Thrive by IU Health

July 25, 2023

Camp ‘Good Grief’ - A safe community to help kids cope

Camp ‘Good Grief’ - A safe community to help kids cope

IU Health team members from around the state recently volunteered to staff four camps for grieving children ages 6 to 16.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

As IU Health Physician Assistant, Natalie Cooper recently joined children in a music circle, she brought with her a familiar perspective. At the age of 6, Cooper - like the other children in the circle - lost someone close to her.

“My dad died when I was young so when I heard about ‘Camp Good Grief,’ I thought it was a way I could give back,” said Cooper. “It would have been nice to have something like this when I was younger.”

Natalie Cooper at Camp Good Grief

Cooper volunteered for the camp in Muncie, Ind. Other camps were held in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and Lafayette. This was the first camp in Muncie attended by 10 children. IU Health started Camp Good Grief three years ago in Bloomington.

“As it has evolved the camp is able to meet and support more children and give them a chance to meet other children who are also grieving. They have a chance to learn that it’s OK to be silly or sad and to meet adults who have also lost loved ones,” said Cindy Molthan, a bereavement counselor and social worker who has been involved with all of the camps over the past three years.

During the day-long camps, children join in various sensory exercises such as crafts, yoga, and music. Working in small groups of similar ages, counselors and social workers incorporate the activities into conversations. As they sit in a gazebo in the flower garden at Muncie’s Minnetrista Center, girls are asked: “Does seeing a certain color make your feel a certain way?” And while they rest, they are coached to take a deep breath and listen to the sounds. Then they are asked, “How many different bird sounds do you hear?” and “How does it feel to recognize someone’s voice.”

Cindy Molthan speaking with a little girl at Camp Good Grief

The campers are recruited through the hospitals, physician offices, schools, and other agencies. They come with different experiences - the loss of a parent, grandparent, sibling or other loved one.

“We learn something new from each camper and we meet them where they are,” said Molthan. One of the children had experienced a mother’s miscarriage. The child felt the anticipation and then disappointment and confusion. Others, experienced death by tragedy and illness. The children are encouraged to bring photos of their loved ones with them to camp and talk to the adults about their loss.

“I like to volunteer and we have pediatric patients at our outpatient center so I wanted to learn more about kids and bereavement,” said Erin Leonard, a nurse at IU Health Springmill Surgery Center. As one of the campers showed her a picture of her mother, Leonard asked questions about the child’s memories.

Erin Leonard at a table with children at Camp Good Grief

Packets are sent home to parents in advance of the camp to give them an overview of the activities. Bereavement resources are included in the packets and whenever possible, the parents are encouraged to attend grief support groups.

“I remember when my dad died, I wanted to feel normal and that’s what’s great about this camp,” said Cooper. “These kids don’t stand out. They get a chance to see that losing somebody is a natural part of life.”

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