Rebuilding Our Family Pool Has Given Me Reassurance From My Late Son


When my husband joined our family one of the first major projects we undertook was setting up an above ground pool in our backyard. It was small, maybe 12 feet across, but it played a huge part in our family’s summer life. Tim, Tom, LJ and I spent many evenings that first summer splashing together as the sun went down.

A year or two later we upgraded to a higher quality, bigger pool where our swimming shenanigans continued. LJ also designed a deck to go around about a third of the pool, and we worked as a family to build it. Most days some combination of us could be found floating, playing and splashing in the pool. As Tim, our older son, matured, he spent less time with us out there so it was often just Tom, LJ and me. We invented games, splashed each other, floated in silence and bonded during the long summer days. LJ’s children and grandchildren occasionally joined us, bringing barbecue, music and more joy to our home. The pool allowed us all to spend quality time together as one big family.

Of course with a pool comes work. The four of us would work together every May to clean the winter gunk from the small amount of water left in the bottom. We would also set up the outdoor furniture on the deck in preparation for the summer’s activities. We could count on Tom to test and report the chemistry each day, and then LJ would add whatever combination of chemicals was necessary to keep it safe. Even with all of the work, swimming together in our pool was what I looked forward to the most in the summer.

The year Tom died, LJ and I fell into depression as we processed our mid-March loss. May came and went and the pool sat with a few inches of dirty water and decomposing leaves. We did not have the wherewithal to face getting it ready for the summer without the boys’ help. But more-so, we could not imagine the pool bringing us joy in Tom’s absence. A year went by and the pool sat there, a testament to our sadness.

We live in a windy area and the second summer after Tom’s death, a huge gust of wind picked up the nearly empty pool, turned it inside out and dumped it over the top of the raised deck we had built. The pool was ruined – its supports bent out of shape – and we had to deconstruct the frame and cut up the vinyl into pieces small enough to fit into our garbage cans. The yard sat empty for a few years; the weathered deck around an empty space was a gaping reminder of happier times.

This year we decided it was time to put up a pool again. We made the purchase and spent many days and evenings setting it up, as well as providing maintenance to the neglected deck. It was a lot of work, and there is still much to do to return the backyard to the beautiful and inviting space it used to be. But LJ and I have used the pool every night in the last few weeks, often recounting the happy memories from years before as well as talking about everyday things in our lives now. The boys’ absence is palpable, with Tom gone and Tim now a 22-year-old adult living his own life in another town about three hours away.

Yesterday afternoon Tim texted me and asked if the pool was up. I said, “Yes.” Moments later he called and said he and his girlfriend would be coming down for a visit later in the day and to spend the weekend in town. I was thrilled! After they arrived they ate a quick meal and then slid into the 90-degree pool water. We chatted, floated and connected in ways which are not possible with our world’s ever-present technology. It felt right, but not the same as when Tom was with us. The three of us have changed since his death.

As the sun set the evening air turned chillier, but the water did not. It enveloped us in warmth which we found we did not want to escape. The clouds reflected the sunlight and as I looked above me, there was a long, narrow cloud filling the sky above us. It was an intense yellow, a heavenly beacon of reassurance from Tom that he is watching over us and always a part of our lives, even in his absence.

At that moment, I was finally able to enjoy the pool as I had in the past. I was able to joyfully say, “Hello, Tom,” even while the tears streamed down my cheek.

Photo credit:momnoi/Getty Images


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