Inspired to Soothe a Grieving Heart

A devoted journal writer, she'd never written about nearly drowning. Now was the time.

- Posted on Jun 7, 2013

An artist's rendering of a young girl smiling at fishes on the ocean floor

Stacks of magazines filled my doctor’s waiting room, but I pulled out my journal to kill time instead. I’d worked through a lot of issues and frustrations in a succession of journals over the years. I knew just what I wanted to write about today.

Something that had been on my mind lately. It happened a lifetime ago, and I’d never written about it before. I uncapped my pen and got started.

Even at five years old I loved being in the water. I was thrilled when my parents took us on vacation to Miami to escape the unforgiving Chicago winter. One afternoon my father, my older brother, Joel, and I were building a sand castle on the beach.

“Put a tower here,” Joel said. “Then we can add a flag.”

“Don’t forget the moat,” said Dad. We needed more sand. I went down to the water so the sand would be good and wet and filled my little plastic bucket. The foam from a wave crept up and tickled my toes.

Behind me, Dad and Joel debated the architectural integrity of their sand castle. They hadn’t even noticed I’d walked off.

I followed the wave as it receded back into the ocean. In moments I was in the ocean up to my chest. I turned to head back to shore. That’s when a strong undertow pulled me beneath the surface.

I didn’t panic. I didn’t fight. There was no sense of fear. I simply let the undertow pull me farther from the shore, farther below the water’s surface. Soon I was standing on the ocean floor, my small feet firmly planted in the sand.

There was a whole world hidden under the ocean! Fish swam all around me, in between my legs and circling my tummy: tarpon, sea trout, striped bass, bonefish, snook—even a swordfish! A big, beautiful starfish floated past my face, like a giant golden angel.

Their tails brushed against my skin. It was like they were new friends, swimming over to say hello.

To this day I can’t recall a moment when I’ve felt more peaceful than that afternoon at the bottom of the ocean, sunlight shining down like shafts of heaven through the water. If I’d made a wish on my angel starfish, it would have been to feel that peaceful always.

One minute I was in the water watching the fish, and the next a lifeguard was carrying me back to shore. He rubbed my chest and I spit up saltwater. Dad and Joel were shaking with fear after nearly losing me. My adventure, and the overwhelming sense of peace, was over.

Back in the waiting room, a woman sat down beside me. “You look busy,” she said.

“I was journaling,” I said. The woman seemed curious. “I was writing about the day I nearly drowned as a child. Don’t ask me why I felt compelled to journal about it now. In a doctor’s waiting room, no less.”

I realized the woman had gone quiet. Her smile had faded. “I lost my four-year-old son to a drowning accident forty years ago,” she said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. How terrible it must be for her to be reminded of it! I was suddenly embarrassed.

“I know he’s in heaven now,” she said. “But what still haunts me is thinking about how much he suffered, how scared he must’ve been.”

“May I read you something?” I opened up my journal. I read my story as I’d just recalled it: how I let the water take me without fear, how being at the bottom of the ocean was an exciting adventure, how I had never felt more peaceful.

“My father was terrified that day,” I said. “But it’s one of my happiest memories.”

“Do you think it was like that for my son?” the woman asked.

“I believe that in those last few moments of life, God wraps us up in a soft, protective embrace of divine peace. A peace unlike any we’ve felt before. Just like I felt at the bottom of the ocean,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said, tears in her eyes. “I feel like I’ve been carrying around a weight for forty years and it’s finally been lifted.”

I remembered the brush of those fish tails against my skin, like angel wings. And this day I felt the brush of wings again. Because angels had orchestrated this encounter. To lift a weight from a mother who had carried it for too long.


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