The Heart of the Village: Supporting Each Other in Grief

Care Dimensions Camp Stepping stones volunteer and child with puzzle piece

A Care Dimensions Camp Stepping Stones volunteer helps a child with her puzzle piece.

It takes a village to raise a child.  This old African proverb is at the heart of Camp Stepping Stones, a one-day retreat offered by Care Dimensions for children and adults who are grieving the death of someone close to them.  As families gather together, a village is created where memories, stories and hearts are shared, both literally and figuratively.


Each year, Care Dimensions Education Specialist Mary Crowe brilliantly creates a large wooden heart puzzle that arrives in pieces. Each camper is given a puzzle piece to decorate in memory of the person who died. With colorful paints and loving strokes, names and objects come to life upon the individual puzzle pieces. While the warm July sun dries the pieces, children and adults are busy with a wide offering of activities that allow for the expression of feelings as they remember loved ones.


Grief is both personal and universal. We all grieve in our unique way with our own story to tell. Yet the one thing that each and every one of us shares is that we will lose someone we love. At Camp Stepping Stones the wooden heart-shaped puzzle reminds of this, as stories are told about those who have died and the villagers who mourn their deaths.


puzzle pieces at Care Dimensions Camp Stepping Stones

Decorated puzzle pieces at Care Dimensions’ Camp Stepping Stones for grieving children and families

At the end of the camp day, staff members assemble the pieces and display the puzzle for the children and adults to see.  But last year, when the staff was working on completing the puzzle, it became clear that a piece was missing. The staff was scrambling to figure out what to do when in walked Tom and Jon of the Glen Urquhart School’s buildings and grounds crew. Assessing the situation they had meandered into and hearing people say, “We’ll just have to bring it out with a piece missing,” they quickly jumped into action telling the staff that they could make a replacement piece. With quiet confidence and graceful ease, they took measurements explaining they had the needed wood and tools, and assuring us they would be back soon. They returned a little while later carrying the newly cut wooden piece that they had painted and made to fit perfectly in the puzzle.


At the concluding ceremonies, the families spent time taking in all they had created and shared together, with the completed heart-shaped puzzle a testament to the steps they had walked together in Camp and in community. And as they celebrated the many hands and hearts of those in their midst, unbeknownst to them were Tom and Jon behind the scenes helping to mend their broken heart.


It takes a village of those seen and unseen, known and unknown, to allow for the pain and the healing of grief to unfold. How touched we are by the many acts of kindness and love of family and friends, and how touched we are, often without our awareness, by the many acts of kindness and love of strangers we may never meet. Our broken hearts can grow towards wholeness when we create the space for others to meet us where we are, and conversely, for us to meet others where they are; together, we connect the pieces of our lives. In this way, we can climb the stepping stones together, hand to hand and heart to heart.



Camp Stepping Stones is held at the Glen Urquhart School in Beverly, MA, usually on the second Saturday in July. Call 855-774-5100 or email if you have questions.

Ellen Frankel, LCSW, is a bereavement counselor with Care Dimensions. She also is a published author. Her website is

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"Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts."