WIMBERLEY, Texas (Nexstar) — There is one thing that everyone at Camp Erin has in common: Each member has lost someone close to them. The 3-day summer camp aims to help kids learn about grief and how to process the emotional pain of losing a loved one.
“We tend to just want to push it aside and get on with it, or we want to tell people to just get over it, and it doesn’t really work like that, we are hardwired to grieve as humans,” Nancy McCranie said.
She serves as director of volunteer and bereavement services at Hospice Austin, which has hosted the camp, formerly known as Camp Brave Heart, for 21 years.
“Give children a space to come together where they are not alone, everybody else here has had a loss and so they can see that, sometimes for the first time, they are surrounded by other people that have had a similar experience, and this is a human experience, McCranie said.
For 16-year-old Grace, whose dad passed away from a brain tumor, coming to camp near her hometown of Kyle was therapeutic.
“I’m so happy to be here because I’m able to discuss that experience with other people and I’ve learned that they have had similar experiences and so I’m able to make connections with them and I would not have been able to make before,” she said. “And I realize that I’m not alone here and I feel connected and I feel better.”
Campers do traditional activities like tie-dyeing shirts and completing ropes courses, but they also have personal time to reflect and opportunities to talk about their challenges in groups.
“We hung pictures of the people we lost on the wall on a tree,” Sofi, 11, said. “So that was really nice, I think everybody really appreciated that.”
Sofi said her stepfather died by suicide two years ago, which came as a scary and sudden surprise for her.
“I thought nobody else in the world gets this but then I came here and I see how many people have lost their loved ones,” she explained.
Ruby, 7, said since her dad died and her mom works, she does not have many people to play with. She said she enjoyed making new friends and watching a movie on the bus ride in.
“All the campers are my friends,” she added. “We had a lot of fun here.”
Organizers said 65 kids ages six to 17 attended the free camp this year, made possible by donations and sponsorships.
“Their bond with their loved one did not end just because their loved one died, that it will continue for the rest of their life,” McCranie said. “That it will change just like any other relationship, and so to give them the beginning seeds of that understanding, I think that can really help them well into adulthood.”
For more information about Camp Erin, click here.