Helping to Heal a Child's Grieving Heart
On his first day of Kindergarten in 1995, Derick Ogg came home to the news that his beloved father had died. Now 32 years old, Derick vividly recalls how he felt at the time-- numb, devastated and completely alone. Who was he now without his father by his side? His five-year-old world turned upside down in the space of 24 hours.
Despite his family’s efforts to help him process this enormous loss, Derick kept his feelings bottled up, growing more withdrawn and lonely with each passing day. Just as he was starting to come to terms with his father’s death, Derick learned something that would challenge him anew. When he learned his father had died by suicide, that knowledge added a level of anger and confusion to his grief that made him feel even more alone.
In 1998, just after Derick turned 10, his mother read about Frederick Health Hospice’s Camp Jamie, a special weekend experience for grieving children and adolescents. Paired with an adult volunteer called a “Big Buddy” to provide ongoing support and friendship, each Camp Jamie camper is given the opportunity to talk about their feelings related to the death of someone special. Many young campers find that learning they are not alone in their grief is the beginning of healing.
“Camp Jamie was a turning point for me in dealing with my grief,” says Derick. “I admit I didn’t want to go, but once I got there and met my Big Buddy, I relaxed. I was only 10 years old, so I didn’t realize the enormous impact the experience had on me at the time. But I do remember starting to feel better almost immediately. Just knowing that I wasn’t the only kid going who dealing with these feelings was very freeing. My grief didn’t resolve overnight, but it did give me tools to deal more effectively with my feelings.”
Derick Ogg never forgot what Camp Jamie meant to him. For the next 20 years, he thought about the experience frequently, and always with great gratitude. In 2019, he made the decision to turn his gratitude into action and become a Camp Jamie volunteer.
“I enjoy working with kids, and people say kids respond well to me,” he says. “I also know firsthand what it feels like to not know anyone who has experienced what you have and how lonely that feels. For both those reasons, I thought I might have something unique to offer as a Camp Jamie volunteer-- so I applied to help out at the 2019 program.”
Unknown to Derick at the time, he was about to become the answer to one father’s prayer. Sensing that having the opportunity to share his feelings would him, his father enrolled his son, Tyler, who was grieving the sudden loss of his mother, in Camp Jamie—just as Derick Ogg’s mother had enrolled him almost 20 years earlier. Tyler was accepted as a camper at right around the same time Derick was signing up to be a Big Buddy,
“The moment we met, I saw myself in Tyler,” says Derick. “He really sad and a little lost, but like most kids his age he wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about that. There’s never any pressure on the campers to do or say anything they aren’t comfortable with, but as soon as I shared my experience, Tyler opened up. After that, other campers joined in, and I could see them connecting with one another through their shared experience of grief right in front of my eyes.”
Just as Derick did in 1998, Tyler made friends at Camp Jamie that he keeps in touch with.
“Camp Jamie was life-changing for Tyler,” says his father. “I dropped off one kid, but I picked up my son. I am forever grateful to Derick and to Frederick Health Hospice.”
“I believe that God gives each of us gifts, tools, and experiences to cope with whatever life puts in our path, no matter how devastating or hopeless things feel at the time,” says Derick. “It’s an extra blessing to be able to help someone else deal with the rough things in their lives…which is why I plan on being a Camp Jamie volunteer for years to come.”