During the pandemic, Kelsey, Mackenzie, and their siblings experienced the death of both their father and grandfather to Covid-19. It was incredibly difficult to navigate planning funerals with Covid restrictions and getting together with family, making it a very isolating time for the Chandler family. Kelsey and Mackenzie’s mother, Denise, enrolled them in SandCastles bi-weekly groups and then SandCastles’ Camp in the summer of 2022.
Denise had to manage this time of grief alone as a family… “we stood at his casket linking arms. I had to sing at my own husband’s funeral. We didn’t have a singer or a preacher or a pastor or someone that could come and help minister to us. We really had to minister and encourage ourselves.” The isolation the pandemic brought was highlighted when grief was added into the mix, making everything all the more painful. Finding people to support their family and a place to grieve became essential for the Chandler family.
Henry Ford SandCastles Grief Camp Brings Healing
SandCastles Camp was held in August at the Howell Nature Center, providing a supportive and healing space for kids like Kelsey and Mackenzie to be with others experiencing grief. For Denise and her children this meant so much more than a normal day camp. It was a place for Kelsey and Mackenzie to be heard and understood while connecting with other kids who have experienced the death of a loved one.
Denise felt the importance of her children being with other grieving children was felt most in their ability to process, talk about, and heal from the death of their dad and grandfather.
“Neither one of them really talked about it at school. Mackenzie’s teacher didn’t know that her father had died and said, ‘That’s weird because I had mentioned to the kids that I had lost my father, and Mackenzie never mentioned it.’ So, they kind of stay closed about their grief.”
Most of all, Denise was grateful Kelsey and Mackenzie had others their age to relate to at SandCastles Grief Camp. Being with others who have experienced some of the same things you’ve experienced can help children feel less alone.
“That was not just a blessing for them,” said Denise, “but it was a blessing for me too, to find a group that would be able to help them in this healing process. They’re not walking this walk alone, not doing this by themselves. They have others that can effectively help them on this walk and this journey of healing.”
A Child’s Perspective on Grief
Kelsey shared that while grieving the deaths of her father and grandfather, it felt good to talk to another kid about what it feels like to lose someone. “We all related, and even though we’re all different people, we all knew that we lost somebody that was really important to us, and so I got what they felt, and they got what I felt,” she shared.
Not only did Kelsey and Mackenzie enjoy getting to know fellow campers, but they also had a lot of fun doing all of the activities. One of the sisters’ favorite activities at camp was swimming in the lake and playing on the aqua toys. Another favorite was being outside in nature. “I have never really been in the woods before,” said Kelsey, “We hiked in the woods, and I haven’t done that for real before, and I was kind of scared too because there were bugs!” Although there were bugs, Kelsey thought the beauty of nature made up for it. The activities the sisters enjoyed allowed them to relax, bond and relate to other campers, as well as have fun.
Navigating the Labyrinth of Childhood Grief
Another favorite activity at SandCastles Camp was the labyrinth. The outdoor labyrinth was decorated with memorial flags made by the children in memory of their loved one and placed next to their pictures. The peaceful setting allowed each camper to think about their loved one while walking the path of the labyrinth to the middle. Mackenzie’s favorite part was in the center where she was able to put the letter she wrote into a bowl of water, watching her message disappear as the special paper dissolved. She thought the setting of the labyrinth was beautiful in the woods with the birds chirping all around and it gave her a moment of peace. The labyrinth provides campers with the space to reflect and remember their deceased loved ones as they process their grief.
“I learned that it’s ok to cry, and it’s ok to just feel that way sometimes,” said Mackenzie.
Ending a Long Day of Meaningful Fun
When Denise picked up her campers at the end of the day, she could tell how much fun they had by the nonstop talking and eventual sleep crash during the car ride home.
“SandCastles has truly been a blessing for them to be able to have a group where they can communicate with others that are like-minded, that have been through some grief. To have a program where you can help children to process their thoughts, understand their feelings, and validate them. That it’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to hurt, and it’s ok to be in pain. That’s just how we are going to move forward in this pain, in this hurt. That’s how we are going to go on this journey of healing.”You can support our work with grieving children with your donation to Henry Ford SandCastles. Your dollars help us provide no-cost grief support for children like Mackenzie and Kelsey. Donate here