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. […] My daughter and I once saved my son’s life. […]

    2. jessica says:

      I am dealing with my son near drowning, and i cant seem to get past it. It was late June 5 days before his 2nd birthday we were having a nice family day at home, my husband was on the couch and i went to start a load of laundry all of a sudden i got this thought where tony so i ran and asked my husband we ran directly there i jumped in and grabbed him we immediately started cpr and i couldn’t find my phone so we jumped in my car and drove to a fire station right down the road it was tough but he has managed to make a full recovery. I am so grateful but i am struggling with the fact that how do i know he is completely ok and is he still the same person will he have a hard time in school because of my neglect to care for him. It has almost been a year and i feel like i am constantly worried about him and on top of all that i struggle with how did i let that happen to my son! so i wanted to ask you how did you get threw all of these emotions,and did you worry about your son like i am with mine, and how did you finally come to terms with what happened?

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        OMG – Jessica, I can COMPLETELY relate. That is exactly my story!!! It took me YEARS until I could go more than a few days without having nightmares. I have 5 children, and I am still overcome with panic over my son, who nearly drowned. I did go to a therapist for a bit, and she said it was like a post-traumatic stress.

        If your paediatrician has assured you that he is okay, then I am sure he is fine. I wonder with my son (who shows no physical signs of anything that happened that day) if he is somehow affected in ways we don’t understand. But it’s been more than 5 years, and he’s doing just fine. He is a VERY introspective and deep child, and sometimes he’ll say things that blow my husband and I away, and then we will joke that it’s a residual effect of his near drowning.

        Just count your blessings and revel in gratitude. And feel free to reach out if you want a sympathetic ear! I can relate completely!!!!

    3. CharmaineNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you for your sharing your story. I’ve gone through a similar experience on 11 January 2012. My friend was visiting and her 3 year old daughter and my 5 year old son swam in our pool. We were watching them, but our eyes were not on the pool at all times, as we were having a conversation. The next moment we looked and she was floating in the pool, we ran to the pool, my friend, her mother jumped in and handed her to me at the side of the pool. I lay her on the pavement and shouted for our other friend to phone emergency services. I started doing CPR, the way I could remember from my previous CPR course about 2 or 3 years ago. After a few breaths and compressions she spurted out water and started breathing. Paramedics and ambulance arrived and took her to hospital. She is fine now and a very happy beautiful little girl. I thank God for this miracle and I am so happy that everything is fine. I have been battling to deal with the situation and my emotions, especially the guilt feelings. Reading your story has definitely helped me. Exactly what has been going through my mind, you have put into words so beautifully. Thank you very much.

    4. […] week, I guest blogged for a phenomenal online publication, Women on the Fence. I wrote about a very harrowing and life-changing event in my life, my son’s near drowning. Check […]

    5. Hi Ruth,

      Thanks for sharing your story and putting the big picture of life in perspective. We all do make mistakes, and we pray that we or our family members don’t make one that changes ours lives forever. My kids have taken me down roads I would never have expected, but I am so grateful that we came through it. Your oldest daughter sounds amazing, and shows how our kids can come through for us when we least expect it. Good post!

    6. MeghanNo Gravatar says:

      You. Are. Amazing.

      Much love and mojic to you and your very brave family!!

      I deal with drowning/near drowning all day every day in my line of work and am so thankful when I hear a “good” ending. What a life lesson to learn for all of us.

      Thanks so much for your post.


    7. JessicaNo Gravatar says:

      I wasn’t as fortunate as you. My 5 month old granddaughter died in my arms, my CPR couldn’t save her life. It was June 15, 2009 at 6:35 p.m. when I was downstairs catching up on the cleaning I missed because I had a Dr. appointment earlier in the day when her father who was living with us came running downstairs. “Call 911! Olivia isn’t breathing!” I whipped my cell phone out of my pocket and ran upstairs to where she was, my 14 year old son with my phone calling 911, Randy, the father, behind him.
      My granddaughter was on the sofa, foam coming from her mouth, a sick shade of gray was her color. I used my fingers to wipe away the foam and tried to clean her mouth. I rolled her over on her back and tried to tilt her head back but it was too soft on the sofa so I put her on the floor and asked for a towel or something to clean more mucus from her mouth.
      In the back ground I could hear my son trying to give 911 directions to our house, and I’m trying to help him and help Olivia…..the whole thing plays through my memory like a bad dream. Her father is just standing there watching helplessly. I keep doing compressions on her tiny little chest because I remember hearing that it’s best if you can’t get air in, if you can just keep the blood flowing to her vital organs it’s better than nothing at all. So I pick her up, still doing compressions and run down the stairs to the front yard so when the ambulance comes, they will see us right away.
      I lay her down in the grass and try breathing into her mouth. It seems like it is forever before the ambulance comes, we are drawing a crowd. The neighbor comes over after the paramedics come over and she comforts me, my daughter is at work and doesn’t even know what is going on. She’s only 18. How am I going to tell her about this?
      Finally the ambulance pulls away and the neighbor drives us to the hospital. My daughter comes. We can’t reach my husband. They come out and tell us there is nothing they can do, she’s gone. Our little baby, our 5 month old Olivia is gone.
      The original autopsy says there is a fracture behind her left ear. The second autopsy says there is an infection at the center of her brain. Either way, they say that there is no conclusive cause of death.
      I’ve learned to hold on tight to the memories. I still cry all the time. I have a hard time listening to other babies cry. I hope soon I can move on. It was the best time of my life….those 5 months I was a grandma….

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        Needless to say, your story has brought tears to my eyes. I am so very sorry for your loss. And I am acutely aware that while our outcome was miraculous, too many unnecessary and fatal accidents occur each year. I don’t know what to say except to share my deepest condolences. In those moments when I thought Josh was dead, my mind was lost; I doubted I would ever recover. But I was spared. You weren’t – and I can’t imagine what you must go through each day. Please try to be strong for your family.

        • JessicaNo Gravatar says:

          Thank you so much. I know you understand, those moments when you didn’t know if he would live or die are the moments that bond us together. I’ve been blessed with a best friend who is kind enough to share her own grandson with me who is 6 months younger than my granddaughter and he loves to take all the hugs and kisses I would have given her! When he was born, I was very active in helping raise him along with his grandmother and mother. I learned he was very absorbant and theraputic in my healing process. His mother drew the line at dressing him in pink dresses, understandably! But he now absorbs the love I would have given her instead of the tears I shead over her. I still cry once in a while, but not as much.
          Thanks for letting me share my story. I hope it helps other women who maybe have lost a grandbaby or even their own baby. The pain never goes away, we just learn how to deal with it in a better way.

    8. Hi Ruth, I was talking with Erica D about your post here last night. I understand why it took a few years to share the story, but I want to thank you for sharing it. What many people don’t want to realize is that no one is perfect; we can and do make mistakes, and sometimes things even happen that are beyond our control. What’s important is that we learn from it and grow. Your 5 Invaluable Lessons are valuable indeed, whether one has managed to live mistake free or not.

      Best wishes,

      JC Little

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        Thanks so much JC for that very sweet feedback. It’s meant a lot that this story has been received so positively. Strangely…my son bumped his head today, and I had to take him to the emergency room for a quick stitch – the very same emergency room where he was rushed after the near drowning. Needless to say, I was practically giddy walking into the hospital, knowing that this time we were there for a minor accident, but an accident nonetheless. These things happen I suppose.

    9. MelissaNo Gravatar says:

      What a great reminder of how fragile life is. Last year when my dad died, it made me see life in a whole new different way. God as a way of using the bad times in our lives to help us grow. Thank you for sharing this

    10. Wow, I can’t even imagine what you must have gone through the day of the horrible incident with your son and the months/years that followed. Thank you for being so transparent and inspiring others to keep things in perspective!

    11. Sim says:


      You are amazing. I had goose bumps the whole time I was reading your blog. You are so right and we really need to enjoy every day to its fullest. Cherish our very special relationships. Thank you for sharing.

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        I’m quite sure that I didn’t do anything that any other Mother wouldn’t have done. In truth – my instincts took over; I didn’t make any conscious decisions. I do hope that other Mothers will read this post and cut themselves some slack. The best we can do is love our children unconditionally, be there for them unrelentingly and acknowledge and learn from our mistakes.

    12. StanNo Gravatar says:

      Ruth, Thank you so much for sharing. Your story is so haunting. I am often amazed at how vulnerable I feel as a parent, just like you mentioned in your post – I wonder if I could cope if anything happened to my children. Reading this really brought that feeling into perspective. I can feel vulnerable, worried etc – but you are so right – ultimately enjoying my family is the priority.
      Thank you for your courage.

    13. Anonymous says:

      Amazing story. Thank you for having the courage to share it. Not every mother would but it shows we’re all human and it could happen to anyone.

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        Your comment means the world to me. For a long while I felt like I was an awful mother – hardly human. But now I realize that some things are indeed beyond our realm of control. It took me more than five years to muster the courage to write about this experience, but I’m glad I did.

    14. SharaNo Gravatar says:

      Your strength, courage, perspective and wisdom never cease to amaze me.

    15. Melissa MarglesNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Ruth,
      I was surprised to see you as the guest blogger today but am so glad that I read the article. I can’t say that I have had a close personal experience like yours but certainly Shwana’s brother’s accident has really hit me hard. Your post embodies everything that I have been thinking in relation to his accident. the challenge is to take your words and keep them top of mind each and every day.
      You are so right in everything you say – life is waaaay to short. We need to appreciate today because we don’t know what tomroow will bring.
      Thank you for opening up my eyes – again! My personal challenge is to keep them open……

      • Ruth ziveNo Gravatar says:

        Fancy meeting you here! Thanks for your comment Melissa. I think most people have experienced trauma (or know someone who has) and the challenge is ultimately how to grow from those experiences. My thoughts and prayers are also with Shawna and her family.

    16. […] week, I guest blogged for a phenomenal online publication, Women on the Fence.  I wrote about a very harrowing and life-changing event in my life, my son’s near drowning. […]

    17. Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Vitra for your comment. It is very easy to get mired in the minutiae of life. That was the greatest gift from this horrible experience – I am forever reminded of how UNIMPORTANT most of those annoyances really are.

    18. AudreyNo Gravatar says:

      Ruth I cannot even imagine how you felt when you saw your son in the pool. It’s every mom’s nightmare. I admire your strength and resilience to move forward and not beat yourself up. You sound like a wonderful parent and person.

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        Thanks Audrey for your comment (that’s my daughter’s name!). It was indeed a nightmare, and it was very, very rough to get past the guilt. I did beat myself up – but thank God, I was able to look at my children and know that they needed an optimistic, confident, loving and invested Mom. I try every day to live up to that standard.

    19. ChristinaNo Gravatar says:

      Wow what a frightful story. I am so glad that Josh survived and so did you! Experiences like these unfortunately or I should say fortunately change us for the better. Those are great life lessons everyone should live by.

    20. When my daughter was five months old, she developed a lump on her side. Upon initial examination at the Children’s hospital (blood tests, x-ray), they sat us down and said that although more tests needed to be done, we should be aware that it could be leukemia. My whole world came crashing down around me and, on the drive home for night, I couldn’t even talk. The most that I could get out was the barest whisper. It’s as if terror had sucked all of the air out of me and left an empty husk. Thankfully, the tests the next day showed that the problem was not nearly so dramatic or deadly as cancer but we did go through twelve hours of hell. My daughter is now a healthy eleven year old and I am grateful for every one of those years.

      • Ruth ZiveNo Gravatar says:

        Kathy, I can relate – it’s like you’ve visited hell, for just a brief moment. And while you know that you never, ever want to visit again, the awareness that it’s within the realm of possibility, is transforming. I’m glad that your daughter is healthy!

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