Landisa: The day my dad saved my life, and lost his

2020-02-07 12:20
Carmen Williams

Carmen Williams

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We had just arrived back home from the worst holiday of my entire life. I unlocked the door and looked inside at all the Christmas decorations my dad had hung. 

Then it hit me. He was never going to do that again. 

But, let me start from the beginning. 

My parents, friend and I went on holiday to George and Knysna in 2006. We left the day after Christmas and all the decorations were still up. 

We hadn’t had a proper family holiday in a few years, but now we were away and having fun. I was 16, and I never thought anything would happen to make this holiday turn into a nightmare. 

About a week into our stay, we went to Buffels Baai, Knysna, for the day. My family had camped there a couple of times before I was born. While my friend and I were playing in the water, my dad called my siblings who are both much older than I am and married. 

He called them and reminisced about those times all those years ago and told them both that we should do it again as a family. He even teased my sister who, as an adult, is not fond of the idea of sleeping in a tent anymore. Neither of them knew that this would be the last conversation they would have with him.

We left the beach and went back to our accommodation. Later that evening, our neighbours from back home came to join us and would spend two days there before we were all set to return home. 

At least, that’s what was supposed to happen. 

On the second day, we went to Victoria Bay. We swam, ate, and laughed. But the water was turbulent: the waves kept smashing into me to the point where my body was aching because of it. 

So, the parents all decided we would leave that beach, and go to Buffels Baai again. On the way there, we stopped by the beautiful Garden of Eden and had a walk around. Something my mom still finds very significant.

We got there and all the kids were swimming together in the water. Eventually, I got tired, and took a break and sat on the shore. After I while I thought I would have one last dip and then go back up and change before we left. I didn’t realise the tide was changing. 

I got back into the water and, before I knew it, I couldn’t feel the sand under my feet anymore and the shore seemed a lot further away. I panicked. But then I looked up and there was my dad looking at me swimming not realising that anything was wrong. 

I screamed: “Daddy, I can’t get out!”

Without even batting an eyelid, my dad took off his shirt and jumped into the water to try and help me.  “Can’t you get out? “

“No, the water’s too strong.”

“Okay, I’m here now.”

He tried to push me out as I tried my best to try and swim, but it wasn’t helping. Then two men on the beach came to help us as well. They were French lifeguards. They tried to help both of us get out, but my dad told them to help me first. 

Eventually, I managed to get out of the water. My legs were like jelly. I ran up to where our bakkie was parked and told my mom that my dad was in danger. We ran back down to the beach.

By this point, my dad had already slipped behind a rock and was holding on for dear life. The two men were trying to help him, but the water was incredibly strong and my dad was getting really tired. He eventually either let go, or slipped and then he drowned. 

We had phoned the NSRI immediately after I got out of the water, but due to a teenage boy making prank phone calls, they got there 10 minutes later than what they should have. Ten minutes that could have saved my dad’s life. 

The lifeguards jumped in immediately when they got there and looked for him in the choppy, thrashing waters, but couldn’t find him. 

So we resolved to walk along the shore looking if we could find him. My mom and our neighbour walking ahead, myself and my two friends just behind them. 

As we’re walking, my mom starts screaming that she can see him. The lifeguards rushed in, they found him and got him out if the water. They brought him onto the shore where they tried to revive him for what felt like hours, but was probably about 10 minutes.  Eventually, the medic turned to my mom and said: “There’s nothing more we can do,” as they pulled the foil blanket over his lifeless body. 

My mother screamed. A sound that was unhuman. A sound I’d never heard before or since. I think it was the sound of her heart breaking. 

The next day, after my siblings had driven up to join us, we went to identify his body. I didn’t go in. But even from the parking lot outside, I could hear my sister screaming when she saw his body. 

We then drove home in a very sad silence before I unlocked the door and it all hit me. 

My father was a complicated man, but he is a hero. He saved my life. His final act was to make sure that his daughter was okay. That she would survive, even if that meant that he wouldn’t.

Thank you, Dad. I love you.  

Carmen is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and social media manager, and lives in Cape Town.

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