During an Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference, Dr. Gloria Horsley interviews Peter Hanlon, a registered nurse and bereavement specialist at HSE who manages bereavement camps. Based in Ireland, the camps began in 1995 for children only, but over time it was found that a family camp was necessary. Groups of families are brought together to learn about loss, coping, and healing. That same message needs to be spread throughout the family, not just with children, and bringing everyone together can help strengthen familial bonds.
Four hours per day are dedicated to counseling, while the rest of the day is filled with activities that aren’t seemingly, directly related to healing—but are designed to help families transform their loss into a positive move forward. It’s easy for bonds to break and fracture following a loss, even within tight knit families. The goal of a family bereavement camp is to strengthen those bonds and provide families with a way to move forward, while continuing bonds with their passed loved one, but as a modified unit.
A Family Strength
Everyone needs the opportunity to have joyful experiences after a loss. What helps with Hanlon’s camps are the shared experiences. Everyone is grieving, and everyone is participating. There are no second guesses, or the idea that they need to act like the process is easy. They’re in the moment, but can move quickly from playing on high ropes to reflecting in the evening and/or listening to someone else’s story. Emotions can change dramatically.
Parents often feel like they need to be strong for their children. This can keep them from processing their grief, and ultimately be detrimental to the whole family. It’s a different reality now. Parents can get a great kick out of seeing their kids being kids again—and the same goes for children seeing their parents being themselves again.