It's All About Helping Others for Longtime Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp Volunteer

Ed Pace's world changed forever on December 19, 1999 when his three children, Brian, Michelle and Laura were involved in a car crash. Brian, who would have turned 25 the following day, and Michelle, 21, died from their injuries, while Laura, 20, was hospitalized. 

The days, weeks, and months that followed the devastating crash were difficult for 69-year-old Pace, his wife Chris, and Laura. Eventually, the family turned to the Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp offered through EveryStep Grief & Loss Services.

Launched in 1982, Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp started as a weekend camp for children who had experienced the death of a loved one. Over the years, the camp has expanded to being offered two weekends a year - one in the spring and one in the fall - accommodating children, teens and adults experiencing grief.

"Someone had mentioned Camp Amanda, but being a typical male, I didn't want anything to do with it," Ed recalls. "I wanted to be left alone. I didn't want to talk about it; I didn't want to talk around family, and I definitely didn't want to cry in front of strangers."

Still, in the spring of 2000, Ed, Chris, Laura, and nearly a dozen other family members attended camp.

Ed found that camp was a place where his family felt safe discussing their loss. Campers were split into groups with their peers, meaning adults are generally with adults, and children with other children, providing a sense of community. 

"The kids all went to their own group, which was great for them, because maybe the adults don't understand what they're going through," Ed recalls. "At camp you meet someone that has a similar loss and you can talk to them, to someone who feels the way you do." 

At one point during camp, Ed and Chris were rejoined by Laura for some sessions. It was then that Ed learned Laura hadn't want to talk about losing her brother and sister to her parents because she knew it made them cry. For that reason, she hadn't talked about the loss much at home. 

"That sharing really helped," Ed said. "Knowing that you had similar experiences. So when you get home you can share."

Ed also found that camp provided his family with ways to cope with their loss. By listening to others, he was able to see what had worked for them, and get ideas on how to remember his children.

"It was such a great experience," Ed said. "It was really hard, that's the problem getting people to camp. But when you do get there, you find that it's an open, caring group because they have gone through their own losses. We're in this boat together." 

While Ed felt that camp was helpful to his family, it would be another eight years before he was ready to help others in the same way.

"Through the years I knew I should, but it was hard to do because it brings up the hurt," he recalls of his hesitation to volunteer at Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss camp. "But that year, the spring camp had flooded out, so they needed extra help in the fall."

Since then, Ed has volunteered at both spring and fall camp sessions. In fact, this fall will mark his 25th camp as a volunteer.

"I think looking at what life is really about, it's about people helping people," he said. "How much more important can it be than helping people going through grief. If you can talk to someone who has been there, gone through that, and survived, that can be a help to you." 

Over the years, Ed has perfected his weekend volunteering duties, noting that Saturday is always the most difficult day for campers, but Sunday it turns around.

"We talk about what we have left," he says. "Sunday is important to think of how you can progress from here. We talk about coping and getting through special days. Grief isn't the process of forgetting, but the process of remembering with less pain." 

Ed plans to continue volunteering at Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp for as long as he’s able.

"It's all about helping people," Ed said.

If you're interested in volunteering at the Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp on March 30 and March 31 in Story City, please contact Megan Mondt at 515-223-4847 or mmondt@everystep.org

Camp Amanda the Panda is open to children five-years-old and above, teens and adults looking for a place of comfort and support as they connect with others who have experienced the death of a loved one. To register for an  upcoming camp click here