Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Grief Camp

Today, I listened to one of the best features I've heard on NPR in long, long time. Props to Howard Berkes, reporter and Marisa Penaloza, producer.

The Impact of War -
Grief Camp Helps Children Cope with War Losses
The morning gathering of about two dozen kids, toddlers to teens, seemed like any other day camp. Counselors checked in and sorted the "campers" by age. Everyone wore the same red camp T-shirts. And breakfast snacks lined a buffet table.

But the group gathered in a conference room at Fort Carson, Colo., had more on the schedule than summer fun.

The first hint of that was in the shiny, palm-sized buttons every child wore. They depicted fathers, brothers and uncles, all smiling and all lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These children had lost loved ones to war, and their "Good Grief Camp" was designed to help them grieve and cope.

A private, nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based group called TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, holds grief camps throughout the year for the families of American troops who have died. TAPS was founded by Bonnie Carroll, a veteran military officer and former White House Veterans Affairs liaison whose husband died in a military plane crash in 1992.

Children are interviewed, one boy describing how when the doorbell rang one evening he expected a pizza delivery. Instead his family learned about the death of his father. Another boy tells how he has been teased and harassed about his father's death while serving in Iraq.

This is how Berkes ends the story and this is what got to me:

Every "Good Grief Camp" ends with an exercise that shows the children they can still reach out to their loved ones, even though they are gone. Each child writes a note to the father, brother, mother, aunt, sister or uncle who died in war. The notes are tied to balloons filled with helium. And with cheering and laughing and a few tears, the balloons are released into the Colorado sky.

Taylor shared the contents of her note. It was addressed to "45 South Heaven Lane." And it carried these words: "Dear dad. I love you. And I hope to see you again."

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