By: GARRETT BARRY
The last text messages Erica McCarney got from her friend Daron Richardson were not particularly unusual.
Daron had gotten her hair cut, shorter this time than normal. Erica remembers noting that Daron did not like having short hair, but she did not think much of it.
It was habit for Erica to clear her phone inbox, though now she wishes she saved that conversation.
Later that day, Nov. 12, 2010, Daron would try to take her life in an attempted suicide. She died the next morning from the resulting injuries.
Erica and Daron were both 14. They played on the same hockey team – the Ottawa Senators junior girls team, attended camp together, and even vacationed together.
All before “it” happened.
For Erica and the rest of the Ottawa Senators junior girls team, the task since then has been to move forward as best they can.
“Everyday is a reminder,” Erica said. “Every day the bracelet is on your wrist. Every day you think of her.”
Before the suicide, Erica says that her and her friends did not think much about mental health, and certainly not in relation to Daron, who Erica remembers as cheerful, talkative and loved to dance.
“We never would have known,” she said.
Erica and her teammates had a hard time understanding that Daron was gone
“It did not sink in for like a month, you know? It didn’t feel real,” she said. “We’d go to practice and we’d feel like ‘Oh she’s just sick,’ or just on vacation.
“You would wake up every morning hoping she’s coming back.”
For Erica, now 16, the hockey team is the strongest support group she has. Mostly, the team is made up with girls who knew and played with Daron. As the team realized Daron could not come back, they started working to help others like her.
Since Daron’s death, Erica has become involved with mental health projects in schools and around Ottawa. It started with selling small stickers and bracelets with Daron’s name. Last week, she signed up with the Do It For Daron fundraising group at The Royal, a mental health centre in Ottawa.
Erica says that becoming involved with the charities has helped her understand and cope with the loss of her friend.
“[This is] not a dream,” she said. “I have to do something about it. I can save other people’s lives by making them have the conversation instead of suffering in silence.”
“Before, I didn’t really think about what the words ‘faith,’ and ‘hope’ and ‘courage’ actually meant. And now, when I think of it, I think that there is hope, and it is going to get better.”
That doesn’t mean Erica doesn’t still miss her friend. She copes by working hard at school, her hockey team, and just remembering.
“Somedays you almost feel like it’s better to sit down and do nothing. But then you realize what Daron would want you to do – she doesn’t want you to do that, she wants you to be happy, play the game and work hard,” Erica said.
“I know she would be proud of me.”