Caitrin Bennett recounts an experience with emergency and death that helped her see the quiet heroism in her motherhood.
In early June, my extended family spent a week at the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This cherished tradition stretches back before I was even born. Family beach week has been even more special for me the past few years, because I have been able to share the experience with my own children.
One morning, my husband, my aunt, my three young children and I were down at the shore, chatting and playing in the sand. Suddenly, we heard a teenaged boy shouting from the waves: “Help, somebody help!” A wave’s length behind him, a middle-aged man (his father?) was struggling to support an older man (his grandfather?).
“Help, somebody!” There was an edge to the boy’s voice that made everyone nearby spring into action instantaneously.
My husband and several others ran into the ocean to help pull the older man on to dry land. My aunt was quickly at the side of the man’s daughter, who was sobbing and screaming hysterically. She wrapped her arm around the woman and spoke gently to calm her. Other bystanders ran for cell phones to call 911, or down the beach access ramp to meet the EMTs when they arrived.
Between my small size and poor swimming skills, I was not the right person to help the man out of the water. I hadn’t even brought my cell phone down to the beach that day. For one fleeting moment, I felt lost. What was my role here? Where was my place?
But it quickly dawned on me that my place in this emergency was the same place I hold in all the more mundane moments of each passing day. My place was with my children.
I gathered my 2-, 4-, and 6-year-olds, and we huddled together on our beach blanket. I kept them out of the way of the lifeguards and EMTs. I kept them far enough back that they could not see any of the more upsetting details of the attempted rescue. I kept them right in my arms, where I knew they were safe despite the hubbub around us. And there, confused and frightened and sandy, we prayed for this man whom we had never met.
Unable to string together coherent phrases of my own, I let the familiar words of the Hail Mary and the Our Father shape my lips again and again. My 6-year-old, and occasionally my 4-year-old, recited the prayers with me as more medical personnel arrived to help and more family members ran to the scene in tears. After some twenty minutes, our prayers fell to whispers as the man was taken from the shore on a stretcher and the scene slowly cleared of people and equipment.
Finally, I led my children home for lunch and naptime, just like any other day. They were convinced that the man would be OK because he was with the doctors now. My husband and I smiled and nodded, choking back tears and the darker understanding of what we had just witnessed. When we checked the local news the next day, the man’s death was the first story on the page. My children will never know.
In an emergency situation, part of me wanted to play a new role—a heroic role. But in these years of raising young children, I have to accept that my role is the same no matter how exciting or mundane the situation around me. I am my children’s protector, day in and day out, and there is a quiet heroism in that, too.
Copyright 2023 Caitrin Bennett
About the Author
Caitrin Bennett is a military wife and homeschooling mama of three young children. Her blog at HolierMatrimony.com combines two of her passions: sharing the Church’s beautiful teachings on marriage, and creative writing. Caitrin hopes to one day publish her own book on married saints and Catholic marriage.