No adventure was too daunting for Rose Sandler.
The Pipersville native went diving in the Caribbean, hiking in Patagonia, lobster fishing in Maine and camel riding in the Gobi Desert.
She rode in countless horseback races. She completed the 655-mile Mongol Derby in 2014, competed in the 250-mile Race the Wild Coast in South Africa in 2016 and was named “rookie of the year” in the 100-mile Tevis Cup in California in 2017.
Sandler, a materials specialist, also suffered from mental illness and spent years battling depression. Her parents, Jay and Lisa Sandler, flew out to her home in Poway, California, in July to escort her back to Bucks County when it became clear her condition was getting worse.
She died by suicide on Nov. 23. She was 39.
“She has left her family, friends and many others she adventured with throughout the world bereaved and heartbroken,” her parents wrote in an obituary.
Sandler grew up going fishing with her father, taking nature walks with her mother and riding horses at stables near her childhood home. Her father ran a crane operating business, and she developed an early passion for taking things apart and putting them back together.
Lisa Sandler said her daughter began experiencing mental health issues during her youth. She attended Central Bucks East High School and later attended Penn State University, where she studied engineering. She went to work for Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, Connecticut, where she met and married Cameron Byrd. The marriage ended in divorce after three years.
She moved to North Carolina to manage a 40-horse stable before she was hired by General Atomics, an aerospace company in San Diego, and moved to Poway.
Although Sandler was not religious, she identified strongly with her family’s Jewish identity. She attended Hebrew school for several years and went to Camp Harlam, where she made lifelong friends. She shared her father’s love for Jewish cuisine; in the wake of her death, her friends wrote to her family about their fond memories of the latke parties she threw for Chanukah.
She had tried various medication and therapy options over the years, and when her depression grew worse in Poway, she sought treatment at Pacific Pearl La Jolla. She was close with her aunt, Abigail Sandler, who lived nearby and was a source of support as she navigated her intake interview and hospitalizations.
Her therapist, Michele Manker, worked with her for six years and said they developed a strong therapeutic relationship. Three years ago, Manker noticed Sandler stopped cycling out of her depression symptoms, which she had previously been able to do on a regular basis.
“In 40 years in the mental health profession, I have never seen anyone struggle this hard, just helpless, and try just about every form of therapeutic intervention that’s offered, really,” Manker told the Exponent.
She added that the pandemic had little impact on Sandler’s sense of isolation and hopelessness. In fact, Sandler once told her that the crisis meant everyone in the world had a sense of how she felt all the time.
Her parents said they tried every option that could offer hope for their daughter, but nothing seemed to stick.
“If there had been something that we could have found — we sure looked high and we sure looked low, but at this point, it’s not out there yet,” Jay Sandler said.
Abigail Sandler said condolences have come pouring in on social media since her niece’s death. Friends have shared stories about her kindness, intelligence and sense of humor, and her paddling club, the Hanohano Outrigger Canoe Club, held a memorial in her honor. Traveling Stories, the storytelling organization she volunteered with, has also reached out. Some of her family members who have not spoken to each other for years are reconnecting to share their grief.
Lisa Sandler regrets not talking more frequently with her daughter about her illness and how much she loved her in the last months of her life. If she could do it over again, she said, she would ask her how she was feeling every day to check if she was planning to hurt herself.
She and her husband hope that other families impacted by mental illness and suicide can learn from their experiences and know they are not alone.
“Every family is different,” she said. “Keep being vigilant every day, as best you can, depending on your circumstances.”
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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