Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Special teen left a lot of people asking 'WHY'?

Parents thought eating disorder was behind her

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A week has passed and looking back, it's as if someone -- or something -- was guiding me to Mandy and her sun-lit desk, with the vase of red roses and the pieces of white paper with a single black word: "Memories." As it happened, there was someone guiding me.

Journalism instructor Duncan McMonagle was giving a personal tour of Red River College's new Exchange-area campus when we finally reached the top floor.

The graphic arts department -- a large, open space with rows of drafting tables and a wall of windows -- was remarkably quiet.

And empty.

"One of the students died this week," McMonagle said.

As she slept.

Mandy Coyne was only 19.

* * *

Later, what struck John Coyne was how normal everything was the Sunday night before his daughter died.

How normal Mandy seemed.

"She had dinner. Sat down and watched television with us. She was in fine spirits."

When Mandy woke Monday morning, she wasn't feeling well. She called her mother, Gerry, and asked her to bring home some Tylenol, then told her 17-year-old sister Karen that she was going to school that afternoon.

First, though, she was going to have a nap.

Later, Karen would try to wake her big sister.

She couldn't.

No one could.

The autopsy revealed she had died of a cardiac arrest.

Was she healthy? I asked her father.

"Well, yes. She certainly didn't give us any indications of problems. As a family, I think we have some idea what it was..."

What it was, they believe, was what the blood analysis revealed: Low levels of potassium, which affected the electrical charge to the heart.

What it really was, John and Gerry now believe, was a problem they thought had long since passed.

Her mother remembers the night then 13-year-old Mandy came to her room with a book the school counsellor had given her.

She insisted her mother read it. Right then.

It was a story about a girl with anorexia who is placed in a hospital room next to another girl with bulimia, the eat-and-purge fraternal twin of anorexia.

The girl with bulimia dies.

Mandy was like the girl in the next bed who lived.

She was anorexic.

"Oh Mandy," her mother said when she finished reading.

"I won't be that girl," young Mandy assured her mother.

John and Gerry Coyne kept watch over Mandy's eating habits in the years that followed, but there was nothing to suggest she wasn't eating.

Apparently the stubborn, independent part of Mandy had overcome the horrible hunger within. The insatiable inner emptiness that nothing, least of all a meal, could fill.

Now, in retrospect, her parents see the signs that Mandy had secretly turned into that girl in the book who died.

The girl in the next bed who was bulimic.

Last week, paging through her art portfolio, her parents finally got to read something Mandy had only let them see in passing.

The word "WHY?" was centred in large letters, surrounded by tiny sentence fragments, an internal conversation, that covered the rest of the page.

* * *

Last Saturday, 537 people signed the guest book at the memorial service in St. Paul's Anglican Church. Mandy's friends, her parents, her sister Karen and 21-year-old twin brothers, Chris and Kevin.

Many of the mourners would have read some of the "Memories" from her fellow students at Red River College:

"Mandy,

"I met you only about a year ago and I'm so glad I did. You were always so fun and a delight to be around. You were there when I needed you, always... you were my shoulder to cry on... you were always so bright and full of life.

"Ashley"

And:

"You made me feel cool being me. You said I had dressing like you down to a tee. Always smiling and easy to talk to, you were everyone's personal pick-me-up...

"Lindsay"

Her father said that one of his best friends had actually purchased a star in the heavens for her.

"Mandy Coyne," the star previously known as 2093, is part of The Little Dipper, the second star, from Polaris.

One clear night recently, the Coyne's other daughter, Karen, drove out to the Floodway.

"I've seen Mandy," she told her parents later.

The tragedy, of course, is there was only one person who didn't know how special Mandy Coyne was.

The one who mattered the most.

But that still doesn't answer her own question. The one that her parents, and so many others, have asked.

"WHY?"

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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