The East Sussex & Kent Courier’s headlines on 8th February 2001 read; “Tragic death of Rhian, 17” The headteacher of TWGGS – Rhian’s school – described her in the newspaper as “the loveliest of girls”. She was our daughter and would have been eighteen on 19th February – just ten days later – and celebrating a joint party with her friend, Emily.
Rhian collapsed suddenly after an English lesson in front of pupils and teachers. Attempts by staff to resuscitate her failed and she was taken to the Kent & Sussex hospital in cardiac arrest where paramedics continued CPR.
She died whilst my husband and I were driving back from Eastbourne to meet her and her brother from the bus stop to take them home. The pathology report states the reason being cardiac arrhythmia.
Surprisingly, six months earlier she passed a medical examination. This was in connection with her RAF flying scholarship and, in fact, she flew solo at the end of her course.
Just before we lost Rhian I did think she looked a little unwell, but school life, her friends and studies meant so much to her and she was putting all her energy into A-level studies at that time, so the mere suggestion of a doctor’s appointment would have been met with opposition. Regretfully, I just went with the flow.
Since the age of twelve, Rhian spent many of her weekends researching our village history. Sometimes with her friend Hannah on their bikes and on other occasions, alone. She kept her research work in a large folder, together with maps and lovely old Victorian copy photographs. Rather than just leave her efforts on a shelf in her bedroom I have, with help, had her work published. At the moment these little booklets are being sold in our local post office and helping to raise funds and awareness for CRY through her memorial fund, whilst also benefiting the villagers with a little of Maresfield’s history.
Apart from appreciating Shakespeare, Rhian would laugh out loud when reading Helen Fielding’s books and frequently e-mailed her friends in a ‘Bridget Jones’ fashion. Emily, a close friend, sent a selection of these to the author, Helen Fielding. Ms. Fielding’s letter of response now hangs on the wall above her desk.
One of the sentences reads: –
“It is very hard to understand why things like this happen. I suppose we should be glad that Rhian had such an ability to see the funny side of life and to enjoy the jollity and ridiculousness of it. Bridget too is a sweet person muddling along and trying to be happy and find fun wherever it is to be found. I’m sure Rhian would want you all to carry on following her example.”
I still find this letter both comforting and encouraging every time I read it.
We were given a book by TWGGS in which friends and pupils were able to write their fond memories and I hope you will not mind my choosing several to include in ‘My Story’. It was difficult picking one over another as they are all very endearing. Some have made us laugh whilst others have made us cry.
As a family we still miss her so much even after almost ten years but, at the same time, feel proud and privileged to have had her share our lives for all those wonderful, happy years.
Rhian’s favourite of the Roger Hargreaves characters was ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ – she had a drawer full of Little Miss Sunshine gifts and to a great many of us she was a Little Miss Sunshine!
Extracts from TWGGS memorial book
“Dear Rhian. Gorgeous Girl. Pretty in Pink. There are so many fond memories of you but your enthusiasm and passion for love, life and everything just can’t be put into words! I’ll never understand, or forget, your passion and drive to be a dentist! In year 8, your five minute discussion lasted for 45 minutes because you had so much to say! We all cared for you, but one couldn’t help but love you. You spread happiness wherever you were and we’ll miss you terribly All my love, Rachel.”
“Rhian touched me in a way unlike anyone I have met before. It was impossible to ignore her insuppressable energy and the enthusiasm she had for everything she did. I am certain there was never a dull moment in her life! She always put her heart into everything she did – from eating sugar-free chocolate as part of her quest for perfect teeth to surviving her gruelling RAF interviews to fulfil her ambition to fly. Rhian’s ability to smile and laugh in the face of daily ‘dramas’ was so reassuring and she had this amazing ability to make so many bus journeys so hysterically funny, at the time of day when I would usually feel my lowest. Rhian was the kind of person you could never have an awkward silence with – you couldn’t even if you wanted to! That was part of the beauty of Rhian, always talking, always smiling. Rhian was just so beautiful in everything she did and am am thankful that I was able to share part of my life with her. You will always be in my heart. Phillipa x”
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 – one of Rhian’s favourites
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.