Kids Camp 2019
With splashes of confetti paper, a few toy gems and some butterfly stickers, Rebecca transformed the plaintive glass jar into something much more personal and meaningful.
A shrine that will host the most valuable treasures of her young life.
“This is my memory lantern,” said Rebecca with a confidence and maturity beyond her nine years. “It’s for my mother and father. They died two years ago, on Jan. 6, of a drug overdose. So whenever I want to put in a memory, I’ll think of them and blow that thought into the jar.”
Construction of the lanterns, and sharing of recollections of loved ones who are now memories, was but one of the healing projects nearly 30 children ages 6-11 engaged in as part of a two-day Good Grief! Kids Camp at El Pueblo History Museum.
An annual summer offering of Sangre de Cristo Hospice and Palliative Care, the camps are designed to bring together the bond-sharing little ones to share their feelings and thoughts in a warm and caring environment.
“The important thing for the kids to realize is that they’re not alone,” said Crystal Gerlock, a grief counselor. “It’s more difficult for children to grieve because people want to protect the kids. They think that if they don’t talk about it, that the kids will be fine. But they don’t realize kids observe a whole lot more than they do.
“We’re here to let them know that it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to cry. Children are naturally protective of their parents and their guardians. And if they think they’re going to make you sad, they won’t be as likely to talk.”
After her sudden loss, Rebecca — overwhelmed with depression and uncertainty — went to live with a great-grandmother.
“She treats me very well,” Rebecca said. “And when I was depressed, I talked to my great-grandmother about it. And she told me, ‘It’s going to be OK and I miss them too.’”
And now, with the memory-capturing glass jar, Rebecca will have a way to verbally express what she stores in her heart and soul.
“My parents weren’t the richest people, but they were very nice,” she said. “And whenever I needed something they would stop what they were doing and help me.
“So now that I have this lantern, I’m going to tell my Mommy and Daddy, ‘I love you and I miss you.’”
Not all of the children are dealing with the loss of a human.
Samual, 7, said he will use his lantern to honor a sweet boy who was very special to him.
“Hank the Tank was my cat,” Samual said. “And I got to see him for a long time…until he was poisoned by a neighbor. And that made me really sad.”
As the lantern-crafting process drew to a close, Gerlock encouraged the children to share a favorite memory of the loved one for whom the technicolor shrine was crafted.
“My memory is me and my dad four-wheeling in the mountains.”
“When we went to Elitch’s. But we rode only one roller coaster.”
“Going to Water World.”
“Just me and him beating Eggman on Sonic. That’s really his name: Eggman.”
“My favorite part was flying to Florida with my mom and uncle.”
“Playing outside with him.”
Looking on as the recollections were shared was Ryan Kendall, who became a camp volunteer in gratitude for the care Sangre de Cristo Hospice provided for his mother, who died in 2015.
“This is my way of giving back,” he said. “For the past two summers I’ve helped out with the camps. You know, it’s talking about hard stuff but it’s really, really helpful for the kids to discuss grief and loss, and being sad, and what those feelings mean.
“And I always share my own experience about my mother, as do the other counselors, who share their memories and what they went through.”
His memory lantern now complete, Samual christened it with a gentle whisper for his beloved Hank the Tank.
“I’m sorry you had to die. I just wish you were able to stay with me a couple more days.”