Caitlin Ottoway’s father died by suicide nearly two years ago. The then 15-year-old Redmond teen, along with her mother and two brothers, were struck with shock and grief.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I didn’t know — no one knew — he had any mental health issues.”
She tried to get back to a normal life, trying to focus on homework and school.
“I couldn’t stop remembering him and thinking about all the things he would miss — my sweet 16 birthday party, my wedding and walking me down the aisle, everything,” she said.
Through her teacher at Bellevue High School, Ottoway heard about Camp Erin, a grief support camp for teens who have lost a loved one.
Camp Erin is provided by Providence Hospice of Seattle. The weekend camp emphasizes fun while also providing support and education to children who are grieving the loss of a loved one. In addition to typical camp activities, Camp Erin provides opportunities for healing and companionship not found in other settings. Campers engage in activities designed specifically for their age.
For Ottaway, the camp was revolutionary.
“It was an escape from everyday emotions,” she said. “I got the support I needed, and I made connections that will last a lifetime.”
Ottaway shared her experiences with Camp Erin as the keynote speaker at Providence Hospice of Seattle’s 20th annual pediatric luncheon on Sept. 19.
Providence Hospice of Seattle is a nonprofit, community-based hospice ministry, serving seriously ill patients in King and Snohomish counties. Providence Hospice of Seattle provides comprehensive and compassionate physical, emotional and spiritual care to people nearing the end of their lives, including support for their families and friends.
Through her experience at Camp Erin, Ottaway was able to process her feelings, address her grief, meet others going through the same thing and, ultimately, start to heal.
“I was able to formally say goodbye to my dad,” she said. “I learned that it was okay to be happy again. I have a long journey ahead, but Providence Hospice made it all possible.”
The annual pediatric luncheon serves as a fundraiser for Providence Hospice of Seattle’s pediatric hospice patients as well as its grief counseling programs.
Providence Hospice of Seattle’s pediatric hospice care, known as Stepping Stones, serves children facing life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Audrey Zemke’s daughter, Jessica, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor at 16. Through the Stepping Stones program, they received coordinated care to support their choices and opportunities for her optimum quality of life.
“We had a nurse come out a couple times a week and gave us the supplies and medicine we needed to take care of her at home,” Zemke said.
She said the emotional support her family received through the program was wonderful.
“It meant so much to us when the nurse would tell us that we were doing a great job taking care of her and keeping her happy,” she said. “Stepping Stones really helped us survive Jessica’s last year with us.”
Providence Hospice of Seattle’s 20th annual pediatric luncheon raised $196,000.
“Today is about the children,” Providence Hospice of Seattle’s board president said to the audience. “Thank you all for showing your continued support for children.”