INTO THE WOODS
JourneyCare camp helps siblings cope with loss of brother
The Morales Family today, from left to right: Vanessa, Brian, Edward, Delia and Kendrah in foreground
Vanessa, Edward and Brian Morales always counted on their oldest brother, Alejandro, to pave the way in life for them and for their baby sister, Kendrah. He would be the one to teach them what to expect in high school, to have his first date, or be the first to bend the rules. That changed, however, when Alejandro became ill and was diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a lifethreatening condition commonly called HLH. In an effort to treat this disorder, doctors at an area hospital performed a bone marrow transplant on 15-year-old Alejandro. But his body did not accept the transplant, and Alejandro died in the hospital.
Vanessa Morales said bereavement camp helped her deal with the loss of her older brother, as well as bullying at school.
“His death caught us by surprise, because we never thought we would lose him,” said Delia Morales, the children’s mother.
Vanessa, who was just two years younger and extremely close with Alejandro, felt like the floor had fallen from underneath her.
Edward says camp is an important place to disconnect from technology and focus on connecting with others who understand loss.
As the family sorted through the devastation of losing Alejandro, a social worker at the hospital recommended JourneyCare’s bereavement camps for children and teens.
These free summer camps, currently called Camp Courage, help children and teens who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Participants explore and express their feelings in a safe, supportive and fun environment, led by professional counselors and volunteers from JourneyCare. CONTINUED TO NEXT PAGE
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“She told me they would have a chance to talk with other children about their loss and learn that death is a normal part of the life process,” Delia said. Vanessa, Edward and Brian were all apprehensive the first time they attended their respective camps. In addition to the loss of her brother, Vanessa also lived with bullying at school and feared other campers would judge her. “Then I thought ‘What’s stopping you from going? If it’s simply not knowing what camp will be like, that’s a bad reason,’” Vanessa said.
Delia Morales shares a moment with her son, Alejandro, who before he died at age 15
Soon, the three eldest Morales siblings found themselves immersed in activities like hiking, high ropes courses, journaling and team building. And they all felt relieved to connect with other young people who understood the loss that their classmates at school could not. Today, Edward and Vanessa are 19 and 17, and they have completed five years of camp. Brain is now 12 and still participates annually, while 7-year-old Kendrah may join once she is older. The three eldest siblings say any young person who has lost a loved one should step out of their comfort zone and join a JourneyCare camp. Edward says it’s especially an important space for taking a break from smart phones and computers, and focusing on what really matters. “Camp offers a way to express yourself and meeting people who have gone through the same loss as you,” Edward says. “I always think ‘What would have happened if I didn’t go there, disconnect and discover all these new things?’”
Brian and his siblings were all apprehensive when they started camp, but they quickly gained new friends.
BE A PART OF
CAMP COURAGE JourneyCare offers bereavement camps and activities for children and teens who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Participants explore and express their feelings in a safe, supportive and fun environment, led by professional counselors and volunteers from JourneyCare. There is no cost to attend any of our camps, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, community partners and families. All eligible campers are welcome, but please note that space is limited and bus service is not provided. Priority will be given to first-time campers. This year’s camps for ages 6 to 13 will be at the following locations:
YMCA CAMP DUNCAN INGLESIDE
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday
JESSE WHITE COMMUNITY CENTER CHICAGO
August 15-19 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday
Apply online at journeycare.org/campcourage and a counselor will contact you. For more information on Camp Courage, as well as 2016 bereavement programs for high school-age youths, call 224-770-CARE.