Well today is the day. A big holiday celebrated by millions of Americans-The Fourth of July. It also happens to be the one year mark, the anniversary of my oldest son’s death. I’ve been dreading this day for weeks and ultimately all of last year. Somehow I think that once I reached this point I thought I would have finally paid my dues and this could all be over. But that’s obviously not the case. I’m still here stuck in this alternate reality I got thrown into so abruptly, and will be the rest of my life. I have felt like I have so much to say about this and yet nothing at all.
The events of last year have been playing over and over again in my head lately and I’ve had to face it, relive it, so it can be put to rest again. His death and loss are devastating to say the least, but they are also coupled with a great deal of trauma. I never knew I could survive something like that. But here I am.
This is the last picture I took of him. We had stopped at my husband’s office after being out doing some shopping and me and the kids were waiting in the car. I’m pretty certain Covey was trying to get out of the car so he could grab a treat from inside!
Once we got home we decided to go sailing at the lake next to our house, something we’d done many times before. We had been having a great time! One of my last memories of Covey is him laying back in the water with his life jacket on, just floating and smiling. We had been laughing and splashing and playing in the water. Then for whatever reason we let Covey get away from us, just far enough. We trusted him, he’d never before taken his life jacket off while floating in the water, as he couldn’t swim without it and enjoyed wearing it.
I can’t begin to express the horror I felt when I realized he had done just that, and I immediately started swimming to him. Then complete terror followed when my husband accidentally capsized the sailboat as he turned it towards Covey in his own rushed panic, and I knew at that point neither of us would make it to him in time.
I never realized how heavy I could feel swimming with a life jacket on, and the sound of my voice screaming as I tried to swim to him will haunt me for the rest of my life. I could barely breathe. I kept watching and hoping he could stay up just a little longer. And then his arms grasped above the water for the last time and he was gone. I will never forget the look of the murky yellowish green lake water as I dived down into it to keep looking for him.
We just stayed there in the water crying and screaming until the police and ambulance showed up and they told us to get out. At that point my body was in complete shock mode and all my brain’s numbing capabilities had been kicked into high gear. I just remember sitting there on the sandy rocky shore, panting and barely able to breathe, staring at the water willing for a miracle even though I knew we wouldn’t get it. We had to wait some two hours before the divers arrived and were able to find him and pull him out. The physical pain I experienced at that moment was unbelievable. Within seconds my heart had literally been ripped from my chest, and I had no idea how I was still breathing with the pain I had in my chest and whole body.
Friends and family showed up and I remember one EMT kindly hugging me many times as she tried to share some of her strength and calm with me. Another friend took the shoes off her feet and put them on mine since all I had on was my swimsuit, seeing how we had exited the lake on the opposite side we got in on. Another man took the shirt off his own back and gave it to my husband. These kind gestures still bring me to tears every time I remember them.
The outpouring of love from friends, family, and strangers alike has been humbling beyond words. I could spend the rest of my life trying to thank and repay all the love and kind deeds given in our behalf and not come close. But I will try.
In contrast, as I’ve faced that the day again lately, the one thing I recall with so much hurt is the way our loss was reported by news outlets almost immediately before having any facts. Several news stations simply wanted to point out that a child had drowned who was not wearing a life jacket. It still disturbs me how quickly people were to comment with hate and accusation towards our family in some of these online forums. It is disgusting how much hate people can have for a complete stranger.
We recently saw Wonder Woman in the theaters and one scene has stuck with me when thinking about this online world of anonymous hate we live in now. It’s the bar scene when Diana and Steve are gathering men to fight with them. Diana finds out one man is a sniper and that he kills people from far away. She asks him if he can see their faces and of course he says no, at which point she sadly responds that he is “without honor”.
It is not an honorable thing to fight and hate online. Sadly it’s so easy to spew hate to a faceless individual and people do it daily. But what does that say of us as a society? I know it’s easy to get angry. Anger is an quick go-to emotion but it has to be handled with care and expressed in ways that don’t hurt other people or damage our own ability to nurture and love others.
Most often, we never have all the facts. It is so immature and cruel to rush to judgment without having all the facts. And the truth is, we usually won’t ever get all the facts and we must be so careful to realize that news outlets purposely incite people to anger about one thing or another and will deliberately only give the information that suites their purposes. Please don’t fall for it. Please don’t let them have that power over you.
The only course of action we really should be taking is one of empathy. I recently read Fred Rogers’ short book The World According to Fred Rogers and I love one of his favorite quotes shared by his wife. He really was such a great person!
“A quote he especially loved–and carried around with him–was from Mary Lou Kownacki: ‘There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.’ There were many times I wanted to be angry at someone, and Fred would say, ‘But I wonder what was going on in that person’s day.’ His capacity for understanding always amazed me.” (page 8)
Let’s all be a little kinder. A little more patient, in person and online. And if you want to honor my son this holiday and any day in the future, focus on understanding people and their individual stories, show empathy, and stay away from those evil forums where only hate and argue exist.