PHOENIX (UMNS) — Six-year-old Paige Thummond has always had trouble sleeping.
One night in May 2003, restless and awake, she headed to her mom’s room. But on this night, something didn’t feel right.
Paige looked out into the back yard, she saw flames. She heard
screaming. Her father, delusional and suicidal, had set himself on fire.
just started screaming,” she recalls. “They flew him in a helicopter (to
the hospital), but he was 99 percent burned. I’m kind of glad he died; I
didn’t want to see him like that, all burnt.”
Camp Paz, a special camp just for children who have lost a loved one,
Paige is learning to cope with that tragedy. On a February weekend, the
camp has taken over First United Methodist Church in Phoenix, filling
the corners of every room with teddy bears and balloons. The camp is a
partnership between the church and Stepping Stones of Hope, a nonprofit
sits in a small circle surrounded by two adults and four other kids who
all have lost someone close to them. Paige stretches Play-Doh in her
hands as she recounts that horrible night in May when her dad committed
suicide. The other kids listen as Paige explains that her dad was “sick
with a disease” she calls “bipolar of the brain.”
of the other little boys, whose dad died of cancer, chimes in. “I think
that’s what happened to my dad. I think he was really sick in the
end.” There is no judgment, no shocked reaction, just a
matter-of-fact acknowledgment that “it happened to me, too.” It’s one of
the most important things Paige will learn at Camp Paz — that she’s not
a child they don’t always know who to talk to, when to talk about it
and how to talk about this process of grief,” says Charles Finch, the
founder and director of this unique camp for kids. “What we’re trying to
do is make it easier for them to understand the process and move
through the process in a safe way that makes their self-esteem stay up
and understand this grieving process better.”
camp is supposed to be fun, and Camp Paz is no exception. It offers
plenty of crafts and games and songs, each serving a special purpose in
helping kids through the natural journey of grieving.
Charles Finch, director of Camp Paz, says children don�t always know how to talk about grief.
Finch, director of Camp Paz in Phoenix, says children don�t always know
who to talk to, when to talk about it, and how to talk about the
grieving process. Camp Paz is a special camp for children who have lost
a loved one. UMNS photo number W04068, Accompanies UMNS #149, 4/1/04
have a lot of anger, and a lot of their grief does center around anger
and guilt,” Finch explains. As he talks, the thump-thump-thump of drums
in the background can be heard. Those are kids in music class, and their
teacher is asking them to “play” their emotions on the drums. Anger
gets a big reaction from the group.
in the church parking lot, kids take swings with a bat at rotten fruit
in a game called fruit ball. “You try to hit the fruit and get your
anger out,” Paige explains. It seems to work because after she’s nailed
some tomatoes she says she feels “happy and not angry any more.”
a lunch of hot dogs and brownies, the kids sit down to sing a song
about love. It’s not sad, in fact there’s lots of dancing and shouting.
“Love is higher than the mountains,” they sing.
may not get all the concepts of spirit world and heaven and all of
that,” says the Rev. Jim Wiltbank, associate pastor of First Church.
“But they can understand. ‘Even though Mom is gone, I can still feel
one point, Paige and her group of friends shriek with laughter as they
all try to race with giant skis attached to their feet. They fall
and help each other up, only to fall again. But still, they laugh.
obvious lesson about leaning on others is not lost on the kids. “When
someone understands your feelings it makes you happier because they
understand,” Paige says before grabbing the skis for another race.
*Adams is a freelance writer and producer based in Phoenix.