When little Alisha Wheeler, 9, visited her grandpa’s grave recently, she asked her mom where his lap would be. Kim Wheeler indicated a spot, and Alisha took a seat.
“She was sitting on grandpa’s lap,” her mom said.
This is the kind of openness that is encouraged at the Memories Matter Bereavement Camp. Alisha attended last year and is planning to return this month at the camp’s new location.
The annual event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Heartland Farms, located 12 miles west of 10th and Patton in Great Bend, and then a half-mile south. The camp is for kids ages 5-12 who have lost a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend or other loved one.
Golden Belt Home Health & Hospice (GBHH&H) sponsors the free camp; the non-profit agency is part of the St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center family.
“Alisha was excited when I told her the camp was coming up,” Wheeler said. “She was extremely close to my dad, Carl Patton, who passed away four years ago. He used to pick her up from day care, and they went to the park and did all kinds of things together.”
At Memories Matter, her daughter was able to interact with kids her own age, as well as older people who serve as counselors.
“They talk about anything they want,” she said. “Afterwards, Alisha was going 90 miles an hour with excitement. She held nothing back and learned it is okay to cry, okay to talk.
“She talks to her grandpa and writes him letters,” she continued. “One letter that she left at the cemetery disintegrated. There was a little ‘white mess’ where it had been, and Alisha said the rest had soaked into the ground so grandpa could read it.”
Wheeler also mentioned that her daughter has had some one-on-one grief counseling with Cathy Soeken, GBHH&H social worker. “She likes talking with Cathy; there is something about her,” Wheeler commented.
Last year, Wheeler participated in the camp’s activities for adults, which are separate from the children’s. “I was able to talk with others in the same situation,” she said, noting she will attend this year too. “It always helps to know you are not alone.”
Donita Wolf, GBHH&H director, said everyone is looking forward to the first camp at Heartland Farms. “We are totally revamping the camp by moving to his new location and adding more activities to help kids work through their grief,” Wolf said. “The Dominican Sisters started St. Rose and they operate Heartland Farms. We are going back to our roots.”
In addition, Wolf said, Heartland Farms is home to alpacas and other animals, and a meditation area is available to share feelings with the loved one who has passed away.
“Grief and mourning are natural reactions to a loved one’s death,” Wolf said. “They are processes, not one-time events. Children grieve differently than adults and we want them to know that feelings are okay.”
Camp events include music, art projects, games, a puppet show and hay rack ride.
For more information, contact Soeken or Chaplain John Grummon at GBHH&H, 620-792-8171. The application is available at the office, 3520 Lakin, Suite 102, and online by visiting www.stroseASC.org/memoriesmatter. Space is limited.
GBHH&H has been serving central Kansans since 1979.