Children are too often the forgotten victims of loss, left to comprehend an incomprehensible void.
Every child who loses a loved one carries inside them a story desperate to be told. At Camp Comfort, they can tell it. We are pleased to share Brandon Heeley’s story below. It’s a story of how Camp Comfort helps heal heartbreak. Founded 24 years ago by Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice, Camp Comfort remembers our youngest mourners, and gives voice to their broken hearts.
“It really happened pretty quickly. I remember watching my dad get super sick, and then he checked into the hospital. A week later he was gone.”
In broad strokes, Brandon Heelan’s story is no different than any of the nearly 1,500 stories that have been told at Camp Comfort. In painful detail, it’s uniquely, tragically his own. Brandon was eight years old when a fast-moving sepsis infection took his father’s life.
Whether it’s a parent, a sibling, a beloved relative or a dear friend, death hits children like a tidal wave, crashing down in a flood of fear and loneliness and uncertainty, sweeping away their fragile faith in a safe and benevolent world. Losing his father, Brandon lost his anchor and his idol.
When profound sorrow comes into a child’s life, anger and confusion are sure to follow. Brandon’s mom could see that he and his two brothers needed more help than she could provide. She began taking her sons to weekly family bereavement counseling, a good idea that Brandon remembers as helpful, but insufficient. The therapist agreed, prescribing a weekend at Camp Comfort for each of the boys.
“My dad was my baseball coach from the beginning, and the biggest influence in my life. He was my role model. When he died I felt angry and confused, wondering why this happened to me. I stopped playing baseball, stopped doing anything. It was just too hard.”
For two sun-splashed sessions each summer, Mount Evans invites grieving children from around Colorado to partake in a heart-healing holiday. Devoted Mount Evans professionals guide them in a carefully choreographed course of recreation and revelation designed to help them confront their sorrow and start moving beyond it. Compassionate volunteer “buddies” ensure that the children are never far from an attentive ear and sympathetic shoulder, and outdoor activities from trout fishing to zip-lining help them re-discover uncomplicated joy.
Most important, they are surrounded by kids who understand their suffering in a way that no parent, playmate, or sympathetic well-wisher possibly could. By sharing their story of loss, and by listening to the stories of others, they begin to find a path through their grief, and start turning the page on the darkest chapter of their young life.
“When something horrible happens you kind of shut down. At Camp Comfort I didn’t feel so alone. Instead of keeping everything bottled up, I started opening up. I was a shy kid, and a little skittish at first, but by the end I was really letting everything pour out. The ability to talk about it changed everything for me.”
The story of a child in crisis can turn toward many different endings, not all of them happy. The skilled Mount Evans staff and patient Camp Comfort volunteers helped set Brandon on a path that’s led him right back to Empire Junction. Married now, and the father of a beautiful daughter, Brandon has become a Camp Comfort buddy, right alongside his mom.
“It’s something we’re passionate about, and it’s been a great experience for both of us. I understand what those kids are going through because I’ve been through the same thing. My own experience with grief helps me understand them, reach them, and influence them in a positive way.”
Camp Comfort welcomes bereaved children ages 6 to 12 , and Mount Evans pays 80 percent of the $800 it costs to host one heart-sick child for one life-changing weekend. And because grief makes no distinction between wealth and want, no child is ever denied an experience at Camp Comfort for lack of means. This year Camp Comfort meets on June 14-16, and again on July 12-14, each session an opportunity for dozens of children shadowed by loss to lift their small faces to the blue Colorado sky and begin reclaiming their sun-bright optimism. Brandon and his mom will be there, listening and sharing and helping to assure young souls that their sorrow is by no means the end of their story.
“Coming back to Camp Comfort means the world to me. I care deeply about all of those kids, and I get really attached to the kids in our cabin. Having a positive impact on a child’s life has had such a positive impact on my own life. I think it’s helped me become the man Dad would want me to be.”
To bring hope and healing to children, click here. Your generous contribution will mean the world to a small heart in pain.