I am floating in a warm water pool of a New Jersey YMCA. It's been nine years since I've put my body in a swimming pool. Nine years since my not quite 2-year-old son drowned in a swimming pool accident. I have barely been able to even look at a body of water. A puddle, a bathtub, a pond, a lake … any amount of water that could cover a face, preventing someone from breathing, caused me panic. The sight of water caused me to feel like I was drowning — a palpable feeling that has lasted many years since that day in July of 2010.
But now I find myself in a swimming pool for the very first time since that day. Effortlessly floating and calmly treading water with my 6-year-old daughter, Miriam. She asks me for the 1,000th time how old her brother, Noah, is in heaven. To me, he is always just shy of 2 years old. But to my daughter, she wants him to be 11 years old. She needs her big brother to be older than she is. She needs to make sense of this out-of-order timeline in her life.
When the most out-of-order events occur in life, is it possible to put ourselves back in order? Or does being “in order” become less important? To me, it feels like trying to join in on a game of jump rope. If you were there at the beginning, when the rope started turning, you’d have your rhythm down. You wouldn’t even be thinking about the movement of your feet. You’d just be jumping. But if your game was suddenly stopped, and your rope was cut in half, how do you start jumping again?
This enormous elephant in my jump rope game was swimming. My husband and I finally agreed that we couldn’t pretend water didn’t exist anymore. We had kept our daughter away from the beach, pool parties, those big swan paddleboats at the zoo, boats of any sort, waterslides. It was emotionally exhausting. But as much as our fears were mostly understandable by those who loved us, we needed to find a rhythm in our new life.
PHOTO CAPTION: My daughter Miriam at her very first swimming lesson. I was on the bench breathing through this moment. Just seeing her in a pool was so difficult. I've come a long way.
Our daughter began swimming lessons early this year. It was unavoidable and necessary. She is coming along slowly but there’s no denying how much she enjoys it. As I’d watch her lessons through the viewing window at the YMCA, I found myself starting to wonder how the water would feel for me. It was as if a switch flipped. I went from being unable to breathe, to wanting to at least try.
I was pretty sure I still knew how to swim. But the lifeguard on duty added a sense of security. I needed to push that elephant further away from my game of jump rope. That elephant needed to stomp off into the background. We could still wave at each other from a short distance, but I needed to work on my rhythm again. And I finally accepted that I couldn’t do that without going in the water.
Since I know how to swim, I found out the that the water wasn’t what I was actually afraid of.
I realized I’m more afraid of drifting further away from the time when my son was alive.
I’m more afraid of the damage I could do to my daughter by not at least trying to move forward.
I’m afraid enjoying the water is a betrayal to my son.
All these emotions coexisting within me while my smiling little 6-year-old in her life jacket is having the time of her life in “the big pool with Mommy.”
There is a gift in losing your rhythm. There is a gift we get from setbacks, large and small. While the sudden death of my child was not something I ever thought I’d face, I’m finding the definition of my rhythm again. However long it may take, and it will most likely take a lifetime.