“Strangers become friends, friends help strangers─in groups, we ride the waves.” ─Holly Thompson, “One Wave at a Time”
When I finished fundraising this past spring (and completed the Boston Marathon), not only did I have PTSD from running in hyperthermic conditions and 35 MPH winds, I also felt like I wasn’t ready to ‘be done’ with this great organization…just yet. With that, I sent an email to the ‘three super-humans’ who founded Camp Kita (Isaiah, Morgan & Sydney), asking if they had any volunteer jobs at the camp this summer for a traveling consultant that had no outdoor skills. Surprised that I wanted to volunteer and grateful that I wanted to do more for this charity, they welcomed me with open arms and were delighted to figure out a volunteer job for me.
I arrived at Camp Kita this past Sunday, and it was like “planes, trains & automobiles” to get there. Nish took on the task of getting Reilly to Lourdes Camp for his week of sleep-away camp, while I made the trek to Rome, Maine. I flew into Portland, and had almost a 2 hour drive north. Maine is absolutely everything that everyone says it is, in case you’re wondering. Its giant sky-scraper sized evergreen trees, blue skies, rolling hills and the ocean, lakes, ponds and babbling brooks everywhere! As I drove down the mile-long driveway to the camp, I was filled with emotion and so nervous to be there, but also really excited to do anything that anyone asked of me. I just wanted to be useful.
I arrived on Sunday afternoon, and in the almost 13 years since losing Michael (August 17, right around the corner), this was the first time that I had been around more than one person that has lost someone to suicide—and the one person I’m usually around that has experienced this loss, is my sister, Shawn. It is unfortunate, but every Kita camp counselor, every ‘skilled’ volunteer (e.g., yoga, fly fishing, artist, etc.), every therapist, every nurse, every mentor…every single person there knew what it was like to figure out a new way of living after suicide. For the first time, I was surrounded by people that had similar tragic experiences that could relate to the surprise and shock, and more importantly, the need for finding a way to move forward in a society where talking about suicide is taboo or shameful.
I led the fun run, but as I took on my other ‘odd jobs,’ it was so rewarding to not only see how your hard-earned dollars went to something so good (no one received a paycheck there, everyone was a volunteer), it was comforting to listen to the kids—who were strangers to each other at first—begin to open up to each other in small groups about the loved one(s) they lost (yes, some had lost both parents). Talking about the ‘how,’ is not allowed, but hearing the experiences of how they manage through simple everyday situations is what makes this place so special. As they were doing an activity or painting or drawing, for example, the conversations subtly started on what it was like to go back to school…OR…answer the question of, “how did your _____ die”…OR…how they felt when their best friend compared the suicide of their _____ to the loss of the best friend’s 87 year old grandmother…OR…a kid being in a conversation where another kid tries, innocently, to relate and says, “I know how you feel because that is how I felt when I lost my dog.” The point is, every single life interaction leaves us faced with dealing with something that makes us—and the people around us—uncomfortable. Adults tend to shut down when the word ‘suicide’ comes up, and kids tend say whatever is on their mind, with no filter, and in most cases, it’s because most have never even dealt with death, let alone suicide. Camp Kita started to make more sense to me. I realized in my short time there this week that Camp Kita is a journey. These kids are not going to go there for a short week and magically know how to navigate through these life situations—just because they met kids and counselors that could related. What’s important about the Camp Kita journey is GOING BACK. These kids are so vulnerable right now, and without the right nurturing, support, understanding and guidance, their potential in life could be greatly impacted. The Camp Kita journey should be available to them year-after-year. The relationships these kids have forged with the other returning kids, the counselors, their mentors and the ‘three super humans (Isaiah, Morgan and Sydney)” is an important and critical part of their healing journey. When I lost Michael, I was established. I was out of graduate school, I was rooted in my career, and I had a good base of friends. I had my ‘good life foundation.’ The foundations for the kids of Camp Kita has been severely altered, and Camp Kita is doing their part to ensure these kids stay on a good path. It truly is amazing.
I was there for three days and had to depart early for other obligations, but I feel so touched by this place and these people. Next year, I will do a full week and might even do more than be the fun run leader and ‘odd jobber.’ Can I teach a PowerPoint class or something? 🙂 In my short time there, I made strong connections with Cabin #6. I sent random text messages after I left asking ‘what was the art project for today?,’ or ‘what was for dinner?’ Every single volunteer there took a week off from life and work and donated their special skill to these brave souls who were ready to face the loss of their loved one.
Your donations went to something absolutely amazing! Some of you know families that have been impacted by suicide, and what’s important for you to know is that those kids should be at Camp Kita (next year). Even if their loss was a few years ago or they don’t live in the New England area, they need Camp Kita (there were kids there from Utah and Texas)—this is a resource available to any child (ages 8-17), so I encourage you to spread the word about Camp Kita.
“Out of grief, comes good…” We did good, guys. We did good!