This summer I had the opportunity to chaperone our 4th annual Penina’s Helping Hand trip to Disney World. Penina’s Helping Hand is the division of Chai Lifeline Canada dedicated to kids of parents who are critically ill or who have passed away. Although the trip itself is exhausting, it was an experience I will cherish forever.
The group is comprised of 15 children ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old from Toronto, with a few kids from Montreal thrown into the mix. For four days these kids have a chance to just be kids and have a fun time, and not be all consumed with the stress of having a critically ill parent, or one who has recently passed away. Many of the children have never met before. Regardless of how awkward the initial orientation may be, by the end of the trip the group always ends up molding together into a cohesive group and sharing an unbreakable bond. There are so many aspects of the trip I could write about it however, there is one particular experience that stands out in my mind that I would like to share.
It was the last night of the trip. Four of the nine year old boys were sitting at the back of the bus after a fun filled and exhausting day in one of the parks. As staff on the trip, we try to monitor the conversations to ensure they are safe and sensitive to the others, being that most children don’t know each others stories. One of the boys, Josh* asked the others if they would like to hear why he was invited on the trip. Josh proceeded to share great detail of his mother’s battle with cancer and her recent passing. Another boy, Aaron* shared that his mom passed quickly and he didn’t have that journey and chance to prepare for the loss. The third boy Ben* explained how his mom is currently in treatment and shared his anxiety that he doesn’t know if she is going to get better or not.
Than the other boys asked one of the more quiet kids Mike* why he was on the trip and he proceeded to share how his mom has had lots of surgeries and treatments, and that she basically lives in the hospital most of the time. With maturity that shocked me, Sam and Aaron looked at each other and said “Wow, you are so lucky your mom is still alive”. Mike had this look on his face that made it clear that this was the first time he ever thought of his situation as being “lucky”.
This was a casual conversation amongst nine year old boys. It was heartbreaking to hear, but really reaffirmed for me how valuable it is for these kids to connect with each other. I wanted to hug each one of them and tell them everything will be okay. I know that giving them the opportunity to spend time with people who understand them, in a way no one else can, accomplished more than a hug ever could. We also had adult chaperones on the trip, who personally experienced losing a parent at a young age, and have truly managed to become successful members of society and community and have managed to turn all their pain into productivity and positive energy. I truly believe the Disney trip as well as all the other programming Chai Lifeline offers during the year are the small steps that help pave this path to success for these children. I know this experience and ones like this are the biggest hug we could have given Ben, Josh, Mike, Aaron and all the other participants on the trip.