Molly's Letter to her Mom

Dear Mom,

I’m writing to you from camp. Yes, you heard that right. The kid who loves air conditioning, her bed, and her routine is at sleep away camp. It’s a camp for kids who have had a parent or sibling die. I’m here because of you and it has been really powerful. I think my life has changed because of this week. These campers are amazing, so brave and so wise. You would have loved seeing all of the personality, all of the energy and all of the connections that have been made. There is something about being at camp that makes me feel like a kid again. And feeling like a kid again reminds me of you. It reminds me that you were here and also that you are now gone. 

I’m writing you this letter knowing I have so much to say and also not knowing where or how to start. I guess I want to start and finish the same way—I miss you deeply and I will love you forever. That is often where I feel stuck between. Stuck between feeling so grateful that you were my mom and so sad because you died. You gave me more in 25 years than some people get in a lifetime, and yet, I will always wish I had more time with you.

You weren’t supposed to get sick. I thought that cancer happens to other people. That losing a parent young happens to someone else. And then it happened to me, it happened to our family. 

You should know that we are doing our best to move forward. Dad and Carla do their best to be there and the three of us stick together. We call ourselves Team Giorgio. We keep on fighting for you. We tell ourselves that you would want us to be happy, and yet, it is still really hard. It’s hard to be fully happy when there is always a part of me grieving. Then I feel stuck again. Stuck in between being happy and sad, stuck between wanting to feel strong and also feeling so tired of grieving.

If you were here in your physical body, we’d be talking about all of this on the phone while we recap our days. But you’re not in your body anymore. You’ve moved beyond it. You’re everywhere now. Sometimes I think that when you were alive, your soul, spirit, and energy were stronger than your body. But now it is clear to me that your body had cancer and died but your soul, spirit and energy live on, they soar freely. Your spirit can be everywhere and in everything. Be in both the happy and the sad, the love and the grief. 

You always called coincidences or serendipitous events “Godwinks”, so now when we feel your presence, like when I find heart shaped rocks or a penny or when your favorite song comes on the radio when I need you the most, we call them Ninawinks. So now when we see something that connects to you or something really strange and amazing happens, we know you’re giving us a Ninawink. Already at camp, I’ve found three Pennys while walking outside and the first camper I met was named Nina. I think that’s you telling me I am exactly where I need to be.

This is really all just another way for me to say thank you. Thank you for all that you gave me and continue to give me. I have a feeling that you will find a way to be my mom forever, and continue to give to me, even though your body has died. 

I am working really hard to be a women you would be proud of. I’m a therapist now. When you died, I was in the middle of grad school. Since then, I’ve finished school and learned so much about myself and how I want to live my life. I missed you at graduation, and missed you when I had big accomplishments. Those moments were happy and sad for me. Through my work I can channel your kind, loving heart, and your words of wisdom can flow out of me. Now I embrace the moments when I think “I sound just like my mother.” People often tell me how I remind them of you, and that I am just like you. I love hearing that and hope to always be my mother’s daughter.

Oh and mom! Guess what? I’m in love. I know, I know, you were right…all of those conversations we had when I’d worry about never having a boyfriend and you’d reassure me that I just haven’t met him yet. Well, I met him. And you would love him. I think you sent him to me. I tell him all about you and it makes me feel happy. And sad. And then I’m in it again. In the in between, in the space where time seems to move so slowly and also fly by. The space where I can feel immense gratitude and also deep heartache. The space where I can feel you all around me and also like you’re slipping right through my fingers. 

I don’t think I will ever stop missing you. And that’s okay. That means that I love you and always will. So let that be where I start, and let that be how I finish. I miss you deeply and will love you forever.

Molly

Danielly Belly's Letter to Her Sister

This letter from Somerset Experience clinician, Dani Epstein, was read to the campers the first night of camp at the campfire...

Dear Jodi,

It’s been 17 years since you died. It sounds like such a long time, but it feels like it was just yesterday. Right now, I’m at SomEx. It’s a camp for kids that have parents, brothers, or sisters who have died. When I learned about this camp, I knew I had to come. You know the craziest thing? My first day here was the anniversary of the day you died. I think that was you telling me that this is exactly where I need to be right now. I was 22 when you died, the girls here are so much younger than that. They are brave. They are strong. I am learning so much from them and the way that they are coping with their grief. It feels good to tell them about you. The more that I think about you and talk about you, I feel you live on in my heart.

It took me a long time to get to this point. For so long, I blamed myself. I wasn’t always the best little sister, I was 8 years younger than you. I got annoyed with you for trying to act like my mother. I was nasty sometimes, and we would fight; I would yell and scream at you. I was away at college during the 7 months you were sick with Cancer. I missed our last vacation as a family of five. On the last day I saw you, when you were at the hospital, my back was hurting, so I didn’t lean over to give you a hug and a kiss. I was angry and ashamed for so long after you died. Then I realized that if you were still here, that you wouldn’t want me to feel this way. I feel in my heart that you have forgiven me, this has allowed me to forgive myself.

Our family, our friends and the people who knew you say that you are our angel. You were a kind and compassionate person. You saw the best in people. You had struggles in life and you worked hard to overcome them. But the problem is, nobody is perfect. It bothers me that our family and friends remember you as perfect. You were a whole person with strengths and weaknesses. You suffered from anxiety and depression. You looked in the mirror an awful lot and you were very focussed on how you looked. You didn’t need to do that, you were beautiful. When they ignore your weaknesses, your mistakes, it feels like they are not seeing the whole picture of who you were. I will remember your beautiful parts and your parts that are not so pleasant. I remember all of you, I love all of you, even the icky parts.

I also remember our special times when we used to knock on the wall between our rooms before bedtime. You took good care of me, you protected me when I was a baby, up until the end. I had a doll named Jelly Belly, so you began calling me Danielly Belly. I miss you the most on our Birthdays. The day I was born, was one day after your 8th birthday. You always told me that I was the best birthday gift you ever got. You were my Birthday Buddy. On your birthday, I do something I know you would have loved. I go to get a manicure or a pedicure…and I always get purple…your favorite color. Do you know that now purple is one of my favorite colors also? On your birthday mom gets especially sad. I try to spend time with her, be there for her, hold her hand and give her hugs and kisses. I know how she misses your hugs and kisses.

Sometimes it’s really hard for me to be with our family without you there. We talk a lot about Football, and I mean A LOT! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Pats fan, but it is ALL we talk about these days. Everyone else plays golf regularly. You and I didn’t play golf and we weren’t as big into football. Even though I’m with our family, I still feel lonely without you there.

Everyday I look for signs that you are with me. When I see a butterfly or a ladybug, I feel your presence. When I see a pretty flower, I think of you. A beautiful sunset, a cute baby, a yummy dessert, when I find a penny or a dime, I think of you.

As we both know, you were a lefty. The other day at lunch, I was sitting with two of my campers in Oak Lodge and they were both Lefties! Were you there with us? I think you were. When I have these thoughts, I smile. It took a long time for me to laugh and smile when thinking of you, but I truly believe that you want me to be happy and to live my best life.

And speaking of my best life, I am spending time with family and friends as much as possible. I spend lots of time with our nephews…you would have loved Jacob and Spencer. Jacob is named after you, and is so much like you. He is kind and sensitive just like you. And guess what, his birthday is 2 days after mine, he is our Birthday buddy too! Spencer is mischievous, just like me. We tell them all about their Auntie Jodi. 

I love working with kids and teens and helping them work through their difficult feelings. I love yoga, riding my bike and playing with my pup Ernie. Even though you didn’t like dogs, I think you would love him, he looks like a teddy bear, and I know how you LOVED teddy bears.

I will continue to think about you, talk to you in my head and keep you in my heart.

I will love you always and Forever,

Danielly Belly

Dan Wolfson's 2009 Letter Home

Dear Mom,

Hi. It’s been a long time since I’ve written you a letter.  Actually, I think I know exactly how long it’s been- the last letter I sent you was for a Color War letter check on Josh Hahn’s great, glorious, and victorious gray team of 2002. Back then, I was a CIT at Manitou, going to war against some of my best friends on Dan Satter’s Maroon team. It’s interesting how history has a way of coming full circle, as I now write you once again for an organization that is being run by Josh Hahn and others, including Satter. And this time, I think we have the potential to all be victorious. But unfortunately, unlike the last time I wrote you, now there is no place I can address this letter.  And as I sit in front of Bernice’s laptop in the Manitou office, typing through tear streaked eyes, I know that this is going to be the most challenging letter I’ve ever written, and probably even more challenging to read aloud.

Right now, I am four days into the Manitou Experience.  But time can’t really be measured in days at Manitou, as time seems to stand still here.  Yet before we know it, we will all be back where we were just one week ago, although in our hearts, I know we will have all come a long way in a very short time.

And speaking of coming a long way, Mom, I think you would be amazed to see how far I have come, personally, since the last time I wrote you.  During the past seven years, I have gone through a lot of changes in my life.  First of all, I can now grow a beard.  Facial hair is pretty cool, right Quinn?  And Bernice, your goatee looks excellent.  But the changes I’ve gone through have been much more than physical.  Back then, I think I had a hard time coping with the fact that you had cancer.  It was something I just didn’t want to accept, because I couldn’t imagine a life without you.  You were always the rock of our family, even through the very end, and never wanted people to treat you differently just because you were sick. And you didn’t act sick.  You still made lunches and dinner for me and Rach every day, helped us with our homework, and knew every time I was getting myself into trouble… which was pretty often.  But over the years, I have had to take a lot more responsibility for these things myself.  And although I would love to go back and not have been forced to grow up, I know that you would be proud of the man that I am becoming.  

But this week isn’t all about me.  I look around, and just as you would be proud of me, I can’t begin to explain how proud I am of the thirty young men that sit before me.  I’m not going to lie to these guys- it absolutely sucks to lose someone close to you.  It involves a roller coaster of emotions that I can’t believe I was able to get through at the age of 18.  And these guys are all much younger than that, but I can see that they refuse to give in.  

But gentlemen, it’s okay to hurt sometimes.  There is a huge piece of all of our lives that has gone missing, and it is tough to know how to face that hole.  All of us are different, and all of us respond to life in different ways, but all of us are still here.  And all of us are strong.  And all of us still have a piece of our family members with us that can never be taken away.  Whether it is a love for adventure, like Keith, or in my sisters case, a computer like memory that can always keep me in check.  Guys, I know how hard it can be sometimes.  How can you focus on something like a math test, when all of a sudden that sadness pops into your heart?  I don’t have all the answers, so I’m going to pass on a little advice that I received from Dan Satter just last night.  Try to pick your moments.   When you feel that pain coming on, it’s okay, you have the right to feel sad, and you can’t be something you aren’t, but if you are true to yourself, and able to recognize and respond to what is going on both inside of you and around you, then you will see that you are truly winners, regardless of scores on a college league board or grades on a report card. And know that it gets a little easier every day.  Four years ago, I couldn’t hold back tears when talking about my mom.  But now, I feel lucky that I can reflect on my loss, and understand that although it doesn’t seem fair, loss is a part of life.  We have all been forced to grow up a little faster than a lot of our peers, but you should all take pride in the way that you are meeting that challenge.  And as I think this week has shown you, we still have an unbelievable potential to find joy in life.  So I want to thank all of you, for allowing me to share this experience with you.  I want to thank the organizers of this week, Sara, Hahn, Satter, and Waldo.  I want to thank the owners of Manitou, for opening up a place that has brought me an infinite amount of good times over the years, and gave me a chance to grow in so many ways, so now you can all have the chance to grow here as well.  I want to thank the All Star staff we have, for taking time away from their lives to be a part of this. I want to thank Bob and Amy, for just having them around has helped me reconnect with my inner child, but also helped me recognize that we build much more than campers here- we build people.  

I want to especially thank Rachel, who will always be the most important person in the world to me, for being here with me.  Although she didn’t really know anyone here before this week, Rachel was willing to come up to camp for what was sure to be a gauntlet of emotions, and help to capture what we like to call Manitou Magic.  And that magic isn’t just the winning and losing of games, it isn’t our fight song, or our outstanding facilities, it isn’t the stars or the fields, it’s all of that plus more.  It’s something that is built by people who truly care about one another, and truly care about this place, because they understand how special our times here are.   And to be honest, the emotional gauntlet that I expected to be getting myself into has really been filled with many more smiles than tears, so I thank all of you for being so much fun to be around.  And mom, I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for always expecting more from me, always believing in me, and always being there for me, even now.  And while I don’t know if I’ll ever really decide what I believe in when it comes to the greater questions like God and heaven, I know that when I truly need you, I can always talk to you, and in some weird way find comfort.  I hope that everyone here can find their own ways to find that warmth and that strength.  And I truly believe that they can.

Mom, I will always love you, I will always miss you, and I will always strive to make you proud.

Love,

Your baby boy, your hyperactive child, your rebellious teenager, your college graduate, your son forever,
Dan

Zach's Letter Home

Dear Dad,

I miss you daddy.  I wake up everyday when all of a sudden the harsh reality sets in.  My best friend, my hero, my dad is dead.  It has been just under 4 months since my dad has died but yet these emotions of anger, sadness, confusion, frustration are all very palpable day in and day out.  I miss talking, laughing, playing, and learning from my dad.  I am scared to experience life without my dad.  He was the one I turned too for support, guidance and advice.  I find myself asking how will put the next foot forward?  How will I make the right choice without his guidance?  How will I know the answers to my questions without him there?

I, like many of you thought “I am okay”  “I will get through this” “ I don’t need anyone’s help”  But then I came to the Kennybrook Experience.  I too was scared and apprehensive about coming.   But then I met the amazing staff.  I participated in circle time with a bunch of my peers who I didn’t know.  I was able to open up to a bunch of people who I have only known for a few hours.  I was telling them things I wouldn’t tell some of my closest friends.  I am not entirely sure what drove me to do this but I think it had something to do with the Kennybrook magic.  That magic made me feel at ease and made me feel comfortable.  I was not even here for 8 hours but I knew this place was special. 

The moment the kids stepped off the bus headed to the basketball court I knew I was in the right place.  The feeling I felt so many other times at my previous camp.  Excitement, nervousness, but mostly eagerness to get the week going. 

The energy, the enthusiasm, and the excitement of camp brought me right back to my element.  I was having fun and living like a kid.  The outside world didn’t matter.  I forgot about work, I forgot about my problems, but most of all I forgot about the loss I was feeling.  Then circle time ensued, a time where 4 counselors, 8 campers, and 1 clinician had a safe space.  A space where we can let all our emotions out and feel them together as one cabin.  To hear every single one of my campers share a piece of their story was not only touching but it was also reassuring.  I was reassured that there are others like me going through the same thing I am going thru.  I am not the only one dealing with these emotions and feelings that I am currently feeling.  Shortly after circle time concluded the kids were back laughing, playing and having fun and putting our discussions we just had on the back burner and forgetting the stresses of the outside world.   To me that balance is like no other.  No other place are you able to empathize with your brothers and then five minutes later laugh over something silly.  Personally I need that balance, with such sadness I need happiness.  I have truly found that perfect balance at KenEx.

I look out at you 40 kids and am absolutely amazed.  I was lucky enough to have my father for 24 years of my life.  He has given me the tools to succeed in life.  He taught me how to be a man, how to respect people, and how to be kind.  While I was fortunate enough to have my dad to teach me and to mold me into the man I am, many of you don’t have that figure in you’re life to teach you.  Yet so many of you have those tools, you are so kind, respectful, and amazing,  I commend each and everyone of you.  I wanted to come to camp and teach kids how to better themselves but I think the opposite has unfolded.  You guys taught me about myself.  You have taught me how to open up, how to be a better person, and how to open back my heart to love again.  While no one can take the place of my dad I have found ways to use that part of my heart again and that void is filled by all of you. =

I was having a conversation this week about the power of helping others.  While I am going through my own grief, I have been able to manage that and help my campers with their grief.  For me that has been the best medicine and the best coping strategy .  Taking the pain away from others and helping bring just one smile to a camper’s face is helps me cope and is helping me heal.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I have heard or I have said “ That’s why we come to camp”  It are those smiles, those laughs, those tears that make this all worth it. 

Often times I don’t like talking about my father’s death.  It is uncomfortable people don’t get it.  I have a found a safe place here where people do get it.  A place where I can talk about things, a place where I can cry and have 50 other people picking me up and comforting me.  I think the KenEx magic is real.  As soon as you enter this place, nothing else matters.  Religion, race, background all go out the window and we stand here connected.  We are all connected by a loss, a loss none of us wish we had.  However, this loss has brought us here, this loss has connected every single one of us.  And for that I am thankful for. 

I couldn’t have asked for a better week with better kids.  I am just so amazed by how awesome all of you are.  I have learned so much about all of you.  Your willingness to talk and share is a gift I encourage all of you to keep.  In doing so I have learbed more about myself I could have ever imagined.  My family’s mantra is you have two options

1)    Curl up in a ball and let the situation win

2)    Get up everyday live life to the fullest and live the way dad would have lived

You guys have all picked option number 2.  For that I am proud.  If each of you can live life to the fullest (wish you have all have this week) then so can I.  Thank you for giving me the strength I have been yearning for since my dad has died.  With darkness comes light.  Thank you for everyone who has made this camp possible. 

Zach

Alex's Letter to His Dad

“I like to release my emotions sometimes when I feel down about my dad. When I write to him, it’s like I can still connect with him; like he’s still there." 

Dear Dad,

It’s been almost 16 years since you passed away. I know you’re in a better place, and I know you’re watching, but I still miss you. I miss you a lot.

It’s hard for me to think about the past and what happened that day, but it’s also hard for me to think about the future: the future you’ll never see. You’ll never see my first varsity basketball game, my graduation, or even my wedding. I didn’t just lose you when you passed away, I lost my best friend: someone I was going to share my life’s experiences with.

I lost, but in a weird way, I gained. Brothers, friends, and a great lifetime experience all in the form of the Manitou Experience.

Manitou Experience is an all boys camp I’ve attended for four years that is for young boys that lost a close relative: like me losing you. It’s undoubtedly the best five days of my life because I can go there, and worry about nothing else. I’ve grown and matured with my brothers – my brothers I love. From the people, to the counselors, to the atmosphere, it’s magical.

In the end, I love you dad, but I gained much more. Manitou is the greatest place in the world, and I look forward to it every year. I’m in good hands, as I hope you are too. I hope heaven’s treating you well.

Love,

Alex