Camp helps children understand grief

By Gregory Woods

CHARLESTON, S. C. (WCIV) --{}For any adult, the death of a family member can be a difficult time, but that loss for a child can be even more difficult to comprehend. That's where a special camp comes in to help children grieve.

At a camp site on Seabrook Island, 11 children 6 to 15-years-old spend two days camping out; it's not a summer camp, it's a grief camp.

"Whether it's a father or grandmother that raised them, they lost someone that they looked up to," said Christopher Wells, a camp leader. "Now they are faced with the most difficult time they're going to face: being without that person. So this camp helps them look at how they are going to deal with that struggle."

The camp is called Shannon's Hope. Twice a year trained volunteers counsel kids who have recently experienced the death of a family member.

Wells has nearly been involved with the camp since it started in 1989, but he says it was a tragic incident in his personal that helped him truly understand the depth of the children's pain.

"Three weeks before one of our camps after a couple years that I had been doing the camp, my father passed away," said Wells.

After the death of his father, he became camp leader of a group of boys who had lost their fathers as well.

"It's important that the kids realize that you are willing to talk about what you went through as well. I think it gets them ready to talk," said Wells.

Through private counseling sessions, candlelight vigil ceremonies, and fun nights out dancing to music. Camp leaders like Wells, help kids to move on with their lives, without letting go of the one they loved.

"To be able to laugh and smile and cry in the same group at the same time gives children an important message," said Wells. "It's not that your sad and your connected to the person you've lost, or your happy and your disconnected, but it can be all of the above."

Wells said it was hurtful when he lost his father, but that pain is nothing compared to the joy he feels with the kids he helps.

"I wasn't 12 needing that father and wondering how I'm going to get through the day without him. Thinking about those graduations that he wouldn't be there, I wasn't facing that. So it's amazing to the courage these children have to open up and share their experiences," said Wells.

Wells says the hope is that campers leave Shannon's Hope knowing that they are not alone, and that they can remember the time they've shared at the camp "and remember that it's okay to cry in those tough moments. But it gets better."

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