The Amazing Camp That Gives Hope To Those Who Have Lost Loved Ones

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Peterborough's Shelley Hermer is Ontario Program Coordinator for Camp Kerry Society. Here, she gives us an insider look at the impact of Camp Kerry retreats in British Columbia—which use a holistic approach to bereavement care where emphasis is placed on healing both within and between families—and writes about the first Camp Kerry Ontario being established.

Camp Kerry offers family retreats and year-round support programs for children, youth and parents who are grieving the death of a loved one. The camp is named after British Columbian Kerry Kirstiuk, an inspiring mother of two young children, who lost her battle to colon cancer in 2006. Designed and overseen by family bereavement expert Dr. Heather Mohan, Camp Kerry began in 2007 as a pilot project after Kerry's husband Bob requested that donations in her memory be given to Dr. Mohan's program at Lions' Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. 

 Shelley Hermer (above left) at Camp Kerry in BC

Shelley Hermer (above left) at Camp Kerry in BC

Dr. Mohan's response was immediate, fulfilling a long-standing dream to run a family bereavement camp. Since then, more than 150 families in British Columbia have benefited from these specialized services. In 2011, Camp Kerry officially separated from Lions Gate Hospital and was incorporated as an independent Canadian charity.

In 2011, I traveled to BC to volunteer at Camp Kerry and since then have been working towards bringing this exceptional and unique program to Ontario. With the approval of the Camp Kerry Society Board of Directors, we have set a goal to bring 10 Ontario families to the first Camp Kerry Ontario retreat in October 2014, held in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands.

 Camp Kerry retreat in BC.

Camp Kerry retreat in BC.

Parents often describe their biggest worry is that they—and their children—won’t recover from the loss of their loved one. They talk about the balance of needing to keep old memories alive and creating new ones. Children and parents convey their desire to see their family enjoy life.

 Camp Kerry retreat in BC.

Camp Kerry retreat in BC.

At the retreats, so much happens for families. Yes, there are tears—the Saturday evening memory service and Sunday afternoon message balloon release allow families the chance to openly remember their loved ones. Parents and children participate in groups led by professional therapists, providing opportunities to share and receive peer support. Key to the model is the therapeutic use of art, music and adventure challenges in a natural setting. In the words of one parent, "we experienced what we never thought possible."

 Camp Kerry retreat in BC.

Camp Kerry retreat in BC.

Fundraising and events to help raise awareness about this Camp Kerry Ontario retreat are in the works, involving support from and collaboration with Peterborough and area community organizations. If you would like to be part of the first Camp Kerry Ontario—either by offering financial support, assisting at events, volunteering your time, or if you simply would like more information—please contact me at shelley@campkerry.org.

—By Shelley Hermer

Here's some more pictures below from Camp Kerry in BC, as well as a YouTube video about the camp...

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