Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Colette Stadin
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

From grieving to giving back

Locals brave dip into frigid waters in the name of hope, healing


March 16, 2017

Children's Grief Connection

Jason Bexell catches his breath after emerging from the ice cold waters of Lake Waconia.

With a chill in the air and the icy waters of Lake Waconia splashing the shoreline, a group of brave individuals ready themselves for a frigid dip.

Why would one do such a thing?

The nearly 100 individuals who took the polar plunge into Lake Waconia March 4 are Frungers. Though their reasons for dipping into the cold waters vary, there is a common goal - to raise funds to allow grieving families a chance to attend Children's Grief Connection's Hearts of Hope Grief Camp free of charge. This year's Frunge for Hope raised more than $102,000.

"I Frunge to help pay for families like mine to go to camp for free. Because nobody should have to go through grief uneducated and alone," says Theresa Lekander of Moose Lake. Theresa took the icy plunge with husband Cole and son Carl.

Grief hits home for many Frungers. Theresa's 22-month-old daughter, Carl's sister and Cole's step-daughter, Natalie, died May 19, 2007. With camp, "I watched my son not feel so alone. I watched him get his smile back," says Theresa.

Carl adds, "It helped me deal with grief, but it did not take away my grief, which is good. Some people will try and get rid of your grief, but that does more harm than good."

Julie Domogalla of Askov is a longtime supporter of Children's Grief Connection. Julie has five children, "two in heaven and three here on earth."

When Julie's oldest son, Jim, was young, he went to school just two years after the death of his sister, Jill, and 3½ years after the death of his brother, Kevin. "He was a child who knew sorrow intimately yet did not really understand it. It was mysterious to him, bewildering. Of course, he wondered if he would end up in one of those little boxes he had seen his siblings in," Julie says.

"There was no camp for him," she continues, "and I regret that he had to try to navigate all that grief and emotion on his own with my limited guidance, as I was in the midst of my own trauma and grief. I think a camp experience would have been healing to both of us."

When asked why a person would want to Frunge, Julie responds, "Why not Frunge?! ... The reality is camp experiences come at a financial cost, but not a cost we are willing to request of the grieving families."

Melanie and Jason Bexell of Moose Lake also jumped into the icy waters of Lake Waconia.

Melanie is familiar with grief, having lost her mother to breast cancer when Melanie was just 16 years old. But after Melanie and her friend fought recent battles with cancer and her friend asked her to Frunge, Melanie says, "We both went through breast cancer this past year and beat it, so it felt so good to be doing something for someone else, for this cause."

Jason says, "Grief is a very personal non-linear process, and unless we've experienced it personally, we can assume a lot of things that don't quite fit."

As camp counselor, Jason says, "The words, 'I finally don't feel so alone' are the healing words I hear at the last talking circle of each camp. It is amazing what can happen in just two short days, nothing is completed, but hope is born and healing has begun."

A funeral director's role

Though many have connections to Children's Grief Connection because of their own grief, Mike Kosloski's role as funeral director and owner of Hamlin-Hansen-Kosloski Funeral Home in Moose Lake gives him a front row seat to the grief of others.

"I was so impressed with the idea of helping children with their grief process. I had always witnessed that when a death occurred, families would not include their children in the visitation and funeral process thinking that they were helping the children and sheltering them from grieving with the rest of the family. This was not fair to the children and often led them down a road where normal grief feelings could not be shared with others," says Mike.

"Children's Grief Connection allows these children to connect with other children who are having the same feelings associated with a death and validate those normal feelings. Together, these children realize that it is normal to cry, feel sad, be angry, and have bad days," he says.

Mike has helped many local families discover Hearts of Hope Camp.

One such person is Katie Waldhalm, a 2013 graduate of Willow River High School. "I was a Hearts of Hope camper (back then it was called Camp Amanda) in 2007 when my Grandma Annie died. Since camp and her death, I was greatly inspired by Mike Kosloski and the rest of the camp team to become a funeral director," says Katie, who is set to graduate from the University of Minnesota Program of Mortuary Science this May.

Mike has been involved with Children's Grief Connection since its inception in 2001 and both he and Katie continue to take active roles with Children's Grief Connection and Hearts of Hope Grief Camp.

Mike and Katie teamed up to Frunge this year, though due to unforeseen circumstances Mike could not attend the Frunge event at Lake Waconia. "I stayed true to my word and Frunged on Sunday, March 5, in the Moose Horn River ... I went completely under and I have to say that it took my breath away. I could not talk and had a hard time running out of the river as my legs felt like sheets of ice. That feeling, as bad as it feels, is nothing compared to what the children are dealing with," he says.

From grieving to giving back

Many who began their journey at Hearts of Hope Grief Camp continue their journey with Children's Grief Connection as a volunteer and Frunger.

After attending camp with her son, Carl, Theresa volunteered at camp and furthered her education on grief. Her husband, Cole, currently serves as the camp's teen director.

Julie has been volunteering for about seven years. She usually works as group facilitator with the adults at camp. She also volunteers doing advocacy, making blankets to give away at camp, serves on fundraisers and anything else she can do.

Melanie first volunteered in the office, then did her first camp along with her husband, Jason. She plans on volunteering at the camp held in the fall.

Children's Grief Connection

Carl and his step-dad and mother, Cole and Theresa Lekander, brave the icy waters of Lake Waconia as part of the eighth annual Frunge for Hope March 4. The goal of the Frunge is to raise funds to send grieving families to Children's Grief Connection's Hearts of Hope Family Grief Camp free of charge.

Jason started his journey as a volunteer screen printing the T-shirts used for camps and fundraisers. He has volunteered as a teen counselor and has served on the board of directors for three or four years. Jason says, "I'll continue to volunteer as long as I am able; Hearts of Hope Camp has become a priority in my life."

Hearts of Hope Grief Camp

Children's Grief Connection helps grieving children and their families heal after the death of a loved one. At Hearts of Hope Family Grief Camp, every member of the family has the opportunity to participate.

Camp volunteers are skilled in listening to the needs of grieving people and provide tools that will assist the family as they continue on their lifelong grief journey after the camp ends.

Hearts of Hope Family Grief Camp is held twice a year in various locations. The next Hearts of Hope Family Grief Camp is March 31-April 2 at Big Sandy Camp in McGregor. If your family would like to take part, fill out the form found at by March 22 or call (218) 372-8420 for more information. Space is limited.


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