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Yves Pilotte was the first to die. On Aug. 1, the 44-year-old firefighter from the eastern Quebec village of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes went swimming with his two teenage children at Cavendish Beach in Prince Edward Island National Park.

A riptide warning had been broadcast on the radio but RCMP investigators surmised the Pilotte family likely had not heard it at their campground in the park.

When Mr. Pilotte's 15-year-old son began having trouble in the water, his father went immediately to his aid. The boy made it safely back to the beach but Mr. Pilotte lacked the strength to fight the current and was swept away.

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Riptides are powerful, constricted currents flowing outward from the shore. Swimmers are advised to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current's path rather than attempting to struggle against it.

Mr. Pilotte, a vibrant man actively engaged in his community, was pulled ashore a short time later and died in hospital.

It is one of the unspeakable horror stories of family life - the parent who dies trying to save a child, the parent who dies in front of his children. It has happened three times in Canada this month.

Three fathers have drowned.

Their deaths lead to questions about how children cope with the trauma of seeing a parent die, of knowing that a parent died so they could live.

They also raise questions about what makes a parent instantly risk her or his life to save a child.

Perry Adler, professor of family medicine at McGill University, suggested that parents rehearse the sacrificial act many times in their minds as they raise their children - fantasize about it - and so are ready to do it when the time comes.

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It could be biological, he said. "We do everything we can to survive. We try to do everything for our species to survive."

Benjie Correos, 45, of Whitehorse, and Scott Davis, 38, from the village of Arnstein near North Bay, Ont., drowned on the same day, Aug. 16.

Mr. Correos, an artist and carpenter, was on an outing with his family on the Millennium Trail that runs alongside the Yukon River.

According to police reports, he was fishing when his seven-year-old son Myles, playing nearby, slipped and fell into the river's swollen, fast-moving water.

Both Mr. Correos and his wife Josephine went in after him. Ms. Correos could not get by large rocks but her husband was able to grab on to Myles and hold his head up.

However, he could not get free of the undertow. Two other men jumped into the river and were able to pull Myles to safety but Mr. Correos disappeared.

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His body was found Wednesday.

He had come to the Yukon on a journey of love. He met Josephine - Josie - when she was holidaying in the Philippines.

He renewed their relationship five years later when the cruise ship he was working on arrived in nearby Skagway, Alaska. Soon after they married and Mr. Correos came to live in Whitehorse.

"He was the kind of person who always put himself last and he loved kids very much," his wife said in tribute to him yesterday.

His three children - Joy, 24, Bonna, 22, and Myles - sent an e-mail to The Globe and Mail listing "what we love and miss" about their father.

"Not just a father but a daddy," wrote Myles.

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Scott Davis drowned after lying to his wife Tanya Waldriff.

The couple, who own and operate the Arnstein Garage, and Mr. Davis's children, Kayla, 15, and Joey, 14, had rented a cottage on PEI's northwest coast near Freeland in Prince County.

Late in the afternoon, they went into the ocean to play - jumping over the high waves - and Mr. Davis got caught in a riptide.

"There's something wrong," he called out, and warned the children away.

Ms. Waldriff, a strong swimmer, immediately went to her husband's aid, struggling to hold him up and repeatedly telling him he had to survive for the sake of the children. Mr. Davis, in response, urged his wife to save herself.

When she refused to let go of him, he told her he was okay and that he could touch bottom. Ms. Waldriff let go.

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She then realized she was nowhere near being able to touch bottom, but before she could grab her husband again he was swept away from her.

She related her last conversation with him to Holly Henderson, a Kingston, Ont., realtor visiting her family in PEI, who pulled her to safety. Mr. Davis's body was found a few hours later.

What emotional scarring is done to children?

Jean-Victor Wittenberg, head of the infant psychiatry program at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, said there is no one answer, that it will depend on the ages of the children, their relationship with their father before his death and how the family labels and talks about the event - either positively (your father died because he loved you) or negatively (your father died because of you).

He said it may also depend on what happens to the family afterward, whether it is hurt economically by the father's death, with all the attendant stress of being closer to poverty.

Dr. Adler, who is also a specialist in child and adolescent depression and anxiety, said any loss of a parent is a huge blow to a child, especially when the death is sudden and there is no opportunity for the child or adolescent to prepare.

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He said in many cases the child feels under tremendous pressure "to do right" by her or his father because of the sacrifice the father made.

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