“So, how many kids do you have?” This time I’m asked in casual conversation by a friendly quasi ‘stranger’ sitting beside me in a seminar.
Do I lie? Do I tell the truth? Do they really want to know? I feel my throat swell up with emotion. I bite my lip so I can regain control. “I’ve had 4,” I decide, with a well rehearsed half smile.
“Wow 4!! How old are they?”
Ok, here we go again…….lie or the truth? “The eldest is 22, then 19 and 10,” I routinely reply.
I can hear the brain ticking, then a pause, followed by “and the 4th?”
“Well, he should be 15 ½ now but he died 12 years ago when he was 3.” Sometimes I cut to the chase and add, “He drowned in a neighbour’s swimming pool”- it saves a whole lot of time. Sometimes compassion pours out in a touch of my arm, a look saying ‘OH NO!’ on their face, the hand to the open mouth or an elongated sound of ‘aawwwwwww’ but more often than not I get an apology, the topic of conversation quickly changes and a sudden departure.
I remember the days when I was one of them. I belonged in a world of protection and safety, of security and comfort, of naivety, in a world which was seemingly unshakable. Yes, those were the blissful days of sweet ignorance.
My reality today is I’m lonely and alone with the memories of the nightmarish events of 14thJanuary 2000, the day my life changed forever. That damn pool gate was propped open with a volcanic garden rock!! What? Why? How could they? Such a preventable death of an innocent, spunky, lively, spirited little boy! MY BOY!!!
The collapse of a perfectly happy family
The sense of failure
The head, the heart, the body aching
And I could go on about how dreadful, painful and inescapable, the tragic grief was that followed Justin’s death… But I won’t, because when I couldn’t continue on like this anymore I I used every ounce of energy I had to make sure no other child in Victoria would ever drown needlessly again! I said NO – IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE THAT IT IS NOT AGAINST THE LAW TO PROP THE POOL GATE OPEN!!! It took 3 long years but I did it… in Justin’s honour- I changed the law.
If I’ve learnt only one thing out of the terribly devastating experience of burying my son Justin, it’s that we (Justin and I) can make a difference. If I can educate parents to prevent even one more child drowning, then Justin is still alive with me in my mission, and his legacy.
And if you’ve learnt only one thing from this story it’s never, ever prop your pool gate open with anything- not a chair, not a rock, not a brick- nothing. The pool gate is MEANT to automatically shut behind you to ‘MAKE A SAFER WORLD FOR KIDS.’ I urge you to help Justin and I spread this message….