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Grieving The Loss Of Camp

May 20, 2020

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the major themes I have seen with my clients are the feelings of grief and loss. For those that are able, I have encouraged them to count their blessings and be thankful for their health and the health of their loved ones. At the same time I have also encouraged them to really feel their losses and grieve the things that they are missing out on. They talk about the expected things, friends, graduation, prom and sports. They also talk about the little things, even some that used to annoy them but they now appreciate, like the bus ride to school and the walk home, waking up on a Saturday morning and knowing they could do what they want with their day, coming home after school and shutting the door so they could have some alone time. A common theme has been the loss of a sense of independence.

Like so many, I was devastated by the news that overnight camp in Ontario would be cancelled due to COVID-19. I understand the reasoning; we need to be mindful of and care for our physical health and the health of those around us. This doesn’t change the fact that the decision is upsetting and feels unfair. I haven’t worked full time at camp in 5 years and I don’t have kids that I send to camp, but like so many, I know the camp experience, I know the feeling, the rituals, the smells, the friendships, the laughter and the smiles. As a camp professional and a mental health professional I understand the importance of camp.

This loss is more than just the loss of a summer at overnight camp, this loss is about so much more. This is a loss for the kids for whom camp is the only stable environment they know. And the kids who live far away and only get to see their friends at camp. And the kids with quirky personalities that thrive at a place like overnight camp. And the quiet kids who appreciate the moments of tranquility that you can’t get in the city. And I’m sad for the kids who aren’t going to learn about independence and problem solving and strength and resilience and first kisses and heartbreaks and friendships. 

For those who know overnight camp, the loss is real. And so, to all the parents out there struggling with how to manage the grief and loss for your kids, here are 7 ½ ways to deal with the loss of camp (5 isn’t enough, 8 is too many).

  1. Allow them to feel. Your kids are going to be sad and angry. Let them. They will need to need to express their feelings in the best way they know how, and this will be different depending on their age. For some this will be the first major loss they are dealing and they will need your help to navigate their feelings.

  2. Validate their feelings. I always tell my clients that all feelings are real. Let them know that their feelings of loss are real. It will help them understand their feelings of grief and loss.

  3. Listen. Allow them to talk and tell you why they are so upset. Letting them express themselves will help them navigate their feelings. Remember that good listening requires staying silent.

  4. Encourage (socially distant) get-togethers. The only ones that know exactly what they’re going though are those that are experiencing the same loss. Encourage them to speak with their camp friends through whatever online platforms they use. They will be going through this together and being close to others dealing with the same things will make it easier for them.

  5. Watch out for warning signs. While being patient and giving them space, I also encourage you to watch out for concerning behaviour. Ask how they’re doing, give them space to grieve and let them know that you’re there for them. It’s never too early to reach out for support if you’re concerned. Some good places might be Kids Help Phone, your family doctor or Psychology Today.

  6. It will come in waves. The grief will be strong over the next few days, and then it will ease up. Be aware that it will likely come back on the first day of Pre-Camp, the first day of camp and the days of special programs.

  7. Give it time. Camp is something they have been looking forward to for a long time, for most, since the moment they came home last summer. It will take time for them to get over the loss.

      7 ½. Provide comfort. Grab their coziest, most comfortable camp sweatshirt and let them cuddle up.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Elise permalink
    May 20, 2020 7:59 pm

    The smells. That is what I know I would miss most if I was a kid who couldn’t go home to camp this summer. Thanks for sharing this Michael. I am going to share it with my kids tonight xo

  2. Mary Spring permalink
    May 21, 2020 12:49 pm

    Ode to Summer Camp
    I want to write about summer camp,
    my home for eight glorious summers
    while growing up.

    Where I learned
    to swim a proper front crawl,
    paddle a J stroke,
    sail a Laser
    and shoot an arrow.

    Where I learned
    to sing my heart out,
    to perform on stage,
    pray out of doors
    and build a campfire.
    Camp took me to places
    I dreamed of going to.

    At camp I met
    my closest friends,
    life-long friends
    to this day,
    50 years later.

    We lived together,
    ate together,
    played together during
    those beautiful summer days.

    In July
    The sun shone bright
    and mosquitoes
    tormented at night.
    Rainy days allowed for
    pottery and crafts
    and games with friends.

    In August
    the days were hot,
    but by the end
    we bundled up
    and shivered
    during swim tests.

    Camp was, for me,
    a refuge.
    I was safe
    and sound there.

    This summer
    camp will sleep.
    but when camp
    wakes up again,
    happy memories
    will return
    and we will sing.
    I hate to part
    but in my heart
    Ill return there
    once again.

  3. May 24, 2020 11:34 am

    My husband was at camp for over 10 years, I became a camp nurse for 5 and this would have been our kid’s 10 years. Big grief! I posted a blog about our pity party and was sent your article. I am so grateful that you are also helping disappointed parents and kids navigate through hard feelings and understanding that it’s grief! The more we support one another, the better we will be as we get through to the other side! Thank you, for Just Showing Up! 🙂


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