I was nervous about camp. Coming from the UK, I wasn’t sure what to expect from an “American” camp experience, and I was also slightly apprehensive that a grief camp might mean I had a really depressing weekend in store. What had I signed up for? How could I actually help these children?
I didn’t need to be worried. For me, the weekend validated Kara’s ethos of letting children lead you in their grief. I saw children calmed by music, chins resting on hands as they became entranced watching musicians play. I saw children soothed by therapy dogs, friendships strengthen during games in the pool, and art carefully and lovingly made in honor of the dead: I love you mom written on pillowcases, for my dad painted on tiles. If you are present with grieving children – if you give them space, respect and time – they will show you what they need. And they will go and get it.
I was in a cabin of 10-12-year-old girls. Remembering how I felt as a grieving child at that age, it was really important to me to try and show these girls that the death of their person does not mean the end of their life.
My father, Chris, died when I was six. His death will always be a defining event in my life, but it has not – and will not – limit or restrict me, although at times, as a child, it felt like it would. I wanted to show my girls that twenty-two years later (which for ten-year-old girls still seems an eternity away – I remember the feeling!), you can be a whole, complete person living life fully. The dead person is not forgotten, but their death has not held you back from being all that you are, and all that you can be.
What I saw is that camp is not just about living and going forward, but about living and going forward with joy.
After the weekend, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for the children we served, for my fellow counselors, and also for my father. Grief is not a straight line, but a journey we take on a changing path. During some stages of our lives, or even just some days, the path is straight and easy to navigate. During other times, we may not be able to see around the bend. Although grief is something that we do alone – no one can do it for you – we can support each other to make our paths a little easier to follow.
It was an honor to walk beside these children for two days, joining them – briefly – on their individual paths. I like to think that the support, respect and understanding that we all shared were like fairy-lights on trees, hopefully making the journey a little clearer and brighter, illuminating the path as it leads onward, into the future.