Despite a few rocky moments (mostly involving the joys of toddler overtiredness), camp was really a turning point for Zoe. For the first time, she really got to be around other kids who had lost family, many of them who had lost their fathers, just like her. The children from one family in particular, cousins, all of whom were much older than Zoe, took her under their wings and supported her, even as they dealt with their own grief. In addition to talking about their loved ones, emotions, and feelings, the kids did art projects, played games, and we all got to go for a magnificent boat ride on China Lake.
Meanwhile, the adults met in their own groups. The mother and aunt of those same kids who took Zoe under their wings ended up in my group. Emily and I became fast friends. We learned that we had both lost our young husbands to cancer. Over breakfast one morning we discovered that we were both writers. As our children bonded, so did we. As we packed our belongings at the end of the weekend and released balloons for those we had lost in an emotional closing ceremony, we talked of returning to camp the following year, of staying in touch.
Unlike so many friendships formed at childhood camps, our bond has held, and I am happy to report that both of our families are returning to camp this fall, now just a couple months away. Not only that, but together we will be facilitating a writing workshop for the adults attending camp.
Camp is a safe place, where everyone is facing loss and grief, and we can speak openly. There is no judgment and there are no looks of pity, just support and understanding. Though we are all at different stages in our grief, and though we may have arrived at camp under wildly varying circumstances, we are there together.
We know that many people will have never written before, and we know that some people will be terrified of the thought. We are so hopeful that offering an avenue of expression in a place as safe as camp will be therapeutic, even if participants never read a single word aloud or show another soul. Sometimes just getting the words down on paper is all it takes.