I can still relive the night in my mind. My sister and I were at home chatting with our grandma in the kitchen. It was 9 p.m., and we were surprised when a car pulled up to our house. We were even more surprised when it was our mom who got out of the car; she was supposed to be out of town with our dad for another few days. We ran out to greet her, to give her hugs and a warm welcome home. “Where’s Dad?” we asked in unison.
Our mom broke down. Dad wasn’t coming home; he had passed away.
The following days and weeks and months now seem like a blur, though at the time they dragged unbearably on. The tragedy of loss, filtered through the perceptive lens of a 9-year-old boy, made the world seem a hopeless place marked by loss and sadness. Though I grew closer to my mom and sister, I still felt lonely. My dad had been my baseball coach, my video game partner, my idol.
My friends at school didn’t know how to act when they saw me. Most of them didn’t know how to empathize with me, so they said they were sorry but quickly went back to their normal lives. My loneliness worsened as I began to feel like nobody understood me.
This continued as I worked through my grief. Anytime I did feel normal or happy, it was shut down by the guilt I felt for feeling anything but apathy or sadness. It was an unhealthy cycle that isolated me and forced me to hide my true feelings in an effort to appear strong.
Had it not been for a summer camp, my grief and anxiety would have festered indefinitely. A year or so after my dad’s death, my mom signed my sister and me up for a summer camp meant for kids who had lost a parent at a young age.
This was the first time I could talk to other kids my age who had lost a parent, kids who understood what I was going through and could tell remarkably similar stories of guilt, fear, loneliness and depression. It was the first time I felt comfortable sharing my own story in its full detail, with the confidence that I would have an empathic and understanding audience. It was the first time I had adult role models who had been in my shoes, who had made it through the bitter trials of loss and emerged with greater resilience and appreciation of life.
My friends at camp helped me recognize that I was not alone, and that it was OK to accept that life would go on without my dad. I no longer needed to let my loss prevent me from getting along with other friends who didn’t share the same experience. I didn’t need to feel guilty for being happy. I could find a new normal. Though camp was not a panacea for everything that my family and I were dealing with, I can’t even imagine what I would be like now if it weren’t for the therapeutic powers of summer camp.
These experiences are what drive my involvement with an organization on campus called Camp Kesem, is a national nonprofit that hosts free summer camps for kids whose parents have been affected by cancer. It currently has chapters at 88 colleges and universities across the country. Yale’s chapter is going into its fourth summer, and we currently serve over 100 kids from all sorts of backgrounds coming from all over New England.
The student leaders and counselors of Yale’s Camp Kesem are responsible for raising over $70,000 during the school year so that we can keep camp free for all of our campers. A large part of that effort happens today, on Giving Tuesday, which is a national day of charity created in response to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Regardless of whether you can afford to donate, today marks a wonderful opportunity to recognize the passion and care that goes into nonprofit work on campus and across the country. We should recognize the good that comes from nonprofit and charity work, and express support for those whose missions we hold dear. Though Thanksgiving is over, we still can give thanks in whatever ways we can.
William Roberts is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact him at email@example.com .