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Camp offers grieving families safe environment to express grief

VISTA — When a family loses a loved one, the grief can be a tremendous emotional weight to shoulder for everyone in the household. Camp H.O.P.E., a program offered by Hospice of the North Coast and The Hope Bereavement Center, give individuals of all ages the respite they need for a “Healing Outdoor Play Experience.”
On Aug. 13, families can take part in the daylong retreat at Green Oak Ranch in Vista.
“The mission of the camp is to provide a safe environment for people to express their grief and to know that it’s OK to be sad, but it’s also OK to be happy and to not feel guilty about it,” said Cecelia Johnson, director of the Hope Bereavement Center of Hospice of the North Coast.
Camp H.O.P.E. provides different modalities to express their grief. From art, music, pet therapy teams, yoga, tai chi, massage, to a nature hike, someone can find something that feels right for them.
“Everybody is given a chance to allow their feelings to come out in a variety of ways,” Johnson said.
A spiritual advisor and professional therapists will be on hand, as well.
Johnson said the highlight of the day for a lot of people is the therapeutic drumming circle led by Sundiata Kata Productions; every camp participant has their own drum.
“It’s a way to express sort of what’s buried inside through the drumming — it starts slowly and brings it up to a full crescendo and then back down again,” she said. “It’s a tremendously emotional experience.”
Camp H.O.P.E. began in 1996 and remains a retreat for families who are bereaving the loss of a loved one such as a parent, grandparent, sibling, or even a pet.
At the campsite, there will be three separate groups to cater different activities to adults, teenagers, and children.
While children will focus on art, Johnson said, teenagers would do the same and perhaps couple that with journal writing and hiking.
Adults will be given relaxation techniques and self-care tools. For example, adults will learn how to work through “bursts of grief” which is brought on by something they see, hear or smell which triggers a memory of a person who has died. “Bursts of grief” is a normal occurrence, Johnson said.
Camp H.O.P.E. also helps bring awareness to parents that their children are grieving alongside with them, too.
“Children are grieving, but they are grieving differently in where they can’t really articulate what they are feeling,” she said. “They tend to ask a lot of repetitive questions, and even though you’ve answered it, children will come back and ask the same questions again.”
It’s difficult for younger children to grasp the concept that a person who has died is not returning.
Erin Hunt, bereavement counselor at the Bereavement Center for Hospice of the North Coast, said that children experience the same types of grief and emotions that adults do.
“Parents are sometimes consumed by their own grief and the work involved is exhausting,” Hunt said.  “Having the time, patience, energy, and focus to assist their grieving children could be more than they are capable of handling.”
In many cases, professional counseling plays an important part of a child’s grief journey.
Johnson said bereavement is an ongoing process. There is no “getting over” someone who has passed away. Instead, one learns how to live without that special someone, and at times, can grieve again during important milestones.
“Our society is not set up to effectively support those that are experiencing a great loss due to death — we need to encourage people to reach out for that support and take more initiative in healing their grief,” Hunt said. “Camp H.O.P.E is an awesome opportunity for healing, building awareness, and furthering our grief journey in a loving, supportive, and informative way.”
For more information on Camp H.O.P.E., call (760) 431-4100 or visit