Making Space for GriefAt Camp, In a Counselling Office, at Home or on Zoom
Dr. Heather Mohan
As the pandemic has taken its toll on our team this spring, I have found myself feeling so grateful for Camp Kerry’s amazing volunteers. Volunteers like Sam French, who have stepped up during this pandemic to serve families that need our support now more than ever.
Sam has been coming to Camp Kerry since 2013, when she was still in school receiving her Masters in Counselling. Now, as a licensed family counsellor, she volunteers to lead a group at our BC Camp each year. Since 2018, she has even travelled from Vancouver to Camp Kerry Ontario.
Despite being a busy mom of two, Sam always finds time for Camp Kerry. “My job feeds my belly, but volunteering feeds my soul,” she has told me more than once. I love this because I know that when Sam shows up to serve families, she’s doing it with her whole being – bringing her training, skills, heart and personal experience to the table.
“My job feeds my belly, but volunteering feeds my soul…”
Sam is no stranger to grief. At 15 years old, she lost her mother to cancer after a seven-year battle with the disease. That same year, she lost her beloved dog, Purdy, and a number of other close loved ones. It was a year that could have derailed her whole life – but luckily Sam found refuge in a loving and supportive circle of friends and family.
Despite navigating their own emotions and having no idea how to handle a grieving teen, her friends and family found their way to a place where they could cry with her, hold her hand and simply hold space for her to process her great loss. They never tried to “fix” things for her or force her to be okay.
Although this approach was tremendously valuable to Sam, she told me that it was still hard for her to place all the sadness on those in her life who were also deeply affected by her mom’s death. She wished she had others she could talk to who understood, but wouldn’t be burdened by her tears.
That’s exactly what you and Sam have helped us build at Camp Kerry.
We are a community that understands and gives space for grief. We can hold the deep sadness of a child in our arms, without being hurt or burdened by their big feelings – something a sensitive child is always on the lookout for. Children are remarkably good at protecting those they love from more hurt.
I remember the first year that Sam led her own group at Camp, it was a group of children under five years-old. All of the children had recently lost their dads. Sam found a way to help these hurting little ones speak their feelings out loud in a safe place, without causing any more pain for their grieving moms.
Each child was encouraged to blow a bubble and then whisper what they wanted to say to their dads. It could be anything: “Daddy, I miss you”, “Daddy, can you please come home?” When the bubble popped, the message would be carried away for their dads to hear. The children loved this and each embraced the opportunity to connect directly with their dad.
This kind of experience is difficult for one family to create on their own. It relies on a compassionate community of experienced and understanding peers to come together with just one goal in mind: to create and hold a safe space for grief. No agenda, no timeline and no expectations.
We know that grief has no timeline and it can’t be put on hold. That’s why we’re collaborating with volunteers like Sam to ensure Camp Kerry can be there for families even during the pandemic. At a time when physical contact must be limited, we are committed to ensuring that our social connectedness remains strong.
Sam has been co-facilitating drop-in family grief groups online. Although it looks different than it used to – this is another safe space for adults or kids to come together. Some days it turns into a family counselling session and other days it’s just silliness with kids who need a break from their overwhelmed parent.
At Camp Kerry we’ve brought our grief support groups online and have been experimenting with both music and art therapy on Zoom, as well as more informal drop-in groups like the one Sam co-leads. I am confident that the creativity and compassion of this community will rise to the challenges of this time.
Thank you for partnering with us to bring healing and hope to the many struggling parents and kids. At a time when financial constraints are more pressing than ever, your support allows us to keep Camp Kerry services accessible to every family who needs us.
I am deeply grateful for Sam, our other amazing volunteers and you, our family of donors and cheerleaders who have not stopped believing in the work we’re doing together.
You can also give by mailing a cheque to 145 East Columbia Street New Westminster, BC V3L 3W2. Please make cheques payable to Camp Kerry Society.