WALLED LAKE — When her 16-year-old son was killed in a car accident in 2003, Sandy Richards was tasked with attempting to put back together the broken pieces of her life.
Grief counseling was not much help; nor was time itself. It wasn’t until Richards stumbled upon the concept of National Novel Writing Month in 2011 that she was able to find a way to work through the rest of the grieving process, as well as keep her promise to her dying son — that his memory would live on forever.
Almost two years later, Richards is debuting her memoir, “A Far Cry … From Home — A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss and Healing — Through the Eyes of an Angel” at Walled Lake Northern High School Sept. 21 — the 10-year anniversary of Tyler’s death.
“I’m nervous, I’m excited and I’m so happy to bring this story to life and share Tyler’s memory,” said Richards, who is also the recreation and enrichment programmer for Walled Lake Schools Community Education.
“It’s just one of the ways I’m honoring the life he lived in 16 short years.”
After school Sept. 20, 2003, Tyler, a junior at Walled Lake Northern High School, was driving his cousin home along Bogie Lake Road when the accident occurred. He had been driving for just three months.
“We’re not sure what happened. He took his eyes off the road for a few seconds and drifted into oncoming traffic,” Richards said.
Tyler’s car collided with a pickup truck carrying a young mother and her baby. The woman broke her pelvis, and the infant suffered bumps and bruises. Tyler’s cousin suffered a broken ankle, but Tyler’s injuries were the greatest. He died at the hospital the following day.
“If it wasn’t for my family, my friends and my faith, there’s no way I would have made it,” his mother recalled.
Tyler, whom Richards de-scribed as “very athletic,” played football and earned his varsity letter in wrestling as a freshman. He was active in his Positive Peer Influence class, in which students try to help others who are struggling with any number of issues before they require intervention from a teacher or administrator.
“He absolutely loved that class. People seemed to gravitate towards him and talk to him. He was very easy to talk to,” she said.
“Tyler’s friends absolutely got me through it with their strength and support for me. They would text me, call me, stop by. They were always there to support me and make sure I didn’t have any bad days … although I still have bad days.”
For years, Richards, who has a passion for writing, had been searching for a way to tell the story of her family’s grief. She would begin writing and then stop — “It just wasn’t coming together,” she said.
In 2011, she was online searching for a creative writing class when she discovered the National Novel Writing Month Challenge, and she was instantly intrigued.
National Novel Writing Month challenges participants to write a 50,000-word novel in one month by composing at least 1,667 words a day for 30 consecutive days.
“I took it as an opportunity to challenge myself, and because you have to write so much per day, it really got me into the habit,” she said.
“People find out you’re doing it and ask you about it every day — did you get to your limit? It re-inforces you and holds you accountable.”
Although Richards began the memoir as the primary narrator, she decided to switch it up halfway through and let Tyler do the talking.
“He’s sharing my journal entries; he’s sharing what I believe he saw and felt at the accident scene, at the hospital, at the funeral home,” she said.
“In the years that have passed, it is Tyler who tells what he has seen, as far as the growth, healing and transformation that not only himself but his brother has gone through.”
She spent the following year fine-tuning her manuscript before having it professionally edited, and then collaborated with Friessen Press in Vancouver to self-publish the book. A portion of the sales of each book will go to the Tyler Richards Legacy Scholarship fund for WLNHS.
Tim Lynch Jr. of Lynch & Sons Funeral Directors in Walled Lake said he was “privileged” to write the forward for Richards’ memoir.
“It was very useful in helping with her grief, and I think, in turn, it will help others through similar experiences,” Lynch said.
“She takes us through her journey step by step as to what happened, what she was feeling and how she has coped with it since, and she does it in a different way, through third-party narrative. She did a very nice job.”
The memoir also includes poems and snippets of the cards, messages and other means of support that Tyler’s friends shared with her in the aftermath of the accident. Richards hopes that her words will help other families who are struggling through the grieving process.
“They talk about the five stages of grief: depression and anger, bargaining, denial and acceptance. I think when I began the memoir, I was still at the anger part. You hold a lot of anger, and you do a lot of bargaining every day,” she recalled.
“Every day, you ask, ‘If I do this, will you bring him back? If this happens, will you bring him back?’ By putting it into words, I was able to get rid of some of the anger, come to grips with the bargaining and work through the denial.”
Richards decided to hold her book launch at WLNHS because of all of the fond memories she has of Tyler and his brother, Austin, there.
“They held a large vigil there the night after his accident, and so it’s kind of like going home, in a sense,” she said.
“I thought it was important to make sure it was launched on the anniversary of that day, and at that school. It’s just one of those mom things.”
“A Far Cry … From Home — a Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss and Healing — Through the Eyes of an Angel” will be on sale 1-4 p.m. Sept. 21 at Walled Lake Northern High School, 6000 Bogie Lake Road in Commerce Township. The event is free and open to the public.
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