Each summer, a counselor or camper is asked to kick off a campfire by sharing their story or thoughts about their grief and time at camp. As you might imagine, it is an amazingly touching way to remember someone, share thoughts that are not often shared out loud, and model the openness and support that are the foundation of our experiences at camp. Below are the words that first-year counselor, Zach Bergman, read at the closing campfire at Kennybrook Experience last summer.
A Letter Home
By Zach Bergman
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 to 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 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 "magic". That magic made me feel at ease and made me feel comfortable. I was not even here for 8 hours but I know 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. I felt 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 through. 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. 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 your life to teach you. Yet so many of you have those tools: you are so kind, respectful, and amazing, I commend each and every one 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.
Often times I don’t like talking about my father’s death. It is uncomfortable and 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. 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. 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. Thank you for giving me the strength I have been yearning for since my dad died. With darkness comes light. Thank you for everyone who has made this camp possible.