Opening the door to heal­ing

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - LIVING GIVING BACK - Writ­ten by CATHER­INE CLARK Pho­tog­ra­phy by MARK HOLLERON

Stephanie and Luke Richard­son could never have imag­ined that their bright, fun lov­ing, 14-year-old daugh­ter Daron would die from sui­cide. But when she did, the out­pour­ing of sor­row and com­pas­sion from peo­ple across North Amer­ica was matched only by the grace and dig­nity shown by Daron’s fam­ily in the dev­as­tat­ing af­ter­math of her death.

Luke, Stephanie and their daugh­ter Mor­gan coped by do­ing what was nat­u­ral for them – they let friends and fam­ily into their home and into their lives. They have al­ways had an open door pol­icy, no mat­ter where they lived dur­ing Luke’s ex­ten­sive NHL ca­reer. In fact, their home has been a gath­er­ing place for so long that a young Daron de­signed a sign telling peo­ple to “come on in.”

Af­ter Daron’s death, her mother put that sign back on the door, where it has stayed as an in­di­ca­tor to mourn­ing vis­i­tors that they are al­ways wel­come. “When we got back from the KRsSLWDO, Rur KRusH wDs fiOOHG wLWK SHRSOH DnG food,” re­calls Stephanie. And it con­tin­ued that way for months.

“I couldn’t walk, it was months be­fore I drove a car again, my friends had to bathe and dress me,” re­mem­bers Stephanie of the dark days that fol­lowed her youngest child’s death. “Our com­mu­nity was so lov­ing, it felt like one great big em­brace – for us and for Mor­gan. All we felt was com­pas­sion.”

But the com­mu­nity wanted more than just to of­fer com­pas­sion – they wanted to make a real change, and many things be­gan to hap­pen at once. Ini­tially, do­na­tions poured in for The Daron Fund, which the fam­ily had set up at the Royal Ottawa Hos­pi­tal Foun­da­tion for Men­tal Health.

At the same time, three of Daron’s clos­est friends cre­ated stick­ers to be worn on hockey hel­mets in her memory. Soon, a local mom be­gan mak­ing and sell­ing bracelets to raise aware­ness and money for sui­cide preven­tion. And an­other mom be­gan de­sign­ing pins that con­tinue to be sold by the Royal Ottawa Hos­pi­tal to this day.

Daron’s death be­came a cat­a­lyst for a dis­cus­sion about youth men­tal health that des­per­ately needed to take place, and a move­ment was born. Called DIFD – short for Do It For Daron – it is a move­ment that has for­ever changed how peo­ple of all ages in East­ern On­tario, and across the coun­try, think and talk about teen sui­cide and men­tal health.

“When Daron took her life it was an awak­en­ing for all of us be­cause we could re­late,” notes Kris McGinn, a friend of the fam­ily and now Chair of the DIFD Fund at the Royal Ottawa Hos­pi­tal. “If this could hap­pen to the Richard­sons, this could hap­pen to any of us.” The facts sup­port McGinn on that. “Sui­cide

Our com­mu­nity was so lov­ing, it felt like one great big em­brace — for us and for Mor­gan — all we felt was com­pas­sion.

— Stephanie Richard­son

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