Good night my New York dreamer
‘Mam, I fancy watching a DVD,’ my 14-year-old daughter Nyah said. ‘Can I have the keys to your bedroom?’
My wife Sue and I kept our bedroom locked, mainly because we knew if we didn’t then Nyah and her stepsister Danielle would swipe all our makeup!
‘Course, love,’ I replied. We kept our DVD collection in our room, too. Nyah brought the keys back a few minutes later, only to return to ask for them again.
‘I wasn’t enjoying the film,’ she said. ‘I want to choose another one.’
I handed over the keys once more and Nyah duly returned them. Just before I turned in, I opened her bedroom door to let our cat, Twinkle, in there. Whenever she was in at night she always slept with Nyah. I stood in the doorway for a moment looking at my daughter. She was lying across the bed on her side, her long blonde hair covering her face. I could see she was fast asleep and decided not to disturb her by saying goodnight.
She needed her rest. My lovely girl hadn’t been her usual bubbly self lately, but Sue and I had put it down to hormones. At 14, she was at that difficult age. Still, she had a lot to look forward to. Her drama teacher was planning a school trip to the Big Apple, which was Nyah’s dream holiday location.
She’d decorated her bedroom with all things NY. The centerpiece was a picture of Brooklyn Bridge festooned with fairy lights so that it lit up just like the real thing. Nyah loved her drama class and recently she’d won a scholarship to attend a dance academy in her spare time. I’d put her forward for it to try and cheer her up. The previous year we’d lost four of our pets in a house fire. Two Chihuahuas called Sacha and Lily, a Yorkshire Terrier called Millie and a cat called Boot. Sue, Nyah and me were camping in Pembrokeshire when it happened and Danielle, the only other of mine and Sue’s kids still living at home, was round at her boyfriend’s. I got a call from a neighbour to say our house was ablaze.
Nyah was devastated over the loss, but things had been looking up for her. She had a lovely boyfriend of a year, was getting good grades at school. The only thing that worried me was how sensitive she was. She had always found it difficult to understand why someone could be friends with her one minute and slagging her off behind her back the next.
‘True friends aren’t like that,’ I’d tell her. ‘They’re not worth getting upset about. Put it down to experience and move on.’
After letting Twinkle into Nyah’s room, I let myself into mine. I went to take my arthritis medication and noticed a pack of the pills was missing. I suffer from memory problems, assumed it was just me being lackadaisical. When Sue got back from visiting a relative she helped me with my search.
‘The only other person who has been in our room is Nyah,’ I said.
‘But she wouldn’t have touched them,’ Sue replied.
I’d always told the kids how strong my pills were and that to ask me if they ever wanted painkillers rather than helping themselves. They were sensible kids and I knew they’d take note.
Sue and I couldn’t find the missing pills, decided to resume our search the following day.
My alarm went off the next morning at 7am and I went to wake up Nyah. She was still lying in the same position across the bed, only this time she was clutching her phone. When she didn’t move after I told her to get up, I decided she was playing a practical joke on me. I knew making a grab for her phone would spark her into action, as she hated anyone touching it. But as I got hold of it I noticed her fingertips were blue. I lay her on her side and as her hair fell away from her face, I saw that her lips were blue, too.
Oh, God, she’s stopped breathing!
I called out for Sue who came running. Jordan had been staying over too, and together we lifted Nyah onto the floor and started CPR. In the midst of the panic, one us managed to dial 999. The ambulance took around 10-15 minutes to arrive, but to us it felt like a lifetime.
By that time, Daryl had turned up at the house. As soon as he realised the seriousness of Nyah’s condition he suffered a panic attack and collapsed. Another ambulance was called, but I knew I had to travel with Nyah. She was my priority. As we sped to the hospital I noticed that no attempts were being made to shock Nyah’s heart. I had to ask the paramedic why twice before he answered.
‘We can only shock her if she’s got a rhythm,’ he explained. ‘But she’s totally flatlined.’
It was at that moment I realised Nyah wasn’t going to make it. But I fought against that thought. I put my hand on her ankle, willed her to come back to me.
Nyah’s father, David, turned up at the hospital with his partner and together we watched the medics work on her. They tried so hard, but it was too late. My darling daughter was gone. But why? Did she have some sort of underlying health problem I wasn’t aware of? How could my healthy, teenager daughter die so suddenly?
The police launched an investigation and later that day told me they’d found my tablets under her pillow – both the pills I took for my arthritis and my strong painkillers. It hit me that my little girl had taken her own life using my medication. But why?
The police told us she’d had a row with her boyfriend, but that didn’t make sense to me. Nyah and he had broken up several times, but they always ended up making up again.
While our family life hadn’t always been straightforward, I’d made sure Nyah grew up in happy, loving home. When I first met Sue 16 years ago and fell in love with her, I didn’t realise that I was already pregnant with Nyah. After a lot of soul searching, Sue and I decided to stay together and bring up Nyah together. David accepted this and agreed that we should always put our daughter first. So Nyah had grown up with a mum (me), a mam (Sue) and a dad.
‘You love who you love,’ Nyah often said. And I was proud of how she saw that loving someone had nothing to do with their race, gender or sexuality. To her, having two mum’s was nothing unusual.
The police confirmed that Nyah had rowed with her boyfriend on the night she died and was upset that he’d chosen to spend the evening with his friends rather than with her. She wrote a note on her phone saying she was sorry but that ‘life was hard’. She wrote how she loved her boyfriend, but that he didn’t love her, and added a thank you to Sue and me for giving her a great life. A great life that had only lasted 14 years. It was tragic beyond words.
A colleague of Nyah’s Dad started a crowdfunding page to raise money for Nyah’s funeral. A total of £5,000 was raised, which enabled us to give Nyah the send off she deserved. Her coffin was embossed with the New York skyline and it was taken to the crematorium in a horse drawn carriage. So many people turned up say their final goodbyes.
In the aftermath of her death, we found out that Nyah was being bullied by girls at her school, both to her face and online. For some reason, she hadn’t felt she could share that with Sue and me. It hurt to think how much she was suffering and yet I knew nothing about it. After she died her friend sent me a picture of Nyah taken juts hours before she’d taken the pills.
The last ever picture of her show her smiling and laughing; she hid her deep sadness so well. ‘How could we have known,’ I wept.
An inquest at Swansea Coroners Court ruled that Nyah died as a result of taking my prescription drugs after arguing with her boyfriend. It was suggested that it was part of a cry for help, and that she may not have intended to take her own life. She had tried to call friends and family after swallowing the pills.
But I’m convinced that the bullying played a major part in what she did. Sue and I are now telling Nyah’s story in the hope that it will encourage other teenagers to get help rather than keeping their troubles to themselves. If only Nyah had confided in us, we’re sure we could have saved her. We’re also trying to get the law changed so that there are legal consequences to bullying behaviour.
In addition, we’re raising money to make Nyah’s final wish come true. We may never get her back, but we can take her ashes to New York so she can finally visit the city of her dreams.