BANGOR, Maine — Lost. That’s how Sydney, Morgan and Isaiah Mosher felt in 2002 when their father took his own life. The siblings, who grew up in North Berwick, were devastated but suffered in silence, not knowing how to start the healing process.
“We all handled it in our own different ways,” Isaiah Mosher said recently. “I was 19 and living out on my own, so I went back to work.”
“It happened during the summertime. Morgan and I were still in school,” recalled Sydney Mosher, who was 13 at the time of her father’s death. “When we went back to school people would ask, ‘How was your summer?’ and I would say, ‘It was good.’ You don’t want to open that can of worms.”
“We all went our own ways and pretended it didn’t happen,” said Morgan Mosher, who was 16 when her father died.
A decade later, when the Mosher sisters were in their mid-20s, they had a conversation about their dad, Christopher Mosher, and realized they had never truly dealt with his death in an honest way.
Not talking about it “put a pause on our healing,” said Morgan Mosher, who now lives in Boston. “That was easier to cope with. But we all needed to heal.”
The conversation led to the idea for Camp Kita — a summer camp for children ages 8 to 17 who are survivors of a loved one’s suicide — forever changing the lives of all three Mosher siblings. Kita is the Abenaki word for listen, according to Sydney Mosher.
“We found our calling,” she said.
At first glance, Camp Kita looks like any summer camp. It offers traditional outdoor activities. The difference is it combines those activities with support sessions designed to connect the campers with each other, professional facilitators and volunteers who have been touched by suicide, according to the Moshers.
“In this environment, campers are met with people who truly understand the unique grief a loved one’s suicide leaves behind,” Sydney Mosher, who now lives in Saco, said in an email.
“We want the campers to know they are not alone,” said Isaiah Mosher, who now lives in Wells. “You don’t have to talk about it. You’re there, so you understand. You’ve been through this.”
In Maine, young people, veterans and people over the age of 65 have high rates of suicide, psychiatrist Susan Wehry said during the recent “Beyond The Basics In Suicide Prevention” conference in Bangor. Maine has an average of about 200 suicides each year, and about 80 percent of the deaths involve men, according to the Maine Suicide Prevention Program.
The statistics explain the need for Camp Kita.
The overnight camp had six youngsters the first year it operated in 2014. It had 26 participants last year from five different states, and the Moshers are looking for campers for this year’s session, scheduled for Aug. 16-21 at The Pine Tree Camp on the shores of Belgrade Lake in Rome.
For the three Mosher siblings, Camp Kita also has been a place for them to heal. While the children have learned to deal with their grief, explore constructive forms of self-expression, and have been empowered to take control of their lives again, the siblings also have absorbed the lessons.
“Before camp started I couldn’t even say the word ‘suicide,’” Sydney Mosher said. “I’ve done so much better over the last 2½ years than the 10 years before.”
With the healing came a flurry of wonderful memories about their father — making art and music, camping, fishing — that had been suppressed by their grief.
“We never talked about it. That day we all sat in the parking lot crying,” Morgan Mosher said.
Their dad suffered from depression, and he liked to drink alcohol, but he also was a wonderful man who loved his children, they said.
“It’s re-getting to know him,” Morgan Mosher said.
When their father died, “there was such a stigma about suicide,” Isaiah Mosher said.
But the more he learned about suicide, the more he realized that it touches most people in some way, which has helped to get people talking, and that is the first step in change, he said.
“Mental health is becoming a priority [in society],” Sydney Mosher, added.
Social media — being able to share discussion items about suicide on Facebook, for example — is another positive change, her sister said.
“There was a time when it was the elephant in the room,” Morgan Mosher said. “Now, it’s like you’re in a space where you are comfortable and the elephant just leaves.”
Camp Kita is part of that comfortable space. It operates thanks to donations and annual fundraising, including at the Boston Marathon through the John Hancock Non-Profit Marathon Program, where this year $47,469 was raised.
“That raised enough to keep us going and to keep it free for campers,” Sydney Mosher said.
While the marathon is the biggest fundraiser this year, the grass-roots nonprofit gets a lot of support from small individual donations.
“We get a lot of $25 checks in memory of somebody,” Morgan Mosher said.
For the Moshers, the camp is in memory of their father.
“Now, we are able to honor him,” Sydney Mosher said.
To sign up for Camp Kita or for more information, visit campkita.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call 800-273-TALK (8255). This free and confidential 24-hour service provides support, information and local resources for suicidal persons or those around them.