It was the evening of 23rd of November 2010, 2 days before Thanksgiving in the US. I was asleep upstairs when my partner Lee woke me to tell me my sister had died. Upon hearing the news, I jumped out of bed in shock, ran down the stair and out the door onto the street outside. It had snowed in London that day which was rare for that time of year. I remember the sensation of wet snow on my bare feet as I ran down the street, finally dropping to my knees 4 houses down in floods of tears. The words “no, no, no, no” on a loop inside my brain, my heart breaking. Hands on my shoulders. “You have to come in Tina”, Lee whispered in my ear. I collapsed in his arms as he led back to the house.
The next week was a blur. Making travel arrangements back to Tennessee. Rehoming Angela’s 5 dogs via Craig’s List as they had been taken to the local animal shelter. Arranging her funeral from abroad. Mom was a mess and couldn’t do much and there was no one else. I honestly don’t remember the long flight back to Tennessee from London. I do remember falling to pieces when the nice lady at the funeral home handed me Angela’s driver’s license as if I had some use for it. She asked if I’d like to see her and I said I would. She led me into a brightly lit sterile room and there was my sister lying on a steel table covered to her neck in a white sheet, all those years of sisterhood lying silently beside her. I didn’t want to say goodbye. This wasn’t the deal. We were supposed to grow old together.
Angela was 45 years old when she died. Her death certificate states her cause of death as a heart attack but the true cause of her death was her bipolar disorder. This former model had become obese and reclusive. Some days she struggled to leave her bed. She refused to take her dogs for a walk, just leaving the back door open to let them go outside on their own. She was on many many different types of medication. Too much medication. I must have found 20 different prescriptions in her house after she died. She drank too much. Her heart just couldn’t take all this so it stopped.
Mental illness is killing people. It is also destroying families. Family members of a person struggling with mental illness know all too well that there is little we can do other than support and pray. The mentally ill person has to find his or her way back. We can gently guide but we can’t push.
I created Yogaward for people like Angela. What if she had had that community, a place where she could go without having to leave her home until she felt confident enough to do so? A place where she could move as little or as much as she wanted. A place where other people suffering from bipolar could lend an understanding ear. A place where she could breathe. Maybe she would still be here. Who knows?
I still miss Angela every day. I miss her blue eyes. I miss her cracking sense of humour. As I write, I can see her in a photo on my dresser smiling her beautiful smile. Love you sis.