Thomas Blanton knows from experience that the first days are the worst days for a family after a child dies suddenly, but that responsibility to survivors provides the drive to keep going.
Blanton's 2-year-old daughter Kimberly drowned after falling into the backyard pool at his family's La Cañada Flintridge home in April 2001. This week, he reflected on his experience in the wake of the drowning of Emily Fu, 6, at her La Cañada home on Memorial Day.
“The first couple years were real rough, and as time goes by, time does heal wounds somewhat,” Blanton said.
“It's gotten easier, but it's not something you get away from ever. When you've got a family and you miss a piece, it's always missing.”
Blanton and his wife, Millie, who had four children, divorced two years after the accident. She and their two youngest children moved back to the Midwest to be near her family.
He said he found strength in the need to support those who depended on him, primarily his three children but also the employees of his cleaning company.
“I had three other kids, so you didn't have the luxury of crashing,” Blanton said.
Blanton added that support groups and literature on coping with loss and its aftermath helped him and other family members.
Blanton's eldest, a son, has since graduated from USC. Another son is at college in Missouri, and his daughter, the youngest, is doing well at Hillsdale College in Michigan, he said.
Emily Fu's older brother pulled her from the pool on Monday.
The accident took place during an annual Memorial Day block party on Indianola Way.
Although Fu's death is the first such incident in La Cañada in the decade since Kimberly Blanton drowned, drowning is the No. 1 cause of death in children under 5, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
More than 50% of these drownings take place in the child's home pool, and about 75% occur during a lapse of parental supervision of five minutes or less.
Assistant Fire Chief Bill Niccum said these accidents often happen quickly and without drawing parents' attention because very young children tend not to thrash around or call out when they fall into the water.
Recommended safety measures include installing a pool cover, especially for when the pool is not in regular use, or a fence, ideally 48 inches high, with a safety latch on the gate. Another option is to install a motion-detecting pool alarm.
Niccum said some parents looking to increase safety at parties and other gatherings with young children hire lifeguards.
Blanton said the desire to have done something more still weighs on his mind.
“I wish we'd had either a fence or one of those float alarms, so it's a woulda, shoulda, coulda,” he said.
Blanton carries that day with him, and says he always will. “It's not a good feeling…. There's not much you can do but get through it.”