Camp Good Mourning

I’ve never been to a bereavement camp before. I didn’t know what to expect, especially since I’ve never gone to any camp as an intern before.  I didn’t know whether my role would be one of camper support or running around doing whatever anyone needed from me. My role was a little bit of both of those but most of all, my role was one of an observer (and amateur photographer).

And you know what I saw?

Sure, I saw some meltdowns, tears, frustration and disagreements. Things like that are bound to happen when you are working with kids, grieving or not.

But those moments are not the ones that stuck with me.

I saw love, joy, courage, and compassion.

I saw an overabundance of laughter as kids participated in camp activities with friends new and old. They smiled as they did their cabin chants  and created bonds that are not going to easily be forgotten. Many expect that grieving children are always angry, whiny, or crying. But these kids know the value of living life with joy.

I saw the littlest kids try new food at the farm and make some “Yucky!” faces at the tomatoes. I saw the older kids face their fears as they jump off the Pamper Pole or try the Giant Swing. I saw kids take chances by opening up about their losses.

I saw the campers comfort one another on the Luminary Walk by holding hands, walking with their arms linked, or hugging each other as they cried. I saw older siblings go to their younger siblings after the Luminary Walk to make sure they were alright. I saw campers relying on their buddies for support, even if it was difficult for them

I saw these kids, in the face of loss, decide that they are going to continue living. That they are going to struggle through their grief, but they are going to laugh. They are going to love each other through their loss, they are going to build friendships, they are going to hope for a better tomorrow, they are going to face their fears, and they are going to thrive.

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Recipe for the Best Me

Grief can throw us for a loop in all aspects of our lives, especially how we feel about ourselves.

Sometimes it makes us feel like we’re falling apart at the seams.

Sometimes it makes us feel alone.

Sometimes it makes us question who we are.

When we feel this way during our grieving, it’s difficult to remind ourselves who we are. It can be difficult to feel positive about ourselves when we feel the different emotions of grief.

But it’s important to remember that who we are is not based on our loss. We may be missing someone that makes us feel like we are missing part of ourselves.

But who we are is still here and is still good. We still can be the best person that we can be.

We recently did an activity at our Clubhouse that included a cake and creating a recipe for the Best Me.

Here’s our recipe:

Ingredients

Unlimited Love: Love yourself and love the ones around you. Treat yourself and others with kindness rather than negativity. Be patient in your grief. It is alright to feel confused and scared in this unknown place of grieving, but love yourself through it.

Exercise:  Exercise releases endorphins which help mood regulation and allow us to feel better about ourselves. It gives us energy to get through the difficult moments.

Eating Healthy: Our desire to be comforted can often lead us to binge on unhealthy comfort foods. It’s important to put into our body what we want to get out. We need to put healthy food into our bodies to have a healthy body, mind and emotional state.

Good friends:  No matter how much we try to do this on our own, we cannot go through our grief without friends. It’s important to have people who we trust that can be by our side through good moments and the bad

Let yourself feel: One of the most common ways to comfort someone in their grief is to tell them that they are being strong. It often hinders us rather than helps us because it gives us the impression that being strong means that we can’t show emotion.  But feeling is the only way we can heal. Genuinely feel the range of emotions that come with grief and share those emotions with others.

Knowledge: Our mind can get stuck in a rut of repeating thoughts and negativity. In order to combat these try to learn something new such as a new word or a new activity. It helps us to find new things that we love and keeps us active.

Sleep: Sleep allows our body to reset. It allows us to recharge our minds and bodies. It is needed to be emotionally and physically well.

A Slice of Cake: A slice of cake doesn’t have to be a slice of cake; it can be reading a book or taking a drive. It could be anything that gives you a second to relax, a moment of happiness. It’s anything that brings joy and sweetness into your life.

Directions

Take all the ingredients and mix them together every day.  Grieve well, think of yourself well, and live well. Be the best person that you can be.

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A Mother’s Love: Cindy Schoell’s Story

Cindy with her girls, Karson and Layne

Cindy with her girls, Karson and Layne

My mother was diagnosed at the age of 39 with breast cancer while she was pregnant with me.  I am now 39, the age she was at diagnosis, which has brought up many different emotions for me – anger, sadness, fear.  I have two beautiful daughters, currently ages 6 and 9.  My mother had two daughters, my sister and I were 6 years and 4 years old respectively, when my mom died.  I feel grateful that I have already gotten to spend more time with my girls than my mother did with us; however, during this 39th year, I have found myself often getting lost in thought about the emotions my mom must have gone through at the thought of dying and leaving us behind.  I wonder about the fear and sadness she felt, and I have had moments of fear about my own death.

As a mom, my heart breaks sometimes for her loss.  As a daughter, even almost 35 years later, my heart still hurts for my loss.  I would love so much for my daughters to know their Grandma Tina and have her be involved in their lives.  I tell stories about her, but my stories are mostly second hand because I was 4 when she died and that makes me sad.  I love my girls more than I ever thought possible, and from what I know of the person my mother was, I know she felt the same way about my sister and I.  I feel loved by her, even though she was only in my physical world for 4 years.  The love from a mother is felt forever…and the grief of a child is never ending.  I am a 39 year old mother who feels so lucky to be able to be actively involved in my daughters’ lives – like attending afternoon tea together (see picture); but there is a part of me inside who will always be a daughter who misses her mother.

Lucy’s Monologue

By Lane and Lucy Pease

While picking papers up off the floor, I came across my fourteen year-old daughter’s monologue she had written for her drama class. Of course, I read it after all if it is on the floor of the hallway it is fair game. Reading it, I realized she expressed so clearly how the death of a parent affects a child even if they have no memories of the parent. After wiping away me tears, I asked her if I could share it as a part of the trainings I do as well as a part of our blog. She agreed. I am proud of her accomplishments as a student, singer, and actress, but most of all I am proud of her kindness and compassion. I am so lucky to have traveled this journey with both my daughters and I know their father would be very proud. Here is Lucy’s monologue:

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My father passed away from cancer when I was nine-months old. It has impacted me more than anything ever has in my life. Sometimes, it gets really hard to think about what my life would have been like if I had him by my side, watching me grow up. I wish I would have had him here for things like teaching me how to ride a bike or helping me through my first break up with a boy. I didn’t have a dad to take me to the father-daughter dance. Also, things that will happen to me in the future like learning to drive or being walked down the aisle. Those things I wish he could be there for. I know it’s hard to understand, but I miss him and the memories we could’ve made together. My friends don’t understand. When I tell people how young I was when he died, they think it’s not a big deal because I don’t remember him. They don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know what it’s like to never know one of the people who created them. I can’t be mad or upset with them because they don’t understand. I don’t go one day without my dad and the love I have for him passing my mind. I try to live my life in his honor and think that he would be proud of me and my achievements.

Lane Pease is program director at Kate’s Club. Her daughter Lucy is a freshman in high school and her daughter, Zelda is in her first year of college.

Grieve Together

A year ago today I began what ultimately became a long, hard year of goodbyes to people I really loved. I was at work and received a call from my dad that I needed to go home to Texas because they were moving my hilariously adorable and totally inappropriate grandmother to hospice – it was time to say goodbye. My Oma had recently turned 90 and after a birthday party fit for a queen began a rapid health decline that had brought us to this place.

Girl loved to party!

Girl loved to party!

Because God and the universe are amazing, I made it there on the last day that she was communicating so I got to share good memories, tell her I love her and give her a real hug – I got to say good bye. What I could not have known at that time was how important those 12 days I had at home would become. Ten days after my grandmother’s funeral I got another call from my dad and that was the call that really changed everything. When I had been home his stomach had been hurting, but I didn’t give it a serious thought. It turns out it was very serious – it was Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. That call started a five-month long journey for my family as my dad so bravely fought but ultimately succumbed to cancer.

Father's Day 2014: Our Last Family Photo

Father’s Day 2014: Our Last Family Photo

From the moment of diagnosis we knew that while he was going to fight hard, that time was probably short. And I think that is possibly the silver lining of cancer – you can take advantage of limited time, knowing that it is limited. During that time one of my focuses was to really enjoy being alive together for as long as possible and to not begin grieving him until he was truly gone.

But man, once was he was gone the grief was (and truthfully still is) all consuming. And, these are a few things I have learned about it.

  1. Grief is isolating, but it is not meant to be done alone. My dad spent his entire life investing in people. The result of this investment now is countless family, friends and co-workers that share his lessons and love with others. We are facing our grief together.
  2. Grief is exhausting. You move forward because you have to, not because you are ready. It is hard not to let how much I miss him consume everything. It is those moments of silence and at night that are the hardest. You fill your day hoping to be so tired that you fall asleep. And on the days when that doesn’t work you are tired because wonderful memories keep you awake at night.
  3. Grief magnifies life. My life, even without my dad, is still amazing, but now I see it all in a more glorious way. The beauty of ordinary things bring me such joy. A joy that is felt deeply because I truly understand its opposite – sorrow – in a much more intimate way now.
  4. Grief is love. The greater the grief, the greater love. I know that if nothing else is true that my dad and I loved each other immensely. And, I would not for one second give up the pain now, for the love to have been less. Love is always worth it.

I still stand by what I shared at my dad’s memorial service. At the very end I said that I would spend the rest of my life wishing that more of our time here had overlapped and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world that he was my dad.

Me + Dad

Me + Dad

I am lucky. I had my dad for 33 years… he taught me to ride a bike and drive a stick shift, attended all my pep-rallies, proudly cheered at graduations and walked me down the aisle. Yet, his loss has still been life altering. In moments like this I can’t help but think how critical places like Kate’s Club are for kids who are so much younger and lose parents and siblings when they are still trying to figure out who they are. To me this is the most important reason that as adults we must go out of our way to remove any barriers that exist to make it okay to grieve. We must #facegrieftogether.

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