Cody and Nathan Abrameit, 11-year-old twins, were going to have another set of twin siblings, but their mother had a miscarriage.
Those twins were on their mind Thursday at a memorial service at the HeartsWay Hospice Kids Camp. The campers released butterflies to remember those they have lost.
Two butterflies flew to the Abrameit twins and landed on them after the release.
“It was very special,” Cody said.
“That’s who I thought about, was that miscarriage,” Nathan said.
The grief camp helps kids who are dealing with the loss of a family member, said Rex Fennell, director of volunteers for HeartsWay Hospice.
“We discovered several years ago that there’s no other camp like this where kids could go and talk about those feelings and talk about those emotions and be able to process those things,” Fennell said, “and also make it a fun environment just like any other camp, with activities and crafts and games and snacks and everything that a kid would do at summer camp.”
The free camp, hosted at New Beginnings Baptist Church this week, is open to youths ages 6 to 15 — ages that can sometimes be hard to talk about grief with. Fennell said staffers are prepared for the conversations.
“We’ve done a lot of research, specifically with our social workers, about specifically how to have conversations on their level,” he said. “Even though they may not understand some of the larger terms of death, they can certainly understand loss. They can certainly understand hurt feelings. They can certainly understand sadness.”
Staff members work to help the youths find healthy and productive ways to deal with grief, Fennell said.
The camp theme was “Greatest of All Time,” or G.O.A.T., said Katy Leathers-Hidalgo, director of public relations for HeartsWay Hospice.
The staff spoke to the campers about different people who are the “greatest of all time,” such as Babe Ruth, and the grief they dealt with.
“(Ruth) lost not only his mother at the age of 12, but he also had lived in an orphanage. So he had a loss of family, and he brought himself to be the greatest of all time,” Leathers-Hidalgo said. “We tie it to their level so they can understand those obstacles that you have to overcome.”
Allison Youngberg, 11, was at the camp coping with the loss of her grandmother and uncle, who died in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
“My grandmother, she died because she had cancer, and then our uncle, he died because he had this pacemaker,” Allison said. “It was sad. I heard this alarm going off, and we woke up, and Mom was in Uncle Danny’s room, and she was crying, so we had to call 911, but he didn’t make it through.”
Allison said the camp staff helps the campers deal with grief by talking to them and giving them alone time if they need it.
But they get to have fun, too.
“My favorite parts of the week are when we get to go outside,” she said. “We got to do tie-dye shirts, we got to do sand art, and we also get to play on the playground. It’s been pretty fun.”
Brayden Smith, 11, said the memorial service Thursday helped him recall good memories with his dad, who accidentally shot himself while teaching two kids about gun safety.
“It brings me good thoughts of him,” he said. “When we would play Xbox together he would always beat me, because he was always better than me.”
The Abrameit twins said they also were dealing with the loss of a close family friend, Jerry, whom they considered like a grandfather.
“We learned how not to think that you’ve done something, like rational and irrational guilt, it kind of related to me,” Cody said. “I really felt like our family could have done more and help him from dying, but this camp has really helped me get over some things and help me out.”
Jerry was a role model for the twins, Cody said. The twins’ family has struggled since Jerry died of bone cancer, they said.
“What I learned the most is that we don’t have to be the greatest of all time,” Nathan said. “But we can be the greatest us that we can be and not to be mad at ourselves when people pass away, because it’s not our fault and that we’re not alone; everyone has struggles.”