Parenting News

How this kiwi mum is giving hope to 'lost' students after the tragic loss of her daughter

Tania doesn’t want another parent to go through her terrible loss

By Cloe Willetts
Three-and-a-half years ago, Christchurch mother Tania Beckwith chatted to her daughter Stacey McConway over video call, listening as the energetic teen enthused about study and the fun she was having with her university friends. When Stacey, 19, ended the call from her bedroom at a hall of residence in Wellington, Tania had no idea it'd be the last time she'd hear her precious girl's voice. In the early hours of the following morning, Stacey sadly took her own life.
"The last time I spoke to her was on Wednesday, 25th of July at lunchtime," recalls financial advisor Tania, 53, also mum to Ben, 21. "The next morning I tried to get a hold of her, but she didn't reply. I didn't think too much about it, but on Thursday night I was still trying to get hold of her and by Friday evening, at about five, I left a message saying if she didn't call back, I'd get on a plane in the morning and come over."
At nine o'clock that evening Tania answered a knock at her front door where she, her husband Murray, 53, and Ben were greeted by police. Tania was told Stacey's body had been found by resident assistants at the hall of residence, where the thoughtful, smart and funny young woman was living as a first-year Victoria University student studying psychology.
When Stacey's friends hadn't heard from her and noticed she was offline for a couple of days, they asked the resident assistants, who were second- and third-year students not much older than Stacey, to unlock her bedroom door and check in.
'I just wanted to wrap her up and put her in her bed'
"I didn't believe the Police and said they'd got it wrong," shares the grief-stricken mother, who has founded mental wellness charity Adopt a Student, supporting New Zealand university students living away from home. "She was an amazing kid with a huge future ahead of her, but Stacey had experienced mental health problems in the past, which started when her father got unwell. Even though she had a lot of tools in her toolbelt, I couldn't be there to save her."
The petite but vibrant teen lost her father Pete, 47, to colon cancer when she was 14, after a four-year battle that saw Stacey help nurse him in his final days. Tania, who has braved the unimaginable loss of both a husband and a child, now wears a cross necklace she found in Stacey's room, gifted by her grandmother, which she never takes off.
"Stacey always wore it and I often play with the cross when I think of her. It keeps me close to her. When we took her home for the funeral, I just wanted to wrap her up and put her in her bed. I didn't want to let her go."
Celebrating their last Christmas together.
Tania came up with the concept of Adopt a Student while searching for purpose after Stacey's death and shared her idea on social media last year. Her post received hundreds of comments, thousands of likes and more than 100,000 views, and Tania was inundated with messages of support.
Adopt a Student quickly became a registered charity and developed into an organisation to connect students with safe mentors, who can offer the likes of a listening ear, fun activities, help finding a job or flat, support through exams or a regular home-cooked meal.
"As soon as our children go away to university, they're left on their own in a lot of ways," says Tania, whose charity is launching its first pilot programme in Christchurch this month, before gradually going across the country. "There's so much this generation of young people have been through that we didn't, like Covid, the mosque attacks, earthquakes and social media. It's our responsibility as a community to look after each other."
Tania says the heartache of losing a child to suicide will never go away, but she holds onto precious memories, including Stacey's dresses and jewellery, artworks and photographs. There are also the memories of their last trip together to China just two weeks before Stacey died. She also kept letters Stacey wrote through the years, thanking Tania for always being there and expressing love for her and Ben.
Tania's husband Murray has been her rock.
"It still feels like Stacey hasn't died, that she's just gone away overseas and will come back one day because her presence is still so strong
in our lives and home," tells Tania, who referred to her as "Cyclone Stace" because she brought a tornado of energy and laughter in and out when she visited. "When I think, 'How on earth am I going to do this?', I can feel her there."
Tania's now focusing on saving others' lives, while connecting families and communities. "That's what Adopt a Student is all about and every time I reach out for support with it, help seems to come. I think it's Stacey up there making sure it happens."
To inquire about volunteering, putting forward a student for the pilot programme or making a donation, visit adoptastudent.org.nz
  • Need to talk? 1737 – free call or text 24/7 to talk to a trained counsellor
  • Lifeline – 0800 543 354
  • Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Healthline – 0800 611 116
  • Samaritans – 0800 726 666
  • Information about suicide prevention can be found at mentalhealth.org.nz/suicideprevention

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