It’s been a little over a year since Granger Smith and his wife, Amber, lost their 3-year-old son, River, in a tragic drowning accident. In a new interview with People, Granger looks back on his healing journey over the last year, and confronts the grief and guilt he still experiences today.

“[Returning to performing after River’s death] was terrible. But I knew that would be a critical part of my healing process, and my gut instinct was right,” he recalls, adding that the worst part was imagining that the audience was “staring at me like, ‘There’s the failed father up there.’”

Though Granger and Amber did everything they possibly could to save River’s life, both parents admit that they still struggle with guilt in the wake of the tragedy.

“I know that there’s going to be a time when I’m going to forgive myself, but I’m not there yet,” Granger says.

“I don’t know if we ever truly will be able to forgive ourselves. I pray that we can. I hope we can,” adds Amber.

Granger says that the experience of losing a child and the grief that ensued have been transformative for him, both as a person and as a songwriter. Fans can already hear that shift in his latest release, “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads,” and it’ll continue to be present in his next musical project, which is due out in September.

“There is a lot of feeling from him in this album,” the singer acknowledges, though he says there won’t be many direct references to River in the project.

By Carena Liptak
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