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


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.


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.

The children of some mums remain missing, compounding this unimaginable loss.

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.


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 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
The Drowning Support Network


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?

  • 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


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


UK Cruse Bereavement Care:


Compassionate Friends UK:


Drowning Support Network


© Andrea Corrie

January 2011

Posted by: njrigg | December 25, 2010

We Remember Them



By Nancy J. Rigg

We remember Bradley William Miner

“In December, families around the globe gather to honor their loved ones during the annual Worldwide Candle Lighting Service, sponsored by The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a self help organization that offers friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents, and all family members who share losses…”

2020 Candle Lighting Service – https://www.compassionatefriends.org/wcl/

Members of The Drowning Support Network (DSN) – who have lost children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, and nephews – are offered an opportunity to participate in Candle Lighting Services hosted by local and national chapters of The Compassionate Friends worldwide.

We remember Henry Badillo

Here are excerpts from from past services, including photos of DSN members, whose names were read out loud, listed in programs, and remembered quietly by family members worldwide, who are missing them.


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.


We remember Earl Higgins

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


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 are read, Karen Taylor-Good’s song, “Precious Child,” is sung, while candles are lit and placed in front of photos on the remembrance altar.

Special candles are lit, “for those who are unnamed, but not forgotten,” and “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:”


We remember Morrey Brown




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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


Compassionate Friends World Candle Lighting Service- December 13, 2015


(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



“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


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

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://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



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 open 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.Drowning Support Network

Know that we are here for you:

Drowning Support Network on Facebook

This is our peer support group, which is active 24-hours a day, every day and night of the year.


You will be asked to verify your loss before joining our closed group on Facebook. This is done to protect the privacy of members and the integrity of the group.

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

Updated 6th January 2019

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