Daron Richardson’s legacy is coloured purple, wears braces and Ugg boots, and refuses to be silent to the preventable tragedy that is suicide.
In honour of Daron Richardson, who took her own life last November, friends such as Cydney Roesler, 16, at right, and others, from left, Logan Watson, 14; Rebecca Watson, 15; Meghan Carty, 15; Paige Watson, 18; and Hannah Driver, 15, organized a day of remembrance at South Carleton High School.
Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday was Do it For Daron day, the 15th birthday she will never celebrate. That it reached the floor of the House of Commons — purple sprouting from the country’s most cantankerous crew — speaks to the way her death has jarred eyes and ears.
At South Carleton High School in Richmond, a group of students spent their lunch-hour at a side table covered in black, selling purple Daron wristbands for $5, the money going to suicide prevention. It was a scene repeated in many venues, as more than 200 schools, teams, workplaces and community groups registered to raise money and spread the word.
If one school is any indication, this is a battle that will be fought largely by an army of young women, determined not to let their sisters, brothers, friends, suffer in silence.
“It came as such a shock,” said Paige Watson, 18, a Grade 12 student who was at the Daron table.
“A lot of people think that if you don’t talk about mental illness, it’s not there. Or if you do, it will only make it worse.”
The Watson family has a deep connection to the tragedy. Mother Kelly is a good friend of Stephanie Richardson, Daron’s mother, and their daughters played hockey together.
It has often been remarked that Daron, only 14 when she took her life in November, had so much going for her: a beautiful, popular girl from a well-respected family, athletic, with the benefit of attending private school.
“It just shows that it’s masked,” responded Paige. “You don’t see it.”
There was much purple on display at Ashbury College, Daron’s school, the site of several memorial services on Tuesday.
Roshene Lawson, a chaplain at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, delivered a message to the students, conveying the feelings of the Richardson family.
“In the midst of their pain and, I can assure you, there is no worse pain than the loss of a child you love, in the midst of their pain, Daron’s parents and her sister, Morgan, were worried about all of you,” the chaplain said, according to a transcript.
“They want all of you to know that today is an important day for them not only because it’s the day their daughter was born, but that her life had purpose and her death must have meaning. If they can believe this in the midst of their pain, then surely we can find a way to move forward and ensure that we break the silence about suicide and mental illness.
“That people who feel alone and afraid have somewhere to go to, and someone to reach out to, rather than thinking there is no hope. This is why they created Purple Pledge Day.”
South Carleton, with 1,340 students, has been particularly involved in the Daron day, possibly spurred by the suicide of a student in September.
In the aftermath, there were visits by crisis intervention staff, a parent information night and a presentation to staff by a Royal Ottawa expert.
The Richardson suicide only drove home the idea that something more had to be done.
“There are a lot of connections here,” said principal Trudy Garland. “I think the students needed to feel like they were giving back. It’s as though it was part of their healing process.”
She was impressed at the “grassroots” effort to make Daron day work.
Cydney Roesler, 16, a Grade 11 student, is also closely connected to the Richardson family. She is coached by Luke, is a good friend of Morgan’s, and thought of Daron as a “younger sister.”
She was on the road with her hockey team when she heard. “It was just like total disbelief,” she said. “Like they had made a mistake or something.”
Cydney said she wanted to help with the Daron campaign as a way to show support for the Richardson family, to honour her lost friend and to play a small part in preventing further tragedies.
About two dozen MPs wore purple in the House Tuesday, including David McGuinty and Pierre Poilievre, who read statements about Daron before question period. The NDP, meanwhile, repeated a call for a national suicide prevention strategy.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24. Adolescence is also recognized as the time for the onset of serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression.
About five per cent of males and 12 per cent of females report a significant episode of depression by the time they reach young adulthood. Studies indicate that about half of young men who have suicidal thoughts never tell anyone.
For more information about suicide prevention or to make a pledge, please go to the Royal Ottawa’s website, www.rohcg.on.ca and follow the prompts.
To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896, or email email@example.com
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