Its been almost a year since Sydney Boone Gaylord, a mother of three, died of brain cancer at age 35.
She was an extrovert, said her husband, Todd Gaylord, a magnetic person that everybody loved.
Sydney Gaylord is one of the many loved ones who were honored and remembered at KinderMourns summer day camp for grieving children last week. Her two daughters, Vail, 9, and Mary Haven, 6, attended the camp, where they made crafts and played music in remembrance of their mom.
You just get to express your feelings about your loved one that died, and so I just love doing it, Mary Haven said.
Todd Gaylord learned about KinderMourn from a psychologist and he is now a big fan. The organization, he said, has helped his family with the healing process.
It can so easily be a point of shame for children, where they feel different, he says of the death of a parent. They feel like their family is not the same and theyre the only one in their class who doesnt have a mom.
KinderMourn is a nonprofit organization and a United Way agency. It offers counseling services and support to grieving parents and children and has been active in Charlotte for 34 years.
The organizations summer day camp, Camp Healing Hearts, gives grieving children a time and place to discuss what theyre going through. But it also gives them a chance to have fun, said Kelly Hamilton, executive director of KinderMourn.
When you have a death, a devastating death like some of these kids have suffered, ... it takes a lot of joy out of your childhood, Hamilton says. Hopefully, we give them a little bit of that back.
For program, kids, a rebirth
This is the first time since 2008 that KinderMourn has held the camp which is offered at little or no cost to campers because of the poor economy.
Three days of camp were offered over the summer. Each day, campers engaged in group discussions and activities at the KinderMourn home in the morning and traveled offsite for afternoon fun.
In June, campers rode horses at a local ranch, in July they went to the U.S. National Whitewater Center and on Thursday they made art projects at a pottery studio.
Thirty available slots for each day of camp filled up fast, so some children were placed on a waiting list.
Most of the children attending last weeks camp lost a mother or a father. One camper lost both.
When they returned to KinderMourn from the pottery studio some with bits of clay still smudged on their faces the children participated in an outdoor drum circle.
The children sat in two circles, one inside the other, with drums of different types, colors and sizes gripped between their knees. They listened intently to a man standing in the center of the circle .
David Drum, the facilitator, looked at a girl in a pink shirt.
What does the memory of your dad sound like on the drum? he asked.
She paused. Then she knew. The girl tapped out the rhythm of her fathers memory on the drum, and the other children echoed it.
Each child had the opportunity to share a musical interpretation of their loved ones memory .
Judith Allen, children and teen program director at KinderMourn, said drumming is a great way to express oneself. You drum to feel good because it is fun, but you also drum in honor of your loved one, she said.
I hope you are doing all right
At a past group session, children wrote letters to their loved ones, attached them to helium balloons and released them.
One letter read: Dear Daddy, I didnt expect you to die so soon. I have gotten better at basketball. Im sorry for all the bad stuff I have done. I hope you are doing all right.
Todd Gaylord said that he thinks his kids are adjusting well and is thankful for KinderMourn.
Its really helpful to have somebody who has experience and knows what theyre doing, he said.
He has made sure Vail and Mary Haven have lots of opportunities to celebrate their mothers life, such as home video nights, a posthumous birthday party for her, and a day of discussion and expression at Camp Healing Hearts.
Her life is still important to us. Its like a good book, he said. Even after you finish the book, it still affects you. That story still has an impact on your life.