surfing, grief, newport, rhode island

Dan Fischer takes people's lost loved ones out surfing for "one last wave."

Dan Fischer understands grief. He also has some idea of how to cope with it—and how to help others through it as well.

Fischer has experienced tremendous loss in the past few years, losing both his father and his best friend. As a surfer, he's a believer in what he calls "the transformative power of the ocean." Originally from Montreal, Canada, Fischer has found healing riding the waves off Newport, Rhode Island, where he's lived for the past seven years.

Now he wants to share that healing power of the waves with others.


"After one of those faithful sessions, where I had written my dad's name on my board," he tells Upworthy, "I decided to throw out an open invitation on TikTok to others who were struggling with loss." On January 4, he shared a TikTok video inviting people to share the name of a loved one who has passed and said he would write their name on his board and take them out into the ocean.

"It felt right and I wanted to help," he says. "I knew how healing surfing had been for me, and I wanted the opportunity to share that with others in hopes of inserting some positivity into their lives."

@paradrenaline

Comment a loved one who you’d like me to include. #love #memories #dreams #surfing #oceanlover #saltlife

People started sharing the names and stories of lost loved ones in the comments, and Fischer started writing down names. A dozen soon turned to 100, which turned to 500, which turned to more than 1,000.

In just over a week, the one TikTok blossomed into a full-fledged movement Fischer has dubbed the One Last Wave Project.

"Something we always say out there is, 'one last wave,'" Fischer says. "There's always one last wave to catch and I wanted to give that to others. There have been so many stories shared about loved ones who always wanted to learn to surf, or how the ocean was their happy place and unfortunately, their families weren't able to get them there in time. I committed to ensuring that they got out there for that one last wave."

Fischer gets emotional sharing what the project means to him.

"I've spent many nights sitting out there alone at sunset, connecting with the beauty of nature to heal," he says. "Now, I have thousands of loved ones joining me…it's truly hard to explain just how truly moving that is for me. I just hope to help in some small way."

Right now, the project is just a one-man show, with Fischer spending hours a day connecting with people in the comments and writing down names. He knows he's going to need help collecting names and stories as the list grows, and he's already looking into getting more longboards to accommodate more names.

"It is important to me that every single person's story is told," he says. "I would love to see it expanded where surfers from around the world can join in the movement and take loved ones out into the ocean from wherever they are."

Fischer says people keep asking if it's too late to get their loved one's name on his board, and he wants people to know it's never too late. He's in this for the long haul.

One Last Wave Project isn't Fischer's first project impacting people's lives in creative ways. He works as an MBA admissions consultant, but he also founded Step Up for the Cure, a charity fundraiser for cancer research. He credits his mother's influence for his impulse to use whatever he has to give back to others in a meaningful way.

"When I founded Step Up for the Cure, I was trying to create a symbolic struggle—we ran marathon distances up stairs for 24 hours straight—to align those involved with those facing such harsh adversity," he says. "One Last Wave has a bit of a different vision. While surfing, trying to harness the sheer power of the ocean for a few fleeting moments in order to ride the open face of a wave is extremely challenging; however, this movement is more about the peace and healing that results when you do, letting go, immersing yourself in the sea.

"Surfing is one of my great passions," he continues. "It has changed my life, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be sharing that love with others in a way that provides hope and healing."

Fischer says he never imagined his project would resonate so deeply with so many people, but he's grateful that it has.

"I am deeply affected by every single story shared," he said. "Heartbreaking doesn't even begin to describe it, but when I connect with these people, we are bonded, and the board feels very much like a beacon of hope that their loved ones are set free to enjoy and shine once again. It's a way for them to be forever memorialized in a place they loved.

"I can't tell you how many times I've cried reading the stories, writing the names, and feeling them etched on the board as I paddle through the waves," he says.

Many of the commenters are parents sharing the names of children they've lost. Some of them loved the ocean, and some of them loved it but never got to see it. One commenter recently asked for her own name to be put on the board, as she's in hospice and the ocean has always been her peaceful place.

The simple act of reaching out, connecting with others, making an offering of what you have and bringing some measure of comfort to people who are in mourning is such a beautiful thing.

Fischer is working on getting the One Last Wave website up so that he can direct people to one central place if they want to add a loved one or find out how to help, but in the meantime, you can find him on these social media pages:

Tiktok: @OneLastWave

Twitter: @OneLastWave

Instagram: @OneLastWaveProject

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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