Pat L’Hirondelle held his wife’s hand and ran his fingers through her damp blonde hair as he said goodbye one last time.
“It’s the worst possible thing that could have happened, losing my Debbie,” L’Hirondelle said. “It broke my heart to say goodbye to her.”
Debbie Lee-Victoria L’Hirondelle, 52, drowned while on vacation in Hawaii on Aug. 21, a week short of the Edmonton couple’s 30th anniversary.
The couple had been on a Hawaiian cruise for their 25th wedding anniversary and couldn’t wait to return on a 10-day trip to Maui.
On the third day of vacation, they rented snorkeling gear and spent the morning exploring the waters of Keawakapu Beach.
They were swimming on the edge of a reef, watching tropical fish and sea turtles when L’Hirondelle, tired from swimming, decided to turn back toward shore.
He told his wife he was heading back and she promised to follow, he said.
“She said, ‘Okay, I’m right behind you.’ “
Those would be her last words to him.
When L’Hirondelle turned around, she was nowhere to be seen.
“I looked around and I couldn’t see her,” L’Hirondelle said. “And then I saw her, and I wondered why in the heck is she swimming so close to the rocks?
“And then — oh my God, oh my God — all of a sudden I realized she was floating upside down with no gear on.
“So I go right over those rocks as fast as I could to grab her and I got to her and I flipped her over. I know CPR but you can’t do CPR on the water. I couldn’t get her out of the water fast enough.”
L’Hirondelle screamed for help, while trying desperately to drag his wife into shore.
Some fellow swimmers pulled Debbie L’Hirondelle onto a paddleboard and brought her to the beach. A doctor, two nurses and a firefighter — all who happened to be on vacation — began performing CPR.
Paramedics arrived a few minutes later, again attempted to revive her.
‘I couldn’t bear to say it’
Nearly an hour passed but to Pat L’Hirondelle, it felt like only an instant.
Then he was asked to make the most agonizing decision of his life.
His wife was showing no signs of recovery and the paramedics wanted to halt their efforts to save her.
His legs buckled and a nurse grabbed his hand.
“My heart, my heart,” said L’Hirondelle. “I could have sworn I’d only been on the beach for 10 minutes. The drops in time…