Mum's mission

Could one tragedy prevent another?

Published by: Polly Taylor & Amy Thompson
Published on: 5th May 2011

You know what it’s like, it’s a beautiful day, the sun’s shining – yet no matter how hard you try, you can’t get your kids off the sofa and out of the house.
Well, I had the opposite problem! Whether it was football, riding his bike, or rugby, Chris, 15, was always whizzing about, doing something. ‘I’m going swimming at the lake with mates,’ he said one day. ‘Can I have a lift?’
‘Of course,’ I said, grabbing my car keys.He’d often gone swimming there because he loved the waterfalls and rock pools.
A few hours later, I was back home with my hubby John, 57, when there was a knock at the door. Opening it, my heart lurched. Two policemen were standing there in front of me.
‘Mrs Turnbull, I’m afraid there’s been an accident,’ one said. ‘Your son Chris
is missing… we think he may have drowned.’
Hours later, his body was found. My legs buckled as the officers explained what had happened.
Chris had been sitting on the edge of a waterfall, and had turned to his mates to give them a thumbs up. Seconds later, he’d been sucked into the lake by the current and forced underwater. ‘The current was stronger than normal because of the recent rain,’ the officer explained.
Chris’ pal Reece, 15, had jumped in to save him, but it’d been too late…
Consumed by grief, I barely had the strength to get up in the mornings. What was the point in living when Christopher was dead? I’d no reason to get up, nowhere to run him to.
But, as I lay in bed one day, I thought about how he’d never sat still for a minute. ‘He’d have hated seeing me like this,’ I sobbed to John.
I forced myself to carry on, but there was a gaping hole in my existence.
I never wanted another mum to feel the pain I felt, another person to lose their life so tragically.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realised something – maybe I could help stop that happening.
‘What if I educated schoolchildren about the dangers of water?’ I said.
‘It might save a life,’ John agreed, nodding.
The following week, I went to Chris’ school and spoke to pupils about how my son’s death could have been prevented if he’d known the dangers of swimming in open water.
The reaction I got was amazing. ‘I’m going to think twice next time I go swimming,’ one boy said to me. My message had reached someone – and it fuelled me to carry on.
I toured other schools in the area and launched the water safety organisation River and Sea Sense the following year. I also set up Waterwise, a club where youngsters can take lifeguard courses.
I still miss Chris every day. But helping other kids stay safe in his name is the next best thing to having him here with me.
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Debbie Turnbull, 52, Colwyn Bay, Conwy