In death, Sophia Hawthorne
In death, Sophia Hawthorne "surrendered to happiness", says father Raymond. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Dad: Tell them how much you love them

GRIEVING father Raymond Hawthorne has spoken out about the need to support troubled relatives or friends, after the shock death of his daughter and actress Sophia.

Speaking from his Auckland apartment, where he was surrounded by vases of white roses, the veteran theatre actor and director revealed his family's heartbreak.

Sophia, one of New Zealand's best-known actresses, died on February 19. Her death has been referred to the coroner.

Her family are acting royalty - mother Elizabeth is currently on screen starring in TVNZ's Filthy Rich.

Raymond Hawthorne said his daughter had a busy life, and her death was unexpected.

"She'd just got a new job, teaching under-5s. She was very active. She had just done up her kitchen and dining room in her apartment, so it was all a bit of a surprise. She had been to a yoga thing in Taupo and had not long come back.

"The last thing one felt about Sophia was that she was going to do this. But her life had been very up and down and she felt things very deeply and sometimes that got twisted for her. Things got out of proportion, possibly.

"We were always very close. But we didn't recognise the degree to which she felt she didn't belong to society.

"A lot of people in this situation feel like strangers, that the world is strange around them. She was so successful in [stage show] Guys and Dolls and she had not done any performing for a year and then suddenly it stopped. I'm keeping myself busy and not stopping my life but I constantly think about Sophia and talk to her. It was wonderful seeing her. She looked so peaceful. I had never seen her like that ... surrendered to happiness.

"When they carried her coffin out, everyone stood and applauded. It was so moving."

Hawthorne said others had revealed their struggles and he had shared advice to help people dealing with such difficulties. It's been very moving for me. I always walk away with tears in my eyes. People tell me things about them I never knew."

A five-point guide might help those desperately wanting to assist, he said.

"Take them to a psychiatrist who knows how to deal with this. Make sure that they're not lonely. Ensure they feel like they're encompassed and supported. Tell them how much you love them. Make sure judgments are not made in this situation," he advised, citing the eulogy of family friend and fellow director Colin McColl at Sophia's funeral.

"As [he] said, we've got to be on to this, to what's going on in society, and we are not paying enough attention to people who are having problems. I don't think anything could have been done. Sophia was a very specific person and very strong - but with vulnerability."

Sophia starred in stage shows Guys & Dolls, Cabaret, Closer and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Her movie credits included When Love Comes and Savage Honeymoon. She was also twice nominated for best actress in a TV drama for her role in the series Insiders Guide to Happiness.

In a message in her funeral programme, her family wrote: "The power of your loving thoughts and prayers have sustained us at this time. Please keep us in your hearts and in your minds."

Raymond's words

Advice for those with troubled relatives or friends:

• "Take them to a psychiatrist who knows how to deal with it."

• "Make sure that they're not lonely."

• "Ensure they feel like they're encompassed and supported."

• "Tell them how much you love them."

• "Make sure judgments are not made in this situation."

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