Sensitive Subject

If someone is not told about the death by their parents immediately after it happens, they will most likely resent not being included in the bereavement process, especially given the implication that they’re too young to understand and appreciate the consequences of the death of a loved one. A camper’s participation in the mourning process with other members of the family is necessary for all concerned.

It is very important for the camp director and other staff members to demonstrate the camp’s sincere concern and interest in the family’s loss by gestures such as attending the funeral, sending a sympathy note, a donation or flowers, or other contribution, depending on the circumstances surrounding the death of the loved one.

Notes of condolence from a camper’s cabin mates, friends and counselors should be encouraged and will be most appreciated. The staff and fellow campers are the mourner’s very real family during the summer with the camp being their home.

Upon returning to camp, if they return to camp, acknowledgement from cabin mates, counselors and the director is necessary so that the camper can feel a true sense of concern, sympathy and compassion from those they’ve grown so close to during camp.

However, public acknowledgement by the entire camp is not usually necessary and could possibly make the camper feel uncomfortable and even embarrassed.

Emotional and social support are needed by the camper and should not be taken for granted, even when the camper appears to return to the everyday routine of the camp as though nothing has happened.

The staff must be sensitive to symptoms of depression, such as anguish, crying, changes in eating and sleeping, and other signs of emotional or social distress reflected by the mourner.

If these symptoms of grief and bereavement are noted, and with the permission of the parents, counseling by a professional at camp can be of significant importance to the camper so that they can to begin to work through a most difficult human experience.

Like the joy of birth, the death of a family member or friend is a major life-cycle event which must be understood, given the appropriate prominence it deserves and shared with important people both at home and at camp.

Charles B. Rotman is Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., is the author of “Camp is Business, Customer Satisfaction” and “Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) in Camp Management” (1998. Babson College Press), and is president of CBR Associates Inc., a mental health consulting service for camps. For questions, Rotman can be reached at (508) 651-1132 or chir7@aol.com.

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