Matt Harward is a husband, a father, a teacher, an artist and an inspiration to those who hear his story of strength, perseverance and faith.
He lives and teaches in Huntington Beach, California and nothing could prepare him for the challenge the past eight years have brought.
In 2015, his daughter Arien passed away.
"She was living with her grandfather, taking care of him," says Harward. "There was a knock at the door and it was late at night, and there were two police officers. They asked if Arien lived here and I said yeah she lives here but she's not here right now. He asked if they could come in, sits me down and I don't even remember what he said."
Just like that, Harward found out his daughter had passed away. She had drowned and it was deemed under suspicious circumstances during the investigation.
Harward remembers not reacting once the officers shared the news, instead, he went numb. His wife, on the other hand, broke down devastated.
He remembers consoling parents of students of his that have passed away thinking he understood their pain, but he admits that it's something only people who have lost a kid can understand and at that moment he understood the pain of losing his own child.
After the passing of his eldest daughter, even though the Harward family was decimated, it brought them together. His five other children returned home and he says that it brought one of his sons back to Christ.
However, in 2016, devastation struck the family once again.
On the exact day of Arien's passing, her twin sister Akaysha was driving home to be with her family for the one-year anniversary of her sister's death. Unfortunately, she never made it home. Akaysha was in a single-vehicle collision and was ejected from the van.
She was found breathing but unconscious and was medevacked to the hospital, where she was kept on life support until her demise.
"We all got in the car and she was on life support just keeping her alive. So, we drove 14 hours straight from southern California to northern California and she's basically gone. There was nothing that we could do for Akaysha."
Harward had to take a full semester off of work because the grief was too much but the community's response left him in awe. His fellow teachers donated their sick days to him so that he could miss work and not lose any pay.
"That's how amazing people are when you're going through these horrible, tragic times."
As Harward began his healing journey, learning how to deal with the loss of his twin daughters, in 2021 he faced another roadblock that caused a regression in his healing process.
"My youngest son left home and I was thinking about him and I sent him a text and some money and I said 'Hey, I'm just thinking about you. I love you.' He said 'Thank you so much. This is going to help with my upcoming brain surgery.'"
This took Harward completely by surprise.
His son, Ayden was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour called a chordoma, which is a form of bone cancer that can occur anywhere along the length of the spine, from the base of the skull to the lower back (Johns Hopkins Medicine). Ayden's is located in the pituitary gland region of the brain.
Harward's son had the tumour removed, but he is still fighting and has regular hospital visits for testing and further treatment.
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A Never Wavering Faith
"[My faith] has always been strong and I think that's just a personal testimony because I grew up with a family that believed. I think everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses. For some reason, I've been blessed with a knowledge that God is there."
Harward tearfully encourages people to remember that God is always there no matter what they are going through and that he can give them the strength to deal with any grief, hardships or any other challenges people may face.
With a combination of never doubting his faith, Harward also used art as a way to navigate through his loss.
"I've always used art and I think even more so now than ever. I'm using it to process all these emotions and everything that's going on. I'm using it to process negative emotions like anger, sadness, grief but it's really interesting because you have that duality of this ultimate sadness and then you have this great joy."
Harward refers to the overwhelming community help he and his family has received over the past seven years.
He continues on to say that he uses the beauty of the human figure and portraits to help process his emotions, as well as touch on other styles and focus points.
While posting his art, Harward shares his story and he says that many people have resonated with his work and his pain.
"Resonating. What does that mean? I think it means helping people. I think we are here to help each other, and I'm realizing more and more that my art, the art that I do, I want to help other people with it. That's part of my mission here on Earth, also spreading the hope of Jesus Christ."