Kids, parents deal with loss at Barton’s bereavement camp |

Kids, parents deal with loss at Barton’s bereavement camp

Susan Wood
Photos by Tracy Peterson / Tahoe Daily Tribune / John Johnson, left, Eliza McCall, middle, and Jesse Mitchell, far right, blow on a butterfly in a ceremonial release at the bereavement camp for kids at Camp Galilee near Glenbrook on Sunday.

GLENBROOK – With death, there’s life again.

A dozen monarch butterflies spread their wings Sunday and lifted over the sunny bluff of the Episcopal retreat Camp Galilee, symbolizing the uplifted spirits of 18 children and their parents dealing with grief.

“Ooooh,” the group cried out, as the butterflies broke out of their boxes to face life at Lake Tahoe. The exercise during closing ceremonies was only fitting given the weekend experience for the children of Camp Sunrise, Barton Memorial Hospital’s first bereavement camp aimed at helping them work through the loss of a loved one.

The children and Barton volunteers had stayed at the retreat since Friday, shared a lot and came out of it anew.

Rebecca Phillipsen, a Barton social worker who organized the camp, told the campers the butterflies go through changes the same way people do.

“The monarch release got to me. It was very touching,” Susan Rasmussen said, holding back tears and giving her daughter Sarah a hug. Afterward, the 10-year-old girl showed her mother the rock she decorated as a ladybug in honor of her father Ron, who died three years ago in an auto accident. He loved the outdoors, so the South Lake Tahoe youth placed it on the grounds’ labyrinth with the other decorated stones they called “memory rocks.” The children placed the rocks there to leave a piece of their lives and their losses in the spot where they processed their grief. The mother and daughter team walked through the labyrinth, a spiritual circle.

“Every year (since then) I celebrate my birthday because I’m so grateful (I’m alive). It used to be I wouldn’t tell anybody my age. Now I blurt it out,” Rasmussen said.

Transformation was the common theme of the weekend, as Phillipsen had noticed the children come out of their shells, make friends and feel more comfortable about sharing their sadness. They took part in a number of empowering exercises like the butterfly release, memory rock decorating and sharing of their “power sticks” created as a symbol of strength.

Dalton Lathrop, 10, chose a stick with crooks in it he thought may represent the bends and turns in life. His brother Tristan died eight years ago of viral meningitis when Dalton was a toddler and the experience was traumatic to the family, his mother Coral Lathrop said.

“I just want him to find his own way and find peace. Since he was so young, it was difficult for him to express (his grief). I guess we didn’t realize he’d have issues too,” said Lathrop, the mother of four children. Lathrop saw symptoms of Dalton’s struggle when she had another baby.

“He couldn’t sleep. He was scared to death this brother (Dawson) was going to be taken away,” she said.

Dalton shared signs of survivors guilt.

“He couldn’t be happy,” she said.

She wiped away the tears when he showed her the stick he made. He wrote his brother’s name on the skin of the fake fox fur he attached to the stick.

“I think it has a lot of character. I’m going to take it home and keep it up to try to remember this camp with it,” the boy said.

Barton plans to host the bereavement camp next year.

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