Dale was blowing up the "wings" for the boys to wear and Brianna was waiting in the kitchen. I (five months pregnant) decided to make one last bathroom visit before getting wet. I headed for the bathroom, then, for no obvious reason, turned back toward the kitchen and pool.
I turned back just in time to see that Brianna had gone ahead of us out the sliding door and was trying to climb on the large, inflatable killer whale in the pool. She hadn't been swimming before and didn't realize the danger of climbing on such a toy mid-pool. She, as the oldest, was sure of herself and had no reason to think that she shouldn't try out this nifty toy.
The bathroom had to wait. (obviously)
Much coughing and sputtering ensued.
This was the first of many pool incidents that would happen in the following years, almost all of which occurred with parents near or in the pool...and almost all of which only resulted in much coughing and sputtering. Had I not turned back, this incident would have had an entirely different ending.
That same summer, in the community pool where we were renting, I was playing around with Nathan (three years old at the time). I was still pregnant. Dale was getting the others ready. We were in the shallow end with Nathan holding the edge. I turned to retrieve a toy from the bottom-which only takes seconds. When I turned back around, Nathan was already a few feet from the edge and was standing on the bottom -- with his head almost completely submerged. He wasn't splashing or fighting or panicking in any way. He just stood there.
Two years later, with everyone swimming in the pool except me (inside making dinner), but including Dale, Gabriel (now almost 2) fell in the deep end. Nathan saw and alerted Dale. Gabriel was just below the surface, face up, with his hands shaking above the surface. Dale screamed his name, alerting me. I ran out and grabbed him from Dale. We sat for about ten minutes letting him cough up what seemed like cups of water into a towel. Then, because I had recently read about secondary drowning, we took him to the ER to get checked out.
This incident scared him enough that he stayed away from the pool. Unfortunately, the pool runs about 2/3 the length of the house and is only about 2 1/2 feet from the house, leaving little room to go by.
As you know, just a short six months later, Gabriel drowned. No one had been swimming. People had been going in and out the back door grilling burgers and playing. Everyone came in to eat. Everyone except Gabriel. The details of that evening will be forever etched in my memory.
At the wake, I noticed a bruise on his forehead and bridge of his nose. I was puzzled until I remembered seeing a 2 foot or so length of 2x4 floating in the pool. We figure that he saw us go in, followed, tripped, hit his head on the wood he was holding, and fell in. He was scared of the pool.
Life, though strong, is fragile
Just like that, in an instant, life as we knew it died. It died with my precious son. Happy family of six became bereaved family of five. To be hit by a truck would not have been more shocking. As a science-minded individual, I was intrigued by the way that such a mental/psychological trauma can manifest physically. We found that we could not eat, and were not hungry. Sleep became nearly impossible, but we were getting a little by the end of the week. Hunger returned by the weekend.
I was six months pregnant with our fifth when Gabriel died. The first four had all been over 7 pounds with Gabriel being over eight. Three months later, tiny 6 pound Cecilia was born. She wasn't early, just skinny. Even though our diet had gotten back to normal, she suffered in the womb from our grief.
Physical reactions to certain cues persisted rather strongly for a long time, then became more mild. Some have described this as PTSD. I don't know.
God was there
When a child dies, people always wonder, "How could God let this happen? Where was He?"
God knows everything that has ever and will ever happen. It is all part of His plan.
He knew every bit of it even as He was forming Adam out of clay. He knew as He formed Gabriel in the womb that he would die March 7, 2006.
In the years leading up to that moment, God had been preparing us, strengthening our faith, enriching our knowledge with His Word. As I struggled to revive my baby, I cried out to Him. As the emergency workers were working on Gabriel, scripture verses poured in to my mind, the most notable being, "Let this cup pass from me...not my will but Thine be done." This is not the thought of a mother whose child might already be dead. God was holding me close and whispering to me.
God was carrying me into the spiritual deep end. He did not abandon me there, but showed me that He had already taught me to swim. What a wonderful Father He is. My spiritual brothers and sisters, the saints, now including my perfect son, were praying for me. With their help and God's grace I progressed very quickly from wound to scar. Of course, scars can hurt for life. This one does.
Gabriel was God's child. He always was. The reading on the day he was baptized was from the first chapter of Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." In two short years, his earthly work was done.
God had a few more things to say. The day Gabriel died, the reading for Mass was Isaiah 55: 10-11. This is a beautiful verse. The favorite song of the choir I was in was based on it. In it, God says, "For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it." The passage, and the song, continue: "Yes, in joy you shall depart, in peace you shall be brought back; Mountains and hills shall break out in song before you."
In Joy you shall depart
This is how the song, "This is My Word" finishes :
And you will go out in Joy, and be led forth in peace
And the hills will break before you into song.
So be faithful brave and true, for I will go before you,
And when your earthly journey here is done,
I'll say, "Well done."
The significance of this was not lost on me, in spite of my traumatic loss. I had the great and undeserved honor of being the mother of a saint. My precious son had eternally arrived. He is home.
What brought this all to mind this week? It's summer and we're swimming. So far, we've had a couple scares, both with people in the pool. Such is life with pools and little ones. They're learning the basics, but things still happen. The older children are getting a crash course in spotting trouble. They are learning that drowning is visually very calm and silent. There is no yelling or splashing. Unless you see it, you'll miss it and the child will die.
Dale wanted to fill the pool with dirt after Gabriel drowned. I did as well. Still, with ponds and beaches and pools all around us, learning to swim may yet prove to be valuable. So we carry on.
Life is fragile. We are not our own. Our children are not our own. We are God's. His plan is for our salvation. "All things work to good," Paul tells us. God already knows our "itinerary" for our "journey home."
"Our hearts ache for home."
-- Nicol Sponberg