Submitted by Steve Alper, first-time buddy
Two months ago I heard that male buddies were needed for something called Camp Good Mourning. I thought, “Sure, why not!” When I found out I was assigned to an adolescent boys cabin, the first thought that came to mind was, “What the heck have I done?”
I have not been to camp since I was nine years old — undoubtedly long before most of the parents of the Camp Good Mourning campers were born. I wondered whether I would be able to keep up physically. Would their music and adolescent behaviors drive me crazy? Could I relate to these young people in a way that would be supportive and meaningful? Would I be able to be there for them as and how they needed me? All of these were fair questions for anyone considering being a counselor or buddy at a camp designed to help children and adolescents process their grief over the death of a family member.
No matter who or what I thought I would see, first and foremost I quickly realized that they were kids. True, they were kids who had experienced grievous emotional injury but they were kids nevertheless, with all the fun, craziness, challenges, quirks, laughter, moods, noise, and chaos that accompanied kids anywhere and everywhere. They also were kids with a purpose — to try to make meaning out of what is one of the most meaning-destroying experiences in life. Some of the kids I met were still learning to survive while others were learning to go beyond surviving and towards thriving.
While there was plenty of time for fun and games, these were balanced with activities designed to support the campers experience and process their grief. The culmination of these activities, the luminary walk, was a profound and sacred ritual of remembering — a chance to “re-member.” That is, it was a chance to bring back into their lives in a healthy fashion a family “member” who was physically and emotionally severed from them. It was an honor to be a witness to their process.
I left camp with renewed appreciation not only for the fragility of the campers but for their resilience, drive for wholeness, and compassion for each other. I also carried with me a token of the fact that I made it. True, it took climbing the “Pamper Pole” to earn it, but I now have a new and cherished title: “Pop.” And next year, when I sign up again, I am not going to fall off the top of that pole.