Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Camp Erin

Cooper spent last weekend at Texoma Youth Camp as part of Camp Erin, a bereavement camp offered for children ages 6-18 who have experienced a death of a loved one.

The camp was run by ChristianWorks for Children and paid for by the Moyer Foundation, which has committed to funding Camp Erin in North Texas for the next decade. Cooper was part of the inaugural group.

The weekend was a mix of traditional camp activities -- fishing, boating, arts and crafts, games, campfire -- and grief work.

On the first night, each child was invited to the front of the group to share a photo of their loved one. Each photo was taped to a giant board so that the final result was a collage of photos of moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings who had died.

Cooper told me that when he placed his photo of Steve he told the group of campers and volunteers, "This is my Daddy, Steve Damm. He had a brain tumor."

The photo Cooper placed on the collage (from 2005)

Each child decorated a memory box. Cooper created a colorful, cheerful box. He chose a giant S sticker for the top and also created a shield out of fabric and buttons. He cut out letters to spell "Steve D." He can fill the box with photos and other items that remind him of Daddy. The box already includes three buttons -- two that look like buttons from Steve's cardigans and another with an image that reminds Cooper of The Secret Garden -- and phrases chosen by Cooper.

Inside of Cooper's memory box

Top of Cooper's memory box

On Saturday night, long after the sun had set, the volunteers lined a pathway from the dining hall to the shore of the lake. Each volunteer held a candle or flashlight. Each child carried to the beach a lit candle in a sand-filled bag -- the candle to represent the loved one.

One by one, each child placed the light on the water. The volunteers extinguished their lights so that all the group could see were candles drifting away on the lake's surface.

I wasn't there, but I can close my eyes and picture about 80 candles drifting away until they can't be seen at all, until there is only darkness. What's harder to imagine is the pain that those children have suffered.

When Katie and I arrived Sunday, the staff filled us in on the weekend's events and suggested ways to help the kids process their work. Then each child walked in with a poster. On one side was the emotion he or she had felt when arriving. On the other was the emotion he or she felt upon leaving.

We all received notecards and pens for writing notes to our loved ones. We tied the notes to balloons, and at once we released them into the air -- not unlike our birthday celebration for Steve.

I thanked Cooper's cabin buddies -- two adult volunteers -- for their help and care. They said that Cooper cheerfully cooperated in every activity and that he eagerly helped other campers. They told me Cooper was a special boy, someone to be proud of.

I relayed those messages to Cooper on our walk to the minivan. I told him how proud I was that he was willing to go to camp. I told him he was awfully brave to share so much of his emotions and memories. And I told him that Daddy was proud of him, too.

Cooper and Steve, Green Bay, Wis., summer 2007


Laura said...

I'm so sad that Cooper knows more about pain than most of us ever will, but I am so thankful there are wonderful people in this world who are helping him through it all. Hugs and kisses, Tyra.

Karen said...

Cooper has had a strong foundation to live by from birth. You and Steve built that foundation. Tyra, your devotion is inspiring and your children will carry that personal strength with them all the days of their lives. What a tribute to the universe!