As you already know, this past weekend I had the absolute honor to serve at camp Erin, which is the largest national bereavement program for youth grieving the death of a significant person in their lives.
As excited as I was, I definitely had my fears. Although I have/ still walk through grief the thought of helping children through something as heart breaking as losing someone close to them so young had me feeling unqualified. I know first hand there is absolutely nothing anyone can say or do in those moments of heavy grief but I knew how it felt and that was enough of a push for me to say yes to the little spark God placed in my heart for this experience.
You know when some things just happen so unexpectedly and work out perfect? This was one of those moments. My Best friend, Lulu and her husband, Jacob have served at this camp for the past 5 years. Lulu allllllways talks about how incredible it is but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to the weekend. God didn’t really give me an option because on the day of volunteer training we found out a few people had dropped out and they quickly needed to be replaced. I went to training, heard amazing stories, got a run down of the weekend and I was in, 100%.
Camp Erin is run by a non for profit organization called mourning hope and they honestly do freaking phenomenal things for people in this community. They spend SO much time planning + preparing for this weekend to give these children the opportunity to walk through their grief in a safe space.
I was blessed enough to lead with two other incredible dudes, Tanner + Dylan. Together we had 6 boys aged 12-13 in our group. This years theme for camp was called the invisible string and the heart beat behind this, is that no matter what happens, you always have an invisible string that connects you to the person who died. Over the course of the weekend we did a bunch of activities with the boys that focussed around the theme + grief in general. This looked like a high ropes course where you had to work together with your group to represent you never walk alone in your grief, it looks like having a dance party after you’ve cried a lot to represent you are navigating your way and finding a new identity, it looks like hammering some nails into an artwork to let out some anger while you create something beautiful to remember who you lost, it looked like doing some yoga and saying a mantra of “I AM STRONG, I AM BRAVE” out loud, it looked like writing out your feelings, putting them in a balloon and stomping them out and my absolute f a v o u r i t e part of camp — the luminary ceremony. This is when each child at Camp Erin gets the opportunity to make a luminary in honour of the person that died. On the Saturday night we had a massive ceremony where we turn the lights down and each of the kids light their luminary and share “I light this candle for ……” then hang them up for everyone to see.
Over the course of the weekend our boys didn’t want to talk much about the grief up until this ceremony. All 6 of our boys + each of us as leaders went back to the cabin after the ceremony in tears. I’m not talking about a little cry either, I mean the messy kind of crying, the kind where you can’t breathe properly, your face is red and saturated from all your tears and snot kind of crying. We cried together for hours. We shared memories of the people we have lost, we shared how they died, what grief can look like and that it’s okay + normal to feel all different kinds of emotions. It was honestly one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had and the bond we all made after that was incredible.
This is the most perfect example of what Camp Erin is all about, giving young kids the opportunity to work through their grief journey how ever they want + need to. I truly wish there was something like this when I lost my dad. I remember the looks people would give me after dad passed away. Some would just stare, most don’t know what to say and heaven help us if we utter the words dead, die or death because people just get ridiculously uncomfortable. But you know what, that wasn’t the case at this camp at all. In fact we are encouraged to use all the “D” words to help solidify that the person is gone and they aren’t coming back. It’s an extremely hard but pivotal moment in the grief journey.
I lead at this camp for my boys but along the way I got a little bit of healing too. For the first time I wasn’t the odd one out with the dead dad because everyone was there because they lost someone special too. It was actually normal to have an open conversation with a complete stranger about death and describe the intricate details of how you lost your person because they understood, they know the pain too and because of that very reason, I formed some really beautiful connections this weekend.
This year has been especially hard with my grief, it’s almost been 7 years since dad died but some days it still feels so fresh to me. Since Father’s day here in the States I’ve honestly been a bit of a mess about losing dad. I don’t know if it’s the fact that SO many amazing + big life changes have happened in this past year and he hasn’t been here for any of them or just the fact that I miss him like crazy. Either way, I’ve been pretty hard on myself for feeling so sad still after so many years but this weekend I learned that it’s okay to still be feeling this way sometimes, there is no timeline with grief because it’s a process and everyone’s process looks different. This weekend also showed me how far I’ve truly come in my grief journey and more so how much God has done in my heart through losing my dad.
My God is a God of comfort, love, support and compassion. Somehow through the most tragic thing I have ever experienced He has made something beautiful out of it and given me the opportunity to help others through their grief too. Please know your pain is never wasted, 7 years ago I wouldn’t have even been able to fathom sharing so openly about dads death because I wasn’t ready but here I am, all those years later, in another country for such a time as this doing the unexpected with God right by my side.
My boys showed me integrity, strength, courage and bravery this weekend. The stuff they have seen + felt and continue to face each day absolutely breaks my heart but I am so thankful I had the pleasure of meeting them and hearing their stories. They all had such a massive impact on me and this weekend will be etched into my heart forever. I’m so thankful for Camp Erin and I can’t wait to go back next year!
Psalm 30:11a – You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.