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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.



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

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. 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.

    1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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……

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Ruth,

    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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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

  11. 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

    1. 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.

  12. 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….

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  13. 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.


  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

    1. 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!!!!

  17. 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?

    1. 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.

  18. 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

    1. 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.

      1. 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

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  20. 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.

  21. Last week my son had a near drowning trauma. I feel so much guilt. Your words and life lessons are so appropriate right now. Thank you for sharing and giving others help and hope. I am so scared to share with others at the thought of being judged for being a bad parent. Though I know I am not. Thank you kindly.

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