August 19th, is that today? Has it been 1 year already? Well let’s be honest, I know perfectly well it’s August 19th, I’ve been anticipating this day. This day will forever be etched in my mind as the worst day of my life! It’s the anniversary of my sons near drowning. I can easily be brought back to that day. The shock, the confusion, the sheer terror, yes it was a year ago but it feels like yesterday.
I know what your thinking, my story had a happy ending. My son survived, he’s alive so move on! Yes, yes, I know that and believe me I’m so very thankful that I get to see his face, hug him, and tell him I love him. Trust me I tell myself that everyday, but it often feels like I lost a piece of him, our family, and myself that day. I definitely lost the innocence, the part of you that says nothing bad will ever happen. Now we know accidents happen and something that means everything to you can be gone in seconds.
Since I wrote about Chase’s near drowning 12 months ago, I haven’t really said much about what life has been like since then. You probably figured we’ll she moved on, after all they have their son that’s it end of story. Well, I wish it was that easy. I totally understand everyone processes traumatic events differently. Who am I to judge someones pain and experiences just as I would hope no one would judge mine. For me, the truth is it often felt like he died that day. That may not make sense to you because your thinking hey snap out of it, right? I mean I didn’t loose my son how can I even say that, I don’t know that pain, but in my mind it felt like there was a death. You know in a horror movie when the killer comes after their victim and the victim freezes…your screaming at the T.V. run damn it run but they don’t! Well I know I should move on, but my brain wouldn’t accept it. It felt like I was frozen just like those characters, like time stopped. I remember being in therapy, yes of course I’ve been in therapy since it happened obviously I needed it. The therapist said, “Well you just have to stop saying he drowned, he didn’t die he’s here.” If only I could convince my mind of that, to let go of the pain and just appreciate our outcome and live in joy.
Well to start the nightmares wouldn’t let me move on. Several times a week I woke up screaming, crying, in a pool of sweat. I kept seeing my son laying there lifeless by the pool. I’d be panicking and my husband would do his best to calm me down telling me it’s ok, it’s ok Danielle, it’s just another nightmare. How could it be a nightmare? I actually saw him blue and not breathing when I was awake. It was hard to know what was real and what wasn’t real anymore. I would immediately jump up out of bed and go into Chase’s room. I’d slowly crawl into bed with him tears falling down my face. He looked so peaceful curled up in a ball snuggling his favorite monkey lovie. I would just hold him, often wishing he’d wake up so I could hear him speak so I knew it was just another nightmare. Laying there motionless wasn’t enough reassurance, I knew that seemed ridiculous so I just held him while he slept soundly. I prayed the nightmares would stop, especially because so many people in my shoes weren’t able to hold their babies anymore. The fact that I could hold mine made me feel worse. “Danielle, stop it he’s here, he’s ok” but I couldn’t just move on even though I knew that was the rational thing to do, and I couldn’t stop the nightmares! I felt like I was in that movie “Nightmare on Elm street”. The same movie that scared me tremendously as a child. Just like the movie I feared sleep. Afraid of what scenario my subconscious was going to create. The nightmares weren’t just about my younger son Chase either, sometimes they were about my oldest son Mason, other times they were about both of my children together. It was like being tortured over and over again and I couldn’t stop it. It was hard enough putting it out of my mind when I was awake but sleep I couldn’t control. I felt as if I was silently loosing it and I wasn’t the type that cracks easily. I had my fair share of heartache and tragedies throughout life but I’ve always been able to push through the pain and deal but this was different, it was my child. The fear, the worry, and the guilt were debilitating.
It’s not only sleeping I feared. A song would come on the radio, a mention about a vacation, swimming, my kids, a friends awkward invite to go swimming with their family, news stories about another child drowning (tragically I hear them daily now that I’ve shared my story) and boom there goes my mind wandering again right back to that day by the pool. I say to myself my story didn’t reach that family and now they have lost a child. I blamed myself, I felt constant sadness and guilt. Yet through all of these feelings I’m a mother, I have to function. I have to keep it together. Sometimes that meant running into the bathroom to pretend to blow my nose, extra long pauses at stop signs in a daze, wandering thoughts while in mid conversation with a friend, birthday parties that almost didn’t happen, crying in carpool lines or anywhere privately for that matter. There was a lot of crying going on.
Despite it all I tried my best to keep moving on. After all I have two boys to take care of, a husband, a home. Life wasn’t going to stop while I got over this experience. I mean if anyone gets over this? So life goes on and so did we trying our best to keep it together for our boys.
Part of keeping it together meant helping the kids move forward and not allow a fear of swimming to develop. Chase went back to swim lessons (he had taken them on and off previously before the accident) and Mason continued with his swim lessons. Well that first lesson was the hardest for me. I was so worried both of my boys would be traumatized and refuse to swim or cry throughout the class, but no they jumped right in! I watched through the glass sobbing hysterically the entire class. I was so thankful they jumped right in and with no fear. It was me that appeared to be having a nervous breakdown on the other side of that glass. I’m sure all of the parents there were wondering what’s wrong with this woman? Week after week I would take them, crying as I watched their progress.
As you can imagine swimming in general is hard but not only because I’m worried about my kids but I’m also concerned for other children around me. For instance, we just went on a family summer vacation. Family vacation equals fun right? Well not when you’ve been through what we have and swimming is on the itinerary. There were two pools at our hotel an indoor and an outdoor pool. No lifeguards on duty and the sign said, “Swim at your own risk”. I kid you not my husband and I were the only parents sitting with our kids at the indoor pool. All of the other parents were outside soaking in the sun, reading books, drinking, having conversations, napping, or talking on their phones. Not one was even near the pool! It’s so hard for me to just sit there and watch this happening. I want to scream at the top of my lungs! “Hello! Please these are your children I don’t want you to go through what I went through or worse. Please watch your children”! Some of the kids looked younger then 5 years old. A young girl probably around 10 years old was in charge of her two younger siblings and she slipped and almost hit her head on the side of the pool chasing after them. I felt responsible for all of these children, like I was their parent and the lifeguard rolled into one.
I’ve seen the same thing at public pools this summer. I’m sitting there watching my child like a hawk and parents are doing the same thing again, Not Watching! I get it, there were life guards at many of these pools but please their eyes can’t be everywhere your child needs your close undivided attention. I saw one of the life guards picking her split ends for over five minutes. I know too many stories that occurred with life guards on duty. It was the same scenario on the beach we visited. Two lifeguards in one tower for a big stretch of beach, they weren’t even looking over in our direction. Again parents not watching letting their kids run off unsupervised. If your one of the parents who stays with your child and you take water safety seriously this isn’t you and I applaud you, but the parents who don’t realize water is a danger well I pray they wake up and realize my story could be their story or worse because those stories are happening everyday.
My child fell into the pool during a non-swimming time. Non-swimming drownings account for 70% of drownings so maybe people think, hey I know my kids in the water so it’s ok they can swim, they won’t drown? I mean does that even make sense? Absolutely not but here are these parents aware their kids are in the pool and they still aren’t watching them! No one was swimming in the pool when my son fell in. No I’m not taking away blame, not at all it’s was 100% our fault but my point is I didn’t know he could fall in and so easily and quickly. I always watched my child when we went in a pool and they always wore life jackets in the water if they couldn’t swim. We were always with them watching them. It’s the non-swimming times I’ve learned so much about since then! I guess more of a reason stories like mine and so many other stories need to be shared. People just don’t understand how important water safety is and how quickly your life can go from an ordinary day to a day filled with horror and tragedy. I’m not sure if swimming will ever be enjoyable to me again but I can tell you my kids will be safe while doing it and I do want them to enjoy it.
Something that’s also been really difficult is the guilt! Did I say guilt? Yes, guilt is evil and very much a part of my journey this year. You can’t imagine the guilt! I have guilt that I went into the kitchen to help with dinner that day. Guilt we took off his life vest since we were done swimming. Guilt Chase would hate us for not seeing him fall in. Guilt other families saw what happened that day and are now traumatized! Guilt my kind and caring older son is now possibly screwed up from watching his brother almost die. Guilt other people lost their child from drowning but mine survived. Guilt that I couldn’t save other children that drowned since my son’s accident. Guilt I’m not doing enough. Guilt! Guilt! Guilt! You may be thinking good you deserve that feeling it was your fault, or the flip side nonsense you love your children more then life itself, it was a terrible accident.
Well some of my guilt was confirmed when we went to take Chase back to our friends house where the accident occurred. It was the first time we’d been back as a family to swim and it was almost a year later. Our friends asked us to come over to swim, which I knew we needed to do but we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it previously. Now it’s important to know these are our dearest friends who we consider family it was just unfortunate it happened at their home, it could of happened anywhere. When we told Chase we were going there to swim he said he was scared to go. He said, “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to die!” This was the hardest thing to hear, he’s only four years old now. We said baby you aren’t going to die, mommy and daddy are going to be there with you, we are going to watch you. He said, “But you didn’t watch me before”! Our hearts sank, oh my god he remembers it all and he blames us! I immediately started to fight every urge not to cry, I swallowed hard and fought back tears. I couldn’t speak I was devastated. My strong and calm husband said, “Your right, I’m sorry we didn’t watch you carefully enough that day but Mommy and Daddy learned a very important lesson and we will never, ever let that happen again.” I said, “We’re so very sorry, we love you so much and we will do everything to keep you safe we promise we love you.” It was definitely one of the hardest things to hear, our fears confirmed but it was probably the one thing we all needed the most. He needed to hear us say we were going to keep him safe and we needed to say we we’re sorry. We had no idea how much a four year old understood and how much to say to him. We couldn’t believe how smart he was and how much we needed that moment. It was a pivotal moment and definitely gave us peace and helped with our healing.
That day we went swimming at our friends house and at first Chase was cautious. He took his time getting in the pool and I’m sure we were all a little anxious because of it, but who could blame him? Although I’m happy to report that by the end of our visit his was doing cannonballs into the pool with his puddle jumper on! Even though it took us a year to get to that place we are so thankful for that day.
It’s obvious last year wasn’t our best year that’s for sure but through it all we’ve come out of it stronger and wiser. We’ve learned so many life lessons and hopefully others are benefiting from what we’ve learned and shared. I’m also happy to say that I haven’t had a nightmare since I decided to start Chase’s Challenge in honor of my son Chase. It was after another nightmare, that I decided I need to do more. Summer was approaching and I couldn’t stand the thought of a child drowning. I had written our story and shared it 11 months ago but that didn’t feel like enough, so I got on my computer and with a bunch of different thoughts bouncing around in my head I went to work on creating a website. I decided I was on a mission to bring awareness to drowning prevention and spreading the importance of CPR. CPR may or may not work in every scenario, but it can work my son is proof. If performed quickly and effectively it can double or triple your chances of survival according to the American Heart Association.
I also started wondering why as parents aren’t we required to take CPR? Yes I took it twenty plus years ago in school but its hard enough remembering yesterday let alone twenty years ago. Knowing that I doubt I could of administered CPR the day of Chase’s accident. I mean I’d like to think I would of tried if my husband wasn’t there but I highly doubt I would of done it effectively and correctly, not to mention the guidelines have changed since I took it. Think about it, we require teachers to take it, after all they are with our children during the day but as their guardians and responsible for their overall care, we don’t have to take CPR? That doesn’t make sense to me. Not to mention regardless of drownings 4-5 cardiac emergencies happen in the home. That means you will likely be the one giving your child, spouse, parent, grandparent or friend a chance at survival before help can get to you. And when it comes to our loved ones don’t we want to give them every chance of survival we can? For this reason getting people trained in CPR has become one of my passions. No I don’t teach the class myself, at least not currently, and I don’t get anything financially from people taking a class. I organize the event and from that I get peace of mind that you will have a chance at saving your loved ones if they ever have a cardiac emergency. And let me tell you that means everything to me. Of course I hope you will never need CPR and that’s why drowning prevention is so important but it still doesn’t change the fact that CPR is a life saving skill we should all know.
So that was it, I was off on a mission and with the help of some wonderful friends we started Chase’s Challenge and started planning our first CPR Event which we held June 10th, 2018. Fifty people were trained in CPR and learned about drowning prevention. This is hopefully only the beginning as we are working on more CPR classes, fundraisers, and drowning prevention campaigns and even plan on offering CPR scholarships to individuals in the community that can’t afford to take a CPR class. This is only the beginning as I have so many other ideas even regarding some laws that need to be changed! I’m not sure where this journey is going to take me but I have faith things are going to change for the better.
Does this mean everything is great now in my life? Hell no, I’d be lying if I said I still don’t have bad days or tough moments but I know we’re very blessed and for that I’m forever grateful. I’m also hopeful with the work so many other amazing moms like Morgan Beck Miller and Nicole Hughes and organizations like Zac Foundation, and CPR Party and so many others are doing right now in the drowning and prevention community that drownings won’t be the number one thing children are dying from. I feel positive about where we’re headed and for that I’m hopeful.
With that said August 19th has now become a day of celebration for our family. It’s a day to celebrate life and a day of hope for what’s to come. Today was spent with those that matter the most my family. It was a day filled with laughter, smiles, love and a few happy tears. Thank you to everyone that’s been there for our family and supported us along the way, we love you all so much. A special thank you to everyone that is on the same fight doing hard work everyday to prevent drownings and promote awareness. From our family to yours Happy August 19th!