Last updated: August 24. 2013 10:14PM - 307 Views

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LIMA — Losing a loved one, such as a parent, a sibling or a friend, is difficult at any age. But for a child, the experience can be particularly overwhelming.

Local children, however, are able to find solace at the annual St. Rita’s Hospice Trails Grief Camp, now in its 17th year. The camp began Tuesday at the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Camp Woodhaven and continues through Wednesday.

Much like a traditional summer camp, there’s the camaraderie, the laughter and eating chips and peanut butter sandwiches outside. But it’s also a place where children with shared experiences of loss can relate and understand one another.

“For some, it’s the first time they’re able to talk about it freely,” said Herb Wilker, St. Rita’s Hospice Bereavement Coordinator.

Wilker said this can be difficult for some children to talk about how they’re feeling. They might be trying to stay strong for a parent or a sibling, or maybe they don’t understand how to best deal with their grief. They not only identify deep emotions within themselves, but leaders give the children the tools they need to cope throughout the year.

The camp rotates between craft activities and group conversations over two days.

The crafts, like the conversation, have powerful meanings. Young campers ages 6 to 8 painted canvasses with a heart that read, “I love you!” They were told to paint the canvas with a loved one in mind.

There are about 20 children are in the camp this year, from kindergarten- to high school-aged. Wilker said some children come back year after year, acting as role models for younger campers.

Adrian Flores, 16, of Elida, is one of those campers. He’s returned to the camp for his fourth year. He lost his father about four years ago.

“It helps me in a way that I can talk and let someone know what I’m going through,” he said. “It’s very comforting.”

He’s particularly close with another camper who’s returned year after year. He also lost a parent around the same time he did. He said it’s difficult for him to find friends who understand his loss.

“He’s a friend that I can relate to,” Flores said.

“There have been some very longstanding friendships that have been forged,” Wilker said. “Grief is too big for one person to deal with on their own. We all need support systems.”

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