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Circle Camps: Helping Kids Impacted by Grief and Loss

Design Life Kid's Daughters Maya and Senna at Circle Camps.

Our team at DLK is excited as Circle Camps is approaching for DLK daughters, Maya and Senna. For those that may not know, Circle Camps is a volunteer run, free summer camp program that helps girls impacted by the loss of a parent(s). Campers participate in traditional camp fun and age-appropriate grief activities, learning how to navigate a significant loss, cope, and move forward in a healthy way. The best part is they get to have fun and connect with other girls their age during the process. To give more insight into why Circle Camps is so important, I’m sharing my personal experience with grief and loss at a young age. It is not sugar coated or warm and fuzzy, but that’s okay because it’s real life and other young girls are going through it too.     

Dealing with Grief and Loss at 13

Losing someone you love is not really something you think about at a young age. As a kid, you kind of just expect mommy and daddy to always be there… because where else would they be? I grew up in a large family of seven with four siblings, two older sisters and two older brothers. I was the youngest, or as they would say, the baby. There was never a dull moment and although we did not always get along, as per most families, I wouldn’t take it back for the world.  

As I grew up, I remember thinking about how much I loved my parents and how much they meant to me. Besides my siblings, my mom and dad were my everything. I vividly remember sitting on the stairs one day after coming home from church as a family and crying because I realized it wouldn’t always be like this. Crying over the idea that my mom and dad someday wouldn’t be there, by my side. Not to mention, my parents were also older than the “typical” parent for kids my age, not that I fully grasped that at the time. Still, I never thought I’d lose my dad at 13.

I was extremely close with my dad, which I am very grateful and fortunate for, as I know not everyone can say the same. He retired a few years before he passed away, so we spent a lot of time together. I listened to his favorite singer, Pete Seeger, and he listened to mine, Taylor Swift. He would even sing the high pitched “Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble” in “I Knew You Were Trouble” with me in the car when he would take me to my viola lessons. We would laugh, have our inside jokes, and sometimes do things behind my mom’s back! I was his Little Lulu, his Dolly. I was always very eager to go upstairs to his desk and see what he was up to. So much so that he jokingly said I was like a little pest at times, all in good fun. 

As I think back to vacations, family dinners, conversations, or even just simple moments together, I am extremely grateful for the 13 years we had, but at the same time I’m scared of forgetting moments as the time flies by.

Is there ever really a good time for someone to go? Probably not, but we all hope for our loved ones to live long, full lives. My dad lived a full life, with pride and joy for our family and the life we had together. He was always beaming with a big bright smile as he bragged about us children any chance he could get. He was the best father and friend a girl could ask for, which is why I loved spending time with him. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at 63. Something none of us saw coming. 

It was early the morning of December 15, 2013. Just 10 days before Christmas. How cruel for a 13-year-old… How cruel for my siblings and my poor mom… How cruel for anyone…

I remember waking up in my bedroom and seeing blue and red flashes of light on the wall. Immediately my heart sank. It was very early on a Sunday morning. We would have been getting up for church soon. I remember looking out the window to see what it was. Wishing it was an emergency vehicle further down the street, but it was an ambulance parked right in front of our house. 

I woke my sister up and went out into the hallway to find my other sister who had told us that our dad was not waking up. They were trying to revive him, but it wasn’t looking good. We then woke our brothers up who had no idea what was happening. We were all terrified. My sister who I shared a room with said we should pray. I remember we both started praying, but she was going so fast, and everything felt so wrong to me. It felt ingenuine and disrespectful to be saying the prayers so fast. Minutes later my other sister, the oldest one, came back and I went over to her to ask what was happening. The look on her face told me everything I needed to know. That he had died and wasn’t coming back. She said they tried, but he didn’t make it. I was in shock. We all were. How could that be? What about us? How could he just leave us? Why would God take him from us? We needed him. It wasn’t fair. It sort of felt like my childhood ended in that moment. 

It wasn’t until a couple years later that we got the autopsy report to learn he died from pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the arteries going to your lungs, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the narrow blood vessels. The condition ultimately weakened his heart and killed him.

Then came the regrets of “we should have done this” or “said this.” What if we had taken him to the hospital after my sister found him almost passed out on the floor weeks before? We knew he had high blood pressure and chest pains. He assured us he was fine, and it wasn’t a big deal. He refused to go to the hospital or even see a doctor about it, something he always did. He had a friend who had open heart surgery, and their experience was enough for him to decide he would never go through that. We should have forced him to get checked out anyway. We should have made it a bigger deal. Maybe he would still be here or at least have had more time. Besides that, none of us got any closure since it was sudden, and we never got to say goodbye. I regret not being able to tell him how much I loved him and that I forgave him. Our relationship had been strained a few months leading up to his death because of something that had happened. I had become very angry at him and gave him a hard time because of it. My emotions were all over the place as I loved him, wanted to tell him I forgave him and was sorry too, but also still furious at him. We were not in a good place when he died and I never told him how much I loved him, despite everything. 

That is something I must live with for the rest of my life.

Since then, I have relied heavily on my mom for support as she has been there for me through everything. My siblings and I were all there for each other during that time as well. We felt like we were the only ones who understood what we were feeling and what we were going through. We were in shock for a while as it was so sudden and unexpected. I remember returning to school after the holidays and none of my classmates knew how to talk to me or act. Lots of times they would just make me feel worse. I didn’t want to talk about it. It was so new and raw. My mom suggested talking to a professional or going to a grief support group. That was the last thing I wanted to do.

Looking back, I realize that was probably the very thing I needed. Someone who I could talk and relate to who understood the sudden loss of a parent and the intense grief that comes with it. It was a big change to have someone who was such a big part of my life just be gone. It’s not like my dad died of old age or we had any kind of warning that he was going to die. I did not realize how beneficial it would have been to have talked with a kid my age who had gone through a similar situation.

As a part of Team DLK, I am proud that we support Circle Camps as this cause is close to me and so many others. I would have loved the opportunity to have gone to this camp. DLK strives to support as many girls as possible because it will help them process their grief, experiences, and big feelings in a healthy way. So, for the little girl who got to know her father, the one who didn’t, or the one who doesn’t remember much, please consider donating to Circle Camps and making a positive impact in the life of a grieving child. You can support by shopping our Designs for Charity Collection or making a donation today. Any amount, big or small, is greatly appreciated and will help to create a safe and happy place at camp. 

I choose to #findthebeautyineveryday because it keeps me grounded, content, and strong. When I find my own beauty and joy, it brings me closer to my dad. I feel his presence, his laugh, and his love. It’s a simple reminder that even almost 10 years after his death, I’ll never lose him. He will stay with me now, forever, and always. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been without your parent. A piece of them is a piece of you and you’ll carry them with you wherever you go.

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