When a parent dies, kids grieve just like adults, but with one key difference: “Kids don’t have the language skills to talk about their grief like adults do,” says Alan Irgang, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago.
But there are outlets that can help.
“Hands Together, Heart to Art,” a new camp running from July 11 to 22 at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, is a collaboration between therapists and artists offering theater, dance and music instruction mixed with a little counseling to kids ages 7 to 14 who have lost one or both parents.
“Any art, dance in particular, is such an uplifting and motivating experience for young people,” says Debbie Allen, an award-winning actress, choreographer, director and producer, who will be sending two instructors from her Los Angeles dance academy. “It raises their sense of accomplishment and joy.”
The camp is a partnership between the Auditorium Theater, Allen’s dance group, Child’s Play Touring Theatre in Chicago, Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts and the school’s counseling center.
Brett Batterson, executive director of the Auditorium Theater, designed the camp based on his experience of losing his father at age 7. “It’s much more common than we realize, but when it happens, you feel like you’re the only person it’s happened to in the world,” he says.
By using counselors who have lost parents as role models, Batterson hopes kids will see that life goes on—and that a happy life is possible.
Chicago mom Lyndie Lyewski lost her husband in December and is sending her sons, Tatum, 9, and Dal-Jeffrey, 13, to the camp. She hopes they will learn to have fun again—and that she’ll have time to grieve in her own way.
“I remember being a kid when you would get lost in your imagination and life would be fun again,” Lyewski says. “It will give us something to talk about [that is] positive.”
Tatum and Dal-Jeffrey say they look forward to acting, but meeting new friends and learning to deal with their grief excite them most. “I think it will be very helpful to have some kids that understand me because I have lost a parent,” Dal-Jeffrey says. “Most of the people I know have both of their parents.”
Batterson hopes kids leave feeling better equipped to cope with their loss: “The kids that come in will leave after two weeks with a feeling that they’re not alone in their loss, there is hope for their futures and they’ll understand how the arts can be used to improve their self-worth.”
The camp will end in a final performance for parents, where campers will showcase their work.
For more information or to register for the camp, call (312) 922-2110 or (312) 431-2395. Cost is $200 but scholarships are available. Hannah Schroder