It’s an experience that we all must eventually go through, but when it comes to children, the process of grief can be especially confusing and overwhelming. We all likely remember our first experience with the death of a loved one. For some, it was when we were young, and for others it did not happen until we were older. But no matter what, it likely changed us forever.
Fortunately for kids and teens in our area who have lost a loved one, Hospice of North Idaho has shown compassion and understanding through their grief camp for kids and teens. Camp Kaniksu first began in 2012 and offers children a warm and compassionate place where children can be with others who are experiencing a similar journey. There is no cost to attend the camp, which is open to all children ages 6 to 16 who struggle with grief.
“This is not a typical summer camp,” explained Denna Grangaard, director of communication for Hospice of North Idaho. While the kids do engage in activities such as riding a zip line, climbing a rock wall and paddling the canoes on beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene, these are activities that are designed to assist the children through the bereavement process.
Other activities are also incorporated as a way to honor their loved one and release strong feelings of grief so they can continue their journey of healing. For instance, campers may go on a hike culminating in a symbolic rock throwing, which encourages them to release their strong emotions of grief. In another activity, children can decorate a paper lantern with their loved-one’s name on it and then release it onto the water. These are just a few of the ways for the children to honor both their loved ones and their own feelings of grief.
“Guided by Hospice of North Idaho’s bereavement counselors, children begin processing their loss by learning that they are not alone in their grief and that having fun is a part of healing,” says Kaylee Kron, bereavement coordinator at Hospice of North Idaho. “It feels really good to be a part of it! And it’s so nice to be able to tell people the camp is free. It’s like a weight is lifted.”
Camp Kaniksu offers an opportunity to share the emotions that come with grief. Staff and volunteers encourage, but never press, campers to share their grief experiences. And by hearing others share their feelings, children come to realize that expressing these strong emotions is both normal and good.
“This is a camp for children and teens who have lost someone vital in their life; someone who helped them define who they are in the world. These children have lost a parent, grandparent or even a sibling. It’s devastating,” said Grangaard. “These kids are showing their bravery and their hope. It’s empowering to see these kids choose to face their grief and choose to live amidst grief. We give them reprieve at camp and show that their hope is not foolish. As adults, we can learn strength from these kids.”
The reality is that some children may feel they are unable to have these conversations with their families because they, too, are grieving. That’s where other grievers their age and camp counselors come in. “Camp opens a door for these kids. They learn that they can talk and that their feelings will be accepted,” explains Kron.
One of the great benefits of Camp Kaniksu is that kids who have suffered a loss through death can realize that they are not alone. Many times their everyday friends have never experienced a loss and don’t know how to support them. By being with others their age who are traveling the same journey, they come to the realization that their feelings are normal and may even make new friends with whom they stay in contact and can reach out to after the days at camp are over.
The free camp would not be possible without the generous members of the community who make Camp Kaniksu possible, including the local Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, whose donations help cover the $500 of expenses for each camper. In addition, there is the staff of Camp Lutherhaven who are accommodating and work closely with the staff and volunteers of Hospice of North Idaho to make the camp a meaningful and memorable experience for all.
Knowing how to really help a person who has lost a loved one is difficult, even daunting. And when the person in grief is a child, the recovery process seems particularly fragile. Hospice of North Idaho is ready and able to help.
This year’s Camp Kaniksu will be held July 13 through 15 at Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Registration through Hospice of North Idaho is currently open. Register your child, find a grief support group or donate to support others in grief by going to HospiceOfNorthIdaho.org.