In Resurrection Girls, main character, Olivia, is grappling with a family deeply paralyzed by their grief several years after the accidental drowning of her three-year-old baby brother. Robby's tragic loss mirrors the stories I heard or read growing up. Stories about kids who toddled into backyard pools, slipped under the bathwater, or found their way to ponds, lakes, or nearby rivers.
My own tragic tale of child loss, the death of my beautiful daughter, Evelyn, does not come with so obvious a cause to point to. I cannot fill in the backyard pool as Olivia's father does in the story, or shake my fist at the unforgiving ocean. I cannot teach safety skills to other parents in hopes of preventing another needless death like Ev's. Because we still don't know or understand what took Evelyn's life. But as the author of this book, a book that features the aftermath of a childhood drowning, I can raise awareness of drowning prevention, water safety, and organizations like Live Like Jake Foundation, who work and fundraise tirelessly to support families who have suffered a drowning accident and prevent others from joining their ranks.
Several months ago, I spoke at length with Stacy Van-Santen, a director at Live Like Jake Foundation. We bonded over the senselessness of child loss and the struggle for families to carry on in the wake of tragedy. We covered many topics like drowning statistics — drowning is a leading cause of death in children ages 1 through 4, 86% of parents are not taught drowning prevention measures or water safety skills by their pediatrician (or even have it brought up to be discussed at their child's appointments), and more than 77% of drownings in children under five occur in under five minutes — and the controversy over ISR, or Infant Swimming Resource, self-rescue survival swimming techniques taught to children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. We talked about the mission of the Live Like Jake Foundation — awareness, education, self-rescue lessons, and scholarships for families with a child who experiences a near-drowning, or submersion incident, and often have lingering healthcare costs as a result. And we circled back again and again to one resounding point — how families view a tragedy like accidental drowning as something that will never happen to them, making awareness and education that much harder to drive home.
There is a distancing technique that happens among the unbereaved. I've witnessed it several times myself since losing our daughter and can remember the experience vividly in my life before. It is the quiet but unrelenting belief that that other mother, that other family, is somehow not like yours, somehow deficient, somehow less than. They missed the signs you would never. They failed where you would succeed. It's harder to convince yourself of with a death like Evelyn's because we have so little to go on. Her loss cannot be chalked up to a lack of parental supervision or bad judgment. But when it comes to something like drowning, it's easy for parents to think they can and will watch their kids close enough that they don't have to worry. And that's simply not true.
Ask any mother, and she will have a story to tell about her child slipping away, about that time they let themselves out the back gate or scribbled on the freshly-painted walls or ate an entire plate of brownies, all while she was right there watching. In a matter of minutes, or even seconds, kids can find trouble. Most of the time its benign. But it only takes one opportunity for it to be dangerous, damaging, even fatal.
Stacy and I both want to stress the importance of educating yourself on drowning prevention. Live Like Jake Foundation proposes a four-pronged approach: fences, locks, alarms, and lessons. It's not as easy as choosing not to have a pool installed at home. Young children can drown in less than two inches of water, making everything from the bathroom toilet to a backyard fountain a risk. And in any given year, you may visit multiple places that house a pool or other water feature, or are near a natural body of water.
If you're a parent of small children, please take a minute to visit the Live Like Jake Foundation website or speak to your pediatrician about drowning prevention. If you're a sibling of small children, you can absolutely advocate for their safety by sharing this information with your parents. For more information on childhood drowning and how you can help, visit livelikejake.com.