A year ago today our hearts were broken when my dear father-in-law lost a fast and furious battle to cancer. It was such a tender time for our family, diagnosis to death was less than 30 days… but we are so grateful we were given the gift of pausing time last September and spent as much as we could being together and sharing memories, stories, and words of love & hope.
We were so touched by how community rallied around us to care for us with meals, prayers, kid pick-ups and business responsibilities. To honor my father-in-law, I wanted to do what he did best and highlight a remarkable community member for the incredible work she does every day to comfort hurting families as they navigate waves of grief and sadness from the loss of a loved one. Friend and fellow “warrior of love and resilience”, and founder of the Children’s Grief Center; Camille compassionately reached out to us and provided us with so many incredible resources. So it was with a grateful heart that I asked if I could feature Camille on our blog and tell you about all of the impactful things she does every single day for hurting families. She is a gift to our community and I hope that her conversation inspires you to find a way to be involved or perhaps you are going through a season of loss and need to be reminded that you are not alone and that there is this beautiful community ready to welcome you with open arms and bring comfort, hope and healing.
The Children’s Grief Center
Our Mission is to provide a healing environment through peer support for children, teens, and their families grieving a death.
Our Vision is to continue to expand awareness about the impact of grief and each individual’s ability to build resilience, strength, and hope by acknowledging and working through grief. Through this creative process, we advocate, we educate, we facilitate, we connect, and we thrive.
Camille was born and raised right in our beloved city of Midland. As a young and aspiring photographer, she packed up her Ford Fiesta and made her way into the Big Apple to pursue her dreams. After many adventures, successes, and challenges “unresolved grief” ultimately exposed dark places that she needed healing from. Her story lead her back home (Midland) to heal, grow and turn her pain into purpose.
Through her own journey of struggle, grief and loss she was molded and prepped to take on the task of starting the Children’s Grief Center when her friend John McKelvey of the Toni and Trish Center asked her to do so. She was to become the match that ignited a fire they had so eloquently set.
Camille is warm, authentic and incredibly empathetic. As she shared her personal stories of struggle, I leaned in an asked what moments were pivotal for her in sparking her desire to create the center. She leaned in and ever so tenderly shared the “gifts” of her own mother’s battle with cancer and how that sacred season really shaped her passion to help people through the grief process.
Here is a little excerpt in her own words, “I love the lessons I learned through my mom’s cancer. They’d given her 6 months to live. She died in 1998, 5 years later. I have a whole new philosophy about healing. I would’ve given anything to “heal” my mom of her cancer with my massage. When I would pray before we started I’d always say, please God let me be a channel of light and love and give my mom whatever she needs for her highest good and the highest good of all. It kept my ego out and my agenda off the table. My beautiful mom, Helen Louise (Leondes, Greek Maiden name) Gerace, died of cancer. People might say she didn’t ever heal. My mom wasn’t cured of cancer but she definitely healed. She was different, she changed, she transformed and she transformed those around her. My dad was different. He softened. We all did. People around her were affected by her fight to live and her appreciation each moment. So she was healed, we all healed. There’s many people who are cured of cancer but they don’t really heal because they don’t find the gift that cancer gave them. They didn’t change. They’re the same as they were before they had the diagnosis. It’s hard to describe but we received so many gifts from my mom’s cancer. She was my best friend and to this day, even after “losing” my dad and my sister within a month of each other, my mom’s death was the deepest grief I’ve ever felt. Doing my “work” has allowed me to continue to uncover layers of grief never knowing when, or how, but to just be willing to feel it when it comes and let it go….it will come again….and I repeat the same process….trusting the process…one day a time.
Another question I always love to ask because I believe it strongly informs what we are made to do in the world, is “what breaks your heart?”
Camille shares, “what breaks my heart is when I see a child that hasn’t been nurtured and cared for emotionally, and that’s something that the Grief Center is passionate about. Acknowledging that kids have their feelings and allowing them a safe and secure place to express their emotions no matter how ‘nice’ they are.”
One of the tools the Grief Center uses is Art. We are huge advocates of art and it’s therapeutic benefits to expressing our emotions in a healthy way and love that the CGC practices these techniques for healing.
“Through art journaling I just really start putting stuff on the page. And then the next thing, you know, I’m writing a poem or something that I didn’t even know was in me, but just creating that intention for the day allows my brain to kind of take a breath and what really needs to come out, comes out.
I think doing this work with the kids, helps them to feel acknowledged and able to have a voice. And that’s so important for healing.”
Camille, Thank you for sharing your why. Your heart & desire to help children to heal is so compelling. Turning your own grief struggle into something that helps others is beauty for ashes and compassion in action. We know that the Children’s Grief Center is helping so many to navigate the waves of grief by providing support, community and respite for the sometimes lonely path of healing.
You are indeed a warrior of love & your compassion and commitment have helped so many children to find hope and resilience.
This blog post is dedicated to and in loving Memory of one of the best encouragers and cheerleaders of people the world has ever known. There honestly haven’t been too many days that one of us didn’t cry while recounting a shared memory or sadness of not having him to call, text or hug. We are so grateful to have each other and so grateful for organizations like Camille’s that honor and protect the slow but sacred process of living wholeheartedly.
While my Father-in-law left this earth one year ago today, his legacy and traces of his life well lived are everywhere. We honored him this weekend by doing one of our favorite traditions together, and he was very much with us. I can still hear him in Jordan’s quick wit and nurturing heart, Lauren’s sharp sense of direction and great listening skills, Lindsey’s compassion and heart for the underdog, Ethan’s eye twinkle and generous hospitality and in Aaron’s intentionality to make family, fun and adventure a priority and loving us so well. To top off the celebrations, we even saw his quote on the Jumbotron in an ad that said, “Be There”, a special last hope he shared with us as we gathered to pause time and preserve his last wishes for his kids and grandkids. We squealed in delight as we noticed this wink from the heavens and we will continue to answer the call to “Be There”.
Perhaps the grief will still come in waves, but we would’t trade the sorrow for the joy of knowing, loving and being loved by a really good man. We love you Dad D.