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    I became an orphan at age 12. Now, I run a summer camp for kids like me.

    Lynne Hughes and Comfort Zone Camp Kids

    Courtesy of Bennett Raglin

    Lynne Hughes lost her mom at 9 and her dad at 11.Now, she runs a bereavement camp, serving hundreds of kids each year.She says kids don’t process grief in the same way adults do.

    This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Lynne Hughes, founder and CEO of Comfort Zone Camp. It has been edited for length and clarity.

    When I was 9, my three brothers and I were watching our parents play tennis near our Michigan home. It was nothing out of the ordinary until my mom pulled a muscle. She came hobbling off the court, and my dad offered to take her to the hospital, but she said it wasn’t necessary. She called her doctor, who told her to ice and elevate her leg.

    A few days later, I woke up to my dad calling my mom’s name in the bedroom next to mine. She had died in her sleep from a blood clot. It almost never happens, but it happened in my family.

    After that, my family life became chaotic. Instead of coming together in grief, it was every man and child for themselves. My dad was racked with guilt, so he turned to alcohol for comfort. He quickly remarried, but soon after that, he died from a massive heart attack.

    My family fractured, but at summer camp I felt normal

    That happened the day before I was set to start junior high. Despite being newly orphaned at 11, I went to school the next day. I didn’t want to be known as the girl with no parents.

    My siblings and I didn’t support each other. Although we had all experienced the same thing, we pulled away and processed it differently. It felt like survival of the fittest.

    One place where I could escape from my difficult home life was at summer camp. There, I existed in a bubble. I didn’t need to think about the parents I’d lost or the stepmom I was now forced to live with. I could just be a kid.

    I worked on my own grief and volunteered with others

    Like lots of people who experience loss, I was stuck on the question of “why?” As a kid, I became convinced that my parents had died for a reason and that I was special. I knew I had to do something with my life because I felt this deep sense of purpose.

    I met my husband at camp and started a normal-ish, happy life. I did a lot of work to process my own grief, and I worked in hospice to help others with theirs. I started volunteering for a group of motherless daughters after the book by the same name came out.

    At one of our first events, there were about 45 women. One of them, Barbara, was in her 70s. She had been carrying her grief for 60 years and had never talked about it. The youngest woman that day was a 14-year-old who had just lost her mom.

    I started to think: what if we could catch kids early in their grief process and give them coping tools so the ripples of their loss don’t continue to shape their lives?

    Kids don’t process grief the way adults do

    For years, I ruminated on the idea of a camp for bereaved kids. Then, finally, I was ready to do it. Comfort Zone Camp started in 1999 near my home in Virginia. Twenty-five years later, we operate in nine states and served more than 1,300 kids last year.

    Kids don’t sit with their grief the way adults do. They move close to it, then back away. They can go from crying one second to laughing and being silly almost instantly. They’re able to compartmentalize.

    So, that’s the approach we take at camp. We do intense therapeutic work in healing circles but intersperse that with all the typical camp activities: ropes courses, bonfires, and sports. There’s a lesson in all of it, though. After the ropes course we talk about grief obstacles and trusting people to help you through. During the bonfire, we have a somber moment when kids can burn notes to the loved ones they lost.

    Lots of first-timers are worried that camp will be sad and heavy. We start with games and fun, and you can practically feel the relief. After that, kids are eager to share their stories of loss. They heal by sharing and by listening to others.

    Silly but meaningful interactions go a long way

    My favorite part of camp comes at the end: our closing memorial service. Funerals are often for adults, not kids. So, with this ceremony, we give kids the chance to memorialize their loved ones in a way that resonates with them. It’s like a talent show, all done in honor of the person they lost.

    The acts might be a child singing for their mom, who loved music, or tossing a football with their friend because dad loved to play.

    Recently, one of my groups of 9- and 10-year-olds came up with a skit about “Grief-fil-A.” It’s better than Chick-fil-A, they said, because it’s open even on Sundays. They acted out ordering grief, with a side of coping skills, like talking with a friend or journaling. The whole thing was so silly but meaningful — the exact recipe for helping kids process loss.

    Read the original article on Business Insider

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