Grief camp aims to help children, adults learn how to cope with loss

By Nick Monacelli - Reporter

MADISON HEIGHTS, Mich. - For those who have lost someone the grieving process can be incredibly difficult to understand.

That difficulty is often multiplied when children are involved; especially those too young to understand their emotions.

There is one group trying to help: the Seasons Hospice Foundation, which hosts a grief camp called Camp Kangaroo.  It may sound a little strange, but they say the Camp is like a kangaroo's pouch; it's a warm and safe place for kids.

The most recent camp was held at Madison High School in Madison Heights.  It’s a three day weekend event, teaching kids about their feelings, emotions, coping mechanisms and more.

Camp leaders said lately they’ve seen many children at their camps who have lost a loved one due to an overdose, but other children have lost parents to illness, violence and more.   The bottom line is their grief, no matter how their loved one dies, is often the same.

Inside this camp you’ll find many different activities, including arts, crafts, music, sports and more. The staff said it’s all designed to get kids to open up.

“What might look like fun, there's a process that's happening to help draw out those emotions and help facilitate those conversations with the kids,” said Luisa Kcomt with the Seasons Hospice Foundation.

Angelina DiPiazza came with her little girl Giabella.  Her husband, GiaBella’s father, died of a cocaine and fentanyl overdose in 2017.  They came to the camp looking for something they couldn't find anywhere else.

“Learning how to heal, how to move through,” said DiPiazza. “It's not anything that you get over." 
In one of the classrooms, a camp counselor gathered children on the floor and made up a song about anger.

Albeit unconventional, the Camp Kangaroo team knew if they brought those who have lost someone together, they would find hope together.

“I feel like I'm getting the tools that I need to start helping with my healing,” said DiPiazza. “But the kids as they start to get older and ask questions." 

Another goal of the camp is to help children understand what happened to their loved ones.  It’s not the same in every case, but sometimes, especially with an overdose, how someone died is often kept secret.  There’s even a session with a medical doctor to answer any questions from the children.

“Sometimes in these families the way their loved one died is hidden,” said Kcomt. “And so the challenge is that how do we help these families to be more open."

Just as important though is for kids to meet other kids going through the exact same grieving process.

“It's a very healing part of their journey to know that they're not alone,” added Kcomt.

Part of the camp also lends itself towards the parents or guardians of the children, giving them courage and advice on dealing with the journey ahead.

“We're not looking for a pat on the back,” a counselor told the adults. “We're not looking for someone to tell us it's going to be okay, because it might not be." 

The camp is free to children ages five to 18 and is funded by the Seasons Hospice Foundation through donations.  If you’d like to help fund the camp, information is available on their website.

Here’s more from the Seasons Hospice website:

"Here, children can journey through grief—and embrace life—in a safe and supportive atmosphere. Camp Kangaroo is a bereavement camp experience offered free of charge to children in the community who have suffered the death of a loved one. Participants receive grief education and emotional support combined with fun camp activities. The only national bereavement camp of its kind, this program is psychotherapy and creative arts therapy based. Led by dedicated professionals and trained volunteers from Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, Camp Kangaroo helps children feel less alone in their grief, provides them with a supportive environment to express their emotions, and helps them learn effective coping strategies. It gives an opportunity for children to find new meaning following the loss of their loved ones. Camp Kangaroo is a source of healing and fun for the children who need it most."

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