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Camp lessons that include dealing with grief

The mask Pasha Edney created. Click the photo to some more pictures from the camp.
The mask Pasha Edney created. Click the photo to some more pictures from the camp.

Camp can teach some significant lessons about courage and friendship, but usually those lessons don't include dealing with death. Chameleon's Journey does exactly that. It's a camp run by Hospice and Palliative Care of Charlotte. Every fall, a group of kids heads down to Lake Wylie for a weekend to scale climbing walls and gather around a bonfire and talk about the painful tie that binds them, the death of someone close. WFAE's Lisa Miller has more: This is what you'd expect from camp. It's after lunch and kids are unwinding from zip lining and canoeing. A bunch of twelve and thirteen year olds gathers for a craft activity. The conversation turns to friends and schools and the people they love who have died. Maddie Boon's father died in May of bladder cancer. "Whenever I used to do my homework he used to call me shiny thing. 'Yo, shiny thing, focus on your homework,' remembers Maddie. Steve Boon missed seeing his daughter win a scholarship to Charlotte Catholic High School. He taught fourth grade at St. Gabriel's, the elementary school Maddie attended. So pretty much all of her friends knew him and showed up at his funeral. "He was sick for about three years, so they all knew it was coming and they were really supportive, but they still don't know exactly how I feel," explains Maddie. "They can try to understand and imagine, but they never would really know unless it really happened to them." Would you talk about it much with them? "Yeah, butSome of my really close friends that knew my dad for a really long time I would tell," says Maddie. "But I really wouldn't come out and be like, 'blah, blah, blah about my dad's death. Blah, blah, blah.' I might talk about a memory if something reminds me of it." "But the most awkward part is that I'm at a new school this year," continues Maddie. "So when people who don't really know me are talking they're like, 'Why can't you're dad drive you?' I'm like, 'Oh, he died in May.' Then that's awkward cause they get really, really surprised and shocked. And they're like, 'Oh, I'm so sorry.'" Maddie's good at keeping it together, no tears and a pretty matter-of-fact delivery about her loss. It's how she's getting by right now with friends who don't know much about death and her family that's trying so hard to be complete with one person missing. This weekend is about letting go. Seventy-seven boys and girls from ages seven to sixteen are at Chameleon's Journey this year. It's the first time for half of them, but some counselors have been here from the camp's beginning ten years ago when they started coming as campers. Hospice operates several other camps like this across the country. The girls have made two-sided masks from beads and sequins. One side is the face they put on for the outside world. The other is how they feel on the inside. Maddie is showing the group her mask with a purple tear. "I don't know why but it feels really weird showing you this side," says Maddie. "Probably because that's not the side you usually show people," says a counselor. "No, I don't really like to show people because I feel like if I show people this side it makes them feel like that, too, and I'd rather just have me feel like that than have everyone feel like that," explains Maddie. But Maddie doesn't have to worry about being a downer here. Everyone at camp has the same weight tugging at them. Thirteen year old Pasha Edney is another first-time camper. Her father died in June of a massive stroke. She keeps quiet, listening to the other girls' stories, but opens up away from the group. "I miss the breakfast in the morning and going to Walmart on a Wednesday and just seeing him and hearing his voice and giving him little hugs and laying on him. He was my little pillow," says Pasha. Pasha writes in a journal now almost everyday to help clear her mind. So the next activity comes easily for her, writing a letter to her father. She tells him she's lonely and she loves him, and she'll keep getting As and Bs, and then she asks him a few questions. "That's a question I kept crying that day: why did he leave me, why did he leave me? He was supposed to have stayed here and see me grow up," says Pasha. Later that evening everyone gathers around the camp fire. The camp's director says it's time to say goodbye to their letters. "The paper will be consumed by the fireAs it goes out, I invite you to think about the love you've given and the love you've received."