Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Post Camp Erin Week Two Thoughts

A week has gone by since camp and I've had some time to let the experience brew. For days, the Camp Erin song played through my head. It ended: "Camp Erin, Camp Erin, Makes Us Feel Good." Maybe there was some truth to it.

Honestly, I'd carried some of my jaded emotions to the camp. Not helpful emotions. They were there to distance and separate. Creating the walls of protection around me. I heard the song at training and thought it was kind of silly. But it worked its way into my brain and like a mantra, impressed itself upon me until I believed it was true.

Walking around the following days, I wanted to tell people what I had experienced. I realised no one wanted to hear about it- it made them uncomfortable. They'd rather hear that I went to naked biking clown camp, or anything really other than a children's grief camp. It was very similar to response I'd received in the past when I told people my dad was dead.

Obviously it is an uncomfortable subject.

American society in particular is focused on the positive and happy. No one wants the dark underbelly. Sadness should be swiftly swept under the rug and replaced with an industrious happy smile. Move on. Don't dwell.

I wonder if all that shuffling along worsens the scarring that's created by traumatic experiences. I don't advocate dwelling on the past, but the past is part of your present and your future. And if we've developed unhealthy behavioral patterns related to our past then likely they are best to be dealt with.

I found a place in town that does grief support groups for children through young adults. It seemed like a good place to volunteer. I was toying with the idea of asking if I could attend a few of their sessions (as a participant). I wonder if it would be a good idea for a few weeks or months. Maybe then I could volunteer for them on a regular basis.

The idea of attending thirty-one years later seems almost ridiculous, but at the same time, it might be a good idea. If I could get a better understanding of myself and meet others in the same place, then perhaps I could do something for people who were in my same shoes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Camp Erin Weekend: Children's Grief Camp

The last three days I spent with fifty-nine children and a ton of adults just twenty-four miles from my home at Camp Erin. The children had all lost someone important to them- mostly parents, secondly siblings but also others of importance. Camp Erin is free to campers and run by donations and the Moyer Foundation.

I can't give any specific stories due to confidentiality, but it was an interesting and emotional experience. It's hard to suppress tears when you're seeing kids dropped off by one parent or seeing the pictures of their lost loved ones. I would've liked to have gone to a camp like that when I was a kid. The experience of being around a bunch of others in the same boat and talking about it is huge for those kids.

Going into the weekend, I was fairly apprehensive- mostly because I'm never sure how I'm going to react, and usually if someone else starts crying, I do too. I feel like we're there for them and having my feelings bubble to the surface is not very helpful. As well, I'm very introverted and really don't enjoy large groups or being around people all the time. Most of the other volunteers were teachers or counselors, so they were a little more prepared.

There are various roles for volunteers- Big Buddies (you stay in the cabin with the kids) and a lot of logistics. I was assisting the clinical leads (counselors) along with another girl for the teenagers. Having struggled with controlling emotions my entire life, I didn't feel that the Big Buddy role would be very safe if I were trying to be supportive of the kids. There's a lot going on behind the scenes, but I think the Big Buddy role is probably the most personally fulfilling (and tiring) for volunteers.

It seems like we address loss differently than we did thirty years ago. Back then, it was just have a funeral and go on with your life. At least now people are better about talking about things, and there's different ways to heal.

I feel like the experience should not have been about me but it brought up a lot of emotions again. At one point, watching a boy hide in his sweatshirt and hunch up and cry, I just could not help but start crying - identifying with them in the way that they try to hide their emotions, their tears - trying to move on, but still remembering that someone is missing.

I find it embarrassing that I'm still sad or apt to just start crying when I least expect it. Losing my dad is a problem forever. The loss that I have is like a scab that's ripped off and then I feel like I'm right back at that place again- where the hole is there - you can't breathe - the tears are rolling - and there's nowhere to hide. I still never know what is going to set it off again.

Sitting there watching the kids, I felt like I should probably be in some sort of grief program. I realised that I've never gone to a counselor for it, or to a grief support group, or a camp. I've been figuring out how to deal with it by myself since I was seven. And I'm still dealing with it in the same way I did as a child- withdrawal, hiding, embarrassment, introversion. It's strange how we are the same forever. 

On Saturday afternoon, I was sitting with my feet in the creek, listening to the water, writing in my journal. I'd been wondering lately what my dad would've thought of Oregon. Would he have liked biking with me? Would he go camping? What would it be like to have a dad-adult conversation with him?

It was a hard weekend. I don't cry that much anymore, but when it starts, the deluge is hard to stop. I don't think I helped a whole lot with kids this weekend (except in a behind the scenes way), but I think I ended up learning some things about myself. I might try to find a way to keep helping children in grief on a regular basis.