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Man sets out on 35-day quest to honor his brother's life in an incredibly creative way

Posted August 17

Just before turning 35 last month, Jordan Richard found himself suddenly asking some deep and reflective questions about how he was living his life.

"I felt a strange conviction that my life had become routine, stale and somewhat predictable," he told Deseret News.

The central question he found himself asking: "How have I taken life for granted?"

Those existential thoughts formed the collective catalyst that led Richard, a live TV director and lay pastor at Gallery Church in New York City, to embark on a 35-day journey to honor his brother, Justin, who committed suicide at the age of 25.

Richard suddenly felt as though he was too much a "creature of habit," so he launched "The 35 by 35 Challenge" — a personal journey to challenge himself to live life to the fullest while honoring his brother's memory.

"(I decided to) have a new experience every day starting 35 days out from my birthday, record these experiences, and create a video that would honor Justin's memory," Richard said. "I hoped the video would inspire others and help raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention."

So, each day leading up to Richard's July 30 birthday, he dove into an entirely new experience, filming the process along the way. His diverse antics included joining Instagram, skateboarding at a skate park, parasailing, doing rooftop yoga and learning to DJ, among other more benign feats.

But Richard also decided to try some more adventurous activities like taking a sword class, eating grasshopper tacos — and diving with sharks.

Watch his incredible journey here.

Richard's central goal was to honor Justin's memory, with the video helping him raise more than $4,200, which was above and beyond his $3,500 goal. He said the money will be used to empower the AFSP "to be agents of hope" and to help prevent future suicides.

After reaching his goal, Richard said he's grateful for the generosity of so many, though he admitted sharing his brother's story isn't an easy task.

"Talking about losing someone to suicide is difficult. There's a dark cloud over the word," Richard said. "It still is emotionally taxing for me to share, but telling Justin's story keeps his memory alive."

He detailed fond memories of his brother, who was the firstborn in the family, recalling how Justin "loved to laugh," was incredibly unselfish, enjoyed football — and reportedly once sacked the now-famed NFL quarterback Eli Manning during a high school playoff game.

When asked how Justin's death affected his family, Richard said that "the one word that continues to come to mind is 'devastation.'" As it turns out, suicide was something that his family was more than familiar with.

"In 1980, two weeks before Justin was born, my uncle Robert jumped off the Mississippi Bridge," he said. "Suicide has taken two precious, young men in my family. They were brothers and sons."

Richard said that another one of his brothers still struggles with depression and has considered suicide, but has told Richard that he would never be able to take his life after seeing the emotional impact Justin's death had on the family.

"When Justin took his life, he took something from our family that we can never get back. He will never know my wife. He will never know my future children," Richard said. "He will never know so many of the joys of life."

He's hoping that the "35 by 35 Challenge" will send the message to anyone who is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts that "there is hope."

"There is no shame in being open about your struggles and there are people that truly want to help," he said. "Suicide is not a solution to the pain you're feeling. It only creates more pain for those who love you."

Richard went on to warn that "suicide is a black hole that continues to consume long after the initial act is done."

And he also had a message for Christians, proclaiming that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people between 10 and 24, saying that he believes this is a pivotal time in life during which young people are searching for something.

"The majority of people who choose to follow Christ, do so in their early to mid-teens," he said. "I think the correlation there is that people in that age range are looking for hope. They are looking for something bigger than themselves."

He concluded, "As Christians, we have the answer and that hope in Jesus."

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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