Have you ever had a near miss? A moment in time where things could’ve changed your life’s trajectory for ever?
My husband had one, where he was crossing the road in the city one day and a bus ran the red light. It was his quick reflexes and his legs that moved like lightning to the screams of others around him, that meant the bus skimmed past his backside rather than hitting him. I remember him calling me, shaken and in disbelief at what had just happened. I think he went and bought a lottery ticket. We didn’t win any money but we were just so grateful for his narrow escape.
The second time we had a curveball whiz by was in Bali. We had arrived for a family holiday, a celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My sister, her hubby and her two boys had joined us from Shanghai where they live. They were in the 10th year of their marriage. Craig and I had just marked our 20th anniversary a few months earlier. We had survived the 6 hour flight and the 2 hour drive to Candi dasa. We enjoyed our first night at the most amazing beach front villa and had come home the following day after exploring the ancient village behind us with the kids. We sat down poolside while the kids all changed into swimmers and jumped into the pool to cool off.
We are vigilant, we have to be. Our son Zigi has Down Syndrome we have to be hyper-vigilant. We have eyes on Zigi pretty much every waking minute. So, we sat close to the pool to keep a close eye on the kids. There was a massive shallow step section in the centre of the pool – it was the reason we had settled on booking this villa – so the boys who were less confident swimmers could splash and play knee deep. Our daughter Teja is a strong swimmer. She loved the water from a young age and was so thrilled to be frolicking up and down the lap pool section of the pool like a dolphin.
The boys were all playing on the step happily. The adult conversation turned to plans for the next day. Barely two sentences were exchanged when we noticed Zigi was inexplicably in the deep end reaching for the pool’s edge. We all stood up. It was then that I saw it wasn’t Zigi in trouble, it was Teja. She was under the water holding up her little brother who couldn’t swim.
By the time we all jumped in the water all I saw was Teja’s white hand reaching upwards.
Zigi was grabbed out of the water and then Craig had to pull Teja out. He dived under the surface expecting Teja to grab his hand, but instead her limp body started to sink to the bottom of the pool. As instinct kicked in and he hauled her upward, time stood still and slow, as every awful thought rushed in – what if he would never be able to hug her again? never hear her laugh ring out? never celebrate another birthday? what if we had to bring our little girl back home in a casket?
By the time Craig pulled Teja up. Her eyes had rolled back. She wasn’t breathing.
The first aid course training I had done when she was just a baby now came surging back to the forefront of my mind. Screaming at the startled Balinese staff to call for help I helped Craig lay her down in the recovery position poolside. I was just about to launch into CPR, when Teja coughed up a lung full of water and took a huge breath. The sound that breath made, will never leave me. Nor will her first words to us – “I’m sorry daddy, I couldn’t hold him up any longer”. Her first words were of concern for her brother who she was trying to save.
Our relief turned to tears. The ugly crying kind, as we held onto our soaked daughter who was shaken, but alive in our arms. The near miss was probably down to a matter of seconds. Had we not turned to check when we had, our life would’ve been changed forever. Our dream family holiday would’ve become our nightmare. But it didn’t.
I had moments earlier refused to let Teja buy some shell hair clips and a head band at the restaurant where we had just had lunch. One of the first things Craig did after we could bring ourselves to let go of each other, was take her back to the shop to buy whatever she wanted! A flash of guilt shot through me.
Teja was fed ice cream and treated to an afternoon mani pedi, while the family distracted Zigi at the villa. All “splurges” to celebrate our near miss.
But what followed afterwards were the after-shock reactions for Craig and I. We both couldn’t sleep. I kept getting recurring flashes of Teja’s reaching hand. Craig’s mind kept taking him to what might have happened. Craig had to set up a mattress on the floor in the kids’ room, just to hear Teja breathing. The thoughts that filled our minds were devastating. The guilt of the things we should’ve done plagued us. The guilt of worrying about Zigi, but forgetting to worry about Teja. The guilt of booking a holiday at such a remote location where first aid was inaccessible. The guilt of “switching off” for a minute. The guilt of being hard on Teja just moments earlier.
We had to find a way to stop the downward spiral of thoughts. It was Teja’s 7th birthday a few days later and we just didn’t want to let this event darken what was meant to be a celebration of family and awesome marriages in particular my parents’ golden anniversary.
So, we turned to our foundation. Our faith. We took comfort in powerful words that helped us overcome the negative thoughts that were oppressing us. Then Teja came up with new lyrics to a Coldplay song that Craig had sung at Teja’s birthday party just a few days before, based around the line “you’re a sky, you’re sky full of stars”. She suggested we add another line to those lyrics – “…and you’re alive, you’re alive in my arms”! And just like that our daughter’s attitude to what had happened and the words she had chosen to celebrate her survival, disempowered the thoughts of never holding her in our arms again. Whenever we felt overwhelmed, we hummed that tune. A day later we celebrated Teja’s birthday and her unfolding life.
In taking those steps, we found a way to switch off the guilt.
Thankfully because of our remoteness we could process all of this “offline”. Instead of posting hundreds of photos of our amazing holiday on Facebook we took the time to live in the moment of every day. To breathe in the coconut husk smoke that filled the air in the mornings as the villagers began their day. To feel the humidity of the warm air heavy on our skin. To enjoy the simplicity of Balinese food and Balinese beer. To help the kids catch tadpoles and feed the giant goldfish. To swim in that amazing wet edge pool overlooking the ocean on a full moon night. To watch our daughter giggle and laugh with her brother and cousins as she returned to water without fear.
We just took time out and enjoyed all that life was offering in that moment while we processed what had happened.
However, coming back from Bali, we found another way to move forward was in sharing our story.
We were slow to do so at the start, but we realised that we needed to, because we didn’t want anyone to go through what we had. We now tell people that Teja was a strong confident swimmer but we had never thought that she might drown because she was trying to help another child. We tell people how quickly and quietly it happened, because we all know that we need to be vigilant, but it is so important that you just don’t take your eyes off the kids when they are in the water.
To this day I have not posted photos of our amazing holiday on Facebook because of the time we needed to process our near miss. Yet the cover photo on this blog is one that was taken at a family photo shoot we arranged to mark the milestone we had travelled to Bali to celebrate.
So now you know why that photo is so important to me. It reminds me of our near miss moment. It reminds me that my daughter is a hero to her brother and to us. It reminds me of how my daughter who had every reason to fear the water, chose not to be afraid but instead returned to frolicking like a dolphin in the water any chance she gets. But most of all it reminds me to be grateful that we are still a family of four.
The lessons I learned from this near miss experience stay with me even now:
- Switch off guilt by disempowering negative thoughts and actively finding and focusing on positive ones.
- Find space and time to recalibrate.
- Learn to live in the moment.
- Be grateful and celebrate life.
Have you had a near miss moment that made you reassess how you looked at something? What did you do that helped you?