My three-year-old nephew, Levi, called me Sissa, a nickname that combines my name, Melissa, and the fact that I am his mom’s identical twin sister. Levi always greeted me by running energetically in my direction and calling out “Sissa!” in his raspy little boy voice.
Now, this boy that I loved with my entire being doesn’t call me anything because we lost him last summer in a tragic drowning accident.
You can read his story I wrote about his drowning last year.
The past 11 months without my nephew have been beyond comprehension; to try and put into words what it is like to have a child ripped out of your family’s life is impossible. I have learned so much since June 10, 2018 that it is fair to say I am a completely different person in every way.
I have learned that life can change in 30 seconds.
The entire world can shatter; hope can be extinguished and your core can crack in the same amount of time that is a setting on your microwave.
30 seconds. That is how long a three-year-old has in the water before they drown.
In the agonizing weeks after Levi’s death, my sister learned the horribly sobering truth that drowning is the #1 cause of death for kids ages 1-5.
Half a minute. I am sure that every parent reading this has heard of the two-hour screen time rule, but have you heard that your child can be gone, forever ripped away from you, in less time that it takes to send a text, switch out laundry or grab a pack of goldfish for your kid out of the pantry?
I have learned that grief is the heaviest of all of the emotions that we carry.
To live my own sorrow for the loss of our precious boy and know that it is but a tiny percentage of my sister’s is soul crushing. As the older twin by four minutes, I have ALWAYS protected her and the startling reality that I will never be able to fix this is not lost on me. My days begin and end with thoughts of my nephew, of the “what ifs” and “whys” directed toward the universe. This present is not a future I would wish on anyone.
I have learned that 80% of all drowning victims are male and 70% occur while NOT SWIMMING.
As a mom of two very active, curious boys, I am not surprised at all by this statistic, but I am confused as to why I had to learn this in the most tragic of ways. Why do I know how to access every youth sport and where to buy the cheapest consignment clothes, but the knowledge that DROWNING HAPPENS IN SECONDS has never been shared with me before last summer? Why have I never heard this from my pediatrician? I have all but memorized every piece of information on the “well child checklist” by the time I am in my car after our appointments, but have never seen or heard any kind of water safety warning. My sister and I talk every day; if I had known this crucial piece of information, it would have been shared with her and Levi would still be with us, celebrating his fourth birthday.
But, I have also learned that there is good, so much goodness, in the world.
Family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, strangers who have shared Levi’s story, enrolled their kids in swim lessons, communicated with my family, showed up with support or honored Levi’s legacy in countless ways have taught me that we are truly, in the words of my sister, part of a shared human experience. I am constantly in awe of the fact that so many people are willing to be a part of something that carries so much weight through sorrow. Witnessing the best of the human experience has taught me that, even in the most dismal situations, hope can be restored.
I have learned that the greatest power possessed by the human race is that of a mom on a mission.
From the moment that our babies are handed to us, whether it is after a laborious childbirth or a lengthy adoption process, our immediate instinct is one of deeply rooted love. I have witnessed firsthand the purpose of a mother’s love for her baby by watching my sister fight for Levi’s legacy. In less than a year she has worked tirelessly to change the conversation about drowning to ensure that no other family has to live with this pain. She created a website Levi’s Legacy, a movement that focuses on water guardians and drowning prevention.
She has been interviewed on the Today show, CBS This Morning, and People. She has partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics to write a new swim policy, one that stresses the importance of swim lessons at an early age. She has woken up every day, pulled herself out of bed and has lived her life without her son because she has a husband and daughters who depend on her. She has openly shared her grief with the world, determined to ensure that child loss does not remain a taboo topic. I have always been, and always will be, so proud of her.
I have ultimately learned that drowning can be prevented; our children can be safe.
My sister’s words, shared on Levi’s Legacy Facebook page, can teach us the most valuable lessons of all. She has suffered the greatest tragedy, will always experience the ultimate suffering, and yet is still trying to save the rest of us from this abyss.
Please read these words and take action:
- Please enroll your toddler in the RIGHT swim lessons, ones that focus on water competency. “Survival” is the goal. If your child can “swim” but only WITH a flotation device, that is not swimming. If your precious three-year-old somehow found his way to the deep end, could he survive?
- It is important to remember that ALL SWIM LESSONS ARE NOT CREATED EQUALLY. If you lack access to quality options, choose the best private instructor you can find. It should not take years for your child to learn to swim. Once they can swim, keep them in lessons, because drowning is a lifelong risk.
- Swimming is not in the same category as soccer and dance. Drowning is the #1 cause of death for ages 1-4; many in that age group cannot swim. These two factors have to be connected.
- In our area of East TN, we didn’t have many swim options for toddlers a year ago (and I had never heard of this type of lessons before Levi died). When my girls were each three, though, they took private lessons and could both swim within months of their third birthday. I will never stop wishing to go back in time and enroll Levi.
- I understand the hesitation around swim lessons. I used to be a typical mom of three kids, forced to weigh every decision on time, finances, and my own parenting energy, which all seemed stretched too thin.
- Time? Let me tell you about TIME, about this lifetime without my son, about every moment he isn’t here, every bedtime kiss he will miss. You don’t want this eternity of time that stretches before me.
- Money? Much of my life was spent on a budget, and I know money is a luxury. Many non-profits offer scholarships. Ask for swim lessons instead of gifts. Exhaust every option — budget and beg. The cost of swim lessons is a fraction of the price of a funeral.
- Tears? Your child hates swim lessons, even though the instructor is gentle yet persistent? Well, crying means breathing. On the night my world ended, I only heard silence by the pool. I would have given my life to hear my son crying.