5 Life Lessons Learned From My Son’s Near Death Experience

August 25, 2011 46 Comments TAGS: Kids, Stress

By Guest Blogger Ruth Zive

My son was blue, limp, lifeless, silent… essentially dead.  And then in five moments of interminable chaos, stress, hysteria and prayer, my daughter and I brought him back to life.

This day changed everything, and ultimately propelled me off of the fence, in so many important ways.

I found him in the pool, face down and floating.  He wasn’t quite 2-years-old.  It happened in an instant; he was watching a Barney video in my bedroom; I was helping my daughter pack for sleepover camp.  And when I realized he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, I barreled towards the backyard, knowing instinctively that he was there.

I don’t quite remember what happened next – I know that I jumped in the pool, pulled him out, lay him on the kitchen floor, started administering what I remembered from the CPR course I had taken years earlier – and screaming for my oldest daughter to come help (she had just completed a babysitting course that included CPR training).  I remember praying a lot, begging God to spare him… to spare me.

I remember feeling in that moment that my life was over; I would never be able to cope with the loss; I would never recover.  But then I witnessed a miracle.  My daughter had essentially taken over the CPR, and was screaming “breathe Josh, you can do it,” and as she was screaming, he suddenly gurgled up a spout of water and let out a barely audible whimper.  He wasn’t dead.

We both scrambled to continue heart compressions, and he started to pink up, showing signs that he was getting air.  The paramedics arrived, whisked him out of the kitchen into the ambulance and away we went to the ER.  Josh survived without any lasting impact whatsoever.  He is now seven-years-old and loves wrestling, basketball…and yes, swimming in the pool.

As a result of this harrowing experience, I have truly learned 5 invaluable lessons. I share them with you today in hopes that you will keep them in mind as you navigate your way through prioritizing your life. Here they are…

1. Life is short – Until you are up close and personal with the mortality of someone you love, these words don’t quite pack the same punch.  Life is short and fragile and nothing really matters more than the love you share with your family.  Make the most of it.

2. Pick your battles – The laundry piles up, your ‘to-do’ list keeps growing and work demands are considerable.  But in the larger scheme of things, these are all surmountable obstacles.  Stress is relative, and if we can sustain that perspective, we won’t get quite as worked up over the things that really don’t matter.

3. Cut yourself some slack – I was riddled with guilt.  I couldn’t get through the day without feeling sick with self-loathing.  But slowly, I accepted that it was unfair to define myself by this one misstep (albeit grave).  Accidents happen; people make mistakes.  Give yourself credit for all of the wonderful things that you do, and acknowledge the contributions you make in other people’s lives.

4. Don’t judge – I fancied myself a fairly educated, aware, involved and assertive Mom. But Josh’s accident was extremely humbling.  Even with the best intentions, we can’t prevent catastrophe.  We tend to be judgmental of other people’s efforts (How could she let her son do that?  Why wasn’t she watching?  Why does she allow her daughter to be friends with that crowd?  How come her children eat so much junk food?).  I’ve cut myself some slack, but because of this experience, I’m also much less judgmental of others.  Every well-intentioned Mom deserves the benefit of the doubt.

5. Take risks – This seems a funny piece of advice from someone whose son nearly drowned.  But in fact, this incident actually freed me to reevaluate my life.  When you’ve visited hell (even briefly), the prospect of changing your job, losing money, taking a risk isn’t nearly as daunting.  Shortly after Josh’s drowning, I realized that I wanted to make a dramatic career change.  And I did.

I am so grateful for the miracle of that day.  But I feel even more blessed to have that reminder that I must cherish my children, seize opportunities, enjoy the moment, stop worrying about nonsense and invest relentlessly in the most precious relationships of my life.  Josh’s near death gave me perspective that I might never have achieved otherwise. It pushed me off of the fence.

Thank God.



Ruth Zive is a writer, mom-to-5 (plus pooch), wife, Ashtanga yoga devotee, designer handbag enthusiast, special needs advocate and vegetarian chocoholic. In her spare time, she works on her freelance writing blog. Visit Ruth online at http://freelancewritingblog.com/

Tell us, has a difficult experience ever taught you any life lessons? What has adversity taught you about prioritizing your life? Share with our community. Or as always, please feel free to leave Ruth a comment.



    1. Dan RamirezNo Gravatar says:

      Ruth, I just stumbled across this read as I was googling. My daughter had a similar instance a couple days ago but neither myself nor her mother were there. We both received a phone call from her aunt that there was an accident… and details were slow. First we knew they revived her but nothing more for awhile. I had been traveling for business and several hours away from home. Racing toward home, minutes seemed like hours. Finally another call from my wife (who was now with her at the hospital). I could hear our daughter crying and screaming in the background. She was alive! I could hear her!! But not much detail about what her condition was. Too soon to tell. By the time I got there, they were fixing to move her to a bigger regional hospital with a PICU to observe her overnight. But she was alive! The whole time all I could think about was her struggling, and eventually succumbing to the water. How scared she must have been. Tearing at my insides. Well by the grace of God she started to become her normal self. Answering questions, wanting to play. She recognized her mom and I and remembered everything up to the drowning. She even recalled after she came back that everyone was scared. We’re blessed to still have our little girl and I am so thankful. So appreciative of all the little moments we have. It’s only been 2 days but I am very emotional still. I can’t even believe it. I don’t know how to feel. I am so happy and thankful but the thought of losing her – the very real feeling that she was minutes away from death… maybe even seconds from it… I can’t shake it. I don’t know where this is going to take me but I just wanted to take a minute and share my story with you. And thank you for providing an outlet to my grief.

    2. […] I share, for example, that my son almost drowned in our swimming pool when he was an infant – it immediately creates a sense of connection. Now, if I take that very […]

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    4. SusanNo Gravatar says:

      Sept 13, 2012 – on her birthday, my 3 yr old dd wandered away play group at a friends house. I noticed she wasn’t with the other kids and we began searching the house, then the cars, then going through the neighborhood. I asked a lady out in her yard if she had seen her and she said no but there is a pool behind that house (she pointed). I immediately headed toward the pool (i didn’t know there was a pool there and don’t know if I would have gone there to look if she hadn’t told me about it). Sure enough dd was in the middle of the pool. She was still conscience but submerged – not struggling anymore. I climbed in and pulled her out. It took a few seconds for her to breath but we did not have to do CPR. They kept her in the hospital for observation. She is fine, but I can not seem to get the images of that day out of my head. Her big blue eyes wide open, terrified. I know its only been a couple of days, but how do you get past this? 30 secs more and the ending could have been so different

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        You need to give it more than a few days! My son was completely blue and unconscious. His swollen tongue was sticking out when I gave him mouth to mouth. I couldn’t shake ANY of those images…for years. You may never shake them altogether. And you will likely torture yourself with ‘what if’ scenarios – god knows I did. I googled near drowning and sobbed in front of the computer for weeks. All I can say is that time heals, to some degree. This experience will stay with you, but it shouldn’t hold you back from enjoying your beautiful daughter and cherishing the blessings she brings to your life.

        • Alice says:

          Thanks a lot for this, I just went through finding my three year old old completely submerged, it happened a couple weeks ago but I am finding emotional breakdowns sneak up at the most random times and it helps to know that the trauma lingering is normal! I have been more irritable and emotional. Today suddenly we couldn’t find my 3 year old. Family was here and all the cousins were playing and suddenly my niece asked where my 3 yr old was, and we couldn’t find him. I went from zero to meltdown instantly and because of this I forgot that he tends to pass out on the floor spontaneously when sleepiness sets in! I was screaming for him my boys room and he was sleeping on an oversized teddy bear right at my feet. I was so level headed before….thanks for reading this, and for sharing your story

    5. KarinaNo Gravatar says:

      Its been almost 3 years since my daughter Kiley nearly drowned in our bathtub, she was 7 months old. Even though I am so grateful god gave me a second chance to see her grow, I just cant seem to shake this experience off. The guilt is definetly very overwhelming, I didnt do my job to protect her and that is what im supposed to do keep harm from all my kids. Shes turning 3 next month and lately this awful day keeps replaying in my head, its awful!!I cant seem to get over it, how did you do it?
      Kiley like your son is healthy, shes a beautiful little girl who just started preschool, in fact shes sitting next to me giving me hugs and kisses as I type this :), paramedics said I did my job, that I saved her life….but because of me she was put in that situation. I stepped away and left her there. I had a lack of judgement and because of this it almost cost my childs life. It doesnt take much water for a baby to drown, I thought she was safe in my bathtub. Ive been debating whether maybe I should seek therapy, I read that you did…did therapy help you?

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        I can COMPLETELY relate Karina. I’m not sure that you ever shake it entirely – in some ways, I feel it provides me with much needed perspective and gratitude. I also struggled with guilt. Therapy did help to some degree. Time helped the most. And the reassurance of my husband that I wasn’t responsible. Accidents do happen. And thank god, your accident (and mine) didn’t have any lasting implications. It’s been more than 6 years since my sons accident, and I still think about it all the time. It still wakes me up some nights. But not every night.

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