Emma is your typical 8-year-old. She doesn’t like getting up early. And she hates spelling or taking spelling tests. So she is super excited when she gets to miss a spelling test the day her aunt checks her out of school early. But what her mom tells her when she gets home is devastating.
“Then she said it—the worst thing I have ever heard in my life,” said Emma. “She said that my dad died.”
Emma is not a real little girl. She is the protagonist of a 23-page children’s book about grief that Angela Hamblen, clinical director for the Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief, started writing to cope with her experiences as a grief counselor.
“Over 10 years ago, I sort of came up with Emma,” said Hamblen. “Just as a way to write about camp and the experience there. And again as my own way of processing it.”
Hamblen, a licensed clinical social worker, directs Baptist’s three grief camps for children, teens and adults. Through Emma’s story, Hamblen chronicles children’s experiences with Camp Good Grief.
“To me, every camper that has come through Camp Good Grief is represented in that book,” said Hamblen. “The fears of going to camp, the fears of facing the grief and the triumph of learning that grief is not something that we’re trying to get over.”
During Emma’s grief journey, she asks many of the same questions that Angela hears from kids who have gone through camp. In fact, the title of the book is based on Emma’s question, “What’s so good about grief, anyway?” The book answers that question while realistically capturing a child’s experience with grief and Camp Good Grief.
“I read it to one of my clients who went to camp this summer—a little girl,” said Hamblen. “She was just sitting there listening, which still amazes me that people listen to it and find it interesting. We were halfway through the book and she said, ‘Did you write this about me?’ To be honest, that is the greatest compliment.”
Hamblen dedicates the book to all Camp Good Grief campers, camp staff and volunteers and her father, a police officer, who died a few years ago.
“It’s our [Camp Good Grief] program on paper,” said Hamblen. “What I want highlighted is the bravery of the children who come and the incredible, loving volunteers who make so many sacrifices to be there.”
The book, which is illustrated by Jabberblabber Earth Friendly Family Magazine cofounder Nikki Schroeder, is available at The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Pugh’s Flowers, the Memphis Public Library and Information Center and Shelby County libraries. First responders, schools, churches and other social services agencies will be given the book as a tool to use when helping kids with grief.
On Nov. 22, The Booksellers hosted a book signing and a reading by Hamblen at 6:30 p.m. Hamblen was accompanied by a string ensemble from the Memphis Symphony, which created an original score for the book.