Mum’s tragic warning: My only daughter is gone forever
Carole Fowkes, 50, can’t stop torturing herself
As my phone started ringing, I glanced down at the screen and smiled. It was my daughter, Alexandra. ‘Hi Mum, just ringing for a catch up – and to tell you I’m coming home for the week!’ she laughed. It was a call I always looked forward to since Alexandra had moved to Durham University to study maths almost three years earlier. We’d always been close. As my only child, Alexandra was my friend, as well as my daughter.
Her dad, Tony, 56, and I had split up years earlier, but she got on well with my partner, Steve, 49, and still saw plenty of her own father.
In her first year at university, Alexandra flourished. She was enjoying her independence and, as a sociable girl, she was making lots of friends, too, including meeting a boyfriend.
Each time Alexandra came home, for the Christmas holidays or just for a weekend, her eyes would shine as she chatted away about student life.
She even spent some of her spare time tutoring maths to GCSE pupils who needed help. ‘You’re making such a difference,’ I told her proudly.
Only, during her second year, I started to notice a change in Alexandra. She’d sometimes cry when it came to travelling back to Durham, and her relationship broke down, which left her feeling lost.
‘I’m a bit anxious,’ Alexandra admitted to me one day over the phone. She said she was nervous about certain social situations, especially with people she didn’t know.
Her usual self
She’d met a new boyfriend by now, Matt, and for a while she was so happy, but eventually the anxiety crept back in. She was prescribed anti-depressants, and within just a few weeks, they seemed to be working. Her mood had lifted significantly. As she moved into her final year, things seemed much better. When she came home for holidays, she was her usual, happy self, arranging brunches with me and even introducing the family to Matt. ‘I’m thinking of spending a year in Canada after I graduate,’ she said. It felt good to know that she was thinking seriously about her future.
Then, on 15 March 2018, Alexandra texted me to arrange her visit home for Easter. I went to bed with a checklist of jobs I wanted to tick off before she returned. I’d stock the fridge with her favourite food and I’d better have the washing machine ready for her laundry, I smiled to myself.
Only, in the early hours of the next morning, Steve and I were awoken by
‘We were awoken by a banging on the front door’
banging on the front door. Leaping out of bed, I had a horrible sense of foreboding. No-one pays house visits at this time, I thought. When I answered, I was greeted by two police officers and Alexandra’s father, Tony.
‘She’s done it,’ he said, his face pale. ‘Done what?’ I replied, confused.
As Tony broke down, an officer stepped in to explain. Alexandra had been found hanging in her university bedroom – Matt was the one who discovered her. She still had a pulse – just – so he’d called an ambulance and she’d been taken to hospital, but her condition was extremely serious. There was no note, no reason why she would have done such a thing.
‘I don’t understand,’ I gasped, tears streaming down my cheeks. It didn’t make any sense. Why would Alexandra try to take her own life? I’d only spoken to her hours earlier – she was looking forward to coming home. I don’t remember changing out of my pyjamas or getting into Steve’s car, but before I realised what was happening, Tony, Steve and I were on our way to the University Hospital of North Durham, 170 miles away. When we arrived three hours later, doctors ushered us into a private room. ‘I’m afraid there’s not much more we can do,’ one said. I stared ahead in shock, tears trickling down my cheeks as I thought about how I would say goodbye to my daughter. I felt confused and so devastated. Then, we were led into the room where she was being treated. Despite being surrounded by machines and wires, Alexandra still looked so peaceful. I ran over to her, clutching her hand in mine. ‘Oh Alexandra, why?’ I sobbed. We were told to say goodbye to her, then the three of us retreated, sobbing, to the family room, trying to process it all.
Only, an hour later, a consultant came into the room. ‘Her blood pressure is getting slightly stronger,’ he said. ‘We’d like to monitor her for the next 72 hours.’ He told me it was unlikely she would make a recovery, but I couldn’t help but cling onto what little hope I had left.
We went back to sit by her bedside and I brushed her hair and chatted to her about silly things – family gossip, the weather – anything I could think of.
Over the next few days, I stayed by Alexandra’s side, only taking a break to get something to eat, go to the toilet or take a short nap. But despite the flicker of hope given to us by the medical team, I started to come to terms with the fact that my daughter might never wake up.
On Monday 18 March, a consultant confirmed Alexandra was brain dead, and it was time to say our final goodbyes. ‘I love you so much,’ I whispered to her.
We didn’t watch the life support machine get turned off, since Alexandra had signed herself up as an organ donor. I struggled with that a lot, but I knew I had to respect her decision.
Alexandra’s funeral was held in April. More than 50 students from the university came, and despite my desperate sadness, it made me feel so proud that she had been so popular.
Despite all the support I was given, over the next few weeks, I found myself just wanting to be alone, wandering from room to room with no purpose. ‘I need a focus,’ I told Steve.
In Alexandra’s name, Durham University set up a mental health awareness campaign for students to promote awareness of anxiety, depression and the risk of suicide. But to keep the campaign going, we needed money. ‘Let’s do a sponsored sky dive,’ one of my friends suggested. Another two agreed.
‘I need to do it with them,’ I told Steve as I revealed the plan. ‘But you hate flying – and you hate heights!’ he said. It was true, they were my two main fears, but I had to do this – for Alexandra.
So on 10 November 2018, I completed the sky dive in Sibson Airfield in Peterborough and raised more than £2,000 for the campaign. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, but I knew nothing could ever be as hard as losing my daughter.
Now, I’m going to start training to be a counsellor, and I’d love to tour schools and universities to talk about mental health. My daughter showed hardly any signs that she was struggling, and I spend hours combing back over every conversation we had to see if I missed anything. In many ways, I blame myself for not noticing. But deep down, I know there’s nothing I could have done. And that’s what I have to keep telling myself, if only so I can get out of bed in the morning.
‘There was no note, no reason why she did it’
Alexandra was Carole’s only child Alexandra had been a happy, sociable girl
So close: Carole and Alexandra were friends as well as mother and daughter
Carole did a sky dive to support a mental health awareness campaign