CAMP ERINThe 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.
MEI 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.