Today I started writing the monologue for the video they will be showing at the child bereavement camp I volunteer at every summer. It will just be a short 2-3 minute video saying hello to the kids, wishing them well, letting them know how much they mean to me and explaining why I can’t be there. In addition to this I wrote and sent off letters to a few of the teenage boys I usually do more of the one-on-one counseling with explaining how much I regret not being able to be there this year and why this year abroad is so important for me. I really hope they understand, they’re a great group and deserve a few breaks in what has been a life with quite a few tough obstacles to overcome.

    The camp is located at Seabeck, WA and the program that oversees it is known as WICS (Widowed Information Consultant Services) and our specific program Wings is a 3 day session in which kids ranging from kindergartener to teen can all come together with their peers, enjoy group games, hangout at the campfire and talk about the death of a parent or sibling with each other or one of the certified counselors without fear of judgement.

   Unlike many non-profit programs that do more support groups for just the widower, WICS focuses on how to help the family unit as a whole gain some coping skills to deal with the loss a family member. I’ve been one of the few certified youth counselors and have also been the go to speech guy. As my co-facilitator ( the only other counselor with certifications) puts it: I do the big speeches like closing and she tries to take pictures and not cry too much. She’s easily one of the biggest sweethearts I know. The amount of pride I feel in my little brother for stepping up to help out in my absence can’t be expressed in words, this is not a subject that has been easy for him (in truth I feel it is a subject that is not easy for anyone). I’m blessed to have a bro with such a big heart.

   My mother died of AML leukemia at the age of thirty. This camp means a lot to me. Not only was it the same one I attended when I was a little squirt and trying to get by in a world were most other little kids couldn’t even accept the death of parent (tykes have some admirable internal self-defense mechanisms) but this is where I had a lot of the formative moments that put me on the path not only be able to accept the fact that I lost a parent at an early age, but to see the unique perspective it puts me in and some of the strengths as a person associated with that. When you can find the silver lining of any tragic event you have gone along ways towards dealing with that event. Cherishing each moment on this world and trying to make the most of it are hard-earned victories. These experiences also were strong precursors in wanting to make a career out of helping out kids and teens who are going through the journey of grief. Seabeck was the first time where I was a co-speaker with my father for some of the grief seminars on helping out parent’s raising a teenager without the support of a spouse. My father’s advice on impromptu speech creation and drawing inspiration from the heart have given my some of my most powerful tools as an orator.

   The memories I have from my time here have shown me much about the power of the human spirit. From Dr. Bob the Psych PhD who used to let us kids talk to his ventriloquist dummy if they didn’t feel comfortable opening up to an “old fart with glasses” (his words not mine, haha) and put us at ease with a multitude of magic tricks to the charismatic young counselor in his mid-twenties who had lost his own father as a child in the line of duty as a police officer. Many of my earliest role models were encountered. I discovered what Judaism was when my good friend at camp declined on bacon at the cafeteria at breakfast. All in all every time I set foot on the small camp property out on the Olympic Peninsula by Hood’s Canal I’m awash in a wave of powerful memories. Good juju to say the least.

   Since the camp is in June and I leave for Seoul in May this will be the first time in many years I will be unable to attend. While this causes some emotional pain and regret I know that it is for the best in the long-term. As time goes on and the group of teens and children we work with grow more and more diverse it has become apparent to me that to really make a difference in this field I need to be able to understand how grief is expressed in other cultures and just how values differ from culture to culture.

   All of us express the sensation of loss and longing for the presence of a love one in different ways due to our age, sex, family setup, geographical location and a multitude of other factors. We all also go through many different stages on the long and sometimes taxing journey of grief. If I am to be a sherpa to so many of these climbers making such a difficult ascent of the peak of grief I need to become a world citizen. I have lived in a fairly small and geocentric locale all my life and it would be easy for this to become an Achille’s heel towards my career goals of helping to reinvent the bereavement field.

  To counteract the feeling of regret at not being able to be at Seabeck this year I decided to be proactive and start researching opportunities in South Korea to exercise my field in some capacity. While initially having some difficulties in discovering potential avenues the other day I struck gold (picture me pumping fist in air with loud “Eureka!” haha). I wrote in to one of my favorite expat blogs in SoKo (ChrisinSouthKorea.com) and was delighted at his in-depth and well thought out response.

  I’m in the process of contacting the non-profit HOPE so that I can be one of their volunteer teacher’s during the off-time from my Hagwon (name of a private English school). Working at orphanages near my home in Seoul will be a great way to not only further my ability to accomplish further enrichment in this field but hopefully to ease the pain of homesickness and to show the world that we Americans put an emphasis on the enrichment of all human beings regardless of race or geographical location. Everyone deserves a chance to make something of themselves. If all goes well I can do much to fight the negative stereotypes of Americans abroad as self-centered and closed-minded. I cannot wait to start my adventure and eagerly await overcoming the trials and tribulations awaiting my in my soon to be home far from home.

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