|Henry Klein (founder of Phyl’s Fund) with his children Peter and Emily.|
When his wife, Phyllis, died of breast cancer in 2002, Henry Klein wanted to help his two teenage children cope while attempting to resume “normal” lives. Wanting, as well, to make a difference in the lives of other people who have lost loved ones to cancer. Henry started Phyl’s Fund in her memory.
Initially, Phyl’s Fund provided support groups for people affected by cancer. Four years ago, the foundation created Hearts of Hope, a bereavement camp for families who have lost a loved one to cancer.
Hearts of Hope was held the first weekend in June at Camp Nah-Jee-Wah of the New Jersey Y camps in Milford, Pa. Five families, all having lost a loved one to cancer, attended the three-day weekend on full scholarships from Phyl’s Fund.
Another weekend is being planned.
It is hard to wrap your mind around the loss of an 18-month-old baby or a 16-year-old daughter. For these families, it is their harsh reality. While participating in a therapeutic arts-and-crafts project, one mother opened an envelope containing pictures of her 16-year-old daughter for the first time since the girl’s death in September. All of the platitudes in the world are of little comfort. But this rural setting, on two beautiful lakes in Pennsylvania, takes these families far from their realities and provides a moment of comfort. Surrounded by strangers who connect through similar painful losses, they find it easier to deal with their loss and remember the beauty and special qualities of their mourned loved ones.
Social workers affiliated with a local children’s hospital provided the opportunity for both therapeutic and recreational activities throughout the weekend. The social workers created this balance in order to enable the families to experience respite while processing their grief. Tears were shed, new bonds were made, and memories were cemented in their hearts.
Henry’s children, Emily and Peter, attend Hearts of Hope both as campers and volunteers. Their memories of their mother are strengthened, knowing how proud she would be to see the difference they are making in the lives of strangers.
As the families depart after a weekend of tears and joy, we are all reminded to remember those people who are no longer with us. Thanks to Phyl’s Fund, these families’ lives have been enriched.
Bruce Pomerantz is a member of the Phyl’s Fund board. He lives in Cresskill.