A year ago today we held a huge fundraiser to mark the 10th anniversary of my little sister’s death. It was the year all my friends were turning 40 and there was much talk of these celebrations but I knew there was something more important to me & my family. My sister would have been 35 on April 1st 2016 however, she took her life on the 6th June 2006 at the age of 25.
Every year this period is particularly poignant and painful. We held the party in May to sweep away the Ciara blues and to remember the amazing person that she was, to bring friends and family together, to raise awareness of the illness from which she suffered – schizophrenia, and finally to support a charity that works tirelessly to this end – Rethink Mental Illness.
For a long time, I struggled to utter the term 'schizophrenia'. None of Ciara’s friends knew she had this illness when she was alive. Some thought she struggled with mild depression but few had any idea of the severity of her struggle because she wanted to keep it private.
This was largely due to the stigma relating to this mental illness in particular. On the day, we gave out badges provided by Rethink Mental Illness, we had branded Rethink Mental Illness collection jars and in my speech I challenged people to look differently at those they encounter in society with severe mental health issues. I realised after my speech that I had failed on my promise to myself to mention the word schizophrenia, maybe in part because I didn’t want my sisters memory pigeonholed, just as she didn’t want that classification when alive.
The flavour of the day was family inspired. There was funky face painting, fun tattoos for kids, a tombola, fairy cake decorating and a photo booth complete with props of afro wigs, huge sunglasses and feather bowers! The raffle and the auction were by far the biggest fund raising activities and there was much generosity shown in the contributions to the collection jars! It was both an emotional time and stressful time, as our intended venue (a large pub) cancelled with only 2 weeks notice due to the FA cup final! However, a working mens club in Balham came to the rescue and the day was a huge success with over £5,000 raised. The donations can be used to help with the fantastic work, lobbying and support needed for those with severe mental health issues and their families, that Rethink engage in.
A year on, and on Ciara’s birthday this year, our extended family had grown by one and I was soon to add another member to the clan, hence we didn’t mark her anniversary in such a pronounced way. My baby was due May 19th and my labour room looked out onto the cemetery where my little sister laid. I became overwhelmed with emotion, wanting her there with me right then, holding my hand and eventually meeting her nephew. My mind was then cast back to the happy memories of her that we had created just one year before and I was able to get on with the job in hand with her presence guiding me. Our week old son is called Cian. My sister was called Ciara.