‘Who lets a toddler out of their sight long enough to drown?’ My one big job was to keep him alive, and I failed.’: Mom who lost son in drowning accident says, ‘I will carry your judgment no more’

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Disclaimer: This story features mentions of child loss that may be triggering to some.

“‘No, GOD NO! I’m the mom who wasn’t that lucky.’

It was these words, written by another mom on this platform, that finally made me ready to speak.

‘How could this have happened so fast? I hate to say this and admit it, but I used to be the mom judging stories like this…‘How could you not know your kid went outside and ended up in the pool?’ The judgment hit me hard…I was now the mom who wasn’t paying close enough attention, even though, after now all of these years I know, was not the case. It really does happen in seconds, and I couldn’t have felt worse for throwing judgment all of those times before. Especially when my son had survived and so many people have not been as fortunate. I still cannot believe he survived.’

Oh my God, lady, you are one of the (many) lucky ones. Mothers who can tell the story of how it almost happened, how things could have been so different, how life COULD have changed in an instant. It took me eight years to face this, to put it in writing, and now it is time. I do this in loving memory of my darling Sam, who has taught me so many lessons and made me brave.

A boy in a red shirt and shorts stands outside a door
Courtesy of Jami Yeats-Kastner

People can be cruel, you know, in their judgment of others. I see it every day in so many different circumstances. But the worst, the very worst kind of judgment and unkindness is reserved for mothers who have lost young children in any kind of accident.

It was always there, I know, but the hiddenness of it kept it from flaying those mothers open. Social media, however, has changed that. I see it all the time, everywhere. Last week a toddler died after swallowing a battery. A few weeks ago, a young boy died after falling on a penknife. In they come, marching in their stiff uniforms and brandishing their pitchforks.

The trolls. The judgy ones.

‘Who leaves batteries within the reach of a child?’ ‘Where were the parents?’ they growl. Who gives an 8-year-old a knife?’ ‘Who left a 2-year-old toddler near an open highrise window?’ ‘Was the child not in a proper secure car seat?’ ‘Who lets a toddler out of their sight long enough to fall into a body of water and drown?’ ‘Make them pay! It’s the parents’ fault!’ ‘Where was the mother? I raised five children, and nobody died on my watch!’

I read all these comments, you know. I never understood why. But now, I see it was a sort of self-flagellation, a continued desire to punish myself. Because let me tell you, mother to mother, the very greatest judgment will always come from yourself. Your job, your one big job, was to keep them alive, and you failed. F**k, do you know what it’s like to live with that?

Parents stand on either side of their three children
Courtesy of Jami Yeats-Kastner

The knowledge of the judgment of others had always only simmered poisonously away in the background.

In the last few weeks and months, I came upon this painful judgment wearing an actual face. And instead of scrambling to hide, to shield myself from the pain, I stood up, and I faced it. I held my head high and stared it straight in the eye and said, ‘No. I am not that. It is not and it never was that. Sam does not blame me, and I can no longer blame myself. I will carry your judgment no more.’ And a layer was peeled, and a new me began to emerge.

My child drowned on my watch. There were other adults and children present, and it could have happened to any one of us there that day. But it didn’t. It happened to me, to us. I don’t need to go into details, I have already published those, and I don’t need to go there again. I know the truth.

A young boy dressed in a green hooded outfit
Courtesy of Jami Yeats-Kastner

I have, through my writing, met a painful number of mothers who have had the almost unbearable (and trust me, the pain is beyond explanation and with you every single day of your life) experience of losing a child through many different and equally devastating ways. Good mothers, great mothers, mothers who loved their children with every fiber of their beings.

I’ve heard people talk and gossip about them, about what happened, what led to it, whose fault it was. Because if it must be someone really terrible and irresponsible’s fault, then surely it could never happen to you.

Unless you were there on the day, you have no right to comment. Any mother of a busy toddler who can HONESTLY say they have never had their eyes off them for even 2 minutes? Because that’s all it takes, 2 minutes to change you and your life forever.

It could happen though, you know, it could happen to anyone. And I pray with all my heart it never happens to you.

But it’s a great job you’re doing, isn’t it? Raising your children in judgment, unkindness, absence, abuse, racism, homophobia, but at least they’re alive. And that makes you a better mother, a better person than me, does it?

I speak only for myself today when I finally get it off my chest.

Screw you, judgy people. I will be judged by God alone and not by your ugly hearts.

A woman lies in the grass on her back wearing sunglasses
Courtesy of Jami Yeats-Kastner

The eighth of February 2013 is the day life as I knew it was forever altered, the day dividing my life into Before and After. It has been 8 long years since we lost our darling Sam, both a second and a lifetime.

In that time, I have seen both the best and the worst of people, totally unexpected kindness and unimaginable cruelty. I have learned lessons way beyond my years, I understand the fragility of life on a deep level not many do (lucky them), and it changes who you are and how you live your life.

I have accomplished a lot in these years, with Sam by my side, driven every day by the desire to make my boy’s short life matter, to find a reason and a purpose in this painful path we must walk. And I have, and I know Sam is proud of his mommy.

We planted a magnificent memorial garden for Sam here on our farm in South Africa.

I published a book detailing the first year of the journey, and how I survived it. This book has helped countless other parents and desperate people on their own particular paths, and I get regular messages of gratitude to this day.

I started an NPO, a long path fraught with challenges and doubts. I fundraised furiously, and this has led to the establishment of the beautiful and very successful Butterfly Center, which provides education and training to children with a variety of special needs, including Sam’s oldest brother Jack.

We have grasped and clawed our way back to happiness to find joy and create a happy home for our 2 surviving boys.

Parents stand with their two children in front of a sign that says love
Courtesy of Jami Yeats-Kastner

No one will ever know, unless they have been there, how losing a child changes the very essence of who you are. My heart is much bigger now…it had to grow to accommodate other emotions besides the grief which for a time resided there alone. Now, it has space for boundless love, unbridled joy, and infinite compassion.

Oh, I will forever miss the person I was before and envy her innocent belief that nothing so terrible could ever happen to her. I live in a different realm, and those close to me know what that takes. Every. Single. Day.

But I am also very grateful for who I am and who I am still becoming.

A mother stands on a rock overlooking a field
Courtesy of Jami Yeats-Kastner

I am kind. I lead with love and an open heart. I genuinely care for people and try to do good in this world. My circle is much smaller than it used to be, but it is a powerful circle of people who love me, and it is both soft and strong. I have very little attachment to the material world. Nice things are pleasant if you can afford them, but they are not real nor permanent. What matters is who you love, and who loves you, and how you live your life.

I have experienced much unkindness, but rather than harden my heart, it has softened it. I know how it feels to be judged in the worst possible way, and I would never wish to visit that pain on anyone else.

I have come to see that those who judge you are actually judging a part of themselves, that it’s hurt people who hurt people, and only people in pain would deliberately bring pain to others.

So, I think my biggest message here is this. We need to be kinder to each other, less judgmental, more compassionate. As mothers, as parents, and as people. Everyone in this world has their own challenges, their own lessons to learn, their own heavy crosses to bear.

You don’t have to like them or agree with them, but just be kind. It can change the world.

I know I am strong, and I am resilient. But publishing this piece, opening myself up once again, tearing open these old wounds, has taken every ounce of my strength. Please be kind.

And thank you, as always to my darling-blue-eyed-angel-boy for giving me a voice and the courage to use it.


A woman holds up her toddler son
Courtesy of Jami Yeats-Kastner

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jami Yeats-Kastner from Western Cape, South Africa. You can follow her journey on her website and her blog. Purchase Jami’s book, Sam and Me and the Hard Pear Tree here. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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