Derek Frechette & CEF Memorial Foundation
Derek Frechette & CEF Memorial Foundation
By Derek Frechette
The heart retching, preventable, inconsolable loss of our son Christian to drowning. It was Friday, July 13th, 2007, a day of trepidation for some, a day our lives changed forever for us. It started off as a normal summer around 8:00 o’clock in the morning except for the boys asking us, more like begging, to let them go to the local camp for the day. It sounded like a perfect plan since my father-in-law was coming over to do some electrical work we needed finished. Having both the boys, Cameron (age 5), and Christian (age 4) out of the house doing what they love would make it easier for all of us to finish up the work. Besides, we thought, our babysitter is one of the lifeguards and promised us to keep an extra eye on them. Little did I know that 2 hours later my life would be destroyed and my trust in others forever changed.
The boys were so excited to go so we packed up their lunches, registration forms, a change of clothes and their life-jackets. We piled in the car, said goodbye to grandpa, and around 10:00 am we made the 1.5 mile drive to the lake the camp. As we pulled in, it was almost impossible to keep the boys from jumping out of the car as they were so excited to go swimming. We gathered all their stuff and headed over to drop the registration forms and checked off with our babysitter (one of the head lifeguards at the time). We gave the boys all their belongings, gave them a kiss, told them to behave and that we loved them, and headed for the car. Right before we are about to head back home, another staff member brought our life-jackets over to us and explained that Massachusetts law does not allow life-jackets at Town or State run camps due to the children fooling around in the water. Life-jackets in the current wording of Massachusetts law is that they are basically the same as floating noodles. Right then I should have known but I didn’t think of it much, I just trusted the staff. I had never thought about drowning, now that’s all I think about. Then I headed home.
I remember a police officer racing into my back yard around 12:45pm as my heart sank. “Oh God, what could have happened, please don’t let either of my boys be too hurt”, I asked to myself. I thought stitches maybe, even a broken bone. That’s not even close to what the officer exclaimed “there has been a horrible accident, you need to come with me right away”. As I kept saying “No, God no”, I grabbed our youngest daughter, age 1, and jumped into the back of the cruiser while my wife sat in the front with the officer. “Please don’t let anything be wrong” was all I could think of. As the officer drove and heading to the hospital 5 miles away he would not answer any of our questions. All of the sudden over the radio we heard about our son, and drowning was the only word I was able to make out of that communication. I remember I started screaming “what happened, why us, why my son?” As we were 1 mile from the hospital I knew my life was about to change.
It was 1:00 pm when we then ran into the emergency room, as nobody will look at us. My wife and I screamed and beg everyone there to show us to our son. Nobody would or could. We turned around from the main desk and there were all the doctors and nurses working on a little boy wrapped in foil. Our little boy. I don’t remember much of the next few minutes after seeing that image, as all I can remember was being on the floor begging if there was a God to please take me, and not Christian, my little boy. I called our parents, then collapsed overwhelmed with emotions that night.
The doctor walked up to us about 1:35pm as I had a bad feeling knowing what his words were before he said them, as he exclaimed “I’m so sorry, your son is gone”. I asked “what, are you saying?, what God is there to take my son who was so pure and innocent and leave all the sick, crazy people in this world safe from harm?”. “How can your boss take my son? What have I done?”. “Are my sins being brought down upon my son? Oh God, how can we get through this, how will Cameron, our 5 year old? What did he see?”, as my mind got filled with so many questions and feeling angry and being in disbelief. For the next 4 hours our entire family stayed in a room with my little boy Christian, saying our goodbyes, crying, and holding him. I even heard air coming out of him after 2 hours, and I thought he was brought back just to then learn from doctors is what sometimes happens after passing on. The nurse asked us if we would like to donate his organs, and I remember this was not only the hardest question to deal with but it was also the last thing on my mind. We talked and agreed that if we could save another child we should do this. This gave us a little peace for 10 minutes until we were then told that Christian’s organs could not be donated because all childhood deaths like this one must have an autopsy. What a kick in the stomach that was. We lost him, and now I was thinking other children would be lost as well because his organs would not be of a benefit to them. “What do I do now?”, as I couldn’t be there to save him. Were his last words, “daddy help me?”, I ask to myself. I still see him underwater everyday waiting for me to save him. “Should I kill myself now and join him?”, as all I could think is that I am dead inside anyway.
All I remember the rest of the night is the police taking my other son to the station to ask him questions, family and friends here, my anger, my pain. That night I thought nothing about other’s pain, but just mine. I drank myself into a stupor and just passed out. Sadly, that went on for months as coping with this situation was unbearable. I don’t remember much of the funeral or anything else for that matter in those first few months, which to me is both a blessing and a curse.
My family was a wreck, both my wife and I were spiritually destroyed, but especially my oldest son Cameron. Even his best friend was never coming back to visit. I started to wonder, “Does he blame himself?, have we pulled so far away that he feels that we were mad at him?, does he knows that we love him?”. Once I saw what was going on in his mind, I decided I couldn’t let this happen to another family, reflecting on this preventable pain. At times my wife and I did blame each other but that was just a way for us to vent our own pain to one another. I never knew how much my wife meant to me, how much I loved, or needed my wife before dealing with this tragedy. As I look back , I feel I took everything for granted, and looking ahead I thought to myself, that would never again in this life. All the “what if’s” and the “why me’s” always came up and I think about that particular day on a daily basis.
The next day after the accident, it was all over the newspaper saying our kids were not registered at the lake camp, which they were and that really upset us as it hurt. Everywhere we went people thought we just left our kids there. “What could we say?”. We even got many letters from many people blaming us for Christian’s death. This really hurt us from our friends and our community but even more so it made me an angry and hateful person for a while. I couldn’t trust or care for others opinions or even condolences anymore.
Four years later and there are still no answers. We don’t know exactly what happened, but the only fact I do know is the staff searched the woods first before looking in the water. The pain is as fresh as it ever was that day but we have learned to try and live life to our fullest for our living children and the angel in our hearts. Thank God for compassionate friends and the drowning prevention groups we have met along the way which have helped us through a lot in dealing with this pain. My other son Cameron would have been a mess without counseling and the friends he met at Compassionate Friends as well as bereavement camps for children that have lost a parent and/or sibling. I tried looking for years for a counselor that could understand my pain and anger but was never successful with it.
So I decided to put my energy and effort in helping other families by advocating and promoting water safety as I thought it was the right thing to do. We created the Christian E. Frechette Memorial Foundation (CEF) that has two components. The first component is that The CEF Foundation is working towards trying to pass Christian’s Law in the state of Massachusetts, stating that every state and town run camp with a swimming area is required to have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each minor who will be present in the swimming area, which is currently not required. Everything CEF Foundation does is to promote water safety to children that are anywhere near the water. We hold a yearly Golf Tournament and various fundraising activities that allow us to obtain such life jackets. With the support of Kids Don’t Float, a part of Safekids USA, we are collecting numerous life-jackets to then provide to town and city run camps. The other component of our organization is called CEF Angels, which provides financial assistance to any family that has lost a child. This assistance could be in the form of meals, help with rent or mortgage, or anything that a parent could need in support after the death of their child.
After four years, Christian’s Law is still moving slow among those involved with the legislation process, as it seems such individuals are still debating to continue to add to it instead of letting it pass right now, and perhaps they could add additional wording later. All we wanted is for the current wording of current law to be modified so that children can wear life jackets if needed. As a result, organizations such as our foundation can provide them free of charge as loaner jackets. Please visit the CEF Foundation website for more information. Our plan in the near future is to also combine different websites from a group of parents who has suffered the lost of a child into one large website and provide educational information including:
1) Teaching children to swim
2) Teaching children about the dangers of water
3) Why wearing a life-jacket can help save a life and that it is cool to wear one
4) Teaching parents all the dangers of any possible drowning hazard
5) Lifeguard training
At Christian’s foundation we are doing everything we can in our little piece of this prevention puzzle to help educate the public. We are providing camps and beaches with loaner jackets to those who need them. I personally want to see them available everywhere and there should never be a child without one. If you need one and can’t afford it please contact me for further information. I would like to take this opportunity to thank West Marine, Body Glove and Cabelas for their generous donations of life-jackets. Please remember that we can all join together to limit this preventable pain. It is and always will be a tough lesson we had to learn. I saw the dark side of human nature after this happened but I also saw and felt the love of people who truly cared. But we are trying our best now to raise our family of 5, 1 angel and 4 children here, to live life to the fullest and just enjoy our time here as you never know what can happen tomorrow. We will never forget our son Christian, as I put all my heart in trying my best to prevent this from happening to another child and family. Thank you for taking the time to read this and God bless all of you.