- Family and Parenting
I became a mum overnight
Sophie and Sean are grieving for their parents
June 7, 2009
Today, my world collapsed. Mum killed herself. She put a coat on over her pyjamas, left the house and jumped in front of a train.
The last thing we did was argue. I was leaving for teacher training college and had just had enough. "You're putting your own problems before your children," I shouted. "If you can't be there for me, I can't be there for you." I'll regret those words forever. Did she kill herself because of what I'd said?
She didn't leave a note, but my brother Sean, 14, and I don't need an explanation. For the last 17 months, Mum's been consumed by depression - ever since my dad Rob, then 49, died suddenly after an epileptic fit. She stopped going to work as a carer and turned to alcohol to numb her pain.
"I just want to be with your dad," she'd slur, her eyes red from crying. "How can I go on without him?"
I'd begged her to stop drinking, but she'd drifted too far away from us. I have to believe she wasn't in her right mind when she chose to leave us.
Sean won't cry in front of me, but I know he's devastated and he's worried about being left alone.
"I'm not going anywhere, Sean," I tell him. And I mean it.
One minute I'm furious at Mum for leaving us, the next I'm choked with guilt. While I struggle to keep on top of the housework, Sean hides in his room playing computer games. Thinking of the old days physically hurts me. I remember so much laughter in our house before... why didn't Mum fight for our family? Didn't she love us enough?
Family members have asked us if we want to move in with them but our house in Rochford, Essex is home. All our happy memories are here - we don't want to leave. Each day, bills thud through the letter box along with the sympathy cards and I'm not sure what to do.
Mum's funeral was today. Saying goodbye was awful. She's buried with Dad - together again.
As much as it hurts, I know we couldn't have saved her - she didn't want to stay in this world without Dad. Being suddenly orphaned has left me and Sean wrecks. I'm drinking too much, but it's the only way I can cope.
My friends and family keep saying: "Don't turn into your mother."
I won't do that to Sean. But I'm only 18 and I just need time to get my head around all of this.
I'm not going to let myself get swallowed up by grief like Mum. Sean needs me. I have to prove I can be a mum and dad for him. So, no more drinking. I need to be strong and I can be.
"I'm going to look after you,"
I told him, as I stuffed his school uniform into the washing machine.
I saw the relief in his eyes.
My auntie will be Sean's legal guardian, and will look after our benefits and the money Mum left. I'll look after Sean and we'll stay in our family home. My friends have been amazing. I know I haven't been forgotten, and that makes me feel like the old Sophie.
Like a robot, I've been cooking, doing laundry and housework. I'm tempted to get a takeaway every evening, but I have to be responsible. Some nights, Sean helps me cook. We had to learn to look after ourselves when Mum was ill so we've slipped easily into a routine. Being in our family home is bittersweet. We love having photos around, and the chairs Mum and Dad sat in, but Dad died in this house, and Mum was very unhappy here.
I'm working part-time in McDonald's, getting up at 5am some days. It helps with money while I'm studying to be a teacher. Sean's in bed when I leave the house, but breakfast is waiting and his uniform is always clean. I feel like everyone's eyes are on me, and I don't want people to think I'm failing.
But the change in roles is taking its toll on my relationship with Sean. I'm the big sister suddenly telling him what to do.
I don't blame him for finding it hard. Today we rowed about his mess and his anger spilled out.
"Don't tell me what to do!" he snapped, storming off and slamming a door. "You're not my mum!"
He's right, I'm not, but I'm all he's got. Instead of screaming at him like a sister, I tried to work out what a parent would do. I'm going to look into organising boxing lessons for him so he can vent his frustration.
I miss my old life. Instead of thinking about what to wear on
a Saturday night, I'm nagging Sean to do his homework and trying to budget a week's shopping. I'm tired all the time. I had no idea it would be this difficult.
My auntie gives us an allowance from Mum's inheritance. It's not much but we make do. We do our best to afford things that Sean needs, like school trips. I do feel like I'm missing out. I can't go and work abroad like I wanted to. And I don't want to confuse things by dating.
The future overwhelms me.
I'll be the one meeting Sean's first girlfriend, getting him out of trouble when he loses his way. I worry about him all the time. He thinks I resent him but I don't, I just want the best for him.
Sean is about to go off on holiday with our grandparents.
"Have you got your swimming trunks?" I asked. "And be careful when you go in the sea."
Sean laughed. "You're fussing like Mum," he said.
I caught his eye and smiled. I always worried about him, but it's different now - he's my responsibility.
I stayed with friends while Sean was away, and loved not worrying about cooking or doing the laundry. But the novelty wore off. I missed being at home and I missed Sean. He came back today and dumped tons of dirty washing in the basket.
"Hey!" I chided gently, smiling.
"I missed you, Soph," he said, giving me a quick hug.
Sean's the most important thing in my life now. We're making each other feel whole again. I'm so proud of him.
I've slipped into a routine of being 'Mum and Dad', working at McDonald's and my teacher training during term time. Considering everything Sean's been through, he's doing well at school. He wants to be a paramedic one day. I want to do everything I can to make sure he succeeds.
Every day I get more confident in my new role, but I don't know what I'd do without friends and family. Their help means I can go out once a week, or have the odd weekend to myself.
Sean and I are determined not to let what Mum did make us bitter. We both get down sometimes, but we laugh, too. Sean has the same sense of humour as Dad and is always making me giggle, when I never thought I'd laugh again. Sean's not a burden - he's my lifeline. Mum and Dad would be very proud of us both.
SEAN SAYS: "Mum and Dad's deaths tore me apart. I started having counselling which really helped, and I learnt to trust that I wouldn't lose Sophie, too. I can't thank her enough for being such a great sister to me and I love her a lot."