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Why I Kesem–Splash: “For the Family”

Every now and then at Camp Kesem events, we get asked “Why do you Kesem?” We use this question in the CK community to ask more than just why someone shows up for an awesome week of camp every summer. “Why I Kesem” goes deeper than our not-so-secret addiction to silly camp songs and love of watching the Talent Show acts every summer. “Why I Kesem” is about the story that led us to this amazing organization, and what the counselors and campers have come to mean to us. This spring, we’re spotlighting our counselors and sharing their stories. This week, we feature Splash, a senior Sociology and Pre-Med major from Boston, MA who is a Community Outreach coordinator at CKND. Her favorite Disney movie is a tie between Finding Nemo and Up, and she really, really likes chocolate. Like, really likes chocolate.

When I was interviewing for a medical school  few weeks ago, one interviewer asked me specific reasons why I joined Camp Kesem, why I decided to work at a hospice agency, and how it was even possible to do this given my mother’s passing. I have an answer for this type of question that I’ve practiced before interviews, but there is a deeper meaning too: why exactly I Kesem.

My mother was sick my entire childhood. She was diagnosed when I was a mere eight years old and died when I was 19. The whole 11 years of her sickness were hard in specific ways. She couldn’t pick me up from a sleepover if I wanted to come home because she’d already taken meds, she had to miss soccer games, lacrosse games, couldn’t always help me with homework, was too tired to make dinner, and the list goes on and on. Every camper we have knows what this is like. It forces you to grow up much faster than other kids, making you feel isolated, alone, sacred and just plain pissed off.

Through all of this, my mother still did everything she possibly could for me, up until the moment of her death. I loved her more than anything in the entire world, she was everything to me, and then suddenly she was gone.

I got back to Notre Dame and quickly felt those same feelings growing up: isolation, fear, sadness and anger. No one understood how I felt, and I couldn’t be the same person I used to be, my mom was gone. After talking with a family friend, she encouraged me to use my experience to help others when I was ready to. She promised that I had a unique story, that my story could truly help others.

That semester I got an email for Camp Kesem. It sounded like the right opportunity to use my own experiences to help these campers, I grew up just like they do now.

I went to camp the following summer, expecting to help kids work through a lot of issues I’d seen. Seeing these kids being able to have fun for a week, make so many friends and still deal with their home situations inspired me. It was one of the most therapeutic weeks I’ve ever experienced, it forced me to deal with my mother’s death and to find comfort in my new Kesem family. I had never felt more at home since my mother died.

As I got more involved with camp on the admin side and continued to be a counselor these feelings grew more and more. My campers and fellow counselors give and teach me so much more than I ever thought possible. Although my story helps others, their stories reciprocally help me. This is the true essence of our Kesem family.

While my mother was sick, someone told me that I had joined the sick parent club. All in all, this is a pretty sucky club, but the point is that there are others in it with you. Kesem is this beginning of this club and became the most amazing family I could’ve asked for. This is why I Kesem.