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Call for children’s bereavement camp

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Shooting tragedy: James Lawes

Bermuda needs a bereavement camp for children who have lost loved ones to gun violence, the widow of a murdered man has said.

Greashena Spence was 28 years old when her husband James Lawes died after a shooting in Hamilton in March 2010.

Her young son Nizigh also lost his stepfather, although his biological father Donovan Bean has played an active role in raising him.

In August this year, Pembroke resident Ms Spence took Nizigh, 14, to Boston to participate in the acclaimed Comfort Zone Camp, a non-profit organisation which helps grieving young people aged 7 to 17.

Both children and adults take part in “healing circles” at the camp, in which they share their feelings in a group led by a trained psychiatrist.

Youngsters are also assigned a “big buddy” to ensure that they remain happy and comfortable throughout the three-day experience.

“Nizigh really enjoyed the camp; he felt connected and found himself during it,” Ms Spence said.

“It was his first time in an environment where it was safe to open up, and he could relate to some of the other children’s stories.

“There was definitely a change in his confidence when he returned to Bermuda, and he wants to go back to the next camp.”

Ms Spence also recalled her own struggle to cope with grief after losing her husband.

“I shut down for the first three months. I didn’t want to be around people, I didn’t want to come out of the house and I didn’t want to be bothered with society,” she said.

“Everybody knows each other in Bermuda.

“So if you lose someone, you have to deal with people constantly bringing it up every time they see you.

“And if you’re not ready to talk about it yet, you’re forced to by default.”

Bringing a Comfort Zone Camp chapter to Bermuda would help to alleviate the isolation felt by young people whose loved ones have been killed, Ms Spence said.

“It helps you to face your feelings. I definitely think it’s needed in Bermuda, because living in a small community makes it very difficult to deal with your loss on a daily basis.”

Ms Spence’s mother, community activist Gina Spence, accompanied her and Nizigh on their trip to Boston along with clinician Carrie Tucker.

Ms Gina Spence hopes to open a Comfort Zone Camp here as an extension of her Champion’s Programme, which supports children left fatherless by gun violence.

“Nizigh’s visit was a pilot, just to see how he felt and what his experience was like,” she said. “We’ve built a local support team here, and the next step is to get a camp representative to Bermuda for an assessment.”

Ms Gina Spence added that the American organisation eschewed a “cookie-cutter” approach to mourning youngsters.

“Right now, when a child in Bermuda loses a parent, there’s rarely any intense counselling to address the trauma and the grief,” she said.

“What I love about Comfort Zone Camp is that they place the child in a programme that speaks specifically to their loss — be it homicide, suicide, illness, an accident or anything else.”

Last Thursday, Ms Gina Spence hosted Bermuda’s first Children’s Grief Awareness Day fundraiser on CableVision channel 99.

• For more information, see www.ginaspenceproductions.com

Making a difference: pictured from left are Comfort Zone Camp programme coordinator Haley Rist, clinician Carrie Tucker, Gina Spence, Greashena Spence, Nizigh Spence and Andrew Rist, Haley’s husband and Nizigh’s “Big Buddy”