This article originally appeared in a special report from The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.
On the most tragic day of Stephanie Richardson’s life, a symbol of hope was offered to her, giving her the strength she could not find for herself.
In November of 2010, Stephanie and Luke Richardson tragically lost their 14-year-old daughter, Daron, to suicide. In tribute to Daron, Stephanie, Luke, their daughter Morgan and Daron’s friends created DIFD (Do it for Daron) and began advocating for youth mental health, inspiring conversations, offering education programs and creating helpful mental health apps.
Since its inception, DIFD at The Royal has raised millions of dollars for various programs, research and initiatives, including the Is It Just Me? youth mental health education program, and the initiation of the DIFD Mach-Gaensslen Chair in Suicide Prevention Research. The offerings and awareness of DIFD have grown beyond the Ottawa region, its reach ranging from classrooms and cafes to baseball games and hockey rinks throughout North America.
On that tragic day back in November, there was an act of kindness that Richardson will never forget. As she waited with Daron at the hospital for Luke and Morgan to arrive, a first responder – and one of Ottawa’s exceptional police officers — Insp. Pat Flanagan, waited with her.
“Pat placed something in my hand and then closed it. He looked at me, and told me that I would be OK,” Richardson says. “When I opened my hand, I saw a beautiful medallion. I looked down and realized that he had ripped it off his chain and placed it in my hand.” Flanagan, an executive officer to Ottawa’s chief of police, said his mother had given him that St. Jude medallion in 1998 to protect him while he was on an overseas mission in Bosnia.
“As a police officer, you wear many different hats. But on that day with Stephanie, the hat I wanted to wear was one of support,” says Flanagan. He pulled the medallion from his front breast pocket of his police vest – where he always carried it – because he wanted to give Stephanie something of significance in that moment; something that would help protect her like it did for him.
“St. Jude is the patron Saint of hope, lost causes and desperate cases,” he adds. “Without hope – next to health – we have very little. Stephanie needed that medallion much more than I did.”
Stephanie is so grateful to Pat and all of the courageous first responders who are there for people in their darkest moments. “I’m very passionate about our first responders and military – they show such kindness every single day, to so many people like me who have been devastated,” Richardson says. “Without Pat, I can’t even imagine how I would have made it through that first day. I know we would have been on a different path without his compassion and guidance. We are forever grateful.”
The Richardson family and Flanagan formed a close bond through the years after that tragic day in November. Years later, Richardson offered the medallion back to Flanagan, but he told her to keep it. He said that the medallion “found a home with her.”