From June 8 through June 10, Carsen, age 14, and younger brother Evan, age 10, will be attending Camp Erin.
It will be the second year the Northridge youngsters attend this summer camp that’s offered to minors who wish they were not eligible to go.
Camp Erin is offered through Our House Grief Support Center and is the largest national bereavement program for youth grieving the death of a significant person in their lives — i.e., a parent, sibling or guardian — in the past three years.
Children and teens, ages 6-17, attend a weekend camp in Malibu that combines traditional, fun camp activities with grief education and emotional support led by grief professionals and trained volunteers, and free of charge for all families. The camp hopes to provide new levels of hope, enhance self-esteem, and show those attending that they are not alone.
The Death of a Father
Carsen and Evan are attending Camp Erin because nearly two years ago, their world changed forever. On Aug. 13, 2016, while the Cope family prepared to go to a movie, the unthinkable happened.
“We heard a crash upstairs,” remembers their mother, Jacqueline Cope. She went up to the bedroom where her husband, 47-year-old Kevin Wesley Cope had been changing clothes, and found him on the floor.
“[The crash] was him collapsing and losing consciousness,” Cope said. “My kids were yelling ‘what was that?’ because the crash was so loud. I saw him laying on the floor, gasping for breath. I yelled for my daughter to call 911.”
Cope was giving CPR to her husband (who had no history of cardiac problems) as paramedics rushed to their Northridge home and took him to a hospital, where he passed away.
“We were in complete shock. We still are,” Cope said.
The sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and father to her two kids left the family in shambles.
And when her kids went back to school, the loneliness was unbearable.
“I realized how isolated you are,” Cope said. “I knew I needed to find some type of help.”
More important to Cope, she needed to find help for her children, Carsen and Evan, who had been through the chaos and shock of seeing their father lose his life and tried to deal with the grief.
“People don’t know how a child will respond to grief,” Cope said. “They don’t really process it all right away.”
An example of this was Evan, who was only 8-years-old then.
Two hours after his father’s passing, he was playing video games with a relative, apparently unaware of what had happened.
But at other times, both children fell into crying and disbelief.
“Their friends didn’t know how to approach them,” Cope said.
Our House Grief Support Center
She found help at Our House Grief Support Center, a place that offers children, teens and adults assistance as they try to heal and move on after the death of a loved one.
Cope and her children started group sessions in November of 2016. Carsen attends the session for teens and goes every other Tuesday. Evan goes every other Thursday, and Cope goes on the Tuesdays that her daughter doesn’t attend.
During the family admittance interview, Cope said she realized “how much was left unsaid” between her and her kids.
“I feel like it’s the one place I can go where [someone] can understand me,” Cope said. “(When you lose your husband), you lose some sense of commonality with the people you know. I felt like it’s a world I couldn’t inhabit again.”
Every summer, Our House offers two summer camp sessions for the minors who attend their programs. The next one is Aug. 17-19.
The program mixes typical camp favorites such as rock climbing, swimming, arts and crafts, and campfires with projects and experiences used to facilitate expression of feelings, memorialize their loved one who died, and promote healing.
Trauma Informed Yoga is offered on Sunday morning.
When campers arrive on Friday, they are greeted with open arms by the dozens of grief specialists and trained volunteers who guide them through a series of bonding and grief-related exercises, as well as fun high-energy physical activities. They begin their camp journey with an intimate Friday evening ceremony where each camper shares their name, the name of their loved one who died, and places a photo of that person on a “memory board.”
For Evan, the best part of the weekend was an activity where they were asked to write on a plate a feeling they wanted to get rid of, and then they smashed the plate.
Saturday evening’s Luminary Ceremony is an opportunity to come together and say goodbye to their loved one by writing a message or drawing on a lantern that’s lit and set adrift across the pool.
The Luminary Ceremony was the most memorable part of the camp for Carsen.
She decorated hers in a very personal way. “I put a little Mickey Mouse on it and a little note,” she said.
The Mickey Mouse was in honor of her father, who worked at the Disney Company for more than 20 years before his passing.
Carsen said she enjoyed the camp “very much” and stayed in contact with several of her camp friends.
While fun and engaging, she also admitted that “sometimes” the atmosphere can be very “emotional.”
But she enjoyed it so much last year that she’s looking forward to going again.
“By offering Camp Erin LA, Our House puts a support system into place, offering a safe space to talk and providing the tools to cope with their grief,” said Michele Prince, executive director of the support center. “Camp might be the only opportunity [kids] have to work on their grief with other kids.”
Camp Erin was created and funded by The Moyer Foundation in Seattle, WA, a nonprofit organization established by Major League All-Star pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen. Camp Erin is named in memory of Erin Metcalf, a friend of the Moyers who lost her battle to cancer at age 17.
“They have really good things to say,” said Cope, of the way her children returned from Camp Erin last year.
She adds the family is finding ways to deal with their grief nearly two years after a terrible tragedy,
“We’re better able to manage our lives with the grief that’s there. The loss is something we’re thinking about several times a day, but it’s becoming a routine of your life you can live with.”
For more information about Camp Erin LA, please http://www.ourhouse-grief.org/camp-erin-la-oc/