(Watch the corresponding documentary "Help Me Heal")
Sandy Richards is your biggest fan. Whether you are her son, her friend, her neighbor, or just a random person that meets her, she embraces you with loving, motherly energy and roots for you unconditionally. She lights up people’s lives with her incandescent compassion and unequivocal strength. Her social media director, Michelle Capaldi, said it best, “She just makes me feel so inspired every time I am around her, like ‘you’re right I can rule the world!’” That’s what it’s like when you hang out with Sandy. You believe in yourself because she believes in you. She makes you feel like a rock star because she gives you all her love, without expecting anything in return.
I remember the first time I met her. It was March of 2015, a familiarly cold day in Michigan, and we were scheduled to interview Sandy in her home. I wasn’t sure what to expect; all I knew about her was that she was an author and a mom who had lost her oldest son in a car accident when he was 16 years old. Maya Angelou said, "People don’t always remember what you say... but they always remember how you make them feel. This was particularly true when looking back on that day; I don’t recall the exact conversation we had in the first 20 minutes of meeting her, but I absolutely remember how she made me feel. It was like I was walking into the home of my best friends’ mom who I had known for years. Hanging out with Sandy Richards is like stumbling into the coziest, most heart-warming cabin on a cold day. When you walk inside, there just happens to be the most amazing cup of hot chocolate sprinkled with tenderness and wisdom that’s waiting just for you.
Moms are the ultimate givers of the world and Sandy embodies motherhood as she is a giver to all who cross her path. That is truly what makes her radiant. She gives all her joy to those around her. She wants to make sure people feel uplifted and valued, and if someone needs help, Sandy will be there to help them. While interviewing others about Sandy, I heard countless stories of her selflessness and acts of kindness for people, always without expectation of anything in return. There was the story of Sandy hearing about a guy in town who was going through hard times and didn’t have means for transportation to get to work. She made it a mission to be at his door a few times a week to take him to work. Or the story of a random woman who showed up late at an event Sandy was hosting for parents who have lost their children. The event was over and Sandy was walking out of the door to go home. It was late at night, and instead of politely telling the woman that the event was over, Sandy spent the next hour giving her the listening ear she needed.
Kahlil Gibran describes mothers as “our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness.” And that is exactly what Sandy has chosen to be, not only for her son Austin, but for the rest of the world. After Tyler passed away in September 2003, Sandy’s life was shattered and she spiraled into a world of pain and suffering. She couldn’t see how life could be lived with the horrible tragedy of losing her 16 year old son. But the love for her other son, Austin, was what pushed her to make the decision and choose life after years of depression. As she told us in her interview “I finally realized that this is not what I was meant to do. I was not meant to crawl into a ball. I knew I had to do something. I wasn’t sure exactly what that something was until I started writing this book.” So in 2011, she took the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. At first she made the decision as part of her healing process, but she soon discovered that the book might be able to help people who have suffered the loss of a loved one, particularly other grieving parents. “A Far Cry…From Home” is told through her son’s eyes as an angel in heaven. She courageously bounced back and made herself completely vulnerable in order to help other people find hope in the middle of darkness. Her aspiration is that by sharing her story she can be a beam of light to the parents who have lost a child and remind them that life exists in the midst of tragedy. She’s helped hundreds of parents through her book, her speaking engagements, and through corresponding with people who reach out to her.
Sandy brings hope and light wherever she goes. Her impact is incredibly evident in the essence of her two sons. Austin and Tyler are pure reflections of Sandy Richards. From our interviews, we heard the incredible human that Tyler Jordan Richards was when he was on this Earth. We heard he was a friend to everyone in school, his smile would put a smile on your face, and he was there for his friends no matter what. And Austin? He’s one of the most authentic and sweetest 27 year olds that I have ever met. Most of the time when you put a camera in front of a person something about their demeanor changes. With Austin, he was completely unafraid of being vulnerable in front of a camera and two women he had just met. He’s incredibly strong and his capacity to love is indisputable when you meet him. He has a heart of gold, just like his mama.
Sandy lives in in West Bloomfield, MI with her husband, son, and a community of people who feel inspired by her. She wrote one of the stories featured in "Eye of Fear: An Anthology," and is currently working on her first children’s book titled “Grammy Do.” You can purchase “A Far Cry…From Home” online at amazon.com/Far-Cry-Home-Sandy-Richards/dp/1460212894.