Last weekend Olympic skier Bode Miller lost his 19 month old daughter to accidental drowning. Apparently the little girl and her mother were visiting a neighbor with a pool. The mother lost track of her for a few moments, long enough for her to make her way to the pool, fall in, and drown to death.
This is hitting me so hard, and I can’t stop thinking about it. This beautiful little girl was just three months younger than Joel, she was blonde like Joel… There are just no words to describe the devastation. This poor child. Her poor parents and siblings. Her poor family. Those poor neighbors. Their lives are irrevocably changed. They’ll take this grief, the guilt, to their own graves. They have many, many dark and impossible days ahead of them.
I’ve read some of the articles on this tragedy, including comments, and, although most comments are full of empathy and compassion and heartfelt condolences, I just can’t get over the level of victim shaming in this situation (and others like it). Comments like…
“All babies and toddlers should be put in survival swim classes as soon as they learn to crawl, so, should they fall into the water, they won’t panic, rather they’ll calmly float to the surface, where they’ll be able to yell for help.”
“Pools should be covered by safety nets, barricaded by a locked fence, and another locked fence should the first locked fence fail. Pools should have alarm systems and be surveilled by a 24 hour lifeguard.”
“Children under 18 years of age should never not be wearing life jackets.”
“Never own a home with a pool or within a mile of a pool or another body of water, including a puddle.”
“All eyes should be on your child every second of every day.”
Of course there is truth in each of these statements. It goes without saying that young children, particularly babies and toddlers, require intense supervision, especially when near water. And mechanisms like nets and fences and alarms and lifeguards and lifejackets are precautions that should be taken to lessen the probability of a drowning death. Additionally, I’m sure there are instances when baby survival swim classes have saved lives.
However, those making these comments usually do so with an air of infallibility (in addition to the benefit of hindsight), and the thing is, none of these safety measures provide any guarantees against tragedy. In fact, there are never any guarantees in life. Accidents, tragedies… They can happen to anyone, at any time. Accidents do not discriminate – they literally do not give any fucks.
Accidents can happen to terrible people and amazing people, idiot people and smart people, careless people and careful people. Granted, there are some of these aforementioned groups of people to whom certain types of accidents might be more likely to happen. HOWEVER, you can do EVERYTHING right, and still fall victim (or have a loved one fall victim) to a fatal accident. You can even have an incredibly specific fear or paranoia and take compulsive steps to prevent harm and still fall victim to the very accident you feared the most.
It takes mere seconds for many fatal accidents to happen. Drowning in particular can be quick and silent. You can get lost in a conversation with a friend for under 30 seconds and have your speedy toddler run off. You can probably sneeze and have it be enough time for someone to drown. (Okay the sneeze statement may be an exaggeration, but only a mild one.)
Are there instances of gross negligence that result in the death of a child? Absolutely. This isn’t what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about accidents that happen to good, well-intentioned people. They can happen to anyone. And when they do, the victims deserve compassion. They already know their mistakes (in cases where mistakes were even made) contributed to a death of a loved one, and they will likely punish themselves with this knowledge, live in a special kind of hell, for the rest of their lives.
Often, though not always, there is only one difference between someone who has experienced a tragedy and one who hasn’t – luck (or lack thereof). For example, usually failure to wear a seatbelt is no big deal. Other times, it is a deadly mistake. And still, sometimes the most vigilant seatbelt wearer dies from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Crazily enough, I’m also quite certain there are instances when NOT wearing a seatbelt has proved life saving. Life makes zero sense sometimes and is brutally unfair in many ways.
On a separate note, there are so many people railing on these parents for having a GoFundMe, a place where people can donate money to help them during their time of need. People are incensed at the notion that someone who they perceive as rich could possibly have a GoFundMe.
The thing about GoFundMes is that people usually set them up on behalf of others. They want to help, but they have no idea how, but they want to do SOMETHING, so this is what they do, whether it helps or not, is needed or not… But the awesome thing about GoFundMe is that if someone doesn’t want to contribute to it, no one is forcing them to.
Also, people are criticizing the Millers for having already posted about their daughter’s death on Instagram. It seems there is no end to the criticism and judgment.
I wish everyone could reserve judgment when it comes to those who’ve been forced to live a nightmare. No one expects a tragic accident to happen to them. Until it does. And as much as people like to speculate, no one knows how they would handle a nightmare such as the death of a child. Until they’re forced to live it.