April 8, 2010 at 8:39 a.m.
In June 2005, Garrett was 8 years old. On Father's Day that year Garrett learned that his father had died in a car crash.
Garrett's parents were divorced, but his mother Mary McKenzie saw this impact the death was having on their lives. She decided to take part in "Growing through Loss," a series of free programs on grief and loss cosponsored by Fairview and a coalition of area churches, and she brought Garrett with her. At Growing through Loss, McKenzie heard about Camp Triumph, a free weekend camp for grieving children hosted by Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice.
The following spring, she enrolled Garrett in Camp Triumph. "I wanted him to understand that he wasn't alone. Garrett's dad had lost his mother and father when he was a boy...I didn't want Garrett to struggle with that loss like his dad did. "As adults we know how difficult grief can be," says McKenzie, "and we know how long it takes to recover." When something bad happens, she says, "As parents, we have to show our kids a road to follow." For Garrett, Camp Triumph was that road.
Just knowing that the camp came from Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice mattered to her she says. "They're specialists in grief, and they're here to help. That just makes so much sense."
Before attending Camp Triumph, Garrett had never talked to other children who had lost their parent. "At school I was always the only one," he says. "I had only heard kids talk about two parents." Even children whose parents were divorced still had two parents, he says. At Camp Triumph, he was able to talk about his father's death with children who had also experienced a loss in their lives. Not only was he able to talk openly about death and loss, but he discovered that he could have fun and enjoy life while continuing to honor his father's memory. Campers also learn to take risks, not dangerous risks-- but the kind of risks that help personal growth. He made new friends. "You might not know anyone there, but you have to take a risk to see if that person you saw over there could be your friend," says Garrett.
Because of Camp Triumph, Garrett has become sensitive to the needs of others. When he overheard kids at school taunting a classmate whose mother had died saying, "Mothers don't die, you're lying," Garrett defended the student, explaining that, yes, sometimes parents do die. This year when one of her coworkers lost his brother and mother to suicide, McKenzie began to see the power of Camp Triumph in action. Garrett, now age 13, decided to help raise funds for Mary's colleague to attend a specialized grief program. Garrett felt it was important for the young man to take part in the program, because he knew what going to Camp Triumph had meant to him. Acting on his own, Garrett made fliers and raised $112 for the cause. Why did he do it? Garrett explains, "It's not about doing what's expected, but going out of your way to do what needs to be done, no matter what it takes. Once you do it, you find a whole other side of you that you would have never known."
Garrett now leads a busy and active life. He hasn't forgotten about his dad, in fact, quite the contrary-the memory of his dad is always with him. "I keep a picture of my dad and me in my jacket pocket," he says. Garrett finds comfort in having the candle with his dad's picture on it that he received at Camp Triumph's closing ceremony. "I light it whenever I want to," he says. "Sometimes I put it right next to me when we're eating supper." Garrett and his mother recommend Camp Triumph. Garrett says that he wants to tell other grieving children, "You're not alone. There are people there just like you--people who you will fit in with and who can make you feel better."
This year Camp Triumph will be held at Camp Ojiketa, in Chisago City on the weekend of May 15 and 16. Camp Triumph is coordinated by Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice, funded by donations and staffed by individuals who are sensitive to the needs of children and teens. The two-day camp is free to children ages 8 to 18 who have experienced a significant loss in their live, such as death of parent, sibling, relative, classmate or friend. While offering a traditional camp experience, Camp Triumph focuses on providing opportunities for youth to express feelings, learn beneficial coping skills and meet others in similar circumstances.
To request free registration materials, call Gretchen at 651-257-7837 or Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice at 651-257-8850.