Tory MP David Sweet opens up to a parent’s worst nightmare
In grief, the veteran politician is speaking up about mental health.
The flight from Thunder Bay, Ont. was less than two hours but the gnawing secret David Sweet stowed made the journey feel like days. Still, a career in politics teaches you how to contain yourself, he says. To keep a lamb’s heart safe behind alligator skin.
Sweet would begin working his phone once they touched down in Toronto, starting with the police. But first he’d tell Almut, his wife seated beside him, about the text he received just before takeoff. The agonizing news Sweet kept to himself to make her trip home bearable.
Lara, their 23-year-old daughter, was gone.
“It’s every parent’s nightmare,” Sweet says on a sunny November afternoon at his constituency office in Hamilton. “You know, when the kids are out too late … you imagine the worst because you love them, you care about them. You’re worried about them. “But you always hope it stays a nightmare.”
Conservative MP David Sweet is shown with his daughter Lara and wife Almut on Canada Day in 2008.Their son, Chris, had sent his dad a screen-grab of a Facebook post warning that something tragic had happened. He was the one who confirmed that Lara, at the time renting a room from a couple in Oshawa, had died. From the airport that August day, Sweet was patched through to a Durham Regional police officer on the scene who was gutted that the MP would learn such a thing in such a way. The officer told him they suspected it was an intentional overdose. The preliminary coroner’s report later confirmed there was no foul play. A note was left behind. “She made a bad choice,” Sweet says, quietly.
A Conservative first elected in 2006, Sweet represents the sprawling riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook, which includes parts of Hamilton and surrounding communities.
On any given day in the House of Commons, the veteran has the look of someone who loves being there. The 60-year-old can be seen listening intently or grinning as his colleagues grill the government, but not in a way that seems to play to the cameras. He sometimes sports bow ties that help him stand out. But being a public figure comes with a certain abdication of privacy. In the fog after Lara died on Aug. 12, Sweet took to Facebook to make the announcement and share two photos of her. He tagged his five other adult children — Theresa, Chris, Reuben, Lucian, and David — but requested “patience and privacy.”
Days later, he went online to share funeral details and more photos of his girl. There she was in her air cadet’s uniform and at a long-ago birthday party. There she was in front of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill.