The Smith-Hooker Family

“Almost six years into this journey and some moments it still feels so surreal, like now as I sit and write our story of loss.

We were five days into Spring, the season of new beginnings when my husband Daniel died instantly in a motorbike accident. Our girls Jordyn and Bailey were 8 and 11 at the time.

There were no good-byes. No see you later. No time to catch our breath. Nothing… except a knock at our front door.

With that single knock our world simultaneously stopped, and was thrown into complete chaos. It’s a moment of knowing that life will never ever be the same again and then the slow realisation that you’re not sure how to survive this… how to guide your children through the unthinkable, when you’re suddenly questioning everything and are flat out looking after yourself, let alone these humans that need you more than ever.

I stumbled through the first couple of years, and the girls were along for the ride. While trying to find support for myself I found Feel the Magic, at a time when they were sending families to Disneyland. When camp applications opened for the first time, both girls were adamant they didn’t want to go… that they wouldn’t go. They didn’t want to be away from me and honestly I don’t think I was ready for them to be away. Time marched on and I decided to apply without them knowing. We were accepted to July 2017 camp … it was hard… not allowing them to have a choice; telling them they were going regardless of their arguments.

This entire grief journey I’ve allowed them to help guide things, but at more than 3.5 years in, I decided it was time for me to be the adult and make a decision without their input. It was the right decision. Before we even got back to the car on the Sunday they were both asking “when can we come back?”

It was a complete change to the Friday when I dropped them off and neither wanted to go. I drove away that day wondering what I’d done. Stopped on the side of the road, crying, because I’d just left my girls with complete strangers for an entire weekend… was I crazy?

That first camp was the catalyst for change… not only for the girls, but for me also. I recall sitting in the audience watching the closing ceremony and all the campers were asked to come up on stage. I sat there in awe of the 60 odd children on that stage. It was at that moment that I realised if they could do it, so could I. Camp has given us all so much. A family, reassurance, tools, validation and support… it’s given us a community that we can lean on at any given moment.

The girls have both been back to number of camps. Each camp they come away with something different. Camp has allowed them to grow a little more, learn coping strategies that they carry with them, but more than anything it has given them the comfort of knowing they are not alone. There are other kids walking this same path, and that connection… it heals the heart that little bit more.

Camp gave my girls so much, that I decided to train as a mentor. I’ve now been blessed to attend 3 camps and have mentored 3 amazing girls. I’m forever grateful that I’ve been able to play a part in making a difference in the life of a grieving child… and while I’m there for my camper, I’ve definitely learnt so much from these incredible humans.

Not a single one of us would choose the heartache that grief brings, but surrounding yourself with a family of people who “get it” on so many different levels has been a blessing… that is what camp has given us… a family.”

Jo Smith-Hooker