In 2019, inside Dell Children’s Medical Center where their 3-year-old son, River, was being treated after he drowned inside the family's pool outside their Texas home, Smith and Bartlett were told there was "zero chance" their son "was going to live."
"We asked for a second opinion," Smith tells TODAY.com. "The second crew came in and said: 'Yes, we confirm this.' Sympathetically of course, they told us: 'There is no chance.'"
So Smith and his wife walked outside to a "little serenity garden that they had at the hospital," Smith says, "with flowers and streams and water features."
"We sat out there just dumbfounded," he continues. "Then we just looked at each other and we knew the statistics — we knew that couples don't make it. The odds are against us. The world is completely against us, and people are mean and they will perpetuate this."
Since he knew that the couple would grieve in "different cycles," Smith says he was aware that it would be "really easy to call each other out on it or get frustrated."
"So we made an agreement, right then — it was like, almost, a business agreement," Smith says. "It was like: 'OK, we're going to do this. The world is going to come at us; we're going to feel terrible; we have huge obstacles, but we are not going to split. We have to make this agreement for the other two kids — for, at least, the other two."
Around 24 hours prior, Smith says his youngest, River, was enjoying a water fight with his older brother, Lincoln, while Smith was practicing some gymnastics with his daughter, London.
While Smith had his back turned, River managed to squeeze through the gate surrounding the family pool in an attempt to refill his water gun.
Shortly after, the 3-year-old fell in.
Two days later, the child died — his family choosing to donate his organs.
"I have to give credit to Amber," Smith says of the couple's ability to stay together despite their both personal and forever-intwined grief.
"I was the one with River. I was in the backyard with him when he went into the pool," the musician, who recently left country music to devote his life to ministry work and has since published a memoir detailing the death of his son and his journey towards healing, continues.
"She could have at any moment said: 'How dare you do this to our boy? How could you have turned your back on our baby?' Easily, in her deepest and darkest moments of anger or guilt or depression she could have said: 'It was you in the backyard," Smith says.
"She never did — not once. Ever. And if she did once — if she had slipped in her worst, darkest moment — one time — that could have put a slice in me that was irreparable in my soul," he adds.
"That might have been the thing that split us up forever — she didn't do that."
Smith's wife, Amber Bartlett, says that the only reason she didn't allow herself to unreasonably blame her husband is "by the grace of God."
"I just never felt that," Bartlett tells TODAY.com. "This wasn't something that he did or something that I didn't do — we're a couple. How could I ever put blame on him?
"In our human flesh, that's what we tend to do," the mom of four, who gave birth to the couple's fourth child, Maverick, three years after River passed, adds.
"I just didn't. I didn't have an answer as to 'why?'" she continues. "He's my husband and I love him so much. We're both walking through the exact same grief."