Tragedies Birth Resilience

Tragedies birth resilience in your life.

In an instant a perfectly beautiful day can turn into an “inferno” you must survive.

After June 24. 1971

The day was beautiful. One of those typical bright sunny Florida days. I sat watching the wake from the boat propellers as we headed back to shore. At eight years old I didn’t have a care in the world.

We were returning from a fun day of deep sea fishing. My brother was putting away all the fishing gear, mom was down in the galley cleaning up, Jay Jay (my dog) was sleeping on the seat pad covering one of the outboard engines, and dad was on the fly bridge steering us back to the marina.

Then suddenly there was the sound of an explosion coming from behind me. I spun around to witness fire and smoke billowing from the engines.

I looked at my brother’s face and saw confusion, which quickly turned to panic causing him to jump into the ocean water. Paralyzed with fear, I frantically called out to mom. It was impossible to see with all the smoke. Meanwhile, Dad was completely unaware of the inferno below him. After making repeated cry’s for mom, she finally emerged from between the twin engines. She was covered in black diesel smoke. Her body, all but her eyes, hair, and two fingers were severely burned.

That’s when I panicked and jumped overboard. I went into shock. The propellers were directly below my feet, still turning, but I didn’t have presence of mind to swim. Mom reached over the rails grabbing my hands in an attempt to keep my feet from hitting the propellers or worse drowning. Even though mom was in excruciating pain her first reaction was to save me. I’ll never forget the feeling of moms flesh coming off in my hands as she tried to hold on to me. She was losing her grip. As I was slipping I heard her yell for my dad.

All these years later I still remember the look on his face when he turned around. He rushed down the stairs and dove into the water to get me away from the burning boat.

Mom was now the only one still on board. There was no place for her to go except to jump into the salt water. She was full of fear as she knew how much the salt would burn her already scorched body (I’ve often wondered how she made herself do that).

When she finally jumped in. All I heard was a loud moan. At that point mom went into shock. Now dad was the only person able to get us to safety.

About this time I remembered our dog, Jay Jay, was still on the boat. Where was he? Dad called for him but he didn’t respond. My heart was broken. I thought, “How could we just leave him?” This guilt haunted me for most of my childhood.

We were about 200 yards from the marina entrance. People were gathered along the seawall watching this all unfold. Somehow dad managed to get us to a buoy, which was covered with barnacles, where we began to scream for help. Dad was focused on mom.

We waited for what seemed like hours before another boat could rescue us. They carefully lifted mom from the water. The second and third degree burns could now be seen as the black soot had been washed away by the salty ocean water.

Once on shore, we waited and waited for medical help to arrive, finally an onlooker grabbed the key to his station wagon and told us to get in. By this time mom was in bad shape. The summer heat made getting in the car more like being placed in an oven. As dad helped mom slide across the hot vinyl seats my brother and I just cried. That was all we could do. We were so shaken up.

They got mom to the hospital and took her inside with dad right next to her. We had to wait. I vividly remember sitting on the curb outside the hospital with my brother waiting to hear how mom was doing. We bounced back and forth between worrying if mom was going to die and wondering about Jay Jay. Fear does that to children. I don’t know how long we sat there before my grandparents arrived.

Seeing two young wet children sitting outside prompted a nurse to bring us a couple of towels to dry off.  That was the first time we were given reassurance that mom would be fine.

The next day we went to the hospital to see her, but because of her condition we were only allowed to see her through an outside window. She looked like a mummy. When she saw us she waved with the only two fingers not wrapped. We laughed at how funny she looked. The laughter was like a release value.

She was in the hospital for over two and a half months before she was able to come home. Then she had many more months of physical therapy as she lost so much muscle.

This accident had a profound impact on my life. Not only did I have to deal with the emotional trauma of beginning in a horrific accident, I had to watch a person I dearly loved fight their way through a difficult recovery process.

If you have young children who have experienced traumatic events there are 7 things you can do to help them process what is happening.

  • Think like a child. Children don’t have the reasoning and logic capabilities adults do. Put yourself in their place.
  • Let them talk about the event when they are ready. Talking helps some children process what they have gone through. It is also a great opportunity for you to cultivate a closer relationship with them.
  • Tell them the truth and fill in the blanks. Make sure they are age appropriate and wanting to know more before you share details.
  • Be understanding if they become fearful or pull away. Every child handles traumas differently.
  • If you think outside counseling is needed don’t hesitate to contact a professional.
  • Help them understand the positive life lessons from the event. Those can be a good source of strength when they face other difficult situations in life.
  • And most of all point them to God. Talk of His provision, love and purpose in these situations. The faith of a child is powerful. When this tragedy happened we weren’t believers, but God still used this event to develop resilience in my life.

Life is full of unexpected events. These tragedies can birth resilience. They can make us stronger. They can build our faith. They can become more than just a story we tell our children. They can be life shaping.

If you have gone through or are going through a tragic event my encouragement to you is to look to the Lord for help and guidance. You are able to overcome any crisis. Be resilient. This will one day pass.

Don’t let tragic events stop you from enjoying life. It’s a choice you get to make.



After mom recovered my parents purchased another boat, and we learned to over-come our fear of going out into the ocean. Good came from the “Inferno” on the river. This accident taught my mom a lot about fighting for her life.

Do you allow tragic events to make you resilient or fearful?