Posted by: njrigg | May 19, 2010



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…

Due to an accident, flash flood, tsunami, or other natural disaster…

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


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.


· 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:

Drowning Support Network: Facebook

The Drowning Support Network: Yahoo

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:

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

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




  1. Wondering if someone can help me. We are a qualified marine search team here in Las Vegas NV. We have state of the art equipment and are being refused permission to go look for lost drowning victimshere in Lake Mead. We do not charge a dime for this. Other teams from out of state that have also volunteered are also being told “NO” by the local National Park Service here locally. Other National Parks welcome the help but Lake Mead NRA does not. Any ideas?

    Thank you

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