Russell Reddick, with daughter, Kira.

Russell Reddick, with daughter, Kira.

When Russell and Angela Reddick lost their 6-year old daughter, Kira, in a tragic drowning accident in 2004, they did not know where to turn for support and guidance.  Angela discovered a wealth of practical information and compassion on the Drowning Support Network (DSN), an all-volunteer, online peer support group, sponsored by a small nonprofit organization, the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund.  “The Drowning Support Network was there for us when we really needed help,” says Angela Reddick.  “It’s is an amazing source of information for families who have lost loved ones to drowning.  In addition to support, we were encouraged to educate ourselves about our grief, drowning awareness and prevention, and how to help others.”

Kira Reddick

Kira Reddick

In honor of Kira, Russell Reddick is heading out on Sunday morning, September 7, 2013, on a 10,000 mile motorcycle journey to the four-corners of the USA.  Russ is riding his 2007 Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, “The fastest street-legal motorcycle in the world,” he says.  Along the way, he will meet with members of DSN, participate in water safety and drowning prevention events hosted by public safety agencies, and raise funds for the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund, which sponsors the annual Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards in Swiftwater Rescue, in addition to DSN and other education programs.

Kira's memorial.

Kira’s memorial.

Angela Reddick has helped her husband chart his “four corners” course.  “This is not the famous ‘Four Corners’ of the Southwest, where you can stand in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona at one time,” Angela explains.  “It’s the four corners of the lower 48 states in the USA.  Russ is starting in Casper.  Then he’s heading to the first ‘corner’ in the Northwest, Blaine, Washington.  The second ‘corner’ is San Diego, California.  The third ‘corner’ is Key West, Florida.  And the fourth ‘corner’ is Madawaska, Maine.  He will then head back home to Casper, Wyoming.  We estimate the total journey to be about 10,000 miles.”

Russ adds, soberly, “According to the Centers for Disease Control, an average of 10-12 people drown per day in the United States.  Worldwide, over 500,000 drown every year.  And this number doesn’t include boating fatalities, floods, hurricanes, or tsunamis.  Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children age four and younger.  And it’s the second leading cause of accidental death in kids 14 and younger.”  Russ notes that drowning is “a silent epidemic, and we all need to do so much more to reduce the death toll,” adding that, for the most part, “drowning is preventable.  But it’s fast, and unlike in Hollywood, where ‘victims’ flail around screaming for help, people often drown before anyone notices they are in trouble.”

If a victim is rescued and resuscitated, Russ explains that survivors may end up with severe brain injuries.  “Over 50% of drowning victims need hospitalization,” Russ says.  “Near drowning, or ‘nonfatal drowning’ survivors, as the medical experts call it, can suffer with life-long disabilities.  Angela and I don’t wish ‘fatal’ or ‘non-fatal’ drowning on any other family.  That’s why I’m heading on the road and speaking out.”

To track Russell’s journey, a link is posted on the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education website.

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards were established in 1993 by the National Association for Search and Rescue Swiftwater Rescue Committee in honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker, who lost his life to drowning in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the Los Angeles River, and Los Angeles County Firefighter Paramedic Jeffrey Langley, a pioneer in swiftwater and flood rescue who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.  In 1995, online educational and networking resources were launched, including the Swiftwater Rescue News and the Drowning Support Network.  In 2002, the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund received 501(c)3 nonprofit certification.

“We wish Russell Reddick a safe journey,” says Nancy Rigg, Founder and Moderator of the Drowning Support Network.  The death of Rigg’s fiancé, Earl Higgins, in 1980 inspired her to launch DSN.  “I was totally isolated when Earl was swept away,” Rigg says.  “He was missing for nine long months before his body was finally recovered.  I really could have used more support and practical information at that time.”  Rigg notes that drowning is a year-round threat.  “The more we can all speak out, work together, and discuss water safety issues, the fewer lives will be lost.”

Sweet Kira Reddick.

Sweet Kira Reddick.

Russell Reddick’s 10,000 Mile Journey:

https://www.facebook.com/DrowningSupportNetworkCrossCountryAwareness

10,000 Mile Journey Map: http://tinyurl.com/m3qth6y

CDC Water-related Injury Fact Sheet:

http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund:

http://www.higginsandlangley.org

 Drowning Support Network (DSN):

http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/DrowningSupportNetwork/info

DSN Facebook:

Peer Support: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DrowningSupportNetwork

General Information: https://www.facebook.com/DrowningSupportNetwork

Keep Our Loved Ones from Drowning:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Keep-Our-Loved-Ones-from-Drowning/160308283980812

DSN Twitterhttps://twitter.com/DrowningSupport

 

Russell Reddick, setting off from Casper, WY

Russell Reddick, setting off from Casper, WY

 

 

Destination, Utah

Destination, Utah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idaho

Idaho

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrival, Oregon

Arrival, Oregon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russ Reddick, on the road

Russ Reddick, on the road

Posted by: njrigg | July 20, 2013

The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase

By Andrea Corrie

James Edward Clark

James Edward Clark

Eight years ago in July, my 19 year old son James lost his life in an accident in the river Thames at Kingston, Surrey.

After eight years of living life as a bereaved parent, what is there still to say about grief?

I have learned various lessons along the way, and sharing those lessons may bring some insight or understanding to others.  Please remember these are opinions borne out of my own perspective and if there is one thing that is certain, it is that grief is entirely individual.  The views expressed are mine and I disseminate them freely.

Perhaps most importantly, I have gradually moved towards understanding that there is no end point for grief.  I relate to the analogy of grief that describes it as a circular staircase.  It is indeed like stepping up and stepping down but also stepping round … and round … and round … in never ending fashion.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stage grief model (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) is familiar, and I have often visited it, looking for ways to try to make sense of the process. In fact, the model is actually a misapplication of an original identification of five distinct stages of coping by  someone who is dying. Her research was focussed on dying people, who knew they were dying, and this is not quite the same ‘one size fits all’ model that is universally applied for mourning of any type, be it for the loss of a parent, a child or a marriage.

It could be argued that many people have made an idol of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages; too many people have grasped onto their linear nature as a proscribed, even time-limited formula to get them through grief.  Laying down a staged grief cycle is formulaic by its nature, but it is difficult to see how else a framework could be devised that would give the newly bereaved an idea what to anticipate.

Those who know me doubtless appreciate that I was not about to follow any edicts about how and when I should grieve, but like anyone else flung into the maelstrom of child loss, I was in dire need of  some signposts to guide me across a new and totally unfamiliar landscape.

Being bereaved is like being told to try to find your way across an alien planet without a map.

Yes, I have experienced all the stages of grief at different times in different ways, and somehow through hard work and application of many resources, I am pleased to affirm that I have arrived at a point of near contentment today.

Stage models create expectation of what mourning is meant to be like.  I suppose I was set up to expect certain reactions and it was disconcerting when those reactions appeared in the ‘wrong’ order or not at all.  Stages also imply that mourning is passive, which I have certainly found not to be the case.

Think for a moment about a mundane task like cleaning the kitchen.  First is the ‘sweeping the floor’ stage, followed by the ‘clean down all the surfaces’ stage, followed by the ‘bleach stage’, and finally the ‘drying off and polishing’ stage.

The kitchen doesn’t do anything but be there, and everything happens to it so that it emerges bright and shiny.

No bereaved parent emerges bright and shiny, untouched by his or her experience.  We would not be human if we did not experience painful reactions and responses to trauma – but these irrevocably alter how we are for the future.

Grief is rarely, if ever, passive.  Rather, especially early on, it is a shouting, roaring, ranting, wailing banshee of a thing which cannot be ignored and has to be squared up to if you are to have any hope of barrelling your way through it.  The only time I have found grief to be passive is when it produces a type of exhausted, numb inertia which I believe is nature’s way of giving one a break from relentlessly working the treadmill.

Dr Kubler-Ross does not have the monopoly on staging.  Various internet sources suggest that seven stage grief models may be applied.  However, these should be viewed with a degree of caution, since such models are based on observations of select populations, which are not necessarily subject to evidence-based scientific study.  A grief model which I read about in an article on the Yahoo! Contributor Network suggests this sixth stage:

Photo by Andrea Corrie

Photo by Andrea Corrie

“Testing and Reconstruction.

The hallmark of this stage is an attempt to solve the practical problems posed by the loss.  A person in this stage may begin to engage in normal life activities again, may evaluate financial obligations or living arrangements, and may begin reaching out more to other people”.

I like the positive message in this stage which represents a place I reached at around the four year mark.  This was the time when I began to socialise again and pick up some friendships that were much neglected.

This was the time that I was able to feel more ‘normal’ again, albeit a new ‘normal’.  The old me is gone forever and those around me have had to take their own time getting to know the new me.

I too have had to take time to get to know the new me!  The loss of the self I knew is a shock.  For 49 years, I knew myself well and I disappeared overnight.  It has taken a while to come to terms with an irreversibly altered persona.

Another aspect of grief that jumped up at me early on is fear.  I remember that at first, I was deeply afraid of becoming overcome, engulfed and embittered by grief from my loss.

The author C S Lewis expresses this very well:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

C S Lewis, A Grief Observed

My way of countering this helpless fear was to take on a variety of challenges, confronting those crises which threatened to overwhelm me.

Photo by Andrea Corrie

Photo by Andrea Corrie

I discovered that achievement, small or large, is empowering.

I discovered that focusing on new activities, from spiritual practice to walking, running and cycling, all have an uplifting and positive effect.

I discovered displacement tactics to cope and move forward another small step on the journey at times when my mind threatened to get stuck in grief.

I discovered that expressing grief in writing is a powerful and cathartic tool. It is especially useful to look back over what I have written as a measure of progress.

Photo by Andrea Corrie

Photo by Andrea Corrie

I discovered the need to be introspective and visit my grief quietly and sit with it when I have to, or conversely to have a good angry rant at the fates.  Both reactions are helpful.

I feel that I have been slow in fully realising quite how immeasurable is the impact of our loss on my husband, daughter and stepchildren, and I will always feel immense regret that that we and the wider family do not have the natural continuance of life experienced by the non-bereaved family. 

We are a modern day blended family – Stella and James’ father and I divorced in 1999 and sadly, he passed away in 2002.  Shaun and I were married in 2005 and it was a scant six weeks after that when we lost James.  There is much to say about the grief of step-parents and step-siblings, which deserves its own separate article.

When a child dies, there are no new memories or future events to share and anticipate in relation to that child, and this emphasises the difference between families who are living through child loss and those who are not.

Grief unavoidably carries a measure of guilt, with which the bereft have to learn to live.  Family events such as birthdays, Christmas, weddings, the arrival of grandchildren, all serve to emphasise the absence of the loved one who should be here to share our joys.  It is difficult to resist the ‘what if’ game where one can create scenarios in which you and/or the lost child did something different, which affected the outcome.  The guilt that as a parent you should have been able to prevent what happened to your child descends like a fog and it is very slow to dissipate.

As the guilt over the loss diminishes it may be replaced by a different guilt – that you can begin to enjoy your life again with a return to optimism and anticipation of pleasurable events, such as holidays.

I firmly believe bereaved parents should allow themselves to feel happy again, without any guilt, if they are able.

The time frame for my personal journey through grief is impossible to set down.  It is only in looking back year on year that I can evaluate moving along to the point where I am now.

The point where I am now is different to the point I was this time last year, and different again from the point I will be this time next year.

Thank goodness for the evolution! -  for if we did not move forwards or progress we would land up mired in a spiral of hopelessness.

Does grief make a better person of you?  I think it both humbles and enlightens, even ultimately enriches with understanding.  These days my perception of others is a gentler thing.  I cut people more slack than I used to in some respects, though I find I have little patience for trivial complaints in others.  Everyone has grief, trauma, strife.  We do not all wear it all the time.  But to extend your feelings of empathy to those who are simply unable to understand what you are going through, because they themselves are fortunate enough not to know, is a tough thing to do in the beginning.  It is easy to see others’ lives as blessed when you are struggling with the trauma of loss.

It is easy to be impatient with those who don’t know what to say to you – but you come to realise that you too would have been the same before your loss.

Certainly I think grief can give you strengths you did not know you possessed, and finding the fortitude to cope with grief leads you to tackle that which you hitherto thought impossible.  When you think about it, once you have risen like a phoenix from the loss of your child, nothing that is thrown at you in life can ever hold the same level of gut-wrenching fear.

I have the greatest admiration for my dear friend Karen in Melbourne.  We met online through the support group Drowning Support Network.   Karen has lifelong claustrophobia and fear of flying but she has conquered it since her son Sam died.  She has managed a couple of flights within Australia and she and her husband are planning a trip to the UK next year.  We cannot wait to meet them.

It is often said that after child loss, your address book changes, and I would agree.

My post loss friends, those whom I have met through the Drowning Support Network and the Compassionate Friends are particularly important.  Our friendships have evolved from the initial focus of our grief, to more typical rounded friendships.  But, there is an incalculable value in being able to call upon others who truly understand what it is like to be a bereaved parent.  Also, pre-loss friends may see you as untouchable or unreachable.  They wait for you to return to your ‘old self’ and sometimes cannot cope with the disappearance of that self.

I have also made some new friends entirely unrelated to bereavement which feels like healthy progress.  Early on in grief, loss colours everything and I would not have been able to focus on new relationships with others.

During my writing research, this year in particular I have been intrigued to note the amount of grief writing that is accessible online.  When I first started writing in 2005, it seems to me that there were less people publicly expressing their emotions in the written word.  But If I type ‘grief writing after child loss’ into Google today, it immediately brings up a raft of material world wide.

When I look over the themes I have covered, they are universal, but they certainly evolve over time from the bleak agony expressed early on, to optimistic messages of transformation and hope.

Memorial plaque: Kingston riverside

Memorial plaque: Kingston riverside

In between, I have concentrated on how best to approach my grief proactively and positively, and I also acknowledge the many others who help me along the way.

Safety improvements at Kingston riverside

Safety improvements at Kingston riverside

For ourselves, in the first few years we had the focus of engendering change in the form of safety improvements at Kingston riverside, thus ensuring that other families do not have to endure trauma such as ours.  This living legacy for James helped a great deal in the initial stages of loss.

I have learned to formulate ways to cope and to move forward in living a meaningful and positive life through utilising whatever means I can put at my disposal to help me get by.  Yes, I can now lay down new memories going forward but at the same time I balance them with the memories of the son I have lost; thoughts of the future he should have had are never far from my mind. 

Last year, my husband Shaun and I felt that the time was right to contemplate downsizing from our family home and with the usual attendant stress of property transactions, we moved house.  We have moved a short distance – only eight miles – and we are settling well into our new environment.  Our new, more rural location is a source of great joy to me; we are close to the Basingstoke canal and I am getting to know it through walking, running and cycling.  To experience the beauty of the changing seasons, to see the wildlife and enjoy the colours of nature in all her splendour is wonderful, truly it is like healing balm to the soul.  I feel something of James in all my outings in the area and I often think of the following epitaph, written for a young soldier who lost his life in Afghanistan.

Basingstoke Canal - photo by Andrea Corrie

Basingstoke Canal – photo by Andrea Corrie

“Listen for him, in the rustling of the branches, and the rippling of the stream”

Even though this is a place where James has not lived, I feel his presence in the beauty of the surroundings and I am able to revisit thoughts of my loss with a gentle sorrow, rather than the desperate longing that marked the early days of grief.

In fact, it has come as quite a surprise to me how easily I have accepted living in a place where there is no history of James.  Our previous house was naturally full of memories of him, and I will admit that it is easier for me to live somewhere that I am not constantly reminded of both his presence and his absence.  Moving house after loss is a conundrum for many and I was anxious about it beforehand, but I have been reassured by my level of contentment.  I am not sure that I would have been so sanguine about it earlier on.

Turning to the final grief model stage, Acceptance, I do not agree that we ever get over or accept the loss of a child.  For the word Acceptance, I invariably substitute Assimilation.

In time, through bits and pieces of assimilation of our loss, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact.  It has been forever changed and we must readjust.

It is a hard task but not unattainable.  This is my loss; this is the hand I have been dealt and it is up to me to play it as best I am able for the sake of my son and all who know me.

Finally, I revisit a favourite quote, originally published by the Compassionate Friends, which reached me via my friend Sandra.  She channels grief for her son into artistic works of painting and sculpture which give colourful voice to her sorrow.  Sandra is an admirable example of how expressing grief creatively and sharing the results with others, can be an effective tool in the armoury of the mourning journey.

“I am not alone and you are not alone.  For as surely as the intangible things you left behind are with me, so a part of me stepped quietly with you, across the threshold of tomorrow.  

And as the brilliance of a star, in a dark sky, so in my heart is a memory of you – endless, beautiful, indestructible”.

By Sandra Totterdell.

By Sandra Totterdell.

I hold dear the joy, the laughter and the tears that nineteen years of the privilege of knowing the love of my son gave to me.  His life touched and brought joy to many and above all, he leaves us with memories of a life too short, but a life well-lived.

Andrea CORRIE                                                                           July 2013

Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark

11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005.  Always missed, forever in our hearts.

Tribute gallery at www.pbase.com/andreac

(password protected gallery.  Please email me for password at

heyandy@btinternet.com if you wish to view the gallery)

Links

http://www.tcf.org.uk

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/DrowningSupportNetwork

http://drowningsupportnetwork.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/groups/DrowningSupportNetwork

http://www.outsidein.org.uk/sandra-totterdell

Posted by: njrigg | July 27, 2012

Butterflies and Eggs

Butterflies and Eggs

By Andrea Corrie

27 July 2012

I like eggs.  Their symmetry and smooth shape appeal to me.  A few years ago, a friend who keeps hens asked me to check to see if there were any eggs to collect.  I had never handled a newly laid egg and as I lifted one, still warm from its straw nest, I marvelled at the feel of it, the sense of living energy contained within, a force of its own enclosed in a porous shell.

If you hold an egg in front of a candle flame, I am told, you can clearly see the yolk within, tethered at either end but floating free in the safety of its confines.

But what do eggs have to do with grief and grieving?  It may seem an unlikely correlation but I think they can relate to progression along the grief path.

Grief is a journey…

On 28 July 2012 it will be seven years to the day since my 19 year old son James died in a tragic accident.  At that time, my grief resembled a box of eggs dropped on the supermarket floor; in an instant it became jagged, formless and messy.  Most people would step round it, not look at it and do their best to pretend it wasn’t there.  A few people who came close to understanding would help to mop up, but the nursery tale of Humpty Dumpty comes to mind, and it proved impossible to put us all back together again, at least without any cracks.

In the same way as there are a multitude of ways to prepare eggs, there are a multitude of ways of grieve.  None are entirely right and none are entirely wrong.  My own path holds a mix of ingredients and methods, and with each recipe I try, I achieve a little more success until I am at a point where my grief is calm and settled most of the time, with the occasional soufflé like rise in its intensity.

Picture the alchemy of frying an egg – that fascinating transformation from liquid to solid that takes place as an egg white coagulates, whilst the yolk remains soft and warm in the middle.  Transformation is a concept that crops up a great deal in grief. The butterfly is one of the best and most common symbols of transformation, reflecting as it does the complete change of one creature to another.  There is nothing in a caterpillar that hints at the promise of a butterfly.

The most profound human transformation occurs when the soul or spirit leaves the physical body…

Nothing keeps the butterfly held to the ground, but as with an egg yolk, I like to imagine that James’ soul is tethered to all those who knew and loved him in this world, but he also floats free in the afterlife.

Of course, the greatest transformation of an egg is in fertilisation and the ultimate emergence of new life.  We emulate this as parents, nurturing our own offspring as they develop and watching over our brood as they form and grow.  Little wonder that the grief of a parent who has lost a nestling out of time is arguably the deepest, most shocking grief of all.

The most profound human transformation occurs when the soul or spirit leaves the physical body.  This is not intended to be a morbid train of thought; rather there is solace to be drawn from either witnessing, or having an awareness of, the transience of our physical presence.

I was with my dearly loved mum when she died in hospital ten years ago and the actual moment of her passing was deeply awe-inspiring rather than entirely distressing.  The split second change from her bodily presence being there… to not being there… was something quite remarkable and I take comfort that I was privileged to witness her passing.  In some way I believe it prepared me to believe and have faith that this profound transformation of the physical to ethereal would also take place at the moment of James’ passing.

In the human condition, regardless of what has befallen us, there is always hope.  The American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) says:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune – without the words,
And never stops at all…

More than anything else, I realise that the essence of moving forward is contained in that simple premise: hope.

  • Hope of a return to feeling ‘normal’ again
  • Hope that the pain would diminish
  • Hope that I would find sufficient peace in my mind to stop questioning why James died out of time
  • Hope that I would come to appreciate the years we had James with us, rather than dread the future without him
  • Hope that I would be able to feel joy again and live my life with purpose and meaning
  • Hope that my relationships with family and friends would resume without the awkwardness of grief’s presence in the room
  • Hope that the lessons from James’ passing, once we could see past the grief clearly enough to understand what those lessons are, would enrich those of us who are left behind to live our lives without him.

“I cannot over estimate the value of amassing a virtual tool box to help deal with this most traumatic life event.”

Happily, my hopes have gradually, slowly but surely, been realised.  There are many contributing elements to this place of acceptance, seven years into loss.

My main drive has been a dogged determination not to let grief and sorrow get the better of me.  I cannot over estimate the value of amassing a virtual tool box to help deal with this most traumatic life event.  And my experience tells me that the best way is to gather whatever works, such as the following, most of which have helped and continue to help me:

Join an organisation such as The Compassionate Friends, or Drowning Support Network.

Connect with other bereaved parents.  You will find like minds and people who truly understand.

Express your grief through writing, reading, painting – creativity is a great outlet.

Learn new crafts, volunteer for fundraising or charity work, take up new sports, hobbies – from somewhere, push yourself to  find the energy to take on something that challenges you –  and work at it.  Achievement is rewarding.

Go for counselling with an organisation such as CRUSE and/or take up an extreme sport – anything that deflects your main focus from grieving will help you to process your grief indirectly in a way that is palatable and appropriate to each individual.

About eighteen months ago I took up running.  I will never be a marathon runner, nor would I wish to be, but I do enjoy the challenge of running 5K (3.1 miles) a couple of times each week.

But I now realise that when I first started running, I could find many reasons not to do it properly.  I would set off with enthusiasm, then after a few minutes I would slow to a walk/re-tie my laces/change the tracks on my iPod/take some water etc.

“It took a while to understand that these were my own ‘butterfly mind’ diversion tactics from the matter in hand. “

It took a while to understand that these were my own ‘butterfly mind’ diversion tactics from the matter in hand.   For me, there is a definite synergy between running and the grieving process, and these avoidance/diversion techniques can equally be applied to a morning run and traversing the rocky road of grief.

Sometimes it is absolutely necessary for peace of mind to be able to switch off from grieving.  At other times, it is possible to meet it head on.  These days there is control in my grief so that it has become a place that I visit – in a  manner that I choose, and when I choose.

Thus the distractions and diversions have lessened over time, as they have done in my running.

I can now run for three miles without stopping which is, to me, an amazing and elating achievement.

I can now go long periods without thinking of James or perhaps more importantly, feeling guilty for not thinking about him, which is an equally amazing and elating achievement.

Self belief and confidence play great roles in grief recovery.  Acceptance of child loss is an alien concept.  But assimilation of the event is something that can and does happen over time.

The author Paulo Coelho says,

“When faced by any loss there’s no point in trying to recover what has been.  It’s best to take advantage of the large space that opens up before us and fill it with something new”.

“When faced by any loss there’s no point in trying to recover what has been. It’s best to take advantage of the large space that opens up before us and fill it with something new.”                     ~ Paulo Coelho

This is impossible to consider at the beginning of the grieving process.  How can anything fill the void that is left by the loss of your child?  The answer is that nothing can, but I firmly believe that through sustained hard work, application, concentration and focus one can recover hope for the future and live life with meaning and joy once again.  Grief is tiring! – but the renewed hope and optimism that is eventually regained, certainly makes this weariness easier to bear.

There are changes afoot in our household as my husband and I plan to sell our house and downsize locally.  We both feel that the time is right for us to proceed.  Of course I have anxieties about leaving James behind.  However, a good friend recently said,

“Don’t worry.  You will pack up your memories of James along with your boxes.  When new people come into your house they don’t see your memories.  They don’t see your events, happy or sad.  They bring in their own with them”.

This makes me feel much better about the concept of being somewhere that James has not lived with us.  It would have been very different early in our grief.  Perhaps it works for some people who must break ties to achieve a modicum of peace, but I know that had we moved earlier, which was a temptation at one point, it would merely have been an attempt to run away from the pain.

The day we move into our new home, wherever it may be, I will put my favourite photos of James in a place where we see them every day, and I have faith that he will be there with us, in spirit.

James Clark, jumping for joy…

I have observed over the past year that more people are comfortable with mentioning James, than previously.  It is as though they feel that sufficient time has elapsed so it is ‘safe’ to do so.  More than one colleague or friend has said that they don’t mention him because they don’t want to upset me…. My response to this is that I don’t ever want James to be forgotten and to hear his name, to talk and laugh about him and his life, is to me a wonderful and very special thing to be able to do.  It is lovely to be able to do this with less likelihood of tears than in the early days.

The great British stiff upper lip is not so great when it comes to grief and grieving!  We need to be less buttoned up and to say how we really feel.  There is no shame in crying with someone in their loss.  But I have learned to make allowances for people who have not encountered traumatic loss, for if I think back to the time before we lost James I would surely not have behaved any differently.

I too would have been one of those people who say, helplessly, “I don’t know what to say.”  But I understand better how people feel so useless and shocked in the face of traumatic loss.

It is true to say that there is no manual or text book that adequately describes, for a bereaved parent or for those counselling a bereaved parent, how to deal with the enormity of bereavement.  We do not automatically know how to behave, how to grieve, how to make sense of the turmoil of emotions that comes with this particular form of loss.  We must each work through our grief creating our own recipes.  If you take ten people and put them in a kitchen to make a three egg omelette, the chances are that you will end up with ten different omelettes.

So it is with grief.

We must all make our own choices and draw on a carefully blended recipe of resources to produce the desired end result; assimilation of loss and hope for the future.

Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark

11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005.  Always missed, forever in our hearts.

Tribute gallery at www.pbase.com/andreac

(password protected gallery.  Please email me for password at

heyandy@btinternet.com if you wish to view the gallery)

Photos by Andrea Corrie – used with permission.

Posted by: njrigg | June 17, 2012

Father’s Day 2006 – Bringing Mark Home

Father’s Day 2006 – Bringing Mark Home

By Tom Dragoon

Ausable River – upstate New York

Father’s Day, June 18, 2006 was unlike any other since the birth of my son, Mark, on June 6, 1977.  I had made only one request for that special day from a group of volunteers numbering over 300 strong who had been working non-stop since June 5th.  On that day the Ausable River had claimed Mark’s life and sent the lives of his family and friends into a complete frenzy, at first hoping to find him alive, later surrendering to the task of bringing his body home for closure.

When you finally accept the fate that your child will never be coming home alive, the only goal a parent has is to hold their child one more time before saying goodbye.  That was the goal that I sought for Father’s Day – to be able to hold him, tell him I loved him, and then to say goodbye.  The feeling of complete helplessness was so overwhelming as we waited for the river to give up our son’s body, only the strength of the multitude of family members, friends, co-workers, and dedicated professional rescue workers was our crutch to help us to our goal.

Volunteer swiftwater rescue and dive personnel assist with the search.

You never realize the need for the services of swift water rescue workers until you are in the middle of this type of unimaginable disaster, until it is too late and your loved one is gone.  Our family was very fortunate in that the accident happened in the little village of Keeseville, New York.  One man, Keeseville Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD) Chief Lenny Martin, had the foresight to anticipate the need for an Adirondack Mountain Swift Water Rescue Team and had struggled to meet this need on the extremely limited funds the poor Adirondack Village could raise.  Many of the members of the Rescue Squad had to buy the necessary equipment out of their own personal funds.  Much of the equipment was borrowed or loaned to the volunteers of KVFD, and training was demanding.

As luck would have it, Chief Martin and KVFD were on the scene of Mark’s accident within minutes of the rescue call coming into the station and they stood with our family for ten long days of search and rescue that later became a recovery mission.  The gifted leadership of Chief Martin pulled together several Local, State, and Federal professional search and rescue groups from the northern Adirondack region, with one goal in mind, to find Mark.

Long vigil – many volunteers aided in the on-going search.

After the initial search had not yielded the results we sought and the professionals had to scale back their efforts, a group of family and friends, as well as my co-workers from the Federal Law enforcement community, SARNAK Search and Rescue, and complete strangers shouldered the load to find Mark.  That group of volunteers later became known as Mark’s Magic, The Band of Gypsies that were identified by their bright yellow safety shirts bearing their logo.

The rescue trailer bought for KVFD by money raised by Mark’s Magic and a $10,000 state grant.

Ten days of intense dawn to well past dusk searching finally delivered our goal by reuniting Mark and his family when the SARNAK volunteers recovered his body and brought him home.  I would spend Father’s Day with my son one last time.

Hopefully you will never need the love and support of family, friends, co-workers, professionals, and strangers like we did, but if you do, pray that you can assemble the team we were fortunate enough to be blessed with.  Unfortunately the highly specialized training and equipment necessary to perform this dangerous search and rescue mission is not high on the priority list of those making the budgeting decisions of our emergency responders.  The dedication to training, practicing, and executing these highly skilled missions is very demanding on the volunteers stepping up to serve the public and all too often under appreciated until disaster strikes.  When you need them just where will you find them?

Picture on the KVFD rescue trailer from Mark’s search.

So as another Father’s Day approaches and I am left with the memories of a much loved son and the heroes that brought him back to me, would you please join me in singing the praises for those who give so much to the field of swift water rescue.  I owe so much to Chief Martin, KVDF, and the Band of Gypsies – more than I could ever hope to repay in my lifetime.  I will never forget all they did for my son and my family that June in 2006, and I pray that I can find the way to thank them for their unconditional act of humanity and kindness.  They are all truly heroes in my book, a tribute to all that makes America the great nation it is.

May God bless and protect them in their duties.

Happy Father’s Day, one and all.

*  *  *

Dedication plaque on KVFD rescue trailer.

Editor’s note: According to local news reports, 28-year-old Mark T. Dragoon went missing in a whitewater rafting accident on June 5, 2006, one day before his 29th birthday.  He was recovered from the Ausable River on June 15, 2006, by a “band of devoted volunteers.”  At about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Mark’s body was located, ending an 11-day search that was “hampered at times by heavy rains and high water.”  Earlier in the day, every bridge from Keeseville to Lake Champlain had spotters, with many of them wearing neon yellow shirts that read “Mark’s Magic Band of Gypsies,” watching the river in what had become a well-organized search.

Mark’s grave marker paying tribute to Mark’s Magic and the Band of Gypsies.

Posted by: njrigg | June 16, 2012

First Father’s Day After Losing My Son

First Father’s Day After Losing My Son

By Tom Calhoun

Tom Calhoun, with son, Bradley

I try to explain to other people what it is like to go through this thing called grief.  I say it’s like climbing a mountain.  I climb the mountain, knowing that I will never reach the top.

Normally, around the middle of the month, I start to slip and slide down, and by the end of the month I’m at the bottom.

This may sound like I’m going nuts sometimes.  I’m not going to lie, I am going nuts!  I miss my son.  I miss everything about him.  I look around and see other dads doing what I should be doing with Brad.  But I just sit there and can only imagine doing things with Brad, now!   And yes, that drives me nuts.

This is the the first Father’s Day since Brad’s death at age five and a half on July 2, 2011.  I am a mess.

Bradley Calhoun

I have started to speak in public about water safety, telling our story.  I made a promise to Brad when I was doing CPR on him, that I would do everything in my power to prevent anyone else from drowning.  I don’t know what else to do.  I don’t ever want any other father – any other family – to know this kind of loss, to know the emptiness I now feel on Father’s Day.

I have a daughter – Brad’s sister – and I love her to pieces.  We will mark Father’s Day together, now.  And I’ll do everything I can to make holidays special for her and to protect her, as much as possible, from life’s dangers.

But I’m new to this thing called grief, so I’m learning as I go!

*  *  *

Posted by: njrigg | June 15, 2012

Coming Home

Coming Home

When Someone You Love is Missing in the Water

By Nancy J. Rigg

No agency tracks how many people go missing in the water per year, or what decision making standards and operating procedures are used to determine how to manage a search and recovery operation, how long to dedicate resources, and how and when to call in additional experts, including water cadaver dogs and side-scan sonar operators.

Because this is often a gray area of emergency response, when someone goes missing, the burden of mounting a recovery operation too often ends up in the hands of the grieving family after a brief, even perfunctory search is called off by the initial responding authorities.   Many lakes in the United States have a dozen or more victims languishing at the bottom of them, for lack of better protocols and a greater commitment on the part of response agencies to help families reclaim loved ones who have drowned or somehow disappeared in a body of water.

Having someone missing in water is devastating for survivors – there is a limbo of uncertainty, and even though we may mourn the absence of our loved ones, and even though we may feel certain that they are deceased, it is difficult to mourn a death without proof, without the physical body recovered and identified.  The legal tangle often compounds an already tragic situation, although with proper reports on the accident, a death certificate can sometimes be secured through the courts.

Dedicated dive recovery teams can ease a family’s pain, but the lack of standardized protocols sometimes makes access to resources in a timely manner difficult.

There are many wonderful dive-recovery teams and other resources out there, with dedicated personnel who train hard and do everything they can to help families in distress.  I do not want to give the impression that no one cares.  The problem is that whether a family gets the help it needs or not depends on where and in what kind of water their loved one goes missing.  To my knowledge, there are no national standards for water search and recovery, although U.S. Park Service Search and Rescue protocols do not allow a case to be “closed” until a body is recovered.

Search and recovery…

Cold inland water can preserve human remains.  If a freshwater lake or river is cold and deep enough, a victim may or may not resurface, and may languish on the bottom for many years.  Bodies have been recovered from cold, deep water after ten, fifteen, even fifty years.  Technology, with side-scan sonar and other devices, and the aid of specially trained water cadaver dogs and dive-recovery experts, can strengthen the possibility of having someone be recovered even after many, many years.  But because families are usually told by overburdened local authorities, “Sorry, there is nothing else to be done to recover your loved one,” without alternative information provided, most families quit looking for their loved ones and simply struggle to come to terms with having them be “missing and presumed dead.”

Surviving family members may find that this unique missing-in-water limbo makes it extremely difficult for them to recover – financially, professionally, spiritually, and emotionally.  The uncertainty is heartrending and unending, making it a challenge to focus on any of life’s other pursuits…

More needs to be done to aid in recovery operations quickly and safely.  Not just for the dignity of the deceased, but for the healthy recovery of deeply traumatized families and communities…

Our Story:

Earl Higgins

After successfully saving the life of a ten-year old boy who fell into the Los Angeles River in 1980, my 29-year old fiancé, Earl Higgins, was swept thirty miles downstream in turbulent, roiling, floodwater.  It took nine long and agonizing months for his body to be recovered, in part because at the time, no one would mount a search and recovery operation.  No agency had jurisdiction over the Los Angeles Flood Control maze for swiftwater rescue operations, let alone search and recovery.  No one would look for Earl, so for months and months, I searched the entire length of river myself, from his point of entry to the Harbor in Long Beach.  It was a lonely and very frustrating time.

Although I grieved Earl’s absence deeply, for me, it truly was the serendipitous recovery of his body nine months later, during a harbor dredging operation, that allowed me to fully honor and mourn his death, and start to come to terms with the profound changes in my life.

When Earl’s body was finally recovered… it was like he had died twice.  But at least there was certainty, legal proof, and closure.

I share this excerpt from my grief journal, on behalf of all families who are dealing with this difficult kind of loss and trauma.  I wrote it three years after Earl disappeared, after I was finally allowed to view the forensic photos taken of his physical remains for the Coroner’s inquiry:

1983, Los Angeles:

The body.  They say that it is merely a “vehicle”, which our spirit occupies during its journey through life.  Yet it goes without saying that it is through this body that we experience life — all the sensations, the emotions, the struggles and joys, the psycho-physical existence.  And it is through the body that we know one another.

Today I viewed photographs that were taken of Earl in the examination room at the Coroner’s Office, three years and one month ago today.  Two color photos of his body lying on a gurney.  Human remains against cold, blue metal, near a green tiled wall, above the while linoleum floor.

My first and overwhelming sensation was profoundly deep sorrow.  A sorrow beyond tears or weeping.  I was saddened silent.  There it was.  Front view.  Back view.  I say “it”, because that which I gazed upon was not “Earl.”  No.  And yet it was Earl!  Even in that state of extreme decomposition, I recognized him.  Vague aspects here and there.  The overall shape and size.  The reminiscence of such a fine, perfect form.

I studied the photos in silence for a long, long time.  And although he seemed anxious, Dr. Frederick, my trauma counselor, had enough sense to leave me alone.  When I finally spoke to him, my words sounded hollow and distant.  I’m not sure what I said… something reassuring, so that he knew we had made the right choice to view these photos.

Although there were similarities to what I had envisioned in my mind’s eye those nine months when Earl’s body was missing, to my surprise, that which was pictured here was even worse than what I had envisioned.  I always thought that I had envisioned a worse horror than what was, but no…

I flashed on the keys that had remained with Earl’s body all those months in the water.  The colors.  And the smell.  Earl’s body looked like those keys, corroded, discolored.  In certain places on the chest, the arms, the back, and the head, bone was exposed.  White.  So clean and white.

The overall shape was distorted, the chest and abdominal area slightly distended, the arms and legs shrunken.  There was no close-up and in the photo the head wasn’t very clear.  But there was no face, no hair.  Clean and white was the jawbone beneath the teeth.  I could see through to the spinal column supporting the skull.

Three ribs on the right side were exposed, as was the long bone of the right arm.  And the cranium, as seen from the back view, formed a clean, ivory-colored, perfectly shaped cap.  No toes.  Only discolored stumps at the end of the legs.  I tried to find fingers, but could barely distinguish arms resting against the chest.

The fleshy parts… therein was the horror.  And a paradoxically haunting beauty.  In full view, the remains looked like newly mined malachite — copper mineral embedded in its native granite.  Blues and greens, shades of gray, and black.  A mottled effect overall.  In the image in my mind’s eye, I had never envisioned the many colors.  I had always seen Earl’s form in a single, ghostly hue.

The body looked mummified.  Like a statue.  But not in statuesque perfection.  A Giacommetti, not a Rodin.  Shock provided distance and my study was somewhat removed, emotionally, in an attempt to keep my heart from bursting right then and there.  Nancy the Forensic Scientist made her thorough study of the evidence.

There was no doubt that this was Earl’s body.  The destruction of the face, and his back, which looked charred, as though the process of cremation had been started then abruptly stopped.  The chest, legs, arms, everything, oh, so agonizing to see.  As I struggled to relate all this visual information back to the autopsy report, I found myself increasingly thankful that Dr. Bucklin was the coroner who performed the autopsy — a man of great compassion and abiding respect for the human body, which he quietly said is “not a man-made thing.”

Summitville, Colorado – ghost town in the Rocky Mountains

Haunting beauty.  Again that thought emerged and floated across the whirling surface of my mind.  I’m not certain how to explain it.  But I kept drifting back to those summers we spent high in the Rocky Mountains when I was a kid growing up in Colorado.  We lived in an old ghost town called Summitville.  Like gazing at one of the more dilapidated old houses, there was such a haunting beauty in this unoccupied home.  A serenity and peace embracing it.  Invisibly shrouding it.  A sweet melancholy aura.

I looked at the “house” that once held Earl’s spirit and recalled happier hours, when the candles in the windows burned brightly, when there was a welcoming fire dancing in the hearth, when laughter rumbled forth from the joyous depths of the life that filled it once, not so long ago.  Visions of moments remembered.

Now this house lies quiet and empty.  The beams that gave it such strong and lofty support are exposed now.  The walls are peeling.  Oh, sweet home.  The hearth is cold.  The candles gone.  Everything decayed.  Gone.  Gone.

And yet, in these remains, there is no bitterness.  No remorse.  Just silence and calm and infinite stillness.

Earl’s final resting place – after nine long and agonizing months, he was finally laid to rest…

* * *

Year Six – the Calm after the Storm

 By Andrea Corrie

Last summer, the job that I have held for 11 years came to an end with the retirement of my employer, a hospital consultant, and I found myself with several weeks to fill before I took up a new post within the hospital.  The run up to closing the practice was a very stressful time and by the end of it all, I felt as though I had a surfeit of energy to dispel.  I am no athlete, but having previously trained for charity power walking challenges I knew I would benefit from exercise induced endorphins if I went out walking early in the mornings.

You may well wonder what this has to do with grief and its relevance to the sixth year since we lost James to a tragic accident when he was 19; but as my exercise regime evolved I began to observe a significant correlation between that and my grief path and ways in which it has altered with the passage of time.

The summer mornings were warm and still. After a few outings of pounding the streets at a brisk walk, one day I found that what I really wanted to do was to go faster.  I picked up pace and broke into a tentative, clumsy, run.  I felt terribly conspicuous, certainly as though everyone must be watching me as I passed the houses along the suburban streets, but I carried on.  Soon my legs were aching, I was gasping for breath and I needed to stop, but I felt an incredible sense of elation.  I had managed to run for only a few minutes, but the point is that I had managed to do it.

How like the early days of grief when every breath was torture and you had to keep reminding yourself how to do it:

How  like the early days of grief when your legs were leaden and the slightest movement was a Herculean effort, when to get dressed, drag yourself out – perhaps to the local shops where you dreaded seeing anyone you knew, lest they should ask – or not ask – about what had happened – was as much as you could manage:

How like the early days of grief when you felt as though you had ‘bereaved parent’ tattooed onto your forehead and that everyone could see your pain:

How like the early days of grief when a single insensitive comment could literally stop you in your tracks.

As the days went by, I challenged myself by whatever means made me run a little further.  Some days I counted lampposts.  Other days I ran to the length of tracks on my iPod.  Gradually I found that I could sustain the pace for longer and longer, without so much effort.

How like the early stages of loss, of getting from one milestone to the next … so many dates hold special significance when you have lost a child.  Each one is tough to approach, but once you have passed it, recedes slowly behind you into the distance.

My leisure time over, I started my new job, but I continued to run regularly.  My running became a work in progress in the same way as my grieving is a work in progress.

Andrea Corrie – ready to run.

I signed up for a women’s Race for Life 5K challenge for the following summer so that I had a six month goal towards which to work.

How like the goal of working through the recognised stages of the grieving process, each one of them a target to be met, however long it takes and in whatever order.  Since James’ passing,  I have experienced almost all of them at least once in the six years – denial, anger, bargaining, depression. But I still – and suspect I always will – struggle with the final stage in the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model, that of acceptance;  for I do not believe that parents can ever accept the loss of their children, being as it is, out of the natural and expected order of life’s cycle.  Assimilation is, for me, a far more accurate description of how I view the way I have learned to live with my loss, which does not now feel like a separate entity but has become an intrinsic part of my being.

In the winter months, I retreated from the pavements to the gym and pounded treadmill instead of tarmac which was somewhat monotonous.  It was wonderful to be able to resume running outside when the spring came.

How like the gradual emergence from the dark, grey, tedious days of grief I remember from around the middle of the third year, when I could once again notice and take pleasure in the colourful circle of the seasons – that butterfly-like transformation into the way of life that is best described as new normality.

As my stamina increased I found I was more easily achieving the distance targets I set myself, without being exhausted afterwards and jogging along at an even, comfortable pace.

How like the evolution of the grief process from the jagged peaks and troughs of the early rollercoaster of emotions into something more measured and calm.

Running for June, a friend who has tackled her treatment for breast cancer with remarkable positivity and humour.

When the day of the Race for Life event dawned I felt excited and nervous but ready for the challenge.  I was running for June, a friend who has tackled her recent treatment for breast cancer with remarkable positivity and humour. When I arrived at the venue, my daughter Stella’s words of advice were ringing in my ears,

“Don’t look at everyone’s back sign when you are running, mum.  You will well up, your throat will tighten and you won’t be able to get your breath.  Read them before the race, or afterwards”.

I didn’t really understand what she meant, but I soon saw that each sign pinned to the back of its owner’s T shirt told its own story.

That day at Kempton Park, three thousand women ran, jogged or walked the distance for their mums, dads, grandparents, siblings, sons, daughters, stepfamilies, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbours, colleagues – indeed, for anyone and everyone affected by cancer.  Seeing this, and knowing that similar Race for Life events are held all around the UK over the summer months was incredibly moving and really brought home to me how many lives are touched by loss.

Race for Life challenge.

How like the gradual realisation in grief that the ripple effect of loss in a family reaches far beyond those who are immediately involved, expanding beyond the nuclear family to friends, peers, colleagues and the wider community

How like the compassion and empathy that I have encountered from my family and friends, and from other bereaved parents, through organisations such as The Compassionate Friends, Drowning Support Network and CRUSE Bereavement support, all of which play a supporting role on my grief path.

How like the human spirit – indomitable by nature – to somehow find the strength to reach out to help others in pain and distress.

After Race for Life, I signed up to another event in the Autumn, not for sponsorship this time but to try to improve my running time and ensure that I build on the foundations I have laid down with my initial training.

How like the nature of the grieving process which actually turns out to be a constant in your life.  It is always hard work but ultimately it carries reward with the understanding that it is possible to live life post loss in a meaningful and positive way.

Andrea Corrie at the finish line.

On some of my runs, I feel spiritually uplifted, not just physically stretched.  Pounding the ground early on a Sunday morning, with no distractions other than having an awareness of my surroundings, I regularly think of James, and I am able to process the emotions surrounding his passing and our resultant loss, with equilibrium.  Indeed, it often feels as though he is running in my shadow, encouraging me to push myself that little bit further.

Listening to some of his favourite music tracks on my iPod has enabled me to hear them again without distress. Simply to imagine how he would chuckle at me jogging along to his music is enough to lift my spirits.

Sometimes, too, there will be a feather on the path or a butterfly flitting by that brings James to mind as though he is giving me a nudge.

How like an emphasis that our children are still with us, residing within our hearts wherever we go and whatever we are doing.  As time passes, it becomes even more important to ensure that their names are spoken and their lives are not forgotten. Our memories of them become ever more precious.

The seminal message in managing my grief at this six year stage is a need to challenge myself, to keep building my confidence through trying new projects, and to frequently reach a point where I say to myself,

“Wow, who would have thought I would be able to do that?”

despite what has happened.

My self belief has changed from ‘Perhaps I can do this’ to, ‘I know I can do this’ and that applies equally to my grief path and to running, in fact to all the challenges that I face day to day.

Achievement of any kind is empowering.  Empowerment goes a long way towards restoring the confidence that is inevitably shattered following the loss of a child. Given sufficient support and motivation, we are able to rise phoenix like from our trauma and distress to be stronger than ever.  Guidance and help can present themselves in many forms, from formal religious settings to Reiki and other forms of spiritual healing; I believe we are drawn to whatever will help us move forward in our understanding and assimilation of the tragedy and shock of untimely loss.

As a family we are fortunate to have had a positive year; with the arrival of a granddaughter, such a beautiful little soul! – and we have family weddings to look forward to. It is such a joy to be able to face the future with optimism and anticipation, something that seemed unthinkable in the beginning.

Despite the ever present background sorrow of loss – which in itself does not diminish – I hope that my positive messages are inspiring and useful to others who are travelling the ever changing, undeniably tough, road of grief.

Written in loving memory of

James Edward CLARK

11.09.85 – 28.07.05

Always loved, forever in our hearts

Butterfly – a symbol of transformation.

 

Tribute gallery at

www.pbase.com/andreac

Andrea Corrie  July 2011

heyandy@btinternet.com

Links

www.tcf.org.uk

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/DrowningSupportNetwork

http://www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk

www.raceforlife.org

Photos: courtesy of Andrea Corrie, all rights reserved.

*   *   *

2011 Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards

in Swiftwater Rescue Announced

ASHEVILLE, NC. April 3, 2011—The Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund Awards Committee is proud to announce the 2011 Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards in Swiftwater Rescue, which recognize excellence in the field of flood and swiftwater rescue.

The awards will be presented on Friday, June 3, 2011, at 7:30 PM, at the annual National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) conference, at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel, 1100 Nugget Avenue, Sparks, NV, 89431.

2011 Higgins & Langley Awards

Outstanding Achievement Award

Ocoee River Rescue

On October 3, 2010, Dr. Michael McCormick seriously injured his cervical spinal cord in a whitewater kayaking incident on the Ocoee River in Tennessee after being flipped in a hole at the top of Slice and Dice rapid. Paralyzed and unable to move, he was rescued by four kayakers he had met only 45 minutes before—Michael Howard, Kevin Sipe, Neal Carmack, and Bryant Haley. After realizing their new companion was in trouble, the kayakers chased him down though two sets of Class II-III rapids and were able to catch and roll him upright just before entering a larger set of rapids. At that point one of the rescuers (trained as a military medic) immobilized his neck while another paddled ahead to phone medical support. The rest got him into an eddy and with the help of a passing raft company evacuated him to the road side, where he was met by an ambulance and subsequently transported on a helicopter.

Program Development Awards

Breeding Volunteer Fire Department Technical Rescue Team, Columbia, KY

After an incident in 2009 in which a would-be citizen rescuer drowned, the Breeding Fire Department committed to the development of a technical rescue team. Since December of 2009, under the leadership of Captain Chris Taylor and Lieutenant Brandon Harvey, rescuers have put in nearly 1000 man hours of training, consisting of rope rescue and swiftwater technician at the NFPA 1670 and 1006 level. The department has acquired a 26′ enclosed trailer, technical rope rescue gear, 2 self-bailing rafts, a Mercury IRB, 10 sets of technician level PPE and 10 sets of operations PPE—altogether nearly an $80,000 investment in technical rescue gear. The team consists of 5 swiftwater rescue technicians and 7 rope rescue technicians, and trains monthly with Taylor and Green Counties.

Killeen Rescue Team, Killeen Fire Department, Killeen, TX

After dealing with prior flooding incidents in Central Texas Lieutenant Beau Arnold and Fire Rescue Officer/Paramedics Justin Todd and Darren Morphis of the Killeen Fire Dept. developed a flood rescue program meant to deliver safe, effective response for multiple rescues and evacuations. The program was put to the test on September 7, 2010 during a flood where water conditions varied from flooded creeks with moderate debris loads rated at Class III to Class IV-V water in creeks and streets contaminated with raw sewage and major debris including trees, household materials and fire ants. Over an 18-hour period the Killeen Fire swiftwater rescue team performed 83 flood rescues and evacuations, including one individual trapped in a tree in rising floodwaters and four dogs rescued by boat.

Swiftwater Rescue Team Awards

Travis County STAR Flight, Austin, TX

During the flooding following Tropical Storm Hermine in early September, 2010, Travis County STAR Flight deployed its three hoist-equipped EC-145 Public Safety Helicopters after receiving over 20 requests for search and rescue assistance throughout Central Texas. Thirteen individuals were rescued, including a man clinging to the roof of his submerged vehicle in extremely swift-moving water, three ground-based swift water boat team members whose rescue boat became stranded amongst trees in swift water, a family of four stranded on the second-story of their home, a man stranded on high ground surrounded by flood water, and four individuals trapped in their homes. All were hoisted to the aircraft with an extraction collar by a Helicopter Rescue Specialist (HRS), over half during the hours of darkness using night vision goggles.

Travis County STAR Flight Swiftwater Rescue Team: Glenn Anderson, Lynn Burttschell, Willy Culberson, Bill Derrick, Kristin McLain, Casey Ping, Chuck Spangler, Mike J. Summers, Kenneth M. Thompson.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Swiftwater Rescue Team, San Diego, CA

On December 21, 2010, the Lifeguard Communications Center received a report from the United States Border Patrol of people trapped by water in the Tijuana River Valley. Lifeguard Swiftwater Rescue Team units responded and rescued three individuals from the Tijuana River. Much of the city was flooded in the most severe event since 1980, the major impact falling on Mission Valley, through which the San Diego River runs. Over the next forty hours, all across the city, the Lifeguard Swiftwater Rescue team rescued a total of seventy-three people and 7 dogs, responded to approximately twenty-three other calls, as well as assisting with the evacuations of some sixty people forced from their homes. Incidents included rescues of numerous persons who became trapped in their vehicles after attempting to cross the river. At the Premier Inn in Mission Valley the Lifeguard Swiftwater Rescue Team, with support from Fire Operations, constructed a tension diagonal rescue system to safely and efficiently evacuate all fifty-one occupants.

San Diego Lifeguard Swiftwater Rescue Team: John Everhart, Robert Albers, Michael Cranston, Troy Keach, John Sandmeyer, Jon Vipond, John Bahl, Jim Birdsell, Marc Brown, David Calder, Timothy Cicchetto, Charles Davey, Robert Eichelberger, Steven Malcolm, Daryl McDonald, Leslie Mendez, Ric Stell.

Special Commendation Award

Matthew S. Peek, Water Entry Team (WET) Assistant Director, Reno Fire Department, Reno NV

On Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 Assistant Water Entry Team Director Matt Peek was instructing WET members on the Truckee River near Mayberry Park in Reno. Because of high water conditions Peek had had the team’s training venue changed to the Truckee that day, making it available for rescues if needed. While the class was in session two tubers, neither wearing PFDs, struck a partially submerged log jutting out from the right bank of the river. Both were flipped out of their tubes and one female became entrapped on the log, barely able to keep her head above water. Peek exited his kayak and reached the victim, keeping her head above water until her leg was freed. Shortly afterward a second group of five tubers came down the river and struck the same log. All went into the water, and a teenage boy with the party became entrapped on the same log. He was also rescued by Peek, who then recommended that the log be immediately removed. This was done shortly afterward with a rescue truck’s winch.

 

Higgins & Langley Memorial Award Medal

Background

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards were established in 1993 by the National Association for Search and Rescue Swiftwater Rescue Committee in honor of Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker, who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the Los Angeles River, and Los Angeles County Firefighter Paramedic Jeffrey Langley, a pioneer in swiftwater rescue who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.

The Awards have increased awareness about the need for specialized swiftwater and flood rescue training and preparedness. Today, worldwide training certifications have increased and agencies have been inspired to develop viable water rescue programs to protect the public and rescuers alike.

Thanks to our Sponsors

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards are sponsored by CFS Press, CMC Rescue, Inc., ESPRIT Whitewater, Fire and Rescue Concepts, LLC, K38 Water Safety, Liquid Militia, Rescue Canada, Rescue 3 International/Rescue Source, Rescue ONE Connector Boats, Sierra Rescue/Rescue 3 West, Whitewater Rescue Institute, and SkyHook Rescue Systems, Inc.  Additional support for the awards is provided by the Rudi Schulte Family Foundation, the National Association for Search and Rescue, Jon Stephen and Karen Langley Stephen, and the family of John B. and Shirley A. Rigg, as well as contributions from other generous individuals.

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For more information: www.higginsandlangley.org

or contact Slim Ray 828-505-2917 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            828-505-2917      end_of_the_skype_highlighting (slimray@gmail.com)

Posted by: njrigg | May 7, 2011

Mother’s Day – A Time for Reflection

Mother’s Day – A Time for Reflection

By Nancy J. Rigg

My mother’s favorite yellow rose

The month of May is upon us. We made it through our first heatwave of the season in Southern California. And now, for Mother’s Day, the weather is lovely. Spring flowers are blossoming. There’s a soft breeze. The sky is ever so slightly overcast. And families everywhere are gathering to honor the mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunties in their midst, as well as the honorary mums – women, who may never have given birth physically, but who have loved and nurtured beloved children throughout their lifetimes.

CHILD LOSS

It is difficult not to think of bereaved mothers, who have lost a child of any age, by any means, including to drowning and in other devastating aquatic tragedies. Mother’s Day for mums who have lost a child can be a time of bittersweet reflection and heartache.

Some mums have lost their only child. Some were single mums to begin with, and are now quite alone in the world.

Some mums have lost more than one child – an unimaginable depth of sorrow.

Some mums have given birth after losing a child – bringing new joy into life.  But this does not dim the shadow of remembrance, or fill the empty chair at the dinner table.

There are many factors of grief that lend it a deep, quiet, personal tone. My fiance, Earl Higgins, lost his life at age 29, when he rescued a 10-year old boy who got swept downstream in a flood-swollen river.  At the time, we were discussing marriage and what it would mean to start our own family.  Dreams of a happy future together were swept downstream with Earl.  And after the initial shock and trauma wore off and my grief shifted its focus from the past to a vague thing called my future, there was a hopeful corner in my heart that longed to find new love, to find someone to marry, settle down with, and have children with. Sadly, although I dated other men and even fell in love with a couple of them, there was never anyone out there who loved me enough to want to commit to a relationship and build a life together.

Three or four years after Earl lost his life, I was surprised to discover that there was a physical ache inside of me to have a child, with or without a husband.  But the rational portion of my brain instructed me to be sensible, to consider how challenging it is to be a single mother – even an adoptive mother, which I was also giving thought to.  And I was reminded how important my father was in my own life.  Did I want to deny a child the benefits of growing up with a father, simply because I longed to have a child of my own?

As the years passed, I kept hoping and dating and enduring disappointment until the time came when having children was no longer a physical possibility. And here I am now, blessed with nephews, nieces-in-law and their delightful children. But they all live far from me and are quite busy with their own everyday lives.  I now spend far too many holidays on my own, including Mother’s Day.

Decorative vases with fresh flowers can cheer up any Mother’s Day.

MOTHER LOSS

If your mother has died, either in an aquatic accident, including swirling floodwaters, or due to some other cause, Mother’s Day may hold a different kind of pain. My mother died suddenly two years ago. My sense of this loss is still quite tender and I miss her a lot. I’ve made it through the “first year of firsts” – the first set of holidays, birthdays, and other special days of celebration, including Mother’s Day. And now, well into the second year, the active grief that accompanied the deaths of both of my parents has settled into a more quiet calm called “loss.” But there are times, like Mother’s Day, as I cast my eye upon the world, where families are gathering, laughing, and celebrating, when I say a simple prayer of thanks that I was blessed with a mother who gave me the strength to endure anything.

And I don’t want to overlook the children whose birth mothers parted from them, or even abandoned them, for many reasons.  Some of these children were adopted.  Others were raised by their fathers, grandparents, or other relations.  Some grew up in a vacuum of mother love, with a traditional Mother’s Day leaving a bitter taste.

Loss takes many forms.  And not all losses are obvious, or even validated.

WHAT’S TO BE DONE?

What are bereaved mothers, wistful non-mothers, and bereaved children, who have lost their mums, to do on Mother’s Day?

In the Language of Flowers, Freesias convey a message of sweetness, friendship and trust.

Visits to a cemetery may be of comfort to those whose loved ones have a traditional burial site. But not all families who have lost loved ones in water have found and recovered the physical remains. This is a sad reality, something that many families must contend with.  There may be comfort in returning to the location where a beloved mother, or child, was last seen before being lost to the water. For some, this is am important and healing pilgrimage.

Building a web-based memorial site may offer a loving way to reflect on a child who has been lost, and ensure that he or she is remembered. Web memorials are also a beautiful way to honor a mother whose life deserves not to be forgotten.

There is an organization in Los Angeles for young women and girls who have lost a mother prior to age 23. “Motherless Daughters of Los Angeles” gathers on the day before Mother’s Day, hosting a luncheon, and featuring bereavement specialists as speakers.

And the “Compassionate Friends” organization offers guidance for bereaved families who have lost a child and are anticipating Mother’s Day.

What activities or projects, including charity involvements, have helped you honor Mother’s Day? Please share your thoughts with us. Good ideas are precious and worth sharing.

Whatever choices you make, be kind to yourself and others. Plant a tree, scatter wildflower seeds in your garden, buy yourself a special treat in honor of your child, your mother, and the generous women in your life, who have loved and cared about you, taught you, guided you, given you quiet, steady support through difficult times, and laughed so hard with you in times of unbridled joy that you have laughed yourself silly, even laughed yourself into tears.

Honor yourself.

Honor your loss.

Honor your love.

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Paperwhite narcissis, with its intoxicating fragrance, is a sign of springtime renewal.

~ Nancy J. Rigg
Founder-Moderator
The Drowning Support Network

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/DrowningSupportNetwork

Photos by Nancy J. Rigg.

All rights reserved.

Posted by: njrigg | January 13, 2011

No Way Out! Flood and River Safety Information

No Way Out!
Flood and River Safety Information

By Nancy J. Rigg
Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund

Turn Around, Don’t Drown: 70% of flood fatalities involve drivers driving through moving water.

Flooding – including rising river floods, flash floods, and hurricane spawned floods – is the leading cause of weather-related death.  Sadly, flash flood and river drowning tragedies often involve more than one family member, as loved ones scramble to help those who have gotten into trouble in the water.  Strangers, who are Good Samaritans, can also pay the ultimate price for attempting to rescue someone who has been swept away.

Fast flowing water can be deceptively dangerous.  Just 6″ of swift water can knock you off your feet.  When flood runoff is compressed in a cement-lined channel, the flow can not only knock you off your feet, but it will likely prevent you from being able to stand up again.  You will be swept downstream, at the mercy of the current.

Vehicles, including heavy trucks, can get swept away in less than 2-feet of swift water.  Never drive through moving water. 70% of all flood-related fatalities are in vehicles.

Please remind everyone, especially children, to stay away from flood control channels, rivers, streams and other flood-swollen waterways when there is heavy rain runoff, including on sunny days immediately following, or in between, big storms.

When it rains, flood control channels, rivers, streams, and arroyos can quickly fill up with fast-moving water, creating a potentially life-threatening danger to anyone who gets caught in the torrent, or swept away.

When the sun comes out, rivers may still be very high, endangering unwary children, pets, and those who try to save them if they fall into the torrent

Even if it’s sunny downstream, it may still be raining heavily upstream, sending flash floods downstream.  Be weather wise!

In addition to very cold water, which can cause hypothermia in minutes, making it very difficult to self-rescue, there are other dangerous hazards in flood control channels and other open waterways, including debris, floodwater contamination from toxic chemicals and waste, slippery slopes along the edges and riverbanks, snakes and other dangerous animals in some areas, and deadly low-head dams.

 

Low-head dams look like fun water slides, but are called “drowning machines,” because the water can churn victims up and over and down until they drown.  Victims are tossed around like laundry in a washing machine.  It is extremely difficult to get yourself out of this unique hydraulic.  Rescue is required, often at great risk to rescue personnel.

Flood control channels, rivers and streams are not a good place to play.

If you fall into the water, there may be NO WAY OUT! Swiftwater rescue is likely the only lifesaving option.

Ideally, everyone will heed the warnings to avoid flood control channels, fast-flowing rivers and streams in flooding conditions.  But if someone gets swept away, basic safety knowledge is vital in terms of helping swiftwater rescuers make a rescue.

What Should You Do?

  • Never get into this situation! Stay away from flood control channels and fast moving floodwaters in streams and rivers.

If you get swept away, swiftwater rescue may be your only hope.

What if You Fall In?

  • Remain calm.  Don’t waste energy yelling for help after you have been spotted by someone.
  • Get ready to be rescued.
  • Try to float on your back with your legs straight and your feet pointed downstream.
  • Use your legs to shove yourself away from obstructions.
  • Keep your head up so that you can see where you are going.
  • Watch for obstacles and debris!  If a tree or other stationary object is blocking the channel, forcing water over it, try to flip over on your stomach and approach the obstacle head-on, crawling over the top of it.  Most free-floating victims, who are being swept downstream in swift water, die when they get pinned against obstacles, or get trapped in submerged debris and vegetation.

What if You See Someone Fall into the Water, or Drive into Swift Water?

  • DO NOT GO INTO THE WATER AFTER THE VICTIM!
  • Immediately call 9-1-1 (USA), or your local emergency response number! Tell the operator that someone who drove or fell into the channel is being swept downstream and that swiftwater rescue teams need to respond.
  • Give accurate information about where you saw the victim go in, what the victim was wearing, etc.
  • Do not try to pull the victim out with your hands, a rope, or similar device.
  • Do not attach anything to yourself and toss it to a victim in the water.  You will be pulled in by the force of the current.
  • If possible, throw an unattached flotation device to the victim, such as a boogie board, Styrofoam ice chest, or basketball.
  • If a dog or other animal has been swept away, do not try to perform a rescue yourself.  Call swiftwater rescue teams immediately.  Animals can be clever and survive, but many people have lost their lives trying to rescue their pets.  Never allow your dog to run off leash near a fast-flowing river or stream.  For their safety and yours, please keep all animals away from flood control channels, rivers and streams!

Austin-Travis County EMS Swiftwater Rescue team – in swift water, rescue may be your only hope for survival

Swiftwater rescue is one of the most dangerous of all technical rescue operations performed by fire-rescue teams.  Nearly half of all deaths in swift water are would-be rescuers, including Good Samaritans. By endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of others.

Stay away! Stay alive!

 


Sponsored by the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization

http://higginsandlangley.org/flood_safety_information.shtml

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