Our House Grief Support Center's Grief Camp for Children

The Candle-Lighting Ceremony

As a new member of the board of OUR HOUSE GRIEF SUPPORT CENTER, which helped me to find solace after Peter died, I have been diligent about immersing myself in the workings of this amazing organization. I had heard about Camp Erin, the free sleepover summer camp that is provided twice a year for children aged 6 to 17 who have had the misfortune to have a parent die.

I knew about the camp and the gentle and supportive guidance of Lauren Schneider and her team who combine traditional camp activities with grief support and remembrance projects and ceremonies. I was aware that over the three days they spend at Camp Erin, the campers get to swim; navigate a rock wall and rope course; do arts and crafts; and most importantly share their loss with their bunk mates. I arrived on Saturday night to witness the camp first hand in the hills above Malibu. It was a lovely warm night and I appeared about dinner time and got to explore the surroundings. My first stop was the dining hall where the children first meet on Friday and each tells of the death of their family member and puts a picture on the wall. I was stunned at how young the faces of those precious mothers and fathers were staring back at me. I looked at the flags that the children had painted during the day telling of their heartache. One said “a broken heart will always beat, eventually.” One said “a big part of my heart lies in heaven and he’s my Dad.” The tears were flowing and I hadn’t even met the kids.

There were a few members of the board who were also visiting and we partook of the dinner, listening to the boisterous and surprisingly happy sounds of the children. I was amazed at the high ratio of trained volunteers to each child, and the support made me feel so glad that I had decided to help such a worthy organization. At dinner, each of the ten bunks of children performed cheers which made us all laugh, particularly the one with a riff on Aretha Franklin’s Respect using the word grieve.

When darkness set in, we all trudged up the hill to the pool. I was in awe of the quiet and respect for silence that permeated the camp. The children had fashioned a picture or story that was twisted to become a votive candle which would float in the pool. Each of the 74 children took the microphone and told us the name of their precious loved one who had died; what he or she had died of; and each child was then free to express their feelings to that loved one, since many had not witnessed the death. I was in awe of the courage and the fortitude of even the littlest children to stand in front of their peers and tell of their loss. From suicide to cancer, to depression, and even to old age for a beloved grandparent, I sobbed in tandem as they spoke their innermost thoughts and feelings. As I watched the candles float in the pool, and sobbed for my own loss, I felt the camaraderie that was the inspiration for this camp. The children understood that they were no longer alone in their heartache. I felt their pain and also felt my own loss, but recognized the comfort of knowing I was indeed not alone.

If you want to know more about Camp Erin, there is a wonderful documentary called ONE LAST HUG that you can see on HBO-GO:

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