Camp Erin offers grieving families emotional support and teaches essential coping skills through fun activities

By: Betsy Lummis, KCH Camp staffer and Solace House outreach coordinator
Published: July 25, 2023

Camp Erin®, as part of the Eluna network, was a tremendous success on behalf of 31 family campers. Family camp 2023 was held at beautiful Lake Doniphan Retreat Center in Excelsior Springs, MO. Camp was staffed by a dedicated team of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care (KCH) grief support specialists and volunteers. The transformative day camp was made possible by a large team coming together in support of grieving families. 

The day began with a heartfelt opening ceremony led by Joel Carmer, grief support specialist with KCH. Joel led the families through a process of miraculous awareness, depicting the life transition of Camp Erin’s namesake. The opening ceremony set the tone for a day of powerful activities, each symbolizing precious memories, the grief process and various tools for healing. The water activity enabled families the opportunity to toss heavier memories (stones) into the water, while allowing happier (flower petals) memories to float at the surface. For instance, one camper (age 10) commented, “It gave me more ways to cope. I really liked the water, drums and rainsticks.” Another camper age 6 said, “The kayak reminded me how strong I am.”

A family favorite was most certainly the music station, beautifully led by KCH expressive music therapist, Jesse Heilman. Jesse gave each camper an opportunity to express their grief through the power of instrumentation. The group was encouraged to beat on drums in different patterns of volume and intensity, representative of both loud and softer emotions. Jesse mindfully encouraged campers to write brief expressions of their grief, later setting the words to song. The cathartic gift of music dramatically touched each participant, campers and staff alike. One such camper, age 17, shared, “I had a really good time, even though losing a loved one is hard. This really helped me to connect with people who experience the same things as me. It is something I would do again. Thanks for all your help, it made everything easier.”

Camp Erin also incorporated rainstick-making and memory board-sharing. Rainstick making embodies a meditative journey into mindfulness. Each camper was able to settle into a personalized artistic outlet, allowing freeform expression and quiet creativity. Memory board sharing gave campers the opportunity to place their loved ones’ photos onto a collective board, then they shared about special memories and qualities of those who have died. In culmination of the day’s meaningful activities, Joel again led the group through a ceremony of remembrance and healing. Jesse softly played music, as camp families and staff circled together around luminaries honoring lives beautifully lived, sadly lost and forever remembered.

Camp Erin® Kansas City Family Camp is a bereavement camp for families with children ages 6-17 who are grieving the death of a significant person in their lives. These camps are led by bereavement professionals and caring volunteers, and there is no cost to attend. For more information about our future camps, please contact Amber Grice, KCH Solace House Team Lead, at


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