By: Tom Rau
I’m not one to dwell on supernatural or paranormal phenomena, but that isn’t to say I don’t deny the presence thereof. When events occur that hint of supernatural influences it’s difficult not to wonder what unforeseen power could be at play. Such thoughts visited me last week regarding the Boat Smart column.
I had requested from Lieutenant Commander Tracy Wannamaker, Commander Coast Guard Group Grand Haven, safety points regarding kids and water. A rash of recent drownings have involved youths. One in particular involved a nine-year-old boy who drowned in Lake Michigan near Holland’s north pier. Commander Wannamaker had the woeful task of consulting in person with the parents who lost their son.
What make it especially difficult for the Commander she has a son the same age with many of the same interests and habits as the deceased nine year old. In fact, their birth days were a week apart. The Commander e-mailed me that afternoon: “If I ever have to do that again it will be too soon—it’s been an awful year for that. The child did not know how to swim and was pulled out over his head by the current.”
I responded to her e-mail by suggesting she write water safety instructions regarding kids and water, not necessarily as an experienced Coast Guard rescue responder, but as a mother of three. She did. A series of electronic snafus, however, prevented delivery before my deadline to the newspapers. Whether it was coincidence or a supernatural hand at play I really don’t know. Here’s what happened; I will let you decide.
On Tuesday, the day before my deadline, Commander Wannamaker attempted to e-mail me three times and three times received an “unable to deliver” response. The Commander regularly edits Boat Smart via e-mail. This failure was a first. I then suggested she fax the copy, which she did. My fax machine rang but it failed to pick up. This happened twice. I then suggested she e-mail the copy to Station Manistee and they could burn the e-mail onto a floppy disk, which they did. When I arrived home with the floppy, I inserted it into my computer. When I opened the file the computer crashed. I got the computer back on line; however, during the crash the floppy was damaged and now unreadable.
The next morning my server was back on line. Incidentally, for whatever reasons, it was randomly and intermittently rejecting e-mails—but not all. To top it off the Commander’s piece exceeded the column’s length since I had added a last minute story regarding a drowning in Glenn Lake. Seemingly for whatever reasons the Commander’s piece was not supposed to run even though it offered life-saving information. Then it dawned on me as if I were struck by a revelation from above. The column should run this Labor Day weekend, which surely will draw thousands to the water, especially with warm weather in the forecast. This message must be intended for someone and it could be you. Now Commander Wannamaker’s message:
Two weeks ago I was in the heartbreaking position of telling a Mom and Dad that their nine year old son had drowned in Lake Michigan. This is the part of my job that keeps me awake at night, the part that I could do without. As I read through the search paperwork, I noted that this child was only one week younger than my own son. Immediately I was thrust into the “what if” self-questioning that all parents do, and I came up with a few items that all parents or caregivers need to know:
You are in charge: respect the water. Our beautiful lakes are also very unforgiving at times. You need to understand how the water moves, how deep it is and what is on the bottom. You also need to understand rip currents and explain them to children that are old enough to understand. I make my kids recite what they would do if caught in a rip current every time we go to the lake. The Beach and Pier Safety Task Force, based in Grand Haven, has a useful website that discusses rip currents and other hazards: www.respectthepower.org
Invest in swim lessons for the whole family. Non-swimming parents can’t help when the children are in trouble in the water, and often get into trouble as well while attempting to help. I can think of nothing worse than watching your child drown because you are not equipped to help him or her. Swim lessons not only teach children how to keep their head above water, but also promote safety and confidence in the water.
If you or your children cannot swim a proper-fitting life jacket is a must for both of you. On more than one occasion my kids have fought me on this, but it’s not open for discussion: “put it on or you are sitting on the beach.” Many drownings occur when non-swimmers suddenly find themselves in water over their head. In addition, many “good swimmers” drown because of fatigue, panic or medical issues.
Unfortunately, rescuers don’t get called until someone goes under, and there are only a few precious minutes to save a life. Often it’s too late. Pride is never a good excuse for drowning.
Be vigilant. Don’t take your eyes off of them—we all know how fast the little ones can move, in or out of the water! Know how to respond in case of emergency and run these scenarios through your mind—you may be the one that saves the unsuspecting swimmer.
Whether the message is paranormal or not there is one thing for certain: all drownings, whether it be in Lake Michigan or a backyard wading pool, can be avoided by those who are alert and water wise.
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