Last week found me in Teddington, my role being guest speaker at a collaborative water safety/drowning prevention meeting hosted at the RNLI lifeboat station by the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service. The RNLI and SFRS have joined forces to promote water safety in Surrey. I was asked to speak specifically about the impact of losing James in July 2005.
“Are you going to talk about secondary loss?” asked my friend Linda when I told her about the meeting.
“Secondary loss?” I queried. She explained,
“Well, it’s really about the absence of the person you have lost rather than their presence. It is all the events that you have now and in the future of which they cannot be a part”.
“Ah, I get it”, I replied. “So it is things like, James should have been here for his sister’s and other weddings, he should have been here for the arrival of the babies”.
“Yes, that is the kind of thing”.
Linda and I agreed that we will always have a James shaped hole and a Tom shaped hole in our lives, where our sons should be. We grieve for the future hopes, goals and dreams that they cannot now have. Our lives have grown around our loss, though the hole remains the same, and it always will.
To see it like this is a positive way of viewing the horrendous grief that comes out of the loss of your much loved child.
As well as the above, my presentation reprised our three-year campaign with Kingston Council to institute safety measures at the riverside. I described how the publication of Into the Mourning Light led to my contact with the RNLI and partner organisations, and I shared some hints and tips on supporting bereaved families. I talked of the ‘ripple effect’ of the breadth of impact which increases ever further over time.
My talk was just a small portion of the meeting. From the other presenters, I learned much of what is being achieved following the inception of the National Water Safety Strategy in 2016.
The key aim of the National Strategy is to reduce the incidence of drowning by half by 2026.
It is heartening to learn how much is being done by the various partner organisations to work towards the aim. Other organisations represented/mentioned at the meeting included the London Fire Brigade, RoSPA, Kingston and Surrey Councils, Surrey Police, Surrey Search and Rescue, and the RLSS. Dawn Whittaker, the Chief Fire Officer of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service contributed a video message. Dawn is the National Fire Chiefs’ Council lead for drowning prevention and is committed and proactive in the field of water safety. Like the RNLI, the RLSS also have a very strong presence with a massive amount of educational and training resources and events nationwide.
The key message that comes out of meetings like this is that is not sufficient merely to teach children to swim. Everybody needs to have an awareness of the dangers of apparently benign looking water and its ability to take life in as little as three minutes. There is such a short window to rescue someone who is in difficulty in the water!
The best possible outcome of all these collaborations is to identify and lessen risk to anyone who is in a position that is likely to lead to difficulties. Many advances are being made in this regard, with initiatives such as throw lines and bags, the RNLI’s ‘float to live’ campaign and the strong educational messages being disseminated throughout our schools, colleges, universities and workplaces.
There remains a need for each and every individual to Respect the Water, whether at home or abroad. As ever, I am proud to be part of the way forward in drowning prevention; always in memory of James.