My grandtwins, Rose and Lars, are now twenty-seven 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.
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 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 while the babies were so little.
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.
But 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.
This was not the same for Christopher who 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. The wet ground around the pool delayed 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.
Every year it’s the same agony for thousands of families. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children young and older in America.
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 is the author of “We are Here for a Purpose: HOW TO FIND YOURS” and the novel “Just Dance the Steps.” Giselle was a journalist with The Denver Post for 16 years and now writes a newspaper advice column called “Tell Giselle.” Contact her at GiselleMassi.com.
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