For a child, the loss of a loved one can be devastating and understanding the feelings that come afterwards can be confusing. VNA’s Camp Chrysalis, a one-day bereavement-focused camp that is offered through VNA’s Hospice program, provides a way for kids who have experienced a death to better understand and cope with their emotions.

Our most recent Camp Chrysalis was held on Saturday, April 20, 2024, at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) in Vero Beach. Camp activities, which were conducted by VNA-trained counselors as well as ELC staff, were designed to help children work through their grief and understand that their emotions are a normal part of the grieving process.

The children began the day with a yarn ball activity where everyone stood in a circle and took turns throwing the yarn to each other while holding a piece of it. Then they introduced themselves and the loved ones they lost. “At the end, you see a web of yarn and how we are all connected by death,” explained Melissa King, VNA Director of Bereavement Services. “And we each cut a piece of the yarn to be connected after we leave camp.”

Other activities included canoeing along the Indian River Lagoon and taking a ‘nature journaling walk’ where the children went on a guided tour of the ELC’s beautiful grounds, walking among the trees, plants and flowers with a journal that was gifted to them and drew pictures of their lush surroundings. Another activity was the Touch Tank, where the kids had the opportunity to hold sea life, including starfish, crabs, and sea urchins.

There was also a group bereavement session that involved therapeutic writing. In addition, the children enjoyed a unique music therapy session that incorporated musical instruments and storytelling where the children learned that there are different ways to grieve. To bring the day full circle, Melissa had the children make memory lanterns that they could take home with them. The project entailed the campers writing their favorite memories about their loved ones who had passed away on tissue paper and decoupaging them on mason jars with the help of an instructor. Inside the mason jars there were battery operated tea light candles that the children could turn on later when they felt lonely and needed to connect with their loved ones.

Based on the children’s response to the memory lanterns as well as the day’s other activities, Melissa deemed the camp a success. “I was really encouraged in their sharing and exploring not only their grief, but also the ELC and the activities there,” she said.

It is important to remember that Camp Chrysalis may be the first step on a child’s personal grief journey, and it is currently the only camp in our community focused on children and their distinct bereavement needs. There is no cost to attend Camp Chrysalis, and this wonderful VNA & Hospice Foundation supported program is made possible by generous funding from the Otis G. Pike Charitable Trust and Quail Valley Charities (a huge thank you to both).