniors and seniors, 90 percent indicated that they had experienced the death of a loved one.

The kids attending camp are dealing with the most extreme form of loss. Some kids or teenagers may also have to deal with grief at some point, and the organizers at the Center say parents or role models play a major role in helping kids cope.

“Listen to your children and talk to your children. Listen to the cues because often times in a home different people will grieve differently. Some people don’t want to talk about the death of the loved one, they don’t want the name mentioned, it’s too hurtful. But for a child, you need to hear what the child wants,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson says if grief is not dealt with, it can, over time, lead to addiction, depression and affect school work.

Crafts made by Camp Red Bird campers

 

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