Blog

Virtual Camp Bear Hugs continues a tradition

A.J. and his grandmother

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged the Post-Acute Division to find safe and effective ways to engage and care for patients with a wide range of needs. To that end, early in spring of 2020 the division undertook new initiatives. For example, it quickly expanded its virtual health program, making it possible to connect with patients and families in new ways. This approach was very important to Daybreak, Advocate Aurora Health at Home’s hospice bereavement program, which provides a spectrum of support to families grieving the loss of a loved one. Virtual health options made it possible to continue grief counseling programs and to reach out to families during their most difficult transition. Among the other 2020 innovations made possible by technology was the creation of the Daybreak program’s virtual memorial services, usually held in person at least twice yearly to bring loved ones together to celebrate the lives of those they have lost. The virtual service includes songs, poetry, supportive messages from members of the bereavement team and opportunities for the participants to share memories of their loved ones.

Our hospice team also found a way to continue the much-loved Camp Bear Hugs grief camp for children. Instead of the two-day in-person experience presented over the past seven years, the 2020 camp was virtual, with 14 children who experienced the loss of a loved one tuning in to a two-and-a-half-hour interactive experience facilitated by members of the bereavement team. There were three different Camp sessions, grouped according to the children’s ages: 6-7, 8-9, and 9-11. Two counselors, referred to as “rangers” by the campers, co-facilitated each group.

Prior to the camp, parents were contacted to discuss the event, and each child was sent a “camper’s bag” that included items needed to participate in the activities. It also included information and resources for parents on how to help children cope with loss.

The first hour included therapeutic activities focused on emotions, starting with an icebreaker activity that allowed children to get to know each other and bond over their experiences with loss. The campers learned about different emotions of grief and played a game using teddy bear emoji signs to identify feelings. The camp mascot “Huggy Bear” led a special version of the Hokey Pokey, showing the importance of physical movement as a tool to work through grief.

A.J. with the puppet he received while attending the virtual Camp Bear Hugs

The second hour focused on therapeutic activities regarding memories. Each camper was invited to tell a memory story about their loved one and then completed a quilt square that helped them share their experience.

“Our virtual Camp Bear Hugs, like the in-person camp we’ve been privileged to present, aimed to help children acknowledge their grief and express their feelings,” said bereavement counselor Joe Masbaum.

Heather Pacheco, who lost her mother to cancer earlier this year, says Camp Bear Hugs helped her 6-year-old son, A.J., unlock the grief he feels about his grandmother’s death.

“My mom lived two minutes away from us and helped take care of A.J. from the moment he was born,” she shared. “They had a special bond. She was his heart and was a big part of every aspect of his life.”

Heather adds that since Camp Bear Hugs, A.J. has been better able to talk about his grandmother and how much he misses her.

“He has taken possession of her blanket—the one she used in her final weeks—and has used it to cover the little bear puppet he received as part of the Camp experience. He proudly took the little bear puppet with him to school for show and tell. Camp Bear Hugs helped A.J. express his feelings, which has been a gift. I am so grateful that our family was able to be part of this.”

How you can help children like A.J.

Programs like the Camp Bear Hugs grief camp are supported by the generosity of donors like you. Please consider making a gift to help children like A.J. and their families through the grieving process.