The heart retching, preventable, inconsolable loss of our son Christian to drowning
It was Friday, July 13th, 2007, a day our lives changed forever for us. It started off as a normal summer morning except for the boys asking us, more like begging, to let them go to the local camp for the day. It sounded like a perfect plan since my father-in-law was coming over to do some electrical work we needed finished. Having both the boys, Cameron (age 5), and Christian (age 4) out of the house doing what they love would make it easier for all of us to finish up the work. Besides, we thought, our babysitter is one of the lifeguards and promised us to keep an extra eye on them.
The boys were so excited to go so we packed up their lunches, registration forms, a change of clothes and their life-jackets. We piled in the car, said goodbye to grandpa, and around 10:00 am we made the 1.5 mile drive to the lake camp. As we pulled in, it was almost impossible to keep the boys from jumping out of the car, they were so excited about going swimming. We gathered all their stuff and headed over to drop the registration forms and checked off with our babysitter–one of the camp’s head lifeguards at the time. We gave the boys all their belongings, gave them a kiss, told them to behave and that we loved them, and headed for the car. Just as we were about to head back home, a staff member brought our life-jackets over to us and explained that our state law does not allow life-jackets at Town or State run camps due to the children playing with them in the water. Life-jackets, in the current wording of the law, were in the same category as floating noodles. Right then I should have known something was wrong but I didn’t think of it much, I just trusted the staff. I had never thought about drowning, now that’s all I think about. I headed home.
I remember a police officer racing into my back yard around 12:45 p.m. as my heart sank. “Oh God, what could have happened, please don’t let either of my boys be too hurt,” I said to myself. I thought stitches maybe, even a broken bone. That’s not even close to what the officer exclaimed “there has been a horrible accident, you need to come with me right away.” I grabbed our youngest daughter, age 1, and jumped into the back of the cruiser while my wife sat in the front with the officer. “Please don’t let anything be wrong” was all I could think of. As the officer drove to the hospital five miles away he would not answer any of our questions. All of the sudden over the radio we heard about our son, and ‘drowning’ was the only word I was able to make out of that communication. I remember I started screaming “What happened, why us, why my son?” It was 1:00 pm when we then ran into the emergency room; nobody looked at us. My wife and I screamed and begged everyone there to bring us to our son. Nobody would or could. We turned around from the main desk and there were all the doctors and nurses working on a little boy wrapped in foil. Our little boy. I don’t remember much of the next few minutes after seeing that image, as all I can remember was being on the floor begging if there was a God to please take me, and not Christian, my little boy. I called our parents, then collapsed overwhelmed with emotions.
The doctor walked up to us about 1:35 p.m. I had a bad feeling knowing what his words would be before he said them, “I’m so sorry, your son is gone,” oh God, how can we get through this, and how will Cameron, what did he see?
All I remember from the rest of that night was the police taking my Cameron to the station to ask him questions; family and friends visiting with us and my anger and pain. That night I thought nothing about other’s pain, but just mine. Sadly, I found coping with the situation unbearable. I don’t remember much of the funeral or anything else for that matter in the first few months following Christian’s death, which to me is both a blessing and a curse.
The day after the accident, the newspaper said our kids were not registered at the lake camp, which they were and that really upset and hurt us. Everywhere we went people thought we just left our kids there. What could we say? We even got many letters from many people in our community blaming us for Christian’s death. This pained me and made me an angry and hateful person for a while. I couldn’t trust or care for others opinions or even condolences anymore.
My family was a wreck, both my wife and I were spiritually destroyed. We were worried about Cameron, especially, who lost his best friend. I started to wonder, does he blame himself? Have we pulled so far away that he feels that we were mad at him? Does he knows that we love him? Once I realized what was happening to him, I decided I couldn’t let this happen.
Four years later and there are still no answers. We don’t know exactly what happened, but the only fact I do know is the staff searched the woods first before looking in the water. The pain is as fresh as it ever was that day but we have learned to try and live life to our fullest for our living children and the angel in our hearts. Thank God for compassionate friends and the drowning prevention groups we have met along the way, which have helped us deal with this pain. Cameron would have been a mess without counseling and the friends he met at Compassionate Friends and other bereavement camps for children that have lost a parent and/or sibling.
I decided to put my energy and effort in helping other families by advocating and promoting water safety. We created a memorial foundation for Christian that has two components:
1) to pass a state law that mandates every state and town- run camp with a swimming area to have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each minor present in the swimming area.
We promote water safety for children. We hold a yearly events and various fundraising activities that allow us to purchase and donate life jackets.
2) to provide financial assistance to any family that has lost a child. This assistance could be in the form of meals, help with rent or mortgage, or anything that a parent could need in support after the death of their child. We call our donors Angels.
Our goals are:
1) Teaching children to swim
2) Teaching children about the dangers of water
3) Why wearing a life-jacket can help save a life and that it is cool to wear one
4) Teaching parents all the dangers of any possible drowning hazard
5) Lifeguard training
At Christian’s foundation we do everything we can to help educate the public. We will never forget our son Christian and I put all my heart into trying my best to prevent this from happening to another child and family.