A few weeks back I wrote about Canuck Place, the amazing hospice that helps families copes with their children’s end-of-life care, and where kids like Tristan go to get a little R & R from their parents. This past week we had another incredible experience with this amazing organization, this being their “Teen Camp”, held at an all accessible campsite in Squamish B.C. (not far from Whistler) where due to his age, Tristan was able to have one last camp experience with the friends he’s met and known at Canuck Place over the past 10 or so years.
Teen Camp is the most incredible environment for everyone involved – and I mean everyone. From the nurses/care workers who work around the clock taking care of the kids, to the volunteers who give up 6 days of their lives to hang out with the kids, to the organizers who keep the parents busy with activities, the parents who – often for the first time – get to meet other parents who understand and empathize what each other is going through, to the teens themselves. It’s a wonderful supportive place where nobody leaves the same as they came; each and every cup overflows with love and emotions, and it’s pretty tough not to be affected by it all in one way or another.
What was unique about this years camp is that for a main peer group (including Tristan) this will be their last one, due to them all getting too old to attend. But getting older (most were 17 – 19 with a couple of “peer volunteers” who were both 21) also meant these kids weren’t going to be satisfied with the standard campfire songs and nightly S’mores rituals – although they did participate in those as well. No, it seems that (Along with the “volunteers” who should really be called “awesome incredible friends” because that’s what they are) late night “Cards Against Humanity” marathons were in order. If you don’t know about CAH yet, it’s a politically incorrect card game that is about as kid-friendly as a trip to Amsterdam’s Red Light district, but ten times funnier – Hey, what do you expect from a product whose tag line is “The Party Game for Horrible People”? Seriously! Anyways the gang all had a blast playing this crude and vulgar game, which is really my point here – where else do these young adults get to be so free and easy to express themselves and say things to each other like “A Super Soaker full of cat pee” to a group of other people at 1 am? Believe me when I say, not too many places. In other words: At camp ALL boys can be boys; including the girls!
And since this group of crazies were graduating, in their wake was a crop of “next generation” campers in attendance, which in turn meant a whole new generation of camper parents. It was really interesting to watch them politely yet awkwardly acknowledge each other early on during the first day, often unsure what to do or say; but then slowly and gradually the small talk turned into conversations, then conversations turned into meals together, and before they knew it, the common threads of all our lives turned folks into “old friends” in approximately 5 or 6 hours. By the end of the 2 days (kids were there for 5 days with adults joining in on the back half) some parents had stayed up late nights talking away, getting to know each other, and forming friendships with others of their – our – shared and unique ilk. I’m confident that several genuine connections were made in those 48 hours, which is just one more awesome thing about camp.
Susan and Gillian (the organizers from Canuck Place) did an amazing job in creating not just an environment where parents could comfortably get to know one another, but also set up a “mini spa” where massages, facials, manicures and pedicures were available, as a sort of respite for weary folks who rarely get those opportunities. There were also several sessions designed for the parents to learn ways to better help and connect with their kids, as well as find ways to deal with the inevitable day when our kids are no longer kids, but adults, and all the challenges that go along with that transition. It was really remarkable just how much these ladies were able to pack into two days!
But as with all good things, on Sunday morning after breakfast it was time for camp to come to an end. There were some announcements, a world class performance by the “Spice Boys” (don’t ask) hugs, handshakes all around, with the phrase “email me” echoed several hundred times, before everyone hit the road… Well, almost everyone. The camp organizers, volunteers and nurses, etc. all had to stay behind to tidy up a bit before they too, were able to go back home for a very well deserved rest.
On the drive home it hit me: I just experienced the very best thing in the world. I got to watch these kids – make that young adults – who struggle so much in their day to day lives get to feel joy, love, acceptance, and a sense of belonging with not just their disabled peers, but other young adults. I got to watch parents witness these fine qualities blossom and emerge from their children – often for the first time – and experience the heartfelt gratitude and joy that comes along with that. And finally, I saw a group of selfless individuals who do so much to ensure all of these emotions are made possible for everyone else; a group whose main reward are the expressions on the faces of the many people they touch.
Believe me when I say that there is nothing in this world as moving or poignant as watching our special kids gain confidence and develop into fine young people, in spite of all the challenges that life has thrown their way; and Canuck Place Teen Camp (and all those that are involved) have once again, done everything possible to ensure these kids – including Tristan – and their parents – including me – have incredible experiences and prepared for the next steps in their lives. All I can say is say a humble, yet heartfelt “Thank You” and “We WILL miss you”.
Readers: Have you ever had an organization support you in a time of need, the way Canuck Place has supported my family? If so, please let us know how the experience affected you in the comments below.
*I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there were a half dozen or so bright spirits absent at camp this year; these being the brave young souls who’ve sadly passed due to their respective illnesses. A lantern representing each one of these courageous young people was hung in a tree, creating a place where friends and loved ones had the opportunity to pay tribute, or quietly grieve their loss. It was a sobering reminder of what bonds all of the participants at camp, and one that also makes everyone appreciate it all the more.