Monday, May 11, 2015

Amanda the Panda Family Grief Camp Weekend

Our family was recently privileged to be a part of a wonderful weekend put on by Amanda the Panda Family Grief Center.  This wonderful organization was founded to help families deal with the loss of a child but has branched out over the years to include other loss as well.  Our counselor, Miss Kendra (Imagine Therapy Solutions)  had recommended this particular weekend to us months ago and we signed up right away.
As time drew closer, all of us at one point or another experienced cold feet and wondered if this was really for us.  It was. And we are all so glad we went. We came away feeling like God had orchestrated so many special moments just for us!
 I did not take a single photo.  Special thanks to the fabulous professionals who were there to preserve the memories of the weekend!

Amanda herself greeted us on arrival!  The children, especially Alexia were actually 
scared of her and hung back.  By the end they were hugging her every chance they got.  Lex told me
"Mama, Amanda is so sweet.  She was just there to give us hugs and high fives"

Hunter experienced terrible separation anxiety the few weeks proceeding and I called Carmen and Cindy, the camp leaders anxiously asking them if it would be ok if he needed us at camp.  They assured me the kidos would stay so busy and wouldn't think of us.  I don't think they did. 

Upon arrival we went to the huge common area where we all got tshirts and name tags and the kidos got to choose a new teddy bear from a massive stack of beauties.  

Then it was time to start the fun and they were whisked off to their dorms while Lowell and I went to find our cabin and meeting area.
From what I have gathered they spent some group time sitting and sharing about their loss.  They made beautiful crafts and played games and of course ate.  The big highlight was time with Amanda and the silly Crazy George who made random appearances all weekend. And they still talk frequently of their new friends and their group leaders. 

Crazy George "sneaking" cookies

We caught you Crazy George!

Kali described this as beautiful puff balls and says it represents all the beauty of God's creation 
around us and that as we notice that beauty we need to express love.  In other words when we love someone, let them know...

Who has camp with out Smores?

Alexia & Hunter's group - The Turtles

Kali's group ironically had the name Monkeys -how fitting!

Meanwhile Lowell and I were off with our own group.  Adults with loss.  A few of us couples had lost a child.  Several others had lost spouses, some friends, some parents.  But our grief tied us together.
We spent time the first day working through the yucky stuff like remembering the events of the day of death.  An activity that got to me was called the 5 senses where they asked us to put down what we remember "sense" wise from that day...that was hard.  But we went there together.

The first day also included all of us writing thoughts on the anger wall, us in our group and the children in theirs. After we finished we all trudged outside in the dreary afternoon, placed the poster board in front of a tree and took turns throwing eggs at it symbolizing the releasing of anger. I had quite the experience with that one.  It felt silly at first but then it got more fun.  One of the brave leaders saw how challenged I was with aim and held up the board so I could hit it. As the egg went sailing towards the target I gasped in horror as I realized that it was headed not for the target at all but straight for Tom's forehead.  I didn't live that one down all weekend and yes thanks to his quick thinking he kept his head clean.

As time went on the boards got uglier as the goopy smear washed down the words we had written.  The last thing before bed was actually burning the board in all of its ugliness on our campfire.
The next day we would focus on remaining blessings and the gifts of love left us from those we lost.  Those beautiful canvases are displayed at Amanda's house in Des Moines.

We were fed like queens and kings and waited on hand and foot.  The kidos got warm cookies.

We enjoyed craft time.  All of us especially enjoyed the Tie Dye

In the evening we took a hayride back to the beautiful pond (Wesley woods is a beautiful camp!) where we were given bunches of daisies.  As we plucked off each daisy and pitched it on to the pond, we were to reflect on favorite memories.  Lowell and I walked to a far corner and giggled and wept as we picked off our daises and watched them float away.  So beautiful.  So meaningful.  Wish we had photos...
On the way back to our cabins we were supposed to quietly respect the others in their own thought processes. However not one but 2 flat tires later amidst much laughter and kid like campfire ghost stories we were rescued by the big yellow bus and the mood stayed light through out the rest of the night.  Laughter is such a gift.
On Sunday we finished up our wall of love, which was just the opposite of the ugly anger board, and went to meet the kids for closing ceremonies and lunch. There each family was called to the front and given a white bird balloon and a marker to write messages on it.  I sat there in dread until "the family of Abby Miller"  then the tears came.  We got our balloon, wrote our messages and wept as we walked together out into the beautiful sunshine where the birds were released.

We watched them till they faded from view

There are so many more things I could write about.  A doctor came to answer our questions about death. We were given personal time to share our story.  There was a beautiful candlelight vigil where we lit red bear candles and shared photos of our loved ones. And we did have chocolate.  The food was amazing... O my. We are so blessed to have been able to participate!

Sporting our new tie dye

On the way home the children were talking of all the great memories and Kali says "Mama, I would like to raise money to help other families enjoy Amanda like we have".  
So our family is setting out to do just that! 
 We are so very excited to announce a memorial fundraiser in Abby's honor.  It will be simply titled "Light Up the Night ~ Remembering Abby".  
Our Goal is to use the first anniversary of her death to bring hope and joy to our family and to the lives of other families who have lost or will lose children like we have, not to mention bring some light to the darkness of July 15. (THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED TILL SEPTEMBER.  WILL KEEP YOU UPDATED! )  *****updated info!*****
This event will be held Friday evening, Sept 18, 2015 from 5 to 8 pm at a to be announced location in rural Kalona.  So many wonderful people are working with us to make this a beautiful celebration of the vibrancy Abby represents. It will hopefully be a fun night for people of all ages.  Our dear cousin Sara is helping me brainstorm and plan and has brought many wonderful gifts to the table.  Also key in this process are the fabulous ladies responsible for the camp we attended, Laura, Cindy & Carmen.

Amanda the Panda will be there as well as Abby's favorite princesses. Yup,  my sweet new friend Kim will be there with her fab team and special guests, Snow Queen & the Ice Princess (AKA Anna & Elsa) as well as Rapunzel who is the theme behind the grand finale of the evening, the releasing of beautiful Chinese Lanterns.  There will be food, raffles, a silent auction and hopefully live music as well as vendors so you can shop if that grabs your fancy.  (I already have Younique, Jamberry, Mary Kay, Norwex and Zumba coming) There will be a corn hole  tournament as well as volleyball and of course the Kid's carnival.  So there will be something for everyone to enjoy! 

Many of you have asked how you can help.  Here is a list of some things we may need.
  • We will need sponsors so as much of the money as possible can go to our cause.
  • We will need items such as food, drinks.
  • We are still looking for musicians to do 30 minute or so mini concerts.
  • We will need volunteers to staff the various events
  • We still have space for vendors.  I would love to see Pampered Chef, Tupperware, Wildtree and more!
  • We are hoping for a photographer to capture the evening in photos.
  • We need your prayers.  This is much larger then us already and will take some energy to pull off.

Amanda the Panda is a non profit organization that offers free grief services to people all over Iowa.  Free is key to people in grief. So much of our live is consumed with mere survival.  Not having to worry about cost for such services is a gift!

You can also join our FB page Remembering Abby for personal updates on our family and how we are coping with our grief.  I will posting updates about the big event there as well as on my personal FB page.

Once again, I can not thank you enough for walking this tough journey with us.  
You are loved!

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