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 hospital, our house was filled with people and 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 is the second leading cause of death amongst our youth," she emphasizes.
This tragic cause of death is put into perspective by Stephanie. "Each year, the equivalent of three full school buses of children die of suicide in Canada, and many of them show no signs or symptoms beforehand, like Daron. We have the ability to help those kids," urges Stephanie. "Can you imagine if we said we're not going to fix the off-ramp, we're just going to let three bus loads of kids fall off and die without doing anything about it?" she asks. "It just wouldn't happen."
Stephanie is humbled by the community response to DIFD, but she is particularly impressed by the kids who are leading the charge against teen suicide. "The youth in this city are fearless. We have a generation of kids who have become advocates," she notes. "The kids bought in to this issue and they drove it, which is why I think it's been successful."
While DIFD is raising awareness and making a tangible difference, the emotional scars will never fully heal for the Richardson family. They will never have Daron back, and they will never understand why it happened.
"With suicide, there is no legacy," explains Stephanie. "It is so complicated, so emotional, so full of ‘if only' and regrets," she says. "Every story I hear about someone losing their child to suicide is shattering - it is just an endless journey."
Despite the fact that the Richardsons never planned to be on this terrible journey, they intend to stick with it until youth get the help and support that they need. In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children requiring mental health services currently receives them. "We have a lot of work to do as a society," says Stephanie.
Echoing her friend, Kris McGinn offers her thoughts on the journey forward. "I would like to see schools discussing mental health with younger children as part of the health curriculum," she concludes. "I would like to see the day when we are all willing to talk openly about mental illness without stigma, guilt or shame."
Perhaps that will be Daron Richardson's legacy after all.