Death is part of the life insurance business. But behind the scenes, behind the policies, the benefit riders, the visits from agents, a family is left torn apart. Many times, children are left without a parent and thrust into a sphere of emotions that they’ve never felt before, a place their own friends don’t understand. A place where feelings of sadness, loneliness and anger take shape. Many are far too young to know how to cope. Some never get the chance to learn.
And some, as I learned recently, head to grief camp.
I was invited to a screening of “One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp,” an HBO documentary about children dealing with the loss of a parent or guardian and their experience at Camp Erin, a weekend bereavement retreat for children and teens ages 6 through 17. The documentary, with support from the New York Life Foundation, follows children around during their weekend at the Los Angeles-area retreat, chronicling their every move.
The movie was downright tear-jerking – to say the least. I’m not sure anyone there was prepared for the magnitude of emotions this short film would bring. One girl featured in the film, age 8, shy with short brown hair, tells the camera that before her dad died, she thought “dead” meant “to go to sleep.” She learned the true meaning the day her innocence was fractured, the day her dad “killed himself with a plastic bag over his head,” as she tells the camera matter-of-factly, her older brother by her side.
During a therapy exercise on anger, a boy tells other campers that he feels “angry because his uncle stabbed his dad.” Another one feels angry “when I feel lonely.” And another “when my mom didn’t say goodbye.”
Once I was able to catch my breath, I realized that through this intense, emotional production, there is a silver lining. It’s here where these kids can connect to someone who knows what they’re going through. It’s here where they can talk to kids their own age who get it. This doesn’t happen at school, at adult therapy sessions or at regular summer camp. It happens at Camp Erin and the other 42 camps of the same nature.
Camp Erin, the focus of the documentary, was started by The Moyer Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing hope and healing to children affected by loss and addiction. It was founded in 2000 by World Series champion pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen. With the help of volunteers, counselors and donors, Camp Erin has been able to open its doors – free of charge – to 2,600 children annually in 43 locations across the country.
Karen Moyer, who spoke after the screening, reminded us that there is no growth after trauma if that trauma is not addressed appropriately. This is true for adults, but even more so for children. And through my tear-stained notes, days later, I also read the most important point noted by Moyer: “No child should grieve alone.”
So I ask you, agents, brokers and friends of families that have lost someone, keep The Moyer Foundation and these grief camps in mind when you learn of the loss or addiction troubles of a parent. A life insurance payout surely helps in these situations, but it only goes so far. The healing lessons learned and connections made at these camps last a lifetime.