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Granger Smith and wife Amber speak out on son's drowning, 1 year later

The parents open up about the loss of their son River, how they’ve found joy after grief and the important role their faith has played in it all.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s been one year since country music star Granger Smith and his wife, Amber, experienced the greatest pain any parent can imagine — the sudden, tragic loss of a child.

In June of 2019, their 3-year-old son, River, died in a drowning accident.

And in an interview that aired on TODAY Wednesday, the couple opened up about their grief, their joy and their faith, as well as their hope that no one else goes through what they have.

(Note: This interview was recorded in March, before U.S. health officials began advising masks and social distancing to combat the spread of coronavirus.)

“I was 20 feet away,” Granger recalled of the day River died. “I was playing gymnastics with my daughter. He was outside of the locked gate with our other son. There wasn’t music playing; there wasn’t any kind of distractions. It was just a quiet, 7 p.m. summer evening. It was so silent. There wasn’t a splash; there wasn’t any kind of call for help. I just saw him. I turned around, and I saw him.”

And the one part that sticks in his mind most, the part that still makes him mad at himself is simply that, “We had a pool and didn’t know that it’s the leading killer.”

For children ages 1 to 4, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death. But even if they had known that, they likely would have thought they were still safe from such a tragedy. After all, River knew how to swim. He’d been swimming in their backyard pool all summer long. However, he wasn’t prepared to swim that evening. He was wearing a diaper, pajamas and shoes.

And according to Amber, that’s an important part for other parents to remember.

“Most of the times it happens when children are not supposed to be swimming,” she said. “People will say, ‘Watch your child,’ but it happens so fast. It’s just it’s so fast, and it’s so quiet. It’s not like you see in the movies, splashing around. It’s just silent.”

Like so many others who’ve suffered similar losses, the Smiths hope their experience can serve as a lesson.

“I would have thought a year ago, supervision — just watch your kids. Just watch them,” Granger said of the advice he would have given himself before River’s death. “And I know now, from my own experience, that no human being on this planet is capable to say that’s enough. Because that requires 24/7. And if you add a gate, that’s not enough. If you add swimming lessons, that’s not enough. Pool alarm, it’s not enough.”

It takes all of that and still something more.

“(If) you take every precaution you can, and you’re well-educated and you know how fast it can be, you’re much better off and you’re much better protected,” he explained.

Since they can’t change what they’ve already lived through, the couple now focuses on going forward, not only with grief and pain, but also with happiness and love.

“Going through the worst of what I hope we ever have to go through, we still have joyful moments,” Amber noted. “We choose to find joy, and you have to.”

Granger stressed that point himself, adding, “You have to choose that. You have to make that decision.”

And they’ve done that for each other and for the sake of their other children, daughter London, 8, and son Lincoln, 6. They’ve even found a way to include River in that joy — by channeling his fearless, adventurous spirit.

“He had a 1,000-plus days on this earth, and he lived them so carefree — bare feet and running with the wind — and can’t we all just live a little more like that?” Granger mused. “A little more in the moment, a little more with the wind.”

And so they use the hashtag #LiveLikeRiv on social media and even recite that line in their daily lives.

“It’s been a great mantra to kind of repeat to myself in the dark days,” Granger said.

Though he also mentioned that life isn’t about dark days. It’s dark moments followed by good moments — a minute-to-minute approach that’s helped them navigate this past year. And another thing that’s helped them is their faith.

“That’s kind of an understatement,” the “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads” singer said. “Having faith in a higher power, it’s the only thing that we’ve been able to hold on to in the darkest times.”