Bond of Bereavement
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The teenagers trekked through the woods on a mission to master the Wall, a 10-foot wooden obstacle that was the most difficult of several tasks they had completed on the Initiation and Confidence Course. Some of them hugged, some chatted, but others walked alone -- caught up in thoughts deeper than the beautiful scenery.
It was the first full day at Phoenix Rising, an unusual summer camp nestled in the woods near Crofton. Instead of learning to kayak and sail, the campers had come from across Maryland to cope with their grief over the death of a loved one. A program of Hospice of the Chesapeake, Phoenix Rising was established to help teens deal with the adult issues of death and loss.
Early Saturday, the teens tackled the Peanut Butter Pit and the Tandem Line Bridge and for a while focused on something other than their heartache as they balanced on tiny platforms and swung on ropes. Then, to drive home the need for trust and cooperation, camp organizers put them in front of the giant wall.
"Put your foot here!" Daniel Spokely, 15, of Annapolis, who lost his father to cirrhosis of the liver, told his brother, David, 16, who was the first to attempt the feat, as other youths positioned themselves to help.
"Help him up!" said Jonathan Burks, 17, of Upper Marlboro, who came to camp with his brother, James, 19, because of the recent death of their father from prostate cancer. "Push him up! Help him get up!"
A dozen hands sent David over the wall as other campers grinned and applauded.
Over three days, the teens worked with counselors, learned about grief, shared their feelings, dealt with the effects of the death on their lives and met people their own age who also were grieving.
"The best part is getting to talk to people who are your age who know what you are going through," said Margaret Doyle, 14, of Annapolis, who lost her 7-year-old brother, Thomas, in February when he apparently stopped breathing in his sleep.
Margaret said that immediately after her brother died, her family was surrounded by support, but as the weeks wore on, people didn't come around as much. When she returned to school, her classmates didn't mention her brother.
"You knew that people were still thinking about you, but they weren't by your side any more, even though sometimes you really needed to talk," she said. "I sometimes talk to my mom about it, but she usually wants to talk about it when I don't feel like talking, and it seems like I want to talk when she doesn't want to."
Phoenix Rising Director Karen Frank said dealing with grief is especially difficult for teens.
"Everything with teenagers is about trying to fit in with their peers, and then something like this happens and it makes them feel so different," she said.