Camp Kita isnamed after the Abenaki word for “listen.” And that’s what Sydney Mosher ’10,her siblings, and Nichole Ivey ’08 are doing—creating a healing environment forchildren who have suffered loss, guided by the insight of the Mosher family.
By DianeAtwood ’77
A few daysbefore Sydney Mosher ’10 turned 14, her father, Christopher Mosher, committedsuicide. Sydney vowed to never breathe a word of it to anyone and to start herfreshman year of high school pretending it never happened. “Because it happenedduring summer vacation, it was easy for that scenario in my mind to work out,”she says. “But, I have a group of friends—I think my mom must have told theirparents—and they showed up at the funeral. Although I didn’t plan on tellingthem, it was very comforting that they came and showed their support.”
Even withtheir support, Sydney would not talk to her friends or anyone else about herfather’s death, not even her sister Morgan, who was 16 at the time, or herbrother Isaiah, who was 18. “Mom was always willing to talk about it with us,”she says. “She had lost her mother when she was 13, so she realized theimportance of talking, but she didn’t want to force us.”
Sydneygraduated from high school and headed off to Saint Joseph’s. One day a friendwalked into her dorm room and noticed a picture of her father and asked if hehad died. She said yes, and it turned out the friend’s father had also died.They made a Father’s Day trip together with a third classmate to visit Sydney’sfather’s grave. “The trip was healing,” she says. “It had been looming over meand I was feeling guilty that I had never visited before, so that was nice tobe able to do that. I don’t think I could’ve done that on my own.”
Sydney andher brother and sister all shared feelings of confusion, shame, anger, andguilt, but still, they never talked about their father’s suicide. “Survivors ofa traumatic event like a parent’s suicide often experience high levels ofguilt,” says Dr. Josh Schoenfeld, associate professor of psychology and thedepartment chair. “Guilt can really wreak havoc on a person’s ability tofunction and get along and have a happy life. Something has happened they feelis their fault that can’t be undone. It’s like a barb. Once it’s in your skinyou can’t just pull it out.”
It’sestimated that in the United States, every year between 7,000 and 12,000children lose a parent to suicide. According to a 2010 study led by JohnsHopkins Children’s Center, children or teens who have lost a parent to suicideare three times more likely to also commit suicide and are at increased risk ofdeveloping a range of major psychiatric issues. “I didn’t go down a dangerousroad,’” says Sydney, “but I’m sure pent-up anger and pent-up feelings couldmake someone else go off the deep end. It’s hard to separate yourself from thesituation and to not think I should have called him more often or given himmore hugs—that it was my fault.
“Idefinitely think holding those feelings in is not healthy for anyone. It helpsto be in a supportive environment, and not all children are lucky enough tohave that support. We had it.”
Last June,Sydney and her siblings decided to create Camp Kita, a nonprofit foundation insouthern Maine that provides a therapeutic experience in a safe and supportiveenvironment for children who have lost a parent to suicide. This year they willhost a weeklong summer camp and eventually hope to have a full program withkids coming and going throughout the entire season. “Camping was very importantto my dad,” says Sydney. “That was where we got to know him the most, while wewere camping. It made sense that this is what we wanted to do.”
Camp Kitawill offer a variety of healing opportunities within a traditional campexperience. “That’s why we’re excited about this camp,” Sydney says. “We wantto have that traditional therapy one-on-one with a counselor, but we also wantto introduce other methods for therapy, like music and art and equine therapy.They’ll be intermingled with different camp activities. It’s not necessarilygetting healed, because that’s not the point. It’s trying to find options thatwork and having a week of fun—the therapy is the bonus.”
Nichole Ivey’08 is a high school friend of Morgan’s and was at Saint Joseph’s with Sydney.When she heard about Camp Kita, she jumped in with both feet to help and is nowdirector of public relations and development. “The big idea behind Camp Kita isthat not everyone grieves in the same way,” she says. “Maybe talk therapy worksfor some people, but it doesn’t for others, and maybe equine therapy works ormaybe art therapy works. By giving kids these skills for effective griefmanagement, hopefully they’ll go on to thrive throughout their lives.”
WhenChristopher Mosher took his own life, he left his children feeling confused,sad, guilty, and isolated. Twelve years later, they created Camp Kita to helpother children heal, but it has also given them the opportunity to finally openup and begin their own healing. And no matter what he did or how much it hurtthem, Sydney wants people to know this about her father: “He was really lovingand supportive in other ways and adventurous and fun.”
To find moreinformation about Camp Kita, and ways to help support its mission, visit campkita.com.
An Eye onSigns, withDr. Josh Schoenfeld
Whenchildren experience a traumatic event, a well-meaning adult might feel the needto get them to a therapist as soon as possible. Imposing therapy or some otherspecific program prematurely can actually backfire and make things worse, saysDr. Josh Schoenfeld. “Research has shown that we don’t need to make people do‘this or that’ after a trauma. People, including children, have copingmechanisms and often recover in their own way. What they usually need is timeanda safe, loving, supportive environment.”
Dr. Schoenfeld recommends that parents taketheir cues from the child and be on the lookout for possible warning signs thatextra help might be necessary. “Obviously, a child who has been through atrauma is going to be upset,” he says. “That’s fine. It’s when you start to seea significant, persistent, and consistent change in personality, mood, orbehavior—something that really sinks in—that would be a warning sign.”