Camp Serves as Outlet for Grieving Children

By Christy Aumer, Reporter

University of Northern Iowa track and field athlete Chad Rutledge tickles Julia Kappmeyer, 10, of Cedar Rapids after he is tagged out of a game of 'gaga' during Camp Embracing Memories held at YMCA Camp Wapsie, located in Coggon, IA. on Saturday, September 22, 2012. Camp Embracing Memories is designed to help kids who have recently lost loved ones to feel normal and to be with others as they learn how to cope. (Kyle Grillot/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Belinda Yeung

COGGON, Iowa — About 28 children ages 6 to 17 who have experienced the death of a loved one arrived at Camp Wapsi Saturday morning for a weekend of activities.

The event, called Camp Embracing Memories, is run by St. Luke’s Hospice and Palliative Care. It allows children to meet others who are going through similar situations and discover resources to help them better understand what they are feeling.

“Our culture is starting to change,” said St. Luke’s Hospice and Palliative Care director Stephanie Anderson. “We used to tend to shelter kids from grief and not let them open up and get through the grieving. The grieving process is the healing process.”

Counselors dressed in bright blue T-shirts and armed with buckets of arts and crafts greeted this year’s crop of campers. The first day included an activity where children threw eggs at a poster filled with negative feelings. Campers also were able to make memory pillows and boxes and play games.

“This is an opportunity for children to get together and express emotions,” St. Luke’s Hospice social worker Jamie Siela said. “To let them know that there are others going through the same things.”

She added Camp Embracing Memories tries to let children know they are not alone, and help them find ways to talk about their experiences.

Lexi Hockaday, 9, said she lost her stepbrother, Chandler Gouchee, to suicide last year.

“His name is Chandler, but I like to call him Cheddar,” Hockaday said with a chuckle. The Wright Elementary School fourth-grader said she had fun making her memory pillow with a T-shirt from the Out of Darkness community walk last week.

“I’m going to hold it close tonight,” Hockaday said after putting a picture of Gouchee on the pillow. “I want to tell him ‘I miss you.’”

She said one of her favorite things about her stepbrother was his playful attitude and ability to make her laugh. “I like looking at this picture hanging on my wall in my room,” Hockaday said. “It’s of me and Chandler at Chuck E. Cheese.”

“I like everything about camp,” Hockaday added. “There’s not one thing I dislike.”

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