What would you do if you had a second chance at life after a truly negative experience?
Would you live life differently?
For me, the answer is yes.
How do I know that? I know it, because I have done it.
Today is the one year anniversary of the day I almost died.
Here is the story of that day that I thought would be the end of my life… and the 3 main lessons that I learned from it.
Let’s go back in time to Sunday, May 28, 2017.
It started out like any other Sunday of a holiday weekend.
The day was filled with promise. The sky was clear, and as I looked out of the window, I could see the sun glistening off the clear sheen of the water.
We had had a lot of rain recently, which made the beautiful day even more appealing. A group of us decided to go for a quick kayaking excursion.
We were lucky that the house had direct access to a body of water in Clinton that not many people could get to. As we glided our kayaks across the smooth water, I thought to myself how lucky I was to be able to enjoy such a peaceful and wonderful time with people I cared about.
Little did I know in just 30 short minutes I would make a seemingly harmless, but near fatal, decision.
We kayaked around the pond, and finally over to the bridge and the waterfall… something I had done dozens of time before. There is a wall/barrier that in the past allowed us to bump up against the barrier and look down the 30 foot waterfall. I carelessly thought that it was not possible for a kayak to pass over the wall barrier. What I didn’t take into account was the fact that all the recent rain had made the water level 5 inches higher.
I kayaked up to the barrier. This time was different! As I got closer to the waterfall, I noticed that the water was rushing faster than I was used to. My friends yelled at me to slow down… and I couldn’t gain control of my kayak!
I used my paddle to try to push off the wall. But my kayak started to go over, and I was in disbelief!
As my kayak went over, I jumped out! I grabbed onto the wall desperately trying to hang on! But the wall was too slippery. My fingers slipped off the wall, and I knew in that moment I was going over!
In those few seconds, I truly thought I was going to die! I had never experienced that kind of terror. It seemed as if life was passing by in slow motion as I began to go over the top of the falls.
I thought to myself, “This is it. I never thought it would happen to me, but this is it.” And then I thought about how amazing my life is and how I wasn’t going to give up without giving everything I had in me to survive. I knew I had to land on my feet, like a cat!
Miraculously, I hit the bottom of the falls and realized I was still alive! I happened to have landed in just the right 5 foot wide area… the only area without rocks and sticks.
But I was not yet out of the woods (or out of the water).
I caught up to my kayak and tried to get in, but couldn’t. And I realized I had a deep cut in my foot.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, my friends yelled down to my boyfriend’s best friend, Rich, who just happened to be walking down near the area where I fell. They yelled down to him “Deanna went over!”
Rich later told me that he panicked when he heard that.
He did not think that anyone could survive that fall.
He imagined having to tell my boyfriend that the woman he loves was gone.
He knew, if I survived the fall, that he may be my only chance to be rescued. He ran around 3 buildings and lept over an 8 foot high fence to make it down into the river.
He could not see me, and was petrified about what he would find. Then he heard my “blood curdling” scream. Normally hearing someone scream like that would have given him chills. But in this instance, my screams were, in his words, “music to his ears.”
As Rich pulled me towards the shore bank, I remember looking over at the waterfall. I pointed at it said “Wow, I survived THAT?! I can survive anything!”
There were 2 firetrucks, some police cars and an ambulance waiting for us.
I thought to myself “amazing! What a coincidence that they all happen to be here right when I need help.”
I found out later that they all rushed to the scene as soon as they got the call from my friends that I had gone over the falls. No one had ever fallen down those falls before. They thought they were there to pull a body out.
The ambulance brought me to the hospital. It turned out all I had suffered was a cut on my foot that needed 7 stitches. As different medical professionals entered the room over the course of the next few hours, they all said “YOU’RE the one who went over the waterfall?!”
I realized how lucky I was to have survived a 30 foot fall (which is actually 3 stories). They said anything over 1 story is high risk.
Here are the 3 main lessons I learned from my accident:
Lesson #1. Check the water level (i.e. Don’t make assumptions)
Don’t assume you know how something is going to be based on past experience or what you think you know. The recent rain had made the water level 5 inches higher than normal. And I assumed it would be as it always had been… which was a near fatal assumption. Had I been observant and recognized that the water level was higher than normal, I never would have gone near the falls, let alone approached it without caution.
Lesson #2. Live in and fully appreciate the present.
Life is precious and finite. And you never know when it will end for you.
I’ve never been as mindful of that as I was after my accident.
I had a second chance at life. And I knew I would be grateful and always make it a point to live in the present.
The first week after my accident, though, was not easy.
I had been reliving my accident and the moment when I went over the falls thinking my life was going to be over in a matter of seconds.
I would go back to that moment of terror. And it kept happening out of nowhere…. sitting on the couch watching TV with my boyfriend, spending time with friends who came over to visit me as I was recuperating, and even in the middle of conference calls with colleagues.
The turning point was 8 days after my accident. I was looking at Facebook and came across an article on ThriveGlobal by Drake Baer: How Psychologists Treat the Kind of Thinking that Leads to Depression .
Reading this article on rumination was a turning point for me.
The article says that rehashing negative experiences is just how humans are built: our brains tag difficult times as significant experiences, and they get replayed in our memory.
There is nothing negative about simply reflecting on past experiences. This is how we can learn and mature.
However, negativity arises when we dwell on a situation repeatedly with no real intention to learn from it and move on.
I realized in that moment that I was reliving the experience and feeling the terror of my accident. And that I could look at the experience in a different light.
My advice is to reframe your experiences and look at them in a new, gift-giving light.
You can live with something and take with you the lessons you learned without having to relive it.
You can live WITH something that happened to you, without having to keep living THROUGH it
Taking the lessons I learned from my accident, I started kayaking again as soon as the doctors gave their OK.
About 2 months after my accident, I competed in a triathlon with friends, and I did the kayaking portion!
Don’t put off what is important to you.
You may think you have forever to accomplish your dreams, but the reality is that you do not.
Be courageous and take bold action toward achieving what is most important to you.
Lesson #3. Practice gratitude
Be appreciative of what you have.
Gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it doesn’t take much time… and the benefits can be huge. Research reveals gratitude can have MANY benefits, with just a few of them including increased happiness, improved health, greater self-esteem.
Here’s a great article on the benefits of gratitude from HappierHuman.com: The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life.
One of the things I am most grateful for are my two teenage sons.
My youngest son, Ryan, just turned 14 years old. I am mindful of how quickly times goes by… we have a finite amount of time with our loved ones and to accomplish our goals in life.
I also am grateful for the amazing life that I get to lead… the ability to use my experience of divorce to develop programs that are making a huge difference for others.
My goal is to make a difference in as many people’s lives as possible. And for others to benefit from what I have learned in my life, including my divorce… and even near fatal accidents!
Deanna Coyle is an entrepreneur, speaker, former financial professional, and divorced mother of two wonderful teenage sons. After going through a long financially and emotionally draining divorce, Deanna founded Vesta, which provides educational and social events and retreats, trusted resources and a supportive community to help people navigate life before, during and after divorce with confidence. Deanna welcomes people to reach out to her directly for information or support at 508-744-6014 or Team@VestaDivorce.com. To keep current on informative and social events hosted by Vesta, like us at Facebook.com/VestaDivorce.