Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp Goes Virtual for 2021

alt textEarlier this month, 11 families met virtually for an all-remote version of our annual Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp. The camp, which is open to families with children and teens who have recently lost a loved one to cancer, is usually held at a rural setting in the Pocono Mountains where visitors can ride horses, roast s’mores and enjoy a change of scenery. Though our families were unable to be physically together this year, our dedicated staff and volunteers planned seven hours of programming over the course of the weekend for parents and children to connect, remember their loved ones and find support.

The all-digital format was a first for Healing Hearts. Led by Kathy Nugent, MSW, LCSW, Director of Regional Programs, Claire Grainger, MSW, LCSW-R, Clinical Supervisor, and Ariana Parmese, Operations Manager of Regional Programs, our New Jersey staff worked tirelessly to ensure the experience was authentic and meaningful. Families received custom packages ahead of the camp weekend, each containing individualized elements for each family member and activity, along with a specially wrapped family gift.

“It was amazing what we could do in only a few video sessions,” said Claire Grainger, who was overwhelmed by the positive reception of the adapted Healing Hearts program. “Our families went from Zoom links to heartstrings immediately. People wished our Sunday programming was longer—and who says that about Zoom?”

alt textThe theme for this year’s camp was the stars, and a celestial element was present throughout each activity. Kathy Nugent hand-sewed star-patterned pillows for campers to decorate and fill with memories of their family members. Sarah Paul, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, Director of Clinical Programs, recorded a rendition of Coldplay’s “Sky Full of Stars” to conclude the traditional memorial service that marks the end of each camp weekend. Other activities included a live laugh yoga session with Sarah Kelly, MSW, LCSW-R, Director of Social Work Training, and a musical performance from board member Mike Morrone and his brother Tim.

Each family also had a star registered in the name of their loved one. “What an amazingly thoughtful and absolutely perfect gift. I have cried quite a few times thinking about it,” one mother shared.
My husband loved the sky, planets, space… and he had been so excited to share his passion and knowledge with my daughter. Since he died, we have always said, ‘He went back into nature,’ and when I look up at the night sky, I think of him and feel like he’s there. The gift of a star in his name was just remarkably, overwhelmingly meaningful.”

In their packages, families received gift cards so they could order a meal and focus on connecting and healing. A returning camp family wrote, “During our dinner, we shared memories of [our late spouses] Maria and Ed and talked about our feelings.” Mike and Nancy’s history with Healing Hearts runs deep. Both Mike and Nancy have two daughters, and both families attended the 2019 Healing Hearts camp. Their girls become fast friends, so the two stayed in touch after camp—and were married in fall 2020 (read more of their story). Mike and Nancy added, “We also celebrated that two years ago, we met at Healing Hearts around this time. CancerCare is the reason we are here today and happy again.”

alt textThe Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp would not be possible without our volunteers, partners and supporters: thank you to Eisai, Inc., the Valley Hospital Foundation, the DeAnna Stark Pasciuto Memorial Fund (Northern New Jersey Community Foundation), the Lillian Schneck Foundation, and Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) New York Metro. A special thanks to the Light One Little Candle Foundation for providing books and to the Giving Doll Foundation for providing dolls for our young and teenage campers.

Plans are already being made for our 2022 Healing Hearts Family Bereavement Camp. If you are interested in attending, please contact Claire Grainger, MSW, LCSW-R, at cgrainger@cancercare.org, for more information. We are looking forward to greeting camp families in person next year!

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