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My grandtwins, Rose and Lars, are now 27 months old. They are about the same age that my nephew Christopher was when he was found in my sister and brother-in-law’s swimming pool.
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I have not previously written about, nor shared in public, the details of this pool tragedy.
Even though the death of my nephew occurred over 35 years ago, I am moved to write about it now.
Why? Two reasons:
1) Because the broad swath of heat waves has given the media another opportunity to try to persuade, plea and beg the adults in the room to realize the dangers of swimming pools
2) Because there is no better time than this moment for my personal public service pool announcement as I try to prevent another drowning, like what our family has suffered.
How Christopher got into the pool is not a mystery.
He was happy, always on the move, eager to explore life.
He was a typical, spirited, inquisitive, gorgeous, healthy toddler.
Some of the details of that day are a bit faded, but the gist of my memory is that my sister was in the house tending to her newest baby who was only a few months old.
Her husband was in the yard, but out of view of the pool.
Through some totally understandable miscommunication or misunderstanding, these loving young parents had not realized they had made a fateful mistake in believing/assuming/were certain that the other parent was the one responsible for overseeing their toddler for those particular few moments.
Where the never-ending heartbreak begins is with the events that led up to that summer day.
At the time, my sister and her husband had recently moved into a newly built home in Oklahoma. They had left New York for a job opportunity, and it wasn’t too long before they realized they wanted relief from the oppressive heat and humidity.
They began planning for the installation of an in-ground pool.
My wise father said he had told them in no uncertain terms, and on multiple occasions, that this was a bad idea.
He told them not to have a pool while the babies were so little.
He wasn’t the only adult in the room advising them against a pool in their backyard.
He understood their desire to have a pool. We had an in-ground pool in New York while I was a child, and we grew up all the better for having that luxurious joy and exercise outlet.
The difference is my siblings and I were water savvy the day my parents had the enormous silver-colored tanker come into our backyard in order to fill our pool with water.
We basically grew up on the same beaches on Long Island, just like my father had as a child. My parents had taught us all how to swim as youngsters, and even gave me and some of my other siblings swimming lessons in a community pool.
Before my parents’ own pool was functional, not only did we all know how to swim, we knew the fundamentals of safety at the beach and at the pool.
But this was not the same for Christopher.
My sister and brother-in-law went ahead with their pool installation, even though my sister was then pregnant with son number two, and Christopher was about 2 ½ years old.
Old enough to start swimming lessons.
As the digging for their pool began and my father’s concerns grew ever stronger, this pool project began to alarm me too. Back then, my daughter Jesse was just a few months younger than Christopher, with a similar nature: super active, alert, curious, precious as all get-out.
As the pool project continued, the rains in Oklahoma came in spurts. Over some weeks’ time, the wet ground around the pool only served to delay the installation of the cement footings for the protective fence that was intended to safely enclose the pool.
But there was no safety to be had for Christopher. There was no successful resuscitation.
I am now older than my father was when he lost his grandson. I prevent myself from going too deeply into the memories, wanting not to fathom the grief and suffering my father endured over the loss of his grandson, knowing he wondered many a sleepless night what else he could have said or done to stop my sister from digging that pool.
The shock of Christopher’s death remains as clear as that pool water.
The specifics of Christopher’s sudden death helped create an everlasting memory of misery and sadness, one rife with regrets and guilt. That pool drowning has rippled across generations of relatives and friends who are no longer able to look at pools in quite the same joyful way as they once did.
Year after year it’s the same agony for many families.
The suffering can be stopped for some. The suffering and loss can be minimized.
Clip this, print it, snail mail it or email it, post it to social media and Facebook, but please uber please, share it with everyone in your circle.
Help me to help other families avoid a pool tragedy.
Help me to encourage everyone who is capable, to learn how to swim.
Rose and Lars start swimming lessons in a few days.
I’ll be at the indoor community pool with them, and haunting thoughts of my sister and her beloved tiny Christopher will be as close to my heart as a wet and clingy swimsuit feels on a terribly hot and humid day.
Giselle M. Massi was a journalist with The Denver Post. She is the author of two books, a counselor, and currently writes a weekly newspaper column called “Tell Giselle.” She lives in Evergreen. For more information or to contact Giselle: www.gisellemassi.com.
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