One of the most difficult things I ever did as a junior journalist was go to my first ever death knock. A death knock is when you literally walk up and knock on the door of a home to speak with the loved ones of a person who has died tragically and, usually, unexpectedly.
This death knock was ordered because that day a three-year-old girl died in a backyard pool during a family barbeque in Brisbane.
She was “unsupervised” as they officially say.
The entire family was on the front deck of the house. Against all personal instinct I walked up the stairs to find an extraordinarily powerfully built man in his 30s, with an equally powerful face, rocking back and forth in a chair broken and bawling uncontrollably as he began grieving the death of his little daughter.
The child’s mother, grandparents and friends were also there. They too were in despair and knew there was nothing they could do for him, but be close.
There were obvious questions to ask such as “was the gate open?”, “was anyone watching?” “who was to blame?” and so on and so on.
But at that point, what does it matter. They’re dead. His little girl was gone. He’d seen her. He’d held her lifeless body.
I don’t know why but I chose to speak directly to him. I simply asked: “Sir, is there anything you would like to say, to warn…”
At this point he cut straight in and made a selfless and pure plea that entered my mind and heart and has stood the test of time, right up until this day when I am a father.
“I want to make sure this never happens again,” he said in indescribable sorrow and a ceaseless stream of tears. “I want everyone to know they need to watch their kids. Don’t ever take your eyes off them or you will lose them too. Never take your eyes off them. My daughter is gone now and I will never, ever have her back.”
At this point his family gathered around him to support and protect him. Then I left. Childless at the time, the was my first deep insight into what it means to be a father, to ensure your child is loved and protected. And just an inkling, but a terrifying inkling, of what it might mean to lose them.
Summer is in the air. Drownings happen all the time.
Fact: Close to 300 people die by drowning in Australia each year. Around 30 of those are children aged one to five die who often die in baths and pools.
Sure, they happen in pools a lot. They happen in oceans, rivers, lakes and streams. But they can happen right under your nose in baths and even buckets. Wherever there is enough water to cover their noses and mouths.
In some ways water is very likely the most serious threat to young children of all. This is especially so in Australia where water plays such a significant role in our lives.
I imagine you are the same and experience heightened anxiety as soon as you are near water with your child. I reckon that’s got to be a primal instinct that we should listen to…always…even as they get older.
This is a small reminder list of things we can do to reduce and stop the risk.
- Never leave young kids alone in the bath. No matter what
- Be sure to have everything you need in the bathroom before you get started so you don’t have to leave
- Kids can slip under the water or decide to stand up and fall over in seconds
- They can also roll over on their stomachs and not have the strength to turn back
- They can breathe in because they don’t know what we know about breathing water
- Get grippy suction mats for the floor of the bath and blow-up protector covers for taps
- Never take you eyes of them. This is so much easier said then done when there are conversations, many other things going on and everyone looks like they’re having a good time, in the water and out.
- I never trust anyone (including loved ones) to watch my child in a pool unless I know them very well and I’m absolutely comfortable to do so.
- I don’t think anyone watches your kid like you do. It comes from the soul somewhere. I’ve rescued my son in a crowded pool where no-one else was watching and several said they would be
- Check pool fences are working. If they can’t be fixed get them to a safe place away from the pool
The Ocean, Rivers and Streams:
A note on natural water sources: For older kids and adults, most drowning deaths happen in natural waterways. I have always taken the view that the ocean and rivers are powerful forces beyond my control or full understanding. So I figure all you really need to know is that they are a lot more powerful than you.
An average wave could tear a child from your arms, drag her under and carry her out to sea. A surfboard could knock her out as fast as she could slip on a rock and disappear under the surface. I stick to calm, shallow breaks where you can splash around and enjoy the sunshine. Or, go to calm, shallow lakes where you can paddle around without a care in the world.