On June 4, 2019, country singer Granger Smith and his wife, actress Amber Smith, endured the unimaginable when their young son, River Kelly, unexpectedly passed away. River was just 3 years old when he was playing “water gunfight” with his older brother, as Granger did gymnastics with their only daughter in the year.
As Granger has explained in their many YouTube videos, within minutes of that moment, a moment in which Granger remembered telling himself to take in, River was found in the pool in their backyard by his parents. It’s believed River could have been in the pool anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes.
Sadly, River did not survive falling in the pool, despite the child-proof lock on the gate and knowing how to swim. Now, Granger is opening up one year after his son’s passing and sharing how the events that transpired last year changed him in a new interview with People.
“I feel like I’ve died,” Granger said. “It’s not a bad thing that that ‘me’ died. In fact, I think it’s all good. It’s only good.”
As the father continued, he told People that as a result of “dying,” he feels like he’s “truly shed layers. I feel wiser. I feel more in tune spiritually. I feel more aware of our present moment and the value in the present moment, the value in the current breath that we have.”
But despite learning and growing, that doesn’t mean Granger still isn’t broken as a result of River’s passing. “It’s not like the movies,” he said.
“To comprehend that you could lose someone to drowning 20 feet from you doesn’t make any sense unless you know how that process works and that it’s so silent. There isn’t splashing or gurgling or kicking. There wasn’t even a splash going in.” And there are so many what-ifs.
What if they had a second child-proof lock, what if an alarm sounded the second the lock was unlatched? Would River still be here today?
Although EMTs were able to find a heartbeat after arriving at the home, River had already suffered catastrophic brain damage. The 3-year-old was taken off life support two days later and his organs were donated to two donor recipients. And the sales from t-shirts commemorating his life allowed Granger and Amber to donate $218,000 to the children’s hospital that attempted to save his life.
These are just a few of the steps Granger and Amber have taken in order to find purpose in River’s unexpected passing. And when it comes to forgiving himself, Granger still isn’t there yet.
“I know that there’s going to be a time when I’m going to forgive myself, but I’m not there yet,” he told People before Amber added: “I don’t know if we ever truly will be able to forgive ourselves. I pray that we can. I hope we can.” Their faith, Granger reveals, has been their biggest source of strength.
“My brain is not capable of calculating that magnitude of a loss, and then I have to realize that I don’t have to. I can lean on a higher power for that and know that my little boy is in a better place.”
And although the family has relocated twice since River’s death, they don’t believe they’ll ever find their “forever home” again. “We only really have today,” Granger told People and make the most of the memories happening now.
Sara Vallone has been a writer and editor for the last four and a half years. A graduate of Ohio University, she enjoys celebrity news, sports, and articles that enhance people’s lives.
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