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.”