The boyfriend of a pregnant rower has described the heartbreaking moment he found out she had killed herself.
Expectant dad Michael Stokes was planning to buy a home with his talented sportswoman girlfriend Imogen Evans weeks before the tragic moment.
Imogen, 28, who had represented Wales in both netball and rowing, was found dead at the home she shared with her partner earlier this year.
At the time she was six weeks pregnant by partner Michael Stokes and the couple were planning to buy a house.
But Michael’s world was shattered when, on one otherwise unremarkable morning in June, police arrived at the office where he works to tell him his beloved partner had taken her own life, Wales Online reports.
Last month an inquest into her death heard Imogen had battled mental health issues and lived with bulimia for most of her life.
But Michael, speaking at the home the couple shared, said he never imagined he would be given the devastating news Imogen had taken her own life.
Imogen, 28, was a solicitor and she had planned to buy a home with Michael before her tragic death.
The couple had also discovered they were expecting a baby – she was just six weeks pregnant when she died.
At the home they shared lies a memory book Imogen made for Michael last Christmas.
Stored safely in a box, it has lain untouched for months as Michael hasn’t been able to face looking at it since he was given the heartbreaking news that Imogen was gone.
It shows everything from pictures of nights out to celebrations to pieces of the flowers that were the first Michael had ever bought for Imogen.
I look through the book but Michael is unable to even glance at the pages.
“I haven’t opened it – I can’t,” he said.
“I think she gave it to me for Christmas and she filled it through in the weeks and months after.
“When I blank [what happened] out I do okay – when I’m focusing on work and my family and my friends.
“But I woke up on Tuesday and, as I got into the car, it popped up – a memory from a year ago and it was when we added each other on Facebook.
“That was a tough day. I wasn’t very good company in work that day.”
Michael, 38, met Imogen around a year ago on the dating app Tinder.
He’s the first person to admit the relationship “snowballed” as he recounts fondly how quickly the pair fell in love.
Michael, from Hirwaun, said: “I’d been on there a few times over the last couple of years and I’d actually matched with her a couple of times but we’d never spoken.
“She remembered the first message I sent because I said: ‘This is like the third time we’ve matched – perhaps we should have a chat this time’.
“She said that stood out to her because it was me taking the mick.
“It snowballed so quickly – it was crazy really how quick it went.
“We started speaking on the Tuesday and three days later she messaged me and said: ‘Do you fancy the most random first date ever? I’ve got a spare ticket for the Wales v New Zealand game’.”
Describing that date, during last year’s autumn series, he said: “We went to the game and I didn’t watch one minute of the game. We just spoke the whole way through it.
“We got on unbelievably. The first night, at the rugby, was the best night of my life. It was one of those nights I’ll never forget.”
The couple quickly became an item and moved in together just six weeks later.
Imogen moved to Hirwaun to live with Michael and they didn’t spend more than two days apart from each other after they went to the game that day.
They even spent last Christmas together. Michael said Imogen spent the day with one of her friends and he later left his family in the evening to go and see her.
He said: “We were literally inseperable. I know six weeks sounds crazy fast but it just felt natural. It just happened.”
Michael said Imogen had been very honest with him about her mental health from the beginning.
She told him she’d had “a breakdown in work” and she’d had time off but had recovered. Despite this she continued to struggle with bulimia.
“She was still going back to The Priory in Bristol one day every couple of weeks I think,” Michael added.
“She was still suffering with bulimia. She’d tell me about what she would eat and how she’d binge and purge I think they’d call it.
“She told me about the issues she’d had and she was still having counselling sessions for it.
“When we first met she didn’t like being on her own. She suffered with bulimia when she was on her own and she’d panic.
“And I think, looking back, that’s probably why everything moved so quickly and she wanted to spend so much time with me. She didn’t like being on her own.”
Michael, who works in sales, said Imogen wouldn’t eat excessively when she was with him but he wasn’t the only person who helped her through it.
He thinks she was generally better when she had people around her and functioned better with company.
He said: “The one thing she called me was her balloon. She said in her therapy the therapist told her that she would cling to somebody or something and it would be her balloon which would keep her afloat.
“From Christmas-time really that’s what she would call me.”
He also explained Imogen would open up when she was at her “darkest points”.
At the inquest the coroner spoke of diaries belonging to Imogen that were discovered following her death.
The inquest revealed the contents of her diaries contained suicidal thoughts and details of her struggles with bulimia, anxiety, and depression.
Michael said: “What she said was she found it comforting to know if she did die the pain wouldn’t be there anymore.
“And I said: ‘Do you actually think you’d think about it?’
“And she said: ‘No, I’d never consider doing it. I just find it comforting that the pain isn’t forever’.
“I didn’t understand that but the way she explained it she convinced me that it was sensible in the way she was thinking it.
“I can’t think back now as to how she convinced me of that to be honest.”
But even though Imogen was very open about her mental health she was also seen to be happy and had a lot of things to look forward to in life.
She was living with the man she loved, she was looking to buy a new house, and she was expecting a child – something she had always wanted.
“We were buying a house, she was pregnant – I never would have thought for a second [her death] was anything that would have occurred,” Michael added.
“I knew she was down and I knew she was low at points but I thought she was back from all that.”
He also said the pair were “delighted” when they discovered they were expecting a little one.
They were due to go for a scan just two weeks after Imogen died.
Recalling the day they found out, Michael said: “She came out of the bathroom and she looked quite shocked.
“She said: ‘I’ve got something to tell you but I don’t want you to bicker with me’.
“She just pulled out the pregnancy test and I couldn’t believe it – I was so pleased.
“I knew she wasn’t taking any contraception and she said she’d wanted a baby and she wanted everything with me – a house and a family and the lot. I just didn’t think it would happen that quick.
“And it wasn’t a bad thing – it was a good shock.
“We were delighted at the news. She cried.”
Michael said June 22 this year had been an entirely normal day until his world came crashing down.
Imogen had decided to work from home at the time because Ed Sheeran was playing a concert in Cardiff and she didn’t want to get stuck in any train disruption.
The couple would usually park and ride but, that morning, Michael travelled to work alone.
“I left and because I was on my own I text her and said: ‘I don’t like the journey without you’,” he said.
“’I miss you too’, I think she replied.”
He later messaged Imogen informing her he’d arrived at work safely but as the day went on she stopped replying to his messages.
It was at this point he started to worry a little.
He said: “It wasn’t that far out of the ordinary because if she got that focused into her work she would be on form for hours at a time so I just assumed she was busy.
“But the longer it went on I thought ‘what’s going on?’
“I messaged probably about 20 times.
“Stupidly, I said: ‘Can you please tell me that you’re not lying in a heap on the floor?’
“I didn’t mean anything by it but it’s just one of those things you say.
“Then later on in the afternoon the police turned up.”
Police officers arrived at Michael’s office to tell him the awful news that Imogen had been found dead at the home they shared.
Her mother, Susan Evans, discovered her daughter’s body just hours after receiving a message from Imogen which said: “I will remove myself from the face of the earth.”
At the inquest it was heard she had argued with her mother prior to the incident.
Recounting the moment he was told of Imogen’s death Michael said: “It just shocked me. I actually threw up. I just felt completely numb.”
Since June Michael admitted he’s found it hard to cope. He’s spent the past few months trying to block things out to get by.
Michael said: “I’ve been trying to keep myself together – it’s not easy.
“I slept on the sofa for three months – I didn’t go back to bed.
“I kind of blank stuff out and people keep saying it’s not the best way to deal with stuff. I suppose it’s my way.
“People have said I should go to counselling but I don’t see any benefit in that.
“I’m comfortable talking to people I know but sitting in a room with a stranger and going through everything – it’s kind of when the emotion comes back I think.
“I have been really lucky. I have a really good network of support from my family and friends. They have all rallied together for me.”
But even though Imogen struggled with many issues throughout her short life she also had many amazing qualities that Michael was eager to talk about.
Imogen had represented Wales in both netball and rowing and was very enthusiastic about sport.
Michael said training was always a big part of her life.
“She’d take me to the park at 6am on a Sunday morning and make me run and do ridiculous exercises,” he said.
“Because I was older than her she said she wanted to keep me as fit as she could so I’d be around as long as I could be.
“She didn’t want me dying when I was young, she said.
“She was so funny. She used to say: ‘If you die, and I’m young, I’m finding somebody else. So you better stay around as long as you can’.”
It was this endearing and caring personality that made Michael fall in love with Imogen.
When you see Michael talk about his memories with her he smiles fondly and it’s instantly apparent they shared a strong connection from the very beginning.
He speaks of her with emotion, tenderness, and – most of all – love.
Michael said: “She was the nicest, kindest person you’ve ever met. And it wasn’t just me – it was when she spoke to anybody.
“When you’d have a conversation with her you’d never forget it. She was genuinely interested in people.
“I’ve never met anybody like her and I know people say that when people pass away. When people die suddenly it’s ‘she was an angel’ or ‘she was lovely’ and I feel bad thinking it but the amount of people who I’ve seen pass away, or I’ve heard of, and I think: ‘Well – they weren’t that nice’.
“But Imogen genuinely was unbelievable and everyone who I know who knows her has said the same.
“She was the life and soul of the party. Her smile was so infectious. If ever I was even slightly down she’d pick me up.
“She would always give me that inspirational talk. She would just always say the right things.”
A pathology report carried out by Dr Stephen Leadbeatter gave Imogen’s medical cause of death as pressure on the neck.
Coroner Andrew Barkley accepted this cause of death when he concluded the inquest and recorded a conclusion of suicide.
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