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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.

Going To Work and School After Another Tragedy

October 28, 2018

I wrote and shared an article like this almost 6 years ago after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Unfortunately, little has changed in regards to gun violence since then and we find ourselves thinking about and having to have these conversations more often. I have adapted and updated the article below to reflect the incident at Tree of Life Synagogue and the current times we are living in.

Like so many of you, I was affected by the deadly shooting at Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this weekend. Like so many of you, I thought about all those affected by this tragedy.  And like so many of you, I started to think about my loved ones and my community.

As the weekend draws to a close, I think about my own week ahead, working at a Jewish agency, working in elementary and secondary schools and living as an openly gay man. The subject and setting of so many recent acts of violence and hate. I will think about everyone else whose identities have been the subject of hate and violence and hope that they too will be safe.  

For parents, especially those whose children attend religious or culturally based schools, there will likely be some fear and anxiety as you get your children ready for school on Monday morning.   And if your kids know about the incident this weekend, they will likely be a little anxious themselves.

Here are my 7 ½  tips for getting your kids through the door of their school on Monday morning so that parents and children feel safe.

1 Validate Their Anxieties – If they are scared or nervous to go to school, tell them that you understand and ask what you can do to help them feel more comfortable.

2 But Don’t Let Them See Yours – If you are more scared than they are, they will pick up on that and it may escalate their feelings.

3 The School Is Your Friend – If they are really nervous, call the school, explain the situation and ask them for support.

4 Don’t Bring It Up Unless They Do – Kids spend a lot of time thinking about themselves, even the sensitive and caring ones.  The morning before school is often spent thinking about the day ahead – not reflecting on the news of the weekend.

5 Monitor The Media – Like above, if you can keep it from them while they are getting ready, they are less likely to think about it.

6 Take That Extra Moment – Even if your kids don’t know why, give them a hug and a kiss, write a note and leave it in their lunch, send an extra special text message.  It will make everyone feel good.

7 Don’t Perpetuate Hate – There is so much hate and violence and divisiveness in our world. Teach your children and each other about love and acceptance and compassion. Stand up for all victims of hate and violence whether or not they look or pray like you.

7 ½. Say I Love You.