Thursday 19th April 2007 will be a day that we as a family will remember forever. April 19th every year is special anyway as it is my wife’s birthday. Our daughter Sarah (age 20), who worked in a care home, was on late shift that day and as a result we had celebrated my wife’s birthday the evening before with a family favourite meal of fish and chips.
That day (the 18th) Sarah had been to the zoo with some of the residents of the care home, and was full of stories about how much both she and the residents had enjoyed the day, and showed us lots of photographs she had taken of them all.
My wife and I, Sarah and her elder brother Will (age 22), all round the table laughing and joking and talking about how everyone was getting on, just normal family stuff.
About 9 o’clock, Sarah went off up to her room and we heard her CD player booming out as usual when she was in there. Will went back off to his own flat.
The next morning, my wife and I went off to work as usual, not disturbing Sarah – she was on late shift and hated being woken up if she had the chance of a lie in! The dog curled up as usual by Sarah’s bedroom door waiting as always for her, and the chance of sharing her breakfast toast!
That evening, my wife arrived home first. She saw Sarah’s car still on the drive, but didn’t think it was that unusual, perhaps she had got a lift into work with one of her colleagues, or her shift had been changed.
She started preparing tea as normal, then noticed that the dog seemed particularly agitated for some reason. She then saw Sarah’s handbag still on the sideboard, a sure sign that Sarah had not gone out. When she went upstairs, Sarah’s bedroom door was open but the bathroom door was locked and, starting to sense something was wrong, she then called out Sarah’s name. As there was no answer, she knew she must be in the bathroom and had perhaps suffered an accident of some kind, so she unscrewed the lock from the outside and found Sarah in the bath, under water, curled up, asleep, and cold.
My wife has worked in the medical profession for a long time and knew that Sarah was dead, but none the less called paramedics, who pronounced her dead at the scene, and of course the police were then called. She had not had time to call me, and I arrived home 10 minutes later to find our drive full of paramedics and police cars and was told the worse possible news.
We have since been given the official cause of death following the post mortem as drowning, but of course everyone agrees it is nigh on impossible to drown yourself face up in a shallow bath of water. No explanation can be given as to why an apparently fit and healthy girl of 20, non-smoker, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, somehow fell unconscious and slipped below the water level and with her mouth still apparently open, inhaled water and drowned. There was no sign of any panic, no sign that she had been in pain, nothing – it was as though she had just gone to sleep under water. We have been told that the most likely, but un-proven, explanation is that she suffered an arrhythmic heart spasm.
The devastation that this has caused to the family is unimaginable to anyone who has not been through it. Sarah had such a caring nature, always smiling, never was a problem as a teenager like so many, and was making real plans for the future. In her entire life, she had never had a single day off school or work for illness. No warning, no signs of anything wrong then bang, from being entirely normal, your whole world is turned upside down for ever in a moment.
Disbelief, anger, desperation, heartbreak, lost, just some of the emotions we go through on a daily basis. Her many young friends have also been left devastated and bewildered by what has happened. Sarah’s brother has been very strong for us, and is now going through medical tests himself to determine whether he may be at risk. We just take one day at a time and try to get through it as best we can. People say that we will come to terms with it, but I disagree. We may learn to live with what has happened, eventually, but how can you come to terms with something that no-one can give you a proper explanation for to give you “closure?”
We have only recently been made aware of the CRY organisation and website, and will offer our support to this most worthwhile of causes from now on, in the hope that, ultimately, other families do not have to suffer the trauma and devastation that we have.