A fun and safe place for grieving children.

Scott Family Story: As Their Grief Changes, Different Programs Meet Family’s Need

 

Joan:     In February 2012, we lost our son, Danny to suicide.  Danny was handsome, intelligent, and personable.  I used to joke with him that he had more gifts than any person had a right to have.  He was a talented drummer and artist, an amazingly successful fisherman, and an avid volleyball player.  He had a wicked sense of humor with a contagious laugh. But Danny also struggled with a number of mental health issues; especially substance abuse and addiction.

 

Despite his struggles, there were no indications of suicidal thoughts, so his death blindsided us all and shattered our family.  As devastated as I was by Danny’s death, I was most worried about my then 17 year-old daughter.  How would Christy survive the loss of her brother and suddenly becoming an only child?

 

A month or so after Danny’s death, we were referred to Comfort Zone Camp (CZC) by a mental health counselor.  I did some research on the camp and found that it was a weekend camp program for children ages 7 to 17, who had lost a parent or sibling.  The mission of the camp is to help grieving children heal from their traumatic losses.  With a motto of “You are not alone,” I felt that I had found the right place for Christy, but I wasn’t convinced that she would be receptive to going to the camp.  She wasn’t the type to be eager to try out new things.

 

Christy:   When my mom first told me about CZC, I didn’t want to go because it was only six months after my brother, Danny had died.  I didn’t feel like I was ready to go to a grief camp, until my mom showed me the video with kids playing volleyball.   I like to play volleyball and seeing kids laughing and having fun changed my mind about going to the camp.

 

Joan:   So, on a hot August afternoon, six months after Danny’s death, I found myself on Cape Cod at CZC wondering if we were doing the right thing.  As I watched the families stream into camp, laden with suitcases and sleeping bags, I was amazed.  It looked like any other summer camp drop off.  Everyone looked so normal - they were all dressed in shorts and flip-flops and there were lots of kids running around. But I knew that every one of these families was as broken as mine.  I knew that there was a very important person missing from each of these “normal looking” family groups. And it is in that “normalness” that the power of Comfort Zone lies.  At the parents’ dinner on the first night of camp and at the memorial service at the end of the weekend, I learned that I wasn’t alone.

 

Christy:   My Big Buddy Laura was one of the very first people to make  my camp experience amazing.  To this day, I am still in touch with Laura.  She is like a big sister to me who “gets it.” I was nervous going to my first healing circle, but after other kids my age shared their stories, I felt like I could share mine.  Hearing about the different losses and the age kids were when they lost their loved one, I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only person to feel the pain of losing a  loved one.  Free time and cabin time were good, but the best part of camp for me was the bonfire on Saturday night.  When we put our notes into the fire, I began to realize that my brother was gone and not coming back. Laura comforted me and I felt loved and cared for.  The weekend went by fast but the experience is something I will never forget. CZC changed my life in a way that I did not expect it would.  The experience made me realize that talking about my brother’s loss makes me a stronger person and that I knew I would be okay.

 

Dan:   As a camper parent, I absorbed the positive and optimistic vibe of CZC starting with the hopefulness of Friday drop-off to the joy of reuniting with Christy on Sunday afternoon after the Memorial Service where I witnessed the unity and resiliency displayed by each group. After the weekend, I thought that it would be great to participate in a future camp in some capacity.

 

Joan:   All of us were so affected by the Comfort Zone experience, that we all decided we wanted to volunteer and went through the one-day volunteer training.  As a volunteer experiencing the entire weekend, I became even more impressed by how the camp was run and the fantastic experience that was being provided for the campers. When I was a Big Buddy, I was in the older teen group.  I was blown away by the honest and articulate way in which the teens shared their stories and supported each other.  I felt honored to be in the presence of these awesome teens and felt that I took away as much or more from that weekend than I gave.

 

Dan:   The next thing I knew after attending the volunteer training, I was a Big Buddy at camp for a fifteen year-old boy.  At first I wondered if I could really be of help to a little buddy, but after doing several camps, I just go with the flow.  I try to be present for my little buddy and group and have some fun.  Being a Big Buddy has always felt like I’m doing the right thing at the right time and place. I have come to realize that being at CZC is truly a gift by being able to participate and hopefully helping a young person to heal a bit, share his story, honor his loved one’s memory, and take what he has learned at camp back home.  It is all very uplifting and helps me honor Danny’s memory.

 

 One special camp that I volunteered at was a suicide-loss only camp, in partnership with A Little Hope.  It was a four hour drive to New Jersey, but carpooling with two others  going to the camp made it a fun trip. It was very powerful from the start of the camp, a bit of heaviness in the air knowing that all campers had suffered the grief involved in a suicide loss.   The healing circle formed a tight bond as difficult stories were shared.  I felt like I was connected with our entire healing circle, not just with my little buddy.  We all share the same type of loss.  I remember the group vividly, feeling their pain and knowing that they had a safe place to share their story.  The memorial service was also powerful watching little buddies reconnect with family and finding ways to express their feelings for their loved ones.  This was a very meaningful camp for me.

 

Christy:   Two years ago, I decided that I wanted to do the young adult camp. I needed to feel connected to to others my age to help me deal with the anger and pain that I was feeling about losing my brother. On the weekend, I felt like I could share my thoughts and feelings about my loss without being judged. I was also able to express some other emotions that I was having at school and at home.  Doing the young adult camp also helped me to feel ready to sign up to be a big buddy at a future camp.  I want to give back and help out a girl who has lost someone in her life and show her that she is not alone.

 

Joan:   We have also been fortunate to experience some CZC programs beyond the three day camp.  Christy attended a one-day  camp on suicide loss that CZC put on in partnership with the Samaritans.  This one-day camp also answered my need for support by giving me the opportunity to meet with other parents who had lost a child to suicide and allowed me to explore with others grief complicated by the stigma of suicide.

 

CZC has recently started offering one-day family camps and we decided that we wanted to volunteer as a family for the camp.  As it turned out, we were not needed to help at the camp, but the program director suggested that we might want to go as participants.  We had already cleared our schedules in anticipation of volunteering, so we decided, “why not.”  We were all very surprised by how powerful this experience was for us as a family.  For the previous five years, we had dealt with our grief individually, but the family camp allowed us to process our grief together for the first time.  During the family activity we had to work together to plan how to memorialize Danny, create the project and then present it to the other families.  We decided to focus on all the fun family activities and memories from each season of the year.  The project gave us the opportunity to relive so many memories of good family times, that we left feeling very uplifted.

 

I have carried my experience of CZC outside of the camp bubble.  As the librarian for a middle school, I was involved in helping to select our summer reading book in which the main character, Willow, loses both parents in a car accident.  As a follow-up activity to reading the book, I worked with the school’s service  club to put on a supply drive for CZC.  Our theme was “Send Willow to Camp” and the students brought in supplies that she would need at CZC.

 

As we have walked this road of grief, we have discovered the importance of connections.  It is so essential to connect with others who understand what it is like and to be able to help others heal. We hope that through sharing our story, we can help others to find the healing power of Comfort Zone Camp.

 

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