Honour achievements while people are alive, says mother whose daughter died suddenly
It had been decades since they sat down as a group but when Dalana Robinson died the friends she had as a police cadet rushed to help her mother out.
Dawnelle Robinson will always be grateful for their support.
Yolanda Bashir, Derricka Burns and Gladwina O’Mara raised $1,303 to “assist with her affairs and expenses”. They all served as police cadets with Dalana from 1993 until 1995.
The 45-year-old was living in California when she died on April 9. The pathology report is not yet in. Dalana was 16 when she discovered she had Crohn’s, a non-life threatening inflammatory bowel disease that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.
When she was 22, doctors removed Dalana’s large intestine because it was full of ulcers, and then a third of her small intestine. Medication helped her through until seven years ago when her Crohn’s went into remission.
The disease reappeared in October. Dalana, who worked in San Diego with ICW Insurance, was taking more than 20 pills a day to cope.
Her mother, who visited Dalana in March, only three weeks before her death, had been thinking of retiring so she could spend more time with her.
“It just never materialised,” said Dawnelle, who decided to speak about the loss of her only child as a way of drawing attention to Crohn’s and her daughter’s achievements despite having the disease.
“Anybody that’s sick with Crohn’s or any kind of illness, whether they are living abroad or here, I just want people to start recognising people as they lived. We don't do that enough.”
She and her daughter spoke almost daily so Dawnelle became worried when calls in the early part of April were not returned. On April 9, she called the San Diego Police Department.
“I had them break through her door, where they found her dead,” she said. “The further devastation is that by the time I got to San Diego, someone had broken into her house and stolen her IDs, her Green Card, her passport, her credit cards and debit cards; all of the fine jewellery that she had been left, that had been given to her over the years. All of that was gone.
“They took her mattress.”
Police are still investigating the theft. The pathologist has said that a “proper death certificate” will take “three to six months”. Dawnelle is waiting to receive that before she lists Dalana’s death notice in newspapers.
“It's a lot to digest,” she said. “It was so hard. It’s now been two months and it’s still devastating. It’s hard for me to even speak with anybody [about it] but she was so beautiful and I just want her to be remembered. I think for me, it helps to bring some kind of closure.”
It was what Dalana’s friends were aiming for when they approached Dawnelle with their thought of honouring her daughter.
They bandied around several ideas before they agreed on one suggested by another former cadet, Melvin Douglas.
“When we heard of her passing, I came up with the idea to start a group chat on Facebook Messenger, and it just went from there,” said Yolanda. “And so it was us remembering Dalana, obviously trying to come to grips with what happened and then it materialised into a donation.
“After the collection was done, I still felt that we could do more. [I wanted to] honour her publicly. I wanted it to be known what she meant to all of us.”
Although she had not seen Dalana in more than 20 years, she remembered how she made her feel “comfortable, safe and valued”.
“I was devastated because I always felt I needed to see her and talk to her one last time. Her aura resonated with me to this day. I had the urgency to do something to celebrate her life. I just felt we just couldn't let it slide.”
Dalana’s death was also painful for Derricka.
“She was also my cousin. We were all cadets between 1993 and 1995 and we were a very close-knit group. We’re still in touch with each other today. Dalana was part of that group and we all remember her as a very meticulous person – in her appearance, in her work. She was very dedicated to whatever she put her mind to. We just remember her as a very beautiful person inside and out.”
The former Warwick Academy student worked as a police officer “for a few years” after she finished the cadet programme.
“I think policing was her heart but she ultimately decided to pursue her other dream, which was actuarial science,” Derricka said.
Her cousin’s death hit everyone “really hard” because it was “completely unexpected”, she said.
According to Dawnelle, it took a while for doctors to determine that her daughter had Crohn’s. Because of her extreme weight loss, they initially suspected the teenager was “either bulimic or anorexic”.
When they discovered what the problem really was her mother insisted that Dalana did not let it limit what she hoped to achieve in life.
“She wanted to go home [after the doctor’s appointment] and I told her, ‘No, you will not. You will get on that bike and go back to the police cadets. And every and anything that you choose to do in your life, you will do it with Crohn’s. And you will get through everything. This will not be a crutch for you to not do well with and for your life.
“And she took those words and she literally lived like that. Everything that she put out to do she achieved at a very high level. She did everything with flying colours.
A B-plus wasn't enough, but she could get through with an A-minus. She was just one of those people.”
While at Warwick Academy, Dalana began studying the viola. Her playing was initially hard to hear but she “practised and practised and practised”.
At a school Christmas concert Dawnelle stood “absolutely mesmerised” by her daughter’s performance.
“I literally bawled because I couldn't believe how well she was playing,” she said.
“Even with her dancing. She’d been so sick and I never thought that she was really a good dancer but then when I saw her in a show at BAA field just killing it … I [thought] ‘Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.’ And all this is with Crohn’s. I just want to encourage other people – no matter how sick you are, if you've got the capabilities, just do it. I'm just so happy and so proud for her to have been in my life for nearly 46 years.”
When Dalana graduated from Temple University with a degree in business administration, finance and actuarial science, she decided to stay in the US and work.
She eventually moved to San Diego.
Gladwina remembered Dalana as being “very vivacious, independent and having a jovial personality”.
She is grateful for the last talk they had, albeit “some years ago”.
“In cadets, although we were together two years, some of us were in high school together with Dalana so there was that connection prior to us joining. And even those who met each other for the first time as cadets, we formed such a strong bond because we did so much together. Within that two-year period of time we were together 24/7 pretty much daily, as we pursued our education at the same time at Bermuda College …. and that connection still hasn’t been lost.”
Linda Perry, who was a cadet sergeant, recalled Dalana as being “meticulous in everything that she did”; someone who would always defend “what she thought or knew was right”.