According to an American Indian legend, if anyone desires a wish to come true, they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. At the Good Grief Fun Camp closing ceremony, children whispered to their butterflies, which then flew off to the heavens to their loved ones. Lynnsey Baughman is shown examining one of the Painted Lady Butterflies prior to it flying off to the heavens. (Putnam Sentinel/Becky Leader.
According to an American Indian legend, if anyone desires a wish to come true, they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. At the Good Grief Fun Camp closing ceremony, children whispered to their butterflies, which then flew off to the heavens to their loved ones. Lynnsey Baughman is shown examining one of the Painted Lady Butterflies prior to it flying off to the heavens. (Putnam Sentinel/Becky Leader.

OTTAWA — Children gathered at Ottawa Trinity United Methodist Church last week for the Good Grief Fun Camp. They came from all over Putnam County; some even came from surrounding counties. They all had one thing in common — each had experienced the loss of a loved one.

The camp, which was sponsored by Putnam County HomeCare & Hospice, Pathways Counseling Center, Putnam County Educational Service Center, and Ottawa Trinity United Methodist Church, began in 1998. This year, 33 children participated in the camp, which ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 29-31.

“No one person is the same on their journey of grief,” explained Julie Mason, the Medical Social Service and Bereavement Coordinator at HomeCare & Hospice, and the coordinator of the camp. “What it boils down to is that when a child is grieving, each one is different in their pains and feelings.”

The children were able to talk to trained counselors about their experience of losing their loved ones. Some children had lost their loved one a number of years ago, while some had suffered a recent loss. Participants expressed their memories through creating a scrapbook, completing a book specially designed to talk about their grief process, and a memory quilt.

Beth Tobe, Prevention Coordinator from Pathways, related, “The neatest thing is the kids supporting each other. They learn together that it’s all OK. They all know what the others are going through.”

Grady Steffan, age 9, of Ottawa, shared his definition of grief.

“It’s when a loved one passes; it’s what you feel,” he said.

Another child added, “It’s ok to be happy, too. When a loved one suffers so much, they don’t suffer any more (after they pass away).”

Levi Maag, age 9, of Columbus Grove, whose father recently passed away, disclosed, “My dad died of esophageal cancer. This helps me learn how important my dad was. I’m pretty sure he wanted me to go here (to the camp). Even though he’s up in heaven, he’s still my dad.”

The campers also participated in fun activities. They created unique tie-dye shirts and played games. They rode horses and did group activities at Challenged Champions Equestrian Center, fished at the Leipsic Fishing and Hunting Association and swam at the Putnam County YMCA.

“By far, this is the best part of my job,” Mason confirmed. “I watched the children swimming today, like they didn’t have a care in the world. And to think they have all this (their grief) on their shoulders.”

Parents were also appreciative of the camp.

“All three of my kids have gone through the program,” Jen Recker, of Glandorf, commented. Recker’s six-year-old daughter, Savannah, attended the camp this year. “The volunteers really help the kids with grief by talking about it. They (the kids) are making good memories and learning how to hang on to those memories.”

At the conclusion of the camp, the children, their friends, and their relatives gathered in the church’s sanctuary for a candle lighting ceremony to commemorate their loved ones, and to view a slideshow of the week’s activities. They proceeded outside to partake in an American Indian ritual of releasing butterflies to take their wishes to their loved ones in Heaven.

“I can’t imagine not having this,” Mason concluded. “The numbers have been very good. We will never cancel due to low attendance. We never turn anyone away for their inability to pay.”