Posted by: njrigg | January 7, 2011

Would You Like to Talk About It?

Would You Like to Talk About It?

By Andrea Corrie

James Edward Clark

How would you respond if you were invited to speak to a group of trained counsellors about living with the loss of your child?  Early last year I received an invitation to speak —  five and a half years after the passing of my 19 year old son, James, who lost his life in the Thames at Kingston in a tragic accident in July 2005.

The invitation came from Dee, an experienced counsellor with the UK Cruse Bereavement Care organisation.  Dee coordinates some of the training programmes for Cruse counsellors in the local area.  Cruse Bereavement Care is a national charity.  Cruse counsellors are all trained volunteers, who give their time to Cruse Bereavement Care in offering support to the bereaved.  Sessions are available to all on request and can continue for as long as necessary; but in reality, the average timescale for the services of a counsellor is around eight to ten sessions.  The sessions are not chargeable, although, naturally, donations are welcomed as the organisation is a charity.

I found my own sessions to be invaluable, taking place as they did from around eight months after James died.  I took the option for my Counsellor to visit me in my own home and the sessions, being on familiar ground, certainly helped in allowing me to express my grief in a safe, controlled manner.  They represented significant steps on the way to my beginning to understand the path my life would take following the loss of my son, and how I would achieve my own ‘progress’, as I saw it.

Over the past five years, I have shared my grief experiences with Dee, and in turn she has expressed that she has a better understanding of the counselling needs of those who have lost children.  Hence she invited me, if I felt able, to disseminate my thoughts and views to a wider audience as part of the Cruse Bereavement Care training programme.

Soon after James died, I read the words of a bereaved mother, quoted on the forum of The Compassionate Friends, who said, “When I myself get to the pearly gates – hopefully not for a long time yet – and I am reunited with my son, he will ask me, ‘Well mum, what have you been doing all these years, since I died?’  I do not want to answer, ‘Why son, I haven’t been doing anything very much.  I have just been grieving for you!’  What I will tell him is, ‘Well son, although I missed you as though my heart would break, I carried on living my life as fully as I could, so that when I got to meet up with you again, I would have plenty to tell you about all our lives after you had left us’”.

This gave me a seminal message about grief and grieving, and I was so grateful at the time to read something positive that a parent could say about her loss.  Hence, after some consideration and thought, I decided to go ahead with the talk for Dee, because I felt that James would approve.  After all, I was telling his story.  Show me a bereaved parent who doesn’t like to use their child’s name in conversation and talk about his or her life!

Dee and I met the week before, so that we could run through what I, and the audience, could expect from the session.  I found it helpful to prepare cue cards with words or phrases that would prompt me, set out in chronological sequence, so that if nerves or emotion got the better of me, I would be able to steer myself back on track.  I have little experience in public speaking, and my main concern was that I would get flustered and be unable to convey my message clearly.

The day duly arrived.  I felt very nervous and although Dee gave me the opportunity to pull out, even at this late stage, I knew there was value in what I was doing and by this point I felt I could not possibly let everyone, including myself, down.  The hardest part was visualising just how I would begin my address.  I found it impossible to plan, as the audience began to gather in the room around me.  I decided to leave it to Providence!

The audience numbered twenty seven.

Twenty seven pairs of curious eyes observed me as the clock ticked round to the start time, seven o’clock.  I figuratively pulled a protective cloak around myself and tried to project a calm, relaxed and confident persona.

Dee introduced me simply by saying, “This is Andrea and she is going to tell us about her son James, who died when he was 19…”

At this there was there was a slight, but audible, collective intake of breath.  Thankfully I did not have to stand up to speak, and clasping my nervous palms together under the table, I surprised myself by opening with a touch of humour, saying, “My husband tells me that when I am anxious and my throat constricts, I sound like Marge Simpson, so if you pick up on that, just bear with me!”  I felt the audience relax and knew that I was off and running and everything would go well.

Andrea Corrie, with son, James Clark, on her wedding day

I began by relating how I thought I knew grief, having lost my mum in 2001, my ex husband in 2002 and my dad in 2003.  After that, life settled down and in 2005 I married my dear husband Shaun.  Everyone was so happy for us; my daughter Stella (James’ older sister) and James, and Shaun’s two children Mark and Janine.  Six weeks later, James lost his life in the Thames after a night out with his friends in Kingston, when he accidentally slipped from the tow path.

I can hardly begin to describe the emotional rollercoaster of being ecstatically happy in June, and utterly devastated in July.  One of the worst aspects, initially, was a complete inability to absorb what had happened, or indeed, to make any kind of sense of what felt like a living nightmare.

Once my talk was under way, I realised that the audience were listening attentively, and I began to grow confident enough to look up and, at times, make eye contact with some of them.

I realised that Stella’s observation, when I told her about my planned address was wise.  She told me, “Well mum, you could hardly have a better audience, since they are trained to be non judgmental.”  This was very reassuring to a novice speaker!

I went on to describe my individual approach to grief and how it has evolved over time.  Using the cue cards gave some helpful structure to what I said.  I tried to convey the distinctly separate aspects that have helped me to work through such a horrendously shocking event and I spoke of the following, which I call The Three Ps:

 

Proactivity – For me it was very important, as soon as James died, to find other people who truly understood what it was like to be a bereaved parent.  To this end, I used the internet to find appropriate links to organisations, including the Compassionate Friends and the Drowning Support Network, which have both provided, and indeed continue to provide, a great deal of support.

I also looked for counselling and found Cruse Bereavement Care through my local GP.  I contacted Cruse, and waited some three to four months until an appropriate Counsellor was available.  I had particularly requested a Counsellor who understood what it was to lose someone to water, because for me it was essential for whoever counselled me to have some insight into this particular type of loss.

Positivity – From the outset I believe that it helped me to look for a positive way through the grief, although this was incredibly difficult in the early days.  However, I was helped by….

Projects – For us there was no question but to immediately launch into an ultimately successful campaign for changes at Kingston riverside to make the area safer and to ensure that no-one else would have to endure the trauma that we lived through.

River safety project, fully realized

This was achieved over three years or so and helped enormously in giving me the feeling that I was ‘doing something’ in the light of our personal tragedy.  James’ legacy is that the area is now safer, brighter and altogether more appealing to the many visitors who pass along this stretch of the Thames.

I also discussed the extensive effect of losing a child, which takes a long time to realise, saying: The ripple effect is much greater than, at first, anyone anticipates.  The early days of grief mean that you close in on yourself, surround yourself with a numbing cloak simply to get through each second, each minute, and each hour.  When you slowly begin to emerge from shock, blinking as if in sudden daylight, you realise that your social life, your family and friendships, your work and life balance are all irrevocably altered and damaged by what has happened.

You have to start all over again to rebuild the relationships that hitherto you took for granted.  It is not uncommon to feel like a social leper in the early days, because the majority of people simply do not know how to deal with you, or with the enormity of your loss.  People also talk a lot about ‘significant dates’ and difficult days.  In fact, beyond the obvious trials of the anniversary, birthday, Christmas, etc., nearly every day can be significant in some way to a bereaved parent.

As Dee had asked me to elucidate on how counsellors can help bereaved parents, I also admonished them a little, telling them: Don’t say facile things to a bereaved parent, such as, ‘I know how you feel.  My granny died last week’.  There is a WORLD of difference between someone who has lived her life into her seventies or eighties, and a 19 year old on the cusp of adulthood.  I am sad to say that the only way you can truly know how I feel is to walk a mile in my shoes.

Similarly, please don’t say, ‘At least he /she didn’t suffer,’ or, ‘You are brave to cope with it the way you do.’  No bereaved parent wants to be told he or she is brave.

I am not brave.  Strong, resourceful and resilient perhaps, but not brave!

I do not define myself by the loss of my son now, although I did so in the first couple of years, but I do reflect on my life in distinct terms of ‘before’ and ‘after’ he died.  I suspect this is inevitable for anyone who has suffered sudden loss.

Equally I am no closer to perfect than the next person, and do not underestimate my grief path which has not been without spells of wrenching despair, tears and railing at the fates for what has happened to us.  Thankfully, I have found that these very raw, acutely agonising moments do mellow with time.

Andrea, son James, and new husband, Shaun, at their wedding

People shy away from mentioning the child who has died for fear of upsetting the grieving parent.  I pointed out that this is really rather ridiculous.  How could we be any more upset than we already are?  If now I ask about my friends’ sons and daughters, yes, I do really want to know!  We are sometimes just too polite for our own good.

I also emphasised how important it is for the bereaved to spend time with others who really understand.  I continue to meet with and email other bereaved parents, and this is an invaluable mutual support network.

I further expressed to the group a premise that I feel I have learned over time.  It is my view that bereavement can cause people to fall into two distinct groups in the way that they deal with their loss.  There are those who cant or don’t want to change, and those who DO want to change and will do everything in their power to do this.  Guess where I place myself?  I appreciate that, in many ways, I am lucky.  James was not murdered, nor did he suffer a long illness, and although we have a modern day ‘blended’ family, it is not a fragmented family.  So I have always had loving and compassionate support.

Despite that I still feel parental guilt – guilt that I could not prevent what happened to James, and guilt that my husband, daughter and stepchildren, and all those who knew James, have to go through their lives without him here to share all that is to follow.

I wished to convey how grief changes with the passage of time.  In the early days of grief, it is impossible to find optimism and hope for the future.  Looking backward is far less painful, in some respects, than looking forward to a future without your child.  There are many ways forward that gradually become ‘do-able’ in time.  I found it helpful to keep a journal, write for TCF and DSN and, recently, for some light relief, to join a creative writing group that has allowed me to express emotions and enjoy sharing the response of a group who are not directly involved with my bereavement.  Picking up on old hobbies is also a great help in restoring normality to a life which ceases to feel normal.  New normal ultimately becomes the order of the day.

The process of dealing with loss saps confidence to a huge extent, and I found that challenging myself with charity walks and going to the gym helped me to regain my own self confidence.  Learning complementary therapies – Reiki, Holistic Massage and Reflexology – also helped to give me new directions to focus on and think about.

Five years post loss, I hope I convey the message that it is possible to achieve a kind of independence from your grief and choose if and when you wish to visit it.

Counselling has an invaluable, though indefinable, role to play in this.  It is one more tool in the armoury against the potential of being subsumed by grief.  There are times I still need to sit quietly with my thoughts of James and visit anew the sense of loss but these are less frequent and less acutely painful.

I closed my talk, somewhat surprised to find that around 25 minutes had passed, by emphasising to the group, people say to me when they hear of James’ death,

‘What a waste!’  But I can tell you that I do not consider a single moment of his life a waste.  The waste lies in the lack of the future that he should have had, not the time he was with us.  With a level of absorption of my grief that has come with time, I can think of James’ life as a complete short story, rather than an unfinished novel.

Afterwards, there was an opportunity for the counsellors to ask questions.  Then they broke into smaller satellite groups and discussed all that they had heard.  I went to each group in turn to answer their – sometimes quite searching – questions.

I am sure you will wonder how I felt at the end of the evening.  Well, I realised how very empowering it is to ‘hold’ an audience, and I understood for the first time the attraction of being on a stage!  Although I was emotionally drained afterward, this was offset by a wonderful sense of achievement.  I was proud of myself for having the courage to speak and proud that I was able to share my James with such a willing and empathic audience.

I was gratified to get complimentary feedback after the evening.  In particular one of the Counsellors took the trouble to write to me to say that my talk had altered the way she communicates with a close friend who lost her daughter, making her feel more comfortable with talking about her own offspring.

Such a response made me feel that I had really achieved something worthwhile, whilst contributing to a better understanding of the issues of the grieving parent in relation to their counselling needs.

Written in loving memory of

James Edward Clark

11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005

Tribute gallery at

www.pbase.com/andreac

UK Cruse Bereavement Care:

www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk

Compassionate Friends UK:

http://www.tcf.org.uk

Drowning Support Network

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

© Andrea Corrie

January 2011

Posted by: njrigg | December 25, 2010

We Remember Them

WE REMEMBER THEM

By Nancy J. Rigg

For information about the Sunday, December 8, 2013 Worldwide Candle Lightning ceremony:

http://www.compassionatefriends.org/News_Events/Special-Events/Worldwide_Candle_Lighting.aspx

We remember Bradley William Miner

In December, families around the globe gather to honor their loved ones during the annual World Candle Lighting Service, sponsored by The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a self help organization that offers friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents.   Members of The Drowning Support Network (DSN) – who have lost children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, and nephews – are offered an opportunity to participate in the Candle Lighting service in Camarillo, California, sponsored by the Ventura County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends.

We remember Henry Badillo

Here are excerpts from the service from 2010, including photos of some DSN members, whose names were read out loud, listed in the program, and remembered quietly by family members worldwide, who are missing them.

FOUR CANDLES

Our first candle represents our GRIEF

The pain of losing you is intense, like a river raging deep inside us.

It reminds us of the depth of our love we will always have for you.

Children we remember, though missing from our sight.

The second candle symbolizes our COURAGE

To confront our sorrow, to comfort one another.

Days of yesterday are woven into our hearts.

We will hold onto life and the love you brought to us.

The third candle we light for MEMORY

We remember Carlo Wertenbaker

For the times you filled our lives with wonder and touched us with surprise.

You always had that something special, deep within your eyes.

No night is too dark that cannot be brightened with the memory of you.

You will forever be our treasured gifts.

The fourth candle we light for our never dying LOVE

We light this candle that your light will always shine.

We cherish the special place in our hearts that only you can hold.

We thank you for the gift that your living brought to us.

Our angels gone before us, who taught us perfect love.

~ Author Unknown

We remember all Drowning Support Network loved ones

WE REMEMBER THEM…

Remembering James Clark

In the rising of the sun and its going down,

We remember them.

We remember Kristal Thomas, who drowned along with her dad, Leelan Thomas, when he tried to rescue her

We remember Chance Nainoa “Malu Boy” Almarza

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,

We remember them.

Church deacon, meditating in front of DSN photo montage

In the opening buds and in the rebirth of spring,

We remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and the warmth of summer,

We remember them.

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,

We remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends,

We remember them.

We remember Jordan Trowsdale, who drowned on Christmas Eve 2009

When we are weary and in need of strength,

We remember them.

We remember Daniel Willams, with his mum, Penny

We remember Chloe Acosta

When we are lost and sick of heart,

We remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share,

We remember them.

So long as we live they too shall live,

For they are now part of us, as

We remember them.

~ Jewish Book of Prayer

We remember Joseph Keller

As the names of  loved ones who have died were read, Karen Taylor-Good’s song, “Precious Child,” was sung, while candles were lit and placed in front of photos on the remembrance altar.  I was honored to be asked to bear a special candle, “for those who are unnamed, but not forgotten,” walking slowing next to a bereaved father, who also carried a special candle, “for all our service men and women, our nation’s children, who gave their lives.”

Please click on this link to hear the song, “Precious Child:”

Precious Child

We remember Morrey Brown

WE REMEMBER ALL WHO HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES TO DROWNING ~

AND IN OTHER ACCIDENTS

IN THE AQUATIC SETTING…

Remembering Charley Alison Gee

Remembering Kira Reddick

We remember J’Mari Johnson

Remembering Evie Grace Ewart

Remembering Brody Austin Carrick

We remember Cody Landreth

We remember Phil Dillon

Remembering Sam Ligtermoet

We remember Grant Bruce, and his daddy, Jeff Bruce, who drowned together, when Jeff tried to rescue his son

We remember Susan K. Feistel Mallet

We remember Rory Nathan

GRIEF TAKES THE HOLIDAYS

Sudden Death Grief and Trauma Can Compound Everything

By Nancy J. Rigg

Halloween is here.  Many homes in my quiet residential neighborhood in California are decorated with Jack O’Lanterns, tombstones, howling ghosts, yellow “police tape,” and other haunting and deathly images of the season.  But an hour ago, the streets were suddenly filled with the sounds of real sirens howling and real police cars, fire trucks and ambulances descending on a scene of real tragedy.

A neighbor boy, who was riding a motor bike up and down our side street, was hit by a car.  He was not wearing a protective helmet.  I’m not sure he was even old enough to be a licensed driver.  He may have just been a kid goofing around with other kids on a sunny autumn afternoon.  But in an instant, he, his friends, his family, and responding emergency workers were flung into a very real struggle for survival.

Anyone who has been involved in a drowning accident knows how this kind of traumatizing scenario can play out.  There is hope, against all odds, for a miracle, as you stand vigil and pray.  If your loved one has been transported to the hospital, doctors and nurses work feverishly.  If your loved one has been swept away and is missing, a prolonged search may ensue, with family members languishing in a kind of terrible limbo of not knowing.

While the rest of the world whirls along, clueless about your plight, it soon becomes clear that there may not be any last-minute miracles of emergency medicine, rescue and resuscitation, or lucky second chances.  Your loved one has succumbed to his or her injuries in hospital, or been recovered from a river, lake, pond, or the ocean, or perhaps he or she has been declared “missing and presumed dead,” leaving a dreadful question mark of grief and uncertainty hanging in the air.  It is now time to organize a memorial service and face a bleak future in a world that has been turned totally upside down.  Nothing will ever be the same again, including holidays and other special occasions.

THE ISOLATION OF GRIEF

After the emergency sirens fall silent, only the keening sound of sorrow fills the cool, fall air.  How are we ever to endure any day again, let alone enjoy the holidays, in the shadow of sudden death grief and trauma?

For those who have recently lost a young child, Halloween may represent the deeply painful launch of the long, traditional holiday season, with vivid memories of special costumes being worn at this time last year, Thanksgiving feasts with the whole family laughing and smiling, and Christmas gatherings untarnished by mourning.

For those who have lost a loved one of any age to drowning, or some other terrible aquatic accident – surfing, scuba, boating – with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, other special holidays, and the New Year looming ahead, it is as though time itself is seeking to separate us further from our dear ones.

Even in large and supportive families, grief can be isolating.  Each family member faces the loss individually and has separate wants and needs.  Men are expected, unfairly it seems, to somehow keep the family intact, continue to earn a living, deal with the business of functioning everyday, and anticipate the needs of their grieving wives and children.  Their own feelings may end up suppressed of necessity, which is why men in particular may need to find not only the time, but some special way to grieve and honor their heartache during the holidays.

Parents who have lost an only child, including divorced and single parents, may find themselves feeling particularly bereft, isolated, and lonely.  Older parents may view the future, with the loss of their sole, dependable, loving child, very dimly.  And grandparents may find themselves trying to lend support to their grieving children and grandchildren, while also balancing out the holiday needs of the extended family as a whole, and coping with their own sense of loss and bewilderment.

Those who are widowed may also feel extremely isolated and lonely, regardless of whether or not they have children or grandchildren.  The loss of our “everyday family” – a spouse, a special, adult child, who visits with us daily, or calls us frequently to check in – is a loss with many complex layers, made all the more challenging with the holidays.

“Unmarried” widows and widowers, who have lost their partners in life, or those to whom they are affianced, may find themselves at a loss for support.  They are neither married legally, nor widowed legally.  And although they have all the heartache and many of the responsibilities of being widowed, sympathy, support and understanding in the wider everyday world may be hard to come by.

Adults who have lost a sibling can also find themselves on the weak end of the grief support chain.  Their grieving parents may be so overwhelmed and lost in their own sorrow that they are unable to comfort, or even really appreciate the presence of their other, surviving children and grandchildren, at least initially.

Single, unmarried, adult children, who lose one or both parents, or their only sibling, may find themselves mired in deep holiday isolation, with no extended family members nearby.  Although some solitude while grieving is normal, too much isolation can become unhealthy.

And the trauma associated with sudden death can compound everything, particularly for those whose loved ones die at or near Christmas or on another holiday.  Families may be in deep shock.  Sights and sounds related to the holiday may rekindle a sense of anxiety and distress.  It may be difficult to breathe, get out of bed, and take care of basic needs, let alone make meaningful plans for Christmas or Thanksgiving.  And we may feel very guilty about celebrating anything, now that our loved ones can no longer join us at the holiday table.

TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME

We may really want to withdraw behind closed doors and hide for the rest of the year, emerging only when the hubbub and jolly celebrations have subsided.  But it’s difficult to remove ourselves entirely from holiday reminders.  The world is brimming with the bright colors of autumn.  Images of pumpkins and ghoulish costumes are everywhere.  Stores are infused with the smell of cinnamon and candy.  And even before the Halloween masks are retired for the year, Thanksgiving turkeys, the redolent smell of sage and onion stuffing, and jolly old elves decked out in red and green, smelling of balsam fir, are shimmering before us in store displays, on television, in newspapers, magazines, and endless holiday catalogs.

While the prospect of marking the holidays may be completely overwhelming and anxiety provoking for those who are new to grief, it can also be distressing for anyone missing a special loved one who has drowned.  The holidays seem to increase our sense of yearning and fill our hearts with so many reminders of happier times gone by.  Memories of joyful holidays in the past may be too painful to bear, accentuating the bleakness of life now, rather than offering a sense of solace and comfort.

As time lumbers forward and we tick off days on the calendar, we may be able to find some way not just to endure the holidays, but to relate to them in a new and meaningful way, in remembrance of our loved ones who are now gone.  It may be possible to allow the holidays to be a time of honoring those who have died, even if memories are painful.

Grief experts recommend that we take things one day at a time and try to make a careful plan for the holidays, even if it means turning down invitations to attend the usual cheery celebrations and announcing to one and all that we are slamming the front door on anyone wearing a Santa Claus suit.  Planning can help us sort out a strategy for dealing with friends and family members who think they know what is “best” for us.  Planning also allows us to be mindful, to involve all immediate family members in the decision-making process, including young children, who often feel left out, conflicted and confused, even as they secretly hope for a special Christmas present.

FAITH AND REMEMBRANCE

Faith can offer solace and comfort for those who are newly bereaved, although sudden death can also be a time of great inner conflict and bewilderment.  If a place of worship is a true sanctuary for our sorrow, the holidays may offer many opportunities to deepen our faith and strengthen a sense of connection with our loved ones, even in death.

The world is diverse, and many cultures and religions coexist.  Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers alike may find the dominant Judeo-Christian holidays in Western countries to be extremely bothersome, if not outright distressing, heightening a sense of loss and isolation in a time of mourning.

Regardless of whether or not we are religious, it may be helpful to participate in a special remembrance ceremony, like the annual Compassionate Friends (TCF) World Candle Lighting Service, a community Christmas tree lighting, or other special remembrance event.

According to the their website, “The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting unites family and friends around the globe in lighting candles for one hour to honor and remember children who have died at any age from any cause.”  As candles are lit at 7 PM, local time – this year on December 8, 2013 – a virtual wave of light is created worldwide, with hundreds of thousands of participants commemorating and honoring the memory of children, grandchildren and siblings “in a way that transcends all ethnic, cultural, religious, and political boundaries.”

For some families, becoming involved in productive social service, doing something active – helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house, serving a Thanksgiving meal at a soup kitchen, or donating Christmas gifts to the children’s ward at the hospital in memory of a loved one – can be a meaningful way to remember a loved one.

Even with the best laid plans, for those who are new to grief, as well as anyone for whom the holidays were once a shining time of joy with a loved one who is now gone, tears and sorrow may be the main dish served this year.

And that is okay.

PLEASE REMEMBER TO

Allow time to grieve.

Allow time for quiet reflection.

Cry if you need to.

Make room for some laughter, because that’s okay, too.

Make room for the healing arts: music, theatre, dance, storytelling

Allow time for faith, if that gives you comfort.

Communicate with other family members to find out what their needs are, especially younger children who have lost a sibling.

Communicate your own needs with your immediate family and your circle of friends and other, extended family members.

Planning with care is preferable to letting the holidays sneak up and overwhelm everyone.  No one knows “what’s best” for you, except you!

If you really can’t stand the idea of attending a big Thanksgiving dinner or holiday celebration, that is fine!  Do what feels right when it feels right.

And know that we are here for you in the Drowning Support Network.

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

Compassionate Friends World Candle Lighting Service- December 11, 2011

http://www.compassionatefriends.org/News_Events/Special-Events/Worldwide_Candle_Lighting.aspx

(C) 2010, all rights reserved

Meeting James Ventrillo, the Boy Earl Higgins Rescued in the Los Angeles River

By Nancy J. Rigg

In July, 2010, I had an inspiring, yet slightly bittersweet reunion with James Ventrillo, who was a 10-year old boy when my fiance, Earl Higgins, rescued him in the Los Angeles River on February 17, 1980.

We allowed National Public Radio (NPR) to capture the moment we met at the river.

Show host Madeleine Brand and the producers produced an excellent segment, called, “The River.”

The Madeleine Brand Show for September 20, 2010

http://www.scpr.org/programs/madeleine-brand/2010/09/20/the-river

THE RIVER

“30 years ago the paths of James Ventrillo and Nancy Rigg literally crossed at the Los Angeles River. Neither would be the same again. It was 1980. Nancy and her fiancé, Earl Higgins, were taking a walk across a footbridge that spanned the river. It had been the first clear day after a series of violent rain storms. The river was high and moving fast – a rare sight in L.A. They stopped to look at the water and saw – to their horror – a young boy had just fallen in. Earl ran to the water’s edge and tried to save him. He did, but was pulled in, too. Earl wasn’t able to save himself. No one else could, either.

“For the next 30 years, Nancy dedicated herself to creating a Swift Water Rescue Program for L.A. and for all of California, a program that trains first responders in river rescue.

“She never knew what happened to the boy, James. In this story, Nancy and James meet for the first time since that fateful day 30 years ago.”

James Ventrillo, Nancy Rigg, meeting for the first time in 30 years at the Los Angeles River

The website includes the complete audio file, as well as several photos.

It was an honor to meet James and find out, after all this time, what actually happened in the water that day so many years ago.

I am preparing a longer report, which I will post soon.

*   *   *

Posted by: njrigg | August 10, 2010

Coping After A Sudden And Traumatic Drowning Death

COPING AFTER A SUDDEN AND TRAUMATIC DROWNING DEATH

By Nancy J. Rigg

US Coast Guard rescue, Hurricane Katrina, August 2005

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an average of 10-12 people drown per day in the United States.  This number does not include those who lose their lives in boating and other accidents in the aquatic setting, or are swept to their deaths in floods, tsunamis, and hurricanes.

The World Congress on Drowning notes that the “global burden of drowning is estimated to range from over 400,000 to upwards of 1 million people every year; in everyday life, recreation, and in disasters.”

For every life lost to drowning, there are countless survivors, whose lives are forever shaded by tragedy.

Drowning deaths and other losses in the aquatic setting are always sudden, unexpected and deeply traumatizing for surviving family members, friends, and witnesses who may have watched, helplessly, as an incident unfolded, or tried to rescue someone.

If circumstances have caused a Good Samaritan to drown while trying to save a family member, or stranger who gets into trouble in the water, the grief and trauma of the surviving victim can be especially acute.  Nearly a third of all deaths in swift water are would-be rescuers.

Frequently, more than one life is lost, often within the same family.

Recently, six teenagers – Takethia Warner, 13, JaMarcus Warner, 14, JaTavious Warner, 17, Litrelle Stewart 18, LaDairus Stewart, 17 and Latevin Stewart, 15 – drowned in the Red River in Louisiana, as they scrambled to rescue a seventh boy, 15-year old DeKendrix Warner, who had accidentally plunged from a relatively safe wading area into a 25-foot deep drop-off.  According to news reports, DeKendrix Warner was rescued by a bystander, 22-year-old Christopher Palin, but the other children drowned before more help could arrive.

In Idaho, a fun day of boating at the American Falls Reservoir turned tragic when four men – identified as Darrel L. Shappart, Jr., 57, Jared Alan Hale, 26, Aaron Jeff Hale, 30, and Stephen Jacob Verbeck, 30 – drowned as a result of a cascading set of sad events, involving efforts to rescue one man who could not swim, according to news reports.  Witnessing these deaths were five children between the ages of nine and two, who ended up being marooned on the boat after all four adults drowned.  One child had the presence of mind to dial 9-1-1 from a cell phone, but the frightened and distressed children had to wait on the drifting boat until the authorities came to their aid.

And in July, 20 people were killed in a flash flood at the Albert Pike Recreation Area in Arkansas.  Again, several families lost more than one member, including Kerri Basinger, whose husband, Shane, and two daughters, Jadyn and Kinsley, were killed in the early morning flooding at the campground.

These names are being listed here because we must never allow anyone who has drowned, including those who have died in floods and hurricanes, to be forgotten, or be reduced to mere statistics:

Anthony Smith, 30 years of age, Gloster, LA
Katelynn Smith, 2 years of age, Gloster, LA
Joey Smith, 5 years of age, Gloster, LA
Shane Basinger, 34 years of age, Gloster, LA
Kinsey Basinger, 6 years of age, Gloster, LA

Jadyn Basinger, 8 years of age, Gloster, LA
Robert Lee Shumake, 68 years of age, DeKalb, TX
Nic Shumake, 7 years of age, DeKalb, TX
Sheri Wade, 46 years of age, Ashdown, AR
Eric Schultz, 38 years of age, Nash, TX
Bruce Roeder, 51 years of age, Luling, LA

Kay Roeder, 69 years of age, Luling, LA
Debbie Roeder, 52 years of age, Luling, LA
Gayble Y. Moss, 7 years of age, Texarkana, TX
Kylee Sullivan, 6 years of age, Texarkana, TX
Leslie Jez, 23 years of age, Foreman, AR
Kaden Jez, 3 years of age, Foreman, AR
Debra McMasters, 43 years of age, Springhill, AR
Julie Freeman, 53 years of age, Texarkana, TX

As we approach the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana on August 27, 2005, it is prudent to remember that at least 1800 people died as a result of this devastating storm, the majority from drowning.  Flooding is the leading cause of weather-related death in the United States.  Hurricane Katrina represents one of the most deadly natural disasters in our country’s history.  If a comprehensive list of  names were available of those who died in Katrina, their names would be included here as well.

The reverberations of trauma and grief from these major tragedies alone is profound and far reaching.  But every day, a child dies in a swimming pool, a surfer tangles with a rogue wave, a fisherman disappears in a deep, cold lake, a fun vacation is shattered when someone gets swept off a raft into dangerous rapids.  Compounding grief and sorrow for many families is the shocking realization that it may take weeks or months before their loved ones can be recovered.  Or they may never be found.  Despite the best efforts by water rescue and dive recovery teams, an untold number of drowning victims are never recovered.

We are grateful to Duke University Medical Center, Bereavement Services, for allowing us to feature this informative brochure about traumatic death.  Education is one of the most important keys to recovery in the aftermath of a drowning death or other aquatic tragedy.

Coping after a Traumatic Death

Few events in life are as painful as the traumatic death of a loved one, friend, coworker, or neighbor.

A traumatic death is:

• Sudden, unexpected, and/or violent.
• Caused by the actions of another person, an accident, suicide, natural disaster, or other catastrophe.

The following describes grief reactions common to all types of losses, and reactions specific to traumatic death survivors.

Common Grief Reactions:

  • Feelings, thoughts and emotions that may feel overwhelming at times
  • Denial
  • Restlessness
  • Isolation
  • Resentment
  • Sense of failure
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Deep sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Crying
  • Mood swings
  • Short attention span
  • Inability to make decisions

Physical reactions:

  • Lack of energy
  • Heart palpitations
  • Blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in appetite
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle weakness

Behavioral changes:

  • New or increased use of alcohol or substances
  • Absenteeism at work
  • Keeping busy to avoid feelings
  • Conflict

Reactions Experienced After a Traumatic Death:

Shock – Physical and emotional shock may be prolonged, persistent memories or dreams about the event may occur for months. It might be difficult to believe the person is really gone.

Fear and Anxiety
– Simple activities like answering the phone, being in the dark, or opening a closed door may cause fear or anxiety. You may no longer feel safe, worry that something bad will happen, or be startled easily.

Anger – Anger and rage come from feelings of helplessness after a traumatic death and can be overwhelming for survivors.

Guilt – Guilt includes regrets about the past, over things done or not done, guilt for surviving.  Much guilt that people feel is emotional and not rational, but even this realization does not make the feelings go away.

Coping with Traumatic Death:

• Many experts recommend that survivors confide in someone about their loss, and find a support system. This can be a friend, clergy, or another person who has experienced similar loss.

• Keep in mind that each person grieves in his or her own unique way.

• Each person grieves at his or her own pace; there is no timeline for grief.

• Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays may be especially difficult, so you might want to think about whether to continue old traditions or create some new ones.

• Create a ritual or other way to say “good-bye” to the person who has died.

• Write down your thoughts and feelings; keep a journal, write a letter or a poem.

• Take care of your physical well-being; maintain adequate nutrition, sleep and exercise.

• Be kind to yourself.  When you feel ready, begin to go on with your life. Eventually starting to enjoy life again is not a betrayal of your loved one, but rather a sign that you’ve begun to heal.

What Can You Do if You Need Help?

Some people find it helpful to explore feelings and thoughts with someone outside the family who is not directly involved and who will listen (a minister, counselor, or support group). Know that you are not alone. There are people available to you who understand and care.

Support group – A safe place where survivors can share their experiences and support each other.

Religious/Spiritual community – People who can help identify spiritual resources that may be comforting for you.

Bereavement counselors – Specialists, who help people adjust to the death of a loved one, try to find a therapist who has experience working with victims of homicide, or other sudden and accidental tragedies.

Local mental health associations – call to get more information and referrals.

Call Your Doctor if You
• Continue to experience intense yearning for the deceased that does not diminish over time.
• Are unable to take care of yourself or your family.
• Have thoughts about harming yourself.
• Become very depressed.
• Start to use, or increase the use of, alcohol or other drugs.

Reprinted with permission from:

Duke University Medical Center, Bereavement Services

http://www.dukehealth.org/patients_and_visitors/support_services/bereavement/copingafteratraumaticdeath

Duke Hospital Bereavement Services – Bereavement Services provides a clearinghouse for information, resources and support about grief, loss, dying and death, 877-460-7969.

NEW ORLEANS (Sept. 6, 2005) – Members of the Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley Disaster Response Team and the Miami-Dade Urban Search and Rescue Team search for survivors of Hurricane Katrina

Photos courtesy of the United States Coast Guard.

Nancy J. Rigg’s fiance, Earl Higgins, lost his life while rescuing a 10-year old boy from the flood-swollen Los Angeles River in 1980.  Earl was swept 30-miles downstream, past rescue personnel who, at the time, had neither the training, nor equipment needed to perform a safe and effective “swiftwater rescue.”  Earl’s body was not recovered until nine months after he was swept away.  As a result of this tragedy, Rigg has been a strong advocate for families who are grieving the loss of loved ones to drowning and other aquatic accidents, and a powerful force for good within the water rescue/dive recovery community.  She is fondly known as the “mother of swiftwater rescue.”

© Nancy J. Rigg

Please do not reprint any portion of this article without securing permission, thank you

Posted by: njrigg | July 28, 2010

Five Years – What Is so Different?

Five Years – What Is so Different?

By Andrea Corrie

James Clark

As I approach the fifth anniversary of the loss of my son, James Clark, I have come to realise that this time holds a special significance.  It seems appropriate for me to include the words of those who have traversed this point and who, through their actions, their internet presence and their writing, have the ability to help, support, sustain and inspire other bereaved parents; indeed, not only parents but those who have loved and lost anyone dear to them.  I am utilising my friends’ words to underline and expand upon my own thoughts, with their permission and my gratitude.  Links to relevant resources are included where appropriate.

One of the most influential people to have come into my virtual circle of friends, since we lost James five years ago, is Nancy Rigg, the founder of the US based Yahoo groups, the Drowning Support Network and DSN Advocacy*.  Nancy lost her fiancé, Earl Higgins, in 1980, when he was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River, as he rescued a young boy.  She says of that time, “Trauma lingers, and I was compelled to create change in the way flood and swiftwater rescues are prepared for, responded to, and prevented to begin with”.

Earl Higgins and Nancy Rigg

I strongly believe that Nancy’s determination to effect change, which remains undimmed with time, helped her live through her grief for Earl and I have used as a role model her positive attitude to grief – and life in general – ever since I first found DSN on the internet.  Nancy is wholly committed to her cause; she is a warm and eloquent writer who sustains and supports those who are living through loss.

We all grieve in different ways.  It has taken me the past five years to really absorb the premise of grief as an utterly individual process.

So – what is different about the five year anniversary?  Turning again to Nancy, she writes, “On the fifth anniversary of Earl’s death there was something so absolute, so non-negotiable about the reality of death.  Earl wasn’t just ‘gone’; he was gone in an absolute way.  He was irretrievably lost to me and the realisation of this opened my grieving process to a new and deeper level of profoundness”.

I agree entirely with Nancy’s words, and would put an additional spin on them too.  In my own case, I feel that five years is too long a time to keep on pretending to myself that James is away somewhere (in some mythical remote far-flung corner of the world without phone or internet access – as if!) and I have by now steeled myself to accept that I will never again hear his tread on the path.

Five years is time to step up to the mark and wholly confront the reality of the finality of his passing.  This is a lonely way station on the grief route and the acceptance of arriving at such a place is hard won.  Assimilating the fact that you will never again speak your child’s name and get a direct response from him or her is one of the toughest boulders on the rocky road.  As time passes, your child’s name is mentioned less and less by others and that is also a very hard concept to accept.

Five years is too long a time to keep on pretending to myself that James is away somewhere…

As other bereavement writers have done before me, notably American Mitch Carmody**, who lost his son Kelly to cancer in 1987, I draw parallels in the first five years of loss, to the first five years in a child’s life.  The start is a blind, ignorant, fumbling, stumbling affair as one struggles to comprehend arriving into a jagged, noisy, discordant world.

In his writing, Mitch uses the baby/child model to good effect.

At the time of the child’s passing, he says of the parents, “Taken from a world that you knew and understood, a world of warmth and security, you find yourself head first in a cold painful world of the unknown.  It’s hard to see, you are shaking, insecure and frightened of what’s ahead.  Tears flow from your eyes, you feel cold and lost and just want someone to hold you and tell you it’s just a dream”.

He asks the reader whether he is describing a baby just being born into this world, or a parent just hearing the news of, or witnessing the death of their child.  He goes on to answer, “It could be both since both describe being thrust into the unknown and faced with the continuing challenges of survival”.

But, somehow, survive we do.  The first year passes, that crazy time of re-learning how to hold a cohesive thought, how to breathe and move and take baby steps to walk.

Personally, I found the second year of loss particularly difficult.  Nature ensures we are cocooned in shock for quite some time, and for me it was during the second year that the reality of James’ passing was really slammed home.

This too was the year that I felt a great deal of guilt.  Guilt that I couldn’t prevent my son’s death, couldn’t protect his life and his future.  Guilt that my husband didn’t have the wife he signed up for (we were married just six weeks before James’ passing), and guilt that my lovely daughter had to move forward and cope with her life minus such a significant member of her family.

At first, the bereaved parent fails to realise how widespread is the ripple effect of their loss.  This is something that I felt more in the second year as I was able to step back a little and review the way in which we were now relating to our family, extended family and friends.  All our relationships have, to some degree, been irrevocably altered by our loss.  There is a void that can never be filled, especially at significant times such as birthdays and Christmas.  Holidays and special occasions are particularly difficult to acclimatise to without that special individual’s input.  It is very hard to feel celebratory without concomitant guilt creeping into the occasion.

Just as a toddler evolves from the ‘terrible twos’ stage, I found the third year a gentler and more trusting year, and the fourth year definitely saw my psyche adapting to and accepting the new woman who walked in my shoes.  In fact, I began to quite like the more forthright and compassionate individual whom I see reflected in the mirror.

Over time, as I reviewed his nineteen years and how fully he lived them, I began to be able to see James’ life as a complete short story rather than an unfinished novel.

I have challenged before, and continue to challenge, Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s five stage grief model – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model was originally identified in her research about someone facing his or her own death, and in a way akin to Chinese whispers, her original tenets have been subtly altered over time so that they are perhaps more difficult to classify and delineate.  I do not believe that, generally, we experience the stages of grief in a clear cut and distinct way.  The boundaries blur, the stages overlap and as for ultimate acceptance – well, I would question whether one can ever fully accept the loss of their child.

Absorption is, to me, a more fitting word, and I believe that five years is really the earliest possible stage that absorption can be expected to happen.

Another bereaved parent who eloquently expresses her feelings and the lack of understanding of those who have not walked this particular path is my valued friend and correspondent, the writer Jan Andersen**.  Jan lost her beloved son, Kristian, to suicide in 2002 and she has admirably turned her loss to the positive enlightenment of others through her writing.

She analyses the unpredictable passage of grief, saying,  “There is always the assumption that the pain of losing a child, grandchild or sibling will lessen with time, that the second year will be easier than the first, the third easier than the second and so on. It doesn’t always happen in such a predictable fashion. When one loses a child, emotional triggers can bring an intense grief to the surface that is as raw and powerful as it was in the beginning, even years after the tragedy. How I wish the non-bereaved could comprehend that”.

When I first began to read of grief and grieving as a bereaved parent, I shied away from anything that spoke of the ‘gift’ of loss, or ‘choices to heal’, for I felt too raw and hurt to consider that anything positive could come out of such a sudden and tragic loss.  I will admit to feeling resentful that such a loss had happened to me until I read of others saying, “Why not me?” instead of “Why me?”, and I began to believe that our paths are chosen for us at a level with which we can cope.

Over time, as I reviewed his nineteen years and how fully he lived them, I began to be able to see James’ life as a complete short story rather than an unfinished novel.

James and his mum, Andrea

I have learned to have insight into my grief and to always try to turn it to the positive rather than the negative.  I have learned to accept that the experience of grief will stay with me until I, too, pass to the next plane, wherever and whenever that may be.

Perhaps one of the most important insights I have taken on board in the past five years is that healing and recovery from such a traumatic loss require a conscious decision by us to actually want to recover.  This may seem like an obvious statement, but without the will and desire to push forward, it is easy to stagnate and become stuck at a particular point in grieving.  Indeed, the early months and years are populated by a succession of ‘two steps forward, one step back’ progressions.  The grief rollercoaster’s swoops and turns only begin to level out with the passage of time.

There are times that one’s grief cries out to be revisited, and I liken this to taking it out of its box, examining it, wearing it, being with it in whatever way feels right, before putting it back again and moving forward.  The box is constantly there, sitting peripherally, and I accept that it will always be there.

Jan Andersen’s outlook also resonates with mine when she speaks of the passage of time in ‘markers’, saying, “It’s strange how people tend to think of major milestones in terms of “fives”. By that I mean, five years, ten years, fifteen years and so on. For some reason, the fives seem to hold more significance than the in-between numbers. Is it because the human mind likes to round things up, because it’s easier to process time in that way? I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is that five years after the loss of my son was a major marker on the grieving journey. Five years is half a decade. Could it be possible that I had managed to survive for so long without my son’s physical presence in my life?

The only difference that five years made in my life as a grieving parent was in how I had channelled that grief into something positive; into a supportive website, a book and in helping other bereaved parents whose bereavement was newer than mine”.

Jan goes on to say, “In November this year, it will be eight years since I last saw my son. In two years’ time, it will be ten years – another major marker. My grief has not changed or diminished with time, but time has enabled me to accept this grief as a permanent part of my remaining life, with the distance between intense and overwhelming phases of agony becoming a little further apart with each passing year”.

Karen and Eric Ligtermoet at the memorial to Sam

Looking again at the bigger picture, rather than just my own loss, I asked my dear friend Karen in Australia, who lost her son Sam to the ocean five years ago in April, how she views this particular milestone.

She replied, “The five year thing got me musing about how far the world has travelled in that time. It is where his friends are up to in their lives, how grown-up they seem and of course, inevitably, the growing-up that he didn’t get to do. Also, technology! Mobile phone ads and the new iPad all make me so sad for what he missed out on. There is so much that I know he would have loved and embraced and I feel so angry about his future just not happening.”

I agree with her sentiments of anger entirely and it would be unrealistic not to feel angry at the injustice of untimely bereavement.  But I have also voiced to Karen that it makes me cross when people speak of James’ passing being “such a waste”.  The way I view it is that his time here with us was not wasted, not a second of it!  – but what is wasted is his opportunity to have a future.

Sam Ligtermoet

This viewpoint does not really resonate until further along the grief path, and Karen expresses the evolving emotion very well when she expresses it thus, “We are so consumed in those early years by the actual death and loss and horror of it all that it is not until the dust settles a little, so to speak, that we are more aware of what it actually means in terms of the lives they won’t get to live and things that they have missed out on. I don’t think early on, that we have room in our heads to actually take all that in and it is later – like now- that we are really hit with it.”

With all the evidence that I have gathered through my own passage along the grief path, through reading and communicating with other bereaved parents, it is an obvious conclusion that five years is indeed a significant milestone.  A five year old child stands, walks, talks and reasons.  A five year old child is capable of deep emotion, be it happy or sad, and a five year old child is learning about the passage of time and the anticipation of events. A five year old child possesses a degree of independence.

As a five year old bereaved parent, I can relate to all the above and would add that I feel as though I am achieving a degree of independence from my grief that I could not have envisaged at the outset.

The weight of the pain of loss does not diminish but it becomes an acceptably loaded burden to bear.  The scale and enormity of loss does not change, but the way in which it can be absorbed into present and future life slowly and subtly alters in the course of time.  I hope these positive affirmations offer a measure of optimism for the future to those who have only just embarked upon their grieving journey.

James Clark

James Edward Clark.  11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005.

Loved, missed and always in our hearts.

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

* http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DSNAdvocacy

** http://www.heartlightstudios.net

*** http://www.chasingdeath.com

Copyright – Andrea Corrie

July 2010

Printed with permission

Tribute to James at www.pbase.com/andreac

Posted by: njrigg | May 19, 2010

DROWNING SUPPORT NETWORK HAND-OUT

DROWNING SUPPORT NETWORK HAND-OUT

By Nancy J. Rigg

If you have lost a loved one

In a drowning or other aquatic accident…

If you have been traumatized as

A witness to a drowning or aquatic accident…

If someone you love is missing in the water somewhere…

AustinTravisCoEMS 026

River flooding

· Recognize that you are in shock.

· If the physical remains have been recovered, you will likely begin the natural grieving process, but the emotional trauma will also need a lot of time to heal.

· If your loved one’s physical remains are missing, this may lead to a prolonged ordeal with the search and recovery process and a great deal of exposure to additional trauma if you remain on scene or participate in the recovery efforts.

· If this is not done automatically, it may be helpful to ask the authorities to designate a crisis response trained counselor or member of the clergy to serve as your “family liaison” – someone who can communicate effectively with emergency responders and provide you with accurate and timely updates.  The family liaison can also protect you and your family from media intrusion and work with public information officers to provide news reporters with accurate information at appropriate times.

· There is GRIEF.  And there is TRAUMA.

· Drowning deaths are always traumatic. Educate yourself about the normal grieving process, as well as traumatic grief and post-traumatic stress.

Search and rescue… search and recovery

THINGS TO TRY TO RELIEVE SOME OF THE STRESS

Structure your time-keep busy…

· Periods of strenuous physical exercise, alternated with relaxation will help alleviate some of the physical reactions.

· Please remember that you are experiencing a normal reaction to a devastating tragedy.  Do not label yourself as “crazy,” or allow others to view you as someone who is emotionally unhinged, even though things may feel slightly crazy at the moment.  Shock and grief are normal reactions to intense and overwhelming experiences like sudden and unexpected death.

· Talk to people – talk is the best medicine.

· Be aware of trying to numb the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol.

· Reach out – PEOPLE DO CARE.

· Maintain as normal a schedule as possible.  This is especially important in families with children.

· Spend time with others if it feels right to do so, but allow for quiet reflection as well.

· Help your family, friends, and co-workers as much as possible by sharing your feelings and checking out how they are doing.

· Give yourself permission to feel bad and share your feelings with others.

· Realize that you are under tremendous stress.

· Don’t make any big life changes unless you absolutely have to.

· Do make as many daily decisions as possible that will give you a feeling of some control over your life. For example, if someone asks you what you want to eat, answer them even if you are not sure.

· Eat well balanced and regular meals (even if you don’t feel like it).

· Get plenty of rest.  This may be difficult, but try to get regular sleep.

· Keep a journal; write your way through those sleepless hours.

· Recurring thoughts, dreams, flashbacks, and nightmares are normal – don’t try to fight them – they usually decrease over time and become less painful.  If the impact of trauma does not ease up after a period of time, consulting with experts in the field may be prudent.

Not all victims who are swept away in torrential floodwaters are found immediately. Some may never be recovered, adding to trauma and stress for surviving family members.

FOR FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS

· Listen carefully.

· Spend time with the traumatized person.

· Offer your assistance and a listening ear, even if they have not asked for help.

· Reassure them that they are safe.

· Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, meal preparations, caring for the family, etc.  Don’t overlook family pets who are confused and also may be grieving.

· Allow everyone to have quiet, private time.

· Try not to take anyone’s anger or other feelings personally.

· Don’t patronize them, or offer platitudes like, “It’s okay, your loved one is with God now…”  Traumatized and grieving people are not always consoled by this kind of statement.  Instead mention that you are sorry that this tragedy has occurred and that you want to support and assist them in whatever ways will be useful to them.

Education is a vital part of the healing process.  Learn about sudden death grief and trauma.  You are the first line of defense if there are signs of seriously negative or potentially self-destructive behavior. Grief is not an illness that always requires medical intervention, including prescription medications.  But sometimes professional guidance is helpful and warranted.

This information is designed to support, not replace, physician-patient, provider-patient relationships.

California Office of Emergency Services, swiftwater rescue


Sometimes, being in the company of others who have gone through similar losses is helpful.

Members of the Drowning Support Network have lost children, parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and significant others to drowning and other accidents in the aquatic environment.

Know that we are here for you.

The Drowning Support Network

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

Sudden Death Grief and Trauma Brochures – very helpful resources, age-specific, for families who have lost a loved one, professionals who work with them, including fire-rescue, counselors, etc., and schools:

http://higginsandlangley.org/death_grief_information.shtml

The Drowning Support Network is sponsored by the Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund, a small, all volunteer 501(c)3 non-profit organization:

http://higginsandlangley.org

We recommend that water rescue and dive-recovery teams develop a hand-out like this that can be given to families on scene – something that includes local follow-up grief support and trauma or crisis counseling resources.

Nancy J. Rigg

Founder, Drowning Support Network

2010

Posted by: njrigg | May 4, 2010

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFERS FLOOD SAFETY TIPS

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFERS FLOOD SAFETY TIPS

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm related hazard. Why? The main reason is people underestimate the force and power of water. Many of the deaths occur in automobiles as they are swept downstream. Of these drownings, many are preventable, but too many people continue to drive around the barriers that warn you the road is flooded.

Turn Around Don't Drown Barrier

Turn Around Don't Drown Barrier

Whether you are driving or walking, if you come to a flooded road, Turn Around Don’t Drown. You will not know the depth of the water nor will you know the condition of the road under the water.

Water covering the road can create an impassable barrier.

Follow these safety rules:

  • Monitor the NOAA Weather Radio, or your favorite news source for vital weather related information.
  • If flooding occurs, get to higher ground. Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, canyons, washes etc.
  • Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams. Turn Around Don’t Drown
  • Road beds may be washed out under flood waters. NEVER drive through flooded roadways. Turn Around Don’t Drown If your vehicle is suddenly caught in rising water, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

FLASH FLOODS

Flash flooding in Arizona, Photo by Aaron J. Latham/Arizona Daily Star

Except for heat related fatalities, more deaths occur from flooding than any other hazard. Why? Most people fail to realize the power of water. For example, six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock you off your feet.

While the number of fatalities can vary dramatically with weather conditions from year to year, the national 30-year average (1977-2006) for flood deaths is 99. That compares with a 30-year average of 61 deaths for lightning, 54 for tornadoes and 49 for hurricanes.

National Weather Service data also shows:

  • Nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are vehicle-related,
  • The majority of victims are males, and
  • Flood deaths affect all age groups.

Most flash floods are caused by slow moving thunderstorms, thunderstorms that move repeatedly over the same area or heavy rains from tropical storms and hurricanes. These floods can develop within minutes or hours depending on the intensity and duration of the rain, the topography, soil conditions and ground cover.

Flash floods can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings and bridges, and scour out new channels. Rapidly rising water can reach heights of 30 feet or more. Furthermore, flash flood-producing rains can also trigger catastrophic mud slides.

Occasionally, floating debris or ice can accumulate at a natural or man-made obstruction and restrict the flow of water. Water held back by the

Hurricane Katrina on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, in Bay St. Louis, Miss. (AP Photo/Ben Sklar)

ice jam or debris dam can cause flooding upstream. Subsequent flash flooding can occur downstream if the obstruction should suddenly release.

More information:

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/floodsafety/floodsafe.shtml

The danger of swift water cannot be overstated.

Stay out of floodwaters!

Turn Around, Don’t Drown!

2010 Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards in Swiftwater Rescue Announced


ASHEVILLE, NC. April 3, 2010—The Higgins & Langley Memorial and Education Fund is proud to announce the 2010 Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards in Swiftwater Rescue, which recognize excellence in the dangerous technical rescue discipline of swiftwater and flood rescue.

The awards will be presented on Friday, May 14, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., at the annual National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) conference at Harrah’s Casino Resort Tunica, Mississippi ~ Mid-South Convention Center (Tunica, MS: 866-635-7095; http://www.nasar.org: 877-893-0702).

2010 Higgins & Langley Awards

Team Incident Award

Miles City Fire Department, Miles City, MT

On March 4th, 2009, the Miles City Fire Department responded to a call about a car in the frozen Tongue River, only to find a truck pinned against an ice floe. Backed by units of the department FF/EMT Branden Stevens, who had recently graduated from a swiftwater rescue course, along with FF Tim McGlothlin, successfully rescued the truck’s driver from the ice-choked river.

Potomac River Rescue Association (US Park Police, OWL Volunteer Fire Dept, Fairfax County Fire Dept. Swift Water Rescue Team, Fairfax County Police Dept. Aviation Division)

On May 31, 2009, at approximately 12:45 PM, Fire and Rescue Units from the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton (OWL) Volunteer Fire Department responded to the Occoquan Reservoir Dam for a water rescue. Two fishermen were perilously stranded at the top of a seventy-two foot dam after their boat had been swept over it. OWL VFD rescue boats deployed on the reservoir 100 yards from the lip of the dam, while Fairfax County Fire Department’s (FCFD) Swift Water Rescue Team, Fairfax County Police Department’s Aviation Division (Fairfax 1) and the United States Park Police Department’s Aviation Unit (Eagle 1) responded. FCFD’s Swift Water Rescue Team set up below the dam while Fairfax 1 lowered PFDs to the fishermen, then towed one victim to waiting boats, while Eagle 1 rescued the other with a Billy Pugh net.

Individual Incident Award

Rodney O. Seals, Pennington County Water Rescue Team

On May 24th, 2009, a slow-moving thunderstorm flooded Rapid Creek, a watercourse near Rapid City, SD. Three adolescent boys became trapped by the rising water, one of them clinging to a tree branch in the current. Rodney Seals, who had just returned from a swiftwater rescue technician course, was the only trained and equipped responder available in the area. Seals was instrumental in rescuing not only the three trapped boys, but also in assisting six rescuers back from an island where they had become marooned during a rescue attempt.

Program Development

Clackamas County SWIFT Team

Clackamas County SWIFT Team is drawn from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and Clackamas County Fire, a unique collaboration between fire and police agencies. It is a FEMA Type 1 (14 member) Swiftwater and Floodwater Rescue Team, which responds both in and out of Oregon through the Federal EMAC program, and is the first team of its type in the state. All members are currently training to meet qualifications for a Type 1 designation, including qualification as swiftwater rescue technician, rescue specialist, rescue boat operator, EMT and animal rescue technician, as well as additional training in helicopter and flood operations.

American Medical Response NW River Rescue Team

AMR River Rescue Team Training - founder Taneka Burwell-Means far right

American Medical Response (AMR) created the Oregon River Safety Program and developed a river rescue team. Prior to its formation in 1999 an average of two people drowned each year in the Sandy River at Glenn Otto Park in Troutdale. AMRs River Rescue Team endeavored to prevent drowning deaths by providing lifeguard services and public education. In 2002 it expanded to a second site on the Clackamas River near Gladstone, Oregon. No swimmers have drowned at either park in the years that AMRs River Rescue life guards have been on duty. Each spring AMR hires a team of full and part-time Oregon state-certified paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and first responders who must first pass a rigorous swim fitness test. Team members are then trained to conduct surface rescues, perform hazard mitigation, and provide public education on water safety. In 2009 AMR celebrated the completion of its eleventh season.

Maryland Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (MDHART)

Maryland Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team consists of the Baltimore County Police Department Aviation Division, Baltimore County Fire Department Special Operations Division and the Maryland Army National Guard (Co. C, 2nd Bn., 224th Aviation Regiment). MDHART training started with pilot extrication drills, equipment loading, victim capture devices, dunker training, and swim requirements, then progressed to airborne hoist drills beginning with empty field insertions/extractions and then moved to aircraft to roof drills, aircraft to trees, aircraft to drill tower and aircraft to car exercises. After a final swim test and dunker training in 2007 personnel conducted in-water and short haul system training. It took approximately 2 years of planning and training before the MDHART became fully operational. Training continues with quarterly aviation training with the MDARNG as well as annual re-certifications on the dunker, HEEDS, victim contact and device drills.

Special Commendation

Lisa Stuart – Safe-Tay Project (Scotland)

Lisa Stuart began the Safe-Tay project following the 2006 drowning death of her brother, Graham Motion, in the Tay River in Perth, Scotland. Motion’s death was compounded by the lack of qualified river rescue personnel. Stuart launched the Safe-Tay charity to improve river rescue capability, raise awareness of the hazards associated with water, and to work with local fire & rescue services, police, media and government agencies to actively promote water safety within the Tayside area, including poster campaigns and community events. They have also raised funds for the fitting of alarms linked to the city’s lifebelt stations. In the event of a lifebelt being removed from its station, an alarm will sound and the CCTV camera linked to the system will be activated, enabling emergency crews to locate a possible river rescue incident faster, and also preventing the malicious use of lifesaving equipment.  Stuart, who is a civilian and director of the Safe-Tay charity, also completed an operations-level swifwater rescue course to gain a better understanding of the hazards involved for crews responding river rescue incidents.

Outstanding Achievement

US Coast Guard – Red River Flood Response

In late March and early April 2009, the Red River crested at record levels in the area of Fargo and Grand Forks, ND, placing tens of thousands of citizens at risk. The Coast Guard began mobilizing members from units nationwide, and their aircraft, airboats and rescue crews assisted local agencies in North Dakota during the worst flooding yet recorded. Aircrews navigated across nearly 600 miles of treacherous upper Midwest territory with 60 knot winds, significant turbulence and blowing snow showers to reach Fargo, while boat crews experienced blinding snow storms, freezing temperatures and dangerous patches of ice, forcing them to make daily repairs to their airboats. Their combined efforts, however, resulted in 103 lives saved and provided assistance to over 7,000 people. Through close coordination with Sector Upper Mississippi River in St. Louis and liaisons from other Coast Guard units, as well as other county and local emergency operations centers, the Coast Guard took the lead for search and rescue operations and accounted for over 75 percent of all lives saved by the interagency response.

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.

The Higgins & Langley Memorial Awards are sponsored by CFS Press, CMC Rescue, Inc., K38 Water Safety, Rescue 3 International, Rescue Source, Rescue ONE Connector Boats, and SkyHook Rescue Systems, Inc. Additional support for the Awards is provided by the Rudi Schulte Family Foundation, Jon Stephen and Karen Langley Stephen, the family of John B. and Shirley A. Rigg, and other generous individuals.

For more information: http://www.higginsandlangley.org

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

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Posted by: njrigg | March 26, 2010

LEARNING TO BREATHE AGAIN

LEARNING TO BREATHE AGAIN

By Serena Nathan

Serena Nathan

I’ve been a fairly regular exerciser most of my life. When I was about ten years old my dad would let me come along on his early-morning runs by the beach. We would jog to the coast together (we lived only metres from the Indian Ocean in Perth, Western Australia) where Dad would meet his running buddy, Paul. They would go together for a longer run while I did shorter laps near the main beach, waiting for them. This was followed by a swim and light run home and an immensely enjoyable time for me.

Running has had good and happy associations and I have been a runner, albeit not a very good one, on and off ever since.

When my son died six years ago, it literally took my breath away. Rory drowned in our pool when he was three and I was 37. I immediately sought the help of a grief counselor, who suggested that re-building familiar structures was a vital thing to do; reading to the kids, cooking meals at home, going for jogs along the beach with the dog… all things that in the very early days went on hold. We had friends bringing us dinner, grandparents hovering each evening to listen to the other kids do their school readers and I spent a lot of time sitting in the garden with a cigarette (something I had given away years earlier) more or less frozen by the horror of sudden and unexpected loss.

Exercise is good: It increases blood flow to the brain, it makes you feel so much better about everything, with the release of endorphins from the brain; our very own inbuilt happy hormones. It is also one of the top recommendations for the management of post-traumatic stress and other sudden death stress reactions.

When I began running again, it surprised me that had no puff in me. I suppose the fact that I had started smoking again the day Rory died didn’t help matters, but I was lost, empty, panicked by the thought of a world without my beautiful blonde boy. We’d had pools in two of our houses and he was our third child to grow up around one. We were vigilant about pool fences, supervision….we were careful parents to a point where even my mother thought I was a little over-protective.

But on that one day, September 13, 2004 it wasn’t enough. Rory and I were home alone, it was a beautiful spring Monday and we went into the pool area to pull weeds and tidy up. When we left the gate never latched properly and an hour later he was dead. I had put on a video for him to watch before his day nap and when I heard the credits roll on “Spot the Dog,” I went to find him, only to see an empty couch and beyond that my darling Rory lying lifeless at the bottom of the pool. Despite my frantic efforts to revive him and those of the paramedics and hospital staff, he was gone.

Fast-forward to a year after he died. I had tried many times to get out and go for a run. I would have been satisfied to make it around the block, but each time I started out, my breath left me. I was heavy, lethargic, exhausted by the adrenaline coursing through me, as I worked out how to live without Rory, how to raise his older brother and sister, how to be married as a broken soul to another equally broken soul.

City to Surf Marathon 2009 - Serena at the 10km mark

Then one day I found I could run again. I made it all the way to the beach – about half a mile – to the place I had started running all those years ago with my father. I stopped, breathless at the ocean, looked out at the water, cried, and then ran back home.

Each run held something else in store for me. Some days I ran and wept hot tears in grief, fear, terrible shame and longing. Some days I ran with music, old hits from the eighties; my life before marriage and children, lighter times that were easy to recall. Thinking of nothing at all but the words in the song: “She’s got Bette Davis eeeyyyes”.

Slowly, slowly I came to rely on running, still as terribly and slowly as ever, for the feel good hormones. Occasionally, I would take a week or so off to slump, and this I needed to do, too; wallow, be still, mope around the house with a ciggy and wine, knowing I was doing nothing good for myself – punishing myself for my tragic and unspeakable mistake.

My runs eventually started to take on a new level of meaning. I would constantly see signs of Rory around me; feel him pushing me on, to keep going, to keep living. I had had the feeling of trying to Run Away, but it occurred to me perhaps I was running towards something… what, I had no idea.

Busselton Ironman - Serena at the Finish, 2008

I decided to set a physical goal and lighted upon the big one: I would train for a marathon – 26 miles/42.2kms. I was about to turn 40 so it seemed a timely milestone of kilometers. Three years had passed since my son died and we now had a little baby daughter. As I trained, I thought perhaps I would raise money towards drowning prevention but then fear gripped me – what if I failed to finish and had to chalk up yet another failure to Rory? The thought paralysed me and I thought about quitting altogether, but I didn’t. I chose to keep training and just run the marathon to see if I could do it.

I made it! For the first time in a long time I felt like I had achieved something, rather than simply experiencing the constant and heavy weight of his loss. In the final ten kilometers I almost quit, but I said to myself, “Is this the hardest thing you have done? No it isn’t! Keep running; this is a walk in the park compared with the marathon you are wading through of life without Rory,” and this thought kept me going. His memory was like a sweet little bird sitting on my shoulder, and I could hear the light jangle of the silver “R” on a chain around my neck. The finish was beautiful. I staggered to the water station beyond the finish line and burst into tears. I said to the water lady “I am so… happy,” and finally knew how to shed tears of joy and sadness at the very same time.

I have run another marathon since then – last year – and it was equally wonderful. This year I feel calmer and more settled in my skin. I am taking a year off the grueling marathon distance to simply run for the fun of it. Actually I may never run that magic distance again; I don’t feel the need to any longer. I know how to feel happiness and delight now without the grueling 42kms as a prep! I would be struggling to make it further than 10 kms at the moment, and rather than feeling like a failure, I am thoroughly enjoying running for the sake of running. I get things right sometimes and wrong sometimes. Energy comes and goes, mostly goes. The marathons taught me a sense of discipline with my exercise and once I am out there I know I will work hard (it’s just getting out of bed that is sometimes the problem!).

Not everyone likes to run, but everyone likes endorphins. The ones we produce in our brain are far superior to the ones we get in a bottle; it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until they emerge to lighten a moment in our day. It might be a walk around the block, a hike in the mountains, a stroll on the sandy beach:

A moment of lightness is all it takes; just a tiny single moment, and we know we can keep going another day.

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Remembering Rory Nathan

(C) Serena Nathan, all rights reserved

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