From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Camp helps children deal with grief, anger

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 1 Apr 2004 12:25:23 -0600

April 1, 2004 News media contact: Ginny Underwood7(615)742-51247Nashville,
Tenn. 7 E-mail: 7 ALL-YI{149}

NOTE: A UMTV report are available with this story at

By Allysa Adams*

PHOENIX (UMNS) - Six-year-old Paige Thummond has always had trouble sleeping.

One night in May 2003, restless and awake, she headed to her mom's room. But
on this night, something didn't feel right. 

When Paige looked out into the back yard, she saw flames. She heard
screaming. Her father, delusional and suicidal, had set himself on fire.

"I just started screaming," she recalls. "They flew him in a helicopter (to
the hospital), but he was 99 percent burned. I'm kind of glad he died; I
didn't want to see him like that, all burnt."  

At Camp Paz, a special camp just for children who have lost a loved one,
Paige is learning to cope with that tragedy. On a February weekend, the camp
has taken over First United Methodist Church in Phoenix, filling the corners
of every room with Teddy bears and balloons. The camp is a partnership
between the church and Stepping Stones of Hope, a nonprofit organization.

Paige sits in a small circle surrounded by two adults and four other kids who
all have lost someone close to them. Paige stretches Play-Doh in her hands as
she recounts that horrible night in May when her dad committed suicide. The
other kids listen as Paige explains that her dad was "sick with a disease"
she calls "bipolar of the brain."

One of the other little boys, whose dad died of cancer, chimes in. "I think
that's what happened to my dad. I think he was really sick in the end." 
There is no judgment, no shocked reaction, just a matter-of-fact
acknowledgment that "it happened to me, too." It's one of the most important
things Paige will learn at Camp Paz - that she's not alone.

"As a child they don't always know who to talk to, when to talk about it and
how to talk about this process of grief," says Charles Finch, the founder and
director of this unique camp for kids. "What we're trying to do is make it
easier for them to understand the process and move through the process in a
safe way that makes their self-esteem stay up and understand this grieving
process better."  

But camp is supposed to be fun, and Camp Paz is no exception. It offers
plenty of crafts and games and songs, each serving a special purpose in
helping kids through the natural journey of grieving.

"Children have a lot of anger, and a lot of their grief does center around
anger and guilt," Finch explains. As he talks, the thump-thump-thump of drums
in the background can be heard. Those are kids in music class, and their
teacher is asking them to "play" their emotions on the drums. Anger gets a
big reaction from the group.

Out in the church parking lot, kids take swings with a bat at rotten fruit in
a game called fruit ball. "You try to hit the fruit and get your anger out,"
Paige explains. It seems to work because after she's nailed some tomatoes she
says she feels "happy and not angry any more."

After a lunch of hot dogs and brownies, the kids sit down to sing a song
about love. It's not sad, in fact there's lots of dancing and shouting. "Love
is higher than the mountains," they sing.

 "They may not get all the concepts of spirit world and heaven and all of
that," says the Rev. Jim Wiltbank, associate pastor of First Church. "But
they can understand. 'Even though Mom is gone, I can still feel Mom's love.'"

At one point, Paige and her group of friends shriek with laughter as they all
try to race with giant skis attached to their feet.  They fall and help each
other up, only to fall again. But still, they laugh.

This obvious lesson about leaning on others is not lost on the kids. "When
someone understands your feelings it makes you happier because they
understand," Paige says before grabbing the skis for another race. 

# # #

*Adams is a freelance writer and producer based in Phoenix.


United Methodist News Service
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