On Saturday, June 15, John Abbott College will be the site of a unique healing experience for grieving families.

“I don’t think you should call it a grief camp though,” says Corrie Sirota, clinical director for Myra’s Kids Foundation and a key organizer of their new family camp. “There are definitely tears, but there are laughs, and talent shows…we’re going to do art; we’re going to do something physical. It’s about having fun while teaching skills about how to cope.”

After eight years of successfully running weekend summer camps for grieving children up north, Myra’s Kids Foundation decided to extend their services to people who can’t easily leave the city.

“Unlike our weekend camp, which is only for the children, this one is two-fold: one for children who aren’t ready for a stay-over camp and for families with a child or with a parent who might be more comfortable with an in-city one-day camp.”

Thanks to generous donors, participants won’t pay to attend the camp, which is geared to help children aged 5 to 17 process their grief with their closest caregivers. Volunteer grief councillors and other volunteers will lead multiple activities designed to encourage communication, connection, healing and fun from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided, and the Foundation also offers daycare services for children aged 18 months to 4 years.

Myra’s Kids Foundation aims to create a safe non-judgmental space for people to learn about processing grief.

“We live in a death denying society, says Sirota, a clinical social worker who specializes in grief, loss and bereavement. “Sometimes our families are isolated because they can’t talk about their feelings.”

The family camp aims to break that isolation. Each participant will bring an item of significance, so that they can share their memories about the people they lost in a meaningful way. At the weekend summer camp, participants talk about their loved ones and then set lanterns adrift on the lake to become part of a touching memorial light show. Participants at the Myra’s Kids Foundation annual fundraising gala decorate blue butterflies and hang them on trees with lights. The family day camp memorial activity hadn’t been set when we went to press, but it will probably include blue, butterflies, lights or all three, as those are the international symbols designed to bring hope to grieving children.

When I last spoke to Sirota, 13 families were registered for the experience, but she says there is room for a few more.

She and a team of active volunteers, who include her husband and daughter, are getting ready to provide Montreal families who have lost a loved one a place to process their grief, meet other families going through similar experiences and have a little fun along the way.

For more information, visit the Myra’s Kids Foundation website at https://myraskids.ca/family-camp.

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