Hi, my name is Maddy. I'm currently a 'normal' high school freshman in the Washington DC area, but I've been through something that many of my peers can’t understand. Both my mother and my adoptive father died before I turned 15.
I'm writing about my experience because Nov. 19 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, and I think it might help others to know what has helped me. Please keep in mind that I skip over a lot of the complicated ups and downs.
My mother passed away when I was eight years old. One day she had a heart attack while I was at school, and when my little sister and I went to go see her in the hospital, she had a stroke while I was sitting on the bed next to her. My mom later died in the ICU from a seizure, leaving my siblings and me behind. We were soon separated, and I found myself alone in what felt like deafening silence after living with my three noisy brothers and sisters.
I ended up moving in with my mom’s best friend from high school. Her husband had never met my mom or me before, so at first we were both skeptical of each other.
But in time, we grew into a tightly knit family. Life finally seemed to be putting some solid ground beneath my feet. That is until everything got turned on its head, when the man I had affectionately come to know as my adoptive father died from suicide on Dec. 3, 2014.
Despite my grandmother’s best efforts, I never really got the type of counseling or peer support that I so desperately needed as I grieved for my mom. As an eight-year-old, when I was encouraged to talk about it, I of course talked about everything except the loss of my mother. Next I was put in group counseling, and I can still remember my frustration when I realized that the girl next to me was there because her pet hamster had died.
After my adoptive father died, I would sometimes claim to be tired from a lack of sleep, which wasn’t a complete lie, since I was emotionally exhausted. I would also claim to be 'fine' when teachers and peers asked. It just seemed easier to say that rather than explain why I’m upset because the house doesn't feel the same without him in it – that his loud clumsiness had become a comfort, and I felt stripped and vulnerable without having him to fall back on.
But then I was lucky to go to Camp Erin / Camp Forget-Me-Not, a camp for kids like me who have experienced the death of someone close to them. At Camp Erin, I learned that I am not alone. That may seem like a silly thing to say, because therapists always told me, "You're not alone." or "Plenty of kids have lost a parent," but that never really hits home until you're standing face to face with other people your age who have also lost a parent.
Camp Erin also taught me coping methods, like expressing myself through acting, playing music, or simply sitting down and taking some time to myself. At camp I always felt comfortable talking about what happened to me in the relaxed and open environment. Overall, camp helped me realize that I'll be able to face future challenges in my life head on with the help of the things that I learned and the people that I met.
So I would like other kids to know that feelings of loneliness and confusion will pass with time. Your loved ones name won't always make a lump form in your throat, and one day you'll be able to look back with the people who support you in life and recall fond memories of the one you've lost. I want anyone out there who's reading this and can relate on some level to know that you can do this – you can get through today. Even if you have to take it one hour at a time – you can do this.