(Picture: Alex Cousins / SWNS)Shannon Ellis is just 22 but in January she bravely took on her five siblings after her mum Shelley, 39, died in January this year.
Already a mum-of-two, she became a mum of seven overnight.
This Mother’s Day she received handmade cards, boxes of chocolates and bouquets of flowers from her brothers and sisters – Mia, 16, Neve, 15, Bracken, 13, Keevie, 10, and Blaine, eight.
The brood also paid tribute to Shelley by visiting the tree where they spread her ashes near the park she used to take them to.
Shannon was already mum to Harrison, three, and Rowan, two, when she lost her mum.
Not wanting to see her siblings placed in care or split up, she decided to take them in and raise them as her own, with her partner Kieran Ferguson, 23, at their home in Hartlepool, County Durham.
Shannon, who is a full-time mum, said: ‘I always wanted to be a mum, but I never imagined I’d have to fill my own mum’s shoes and go from a mum of two to a mum of seven overnight.
‘But I promised mum I’d look after my brother and sisters.
‘She’d have hated to see them split up or in care, I never would have let that happen.
‘We have our moments, but we’re still one big, happy family – just as mum wanted.
‘Mum was just brilliant.
‘She did everything to provide for us – despite being a single parent and raising us all on her own.
Shelley with her daughter Shannon (Picture: Ellis family / SWNS)‘She’d take us on family trips to the seaside and would muck in with us playing games. On a Saturday night she’d always rustle up a huge home-cooked feast.
‘We had an amazing childhood and always felt very loved and protected by her.
‘She made me want to have children of my own and she was over-the-moon when she became a grandmother to my two little boys.’
Shannon was born seven years before her next sibling, so for the first years of her life, she and mum Shelley were inseparable.
But when Mia came along, she slid into the role as their big sister, and she doted on her younger siblings.
‘I remember the first time I met Mia and mum said I could give her a kiss,’ Shannon said.
‘She was sleeping so peacefully and I carefully kissed her tiny face – I was so scared of breaking her, she was perfect.’
As the number of her siblings grew, the Ellis’ became one big happy family, even after Shelley broke up with their dad.
‘We were all really close,’ Shannon said.
Shelley pictured in hospital with her children shortly before she died (Picture: Ellis family / SWNS‘We’d have the odd fight as brothers and sisters do, but all-in-all we looked out for each other and mum made sure we were always happy.
‘I would help her out where I could – getting my younger brother and sisters ready for school and out the door – mum couldn’t do it all by herself.’
Keen to start a family of her own, Shannon fell pregnant aged 18 after she and Keiran had been dating for eight months and had two sons – who Shelley doted on.
Harrison, three, was born in May 2015, followed by Rowan, two, in January 2017.
Shannon and Kieran moved just around the corner to give the family some more space – but that didn’t mean they weren’t together all the time.
Shannon said: ‘Mum was an amazing grandmother – she absolutely adored the boys.
‘Not a day went by where I wouldn’t see my mum.
‘She helped look after the boys if we were busy and taught me the tricks of the trade.’
But the family’s lives were turned upside down after Shelley was taken unexpectedly ill in January 2018.
Shelley was rushed to the University Hospital of North Tees, Hartlepool, where medics discovered she had a rare disease.
Shelley’s daughters (Picture: Ellis family / SWNS)Shannon was told by medical staff that her mum Shelley would never be the same, and had a maximum of two years to live.
‘I’ll never forget hearing those words,’ Shannon said.
‘I couldn’t contemplate losing her but the doctors assured that would be the case.’
When Shelley heard she didn’t have long left, she became unbelievably worried about what would happen to her children left behind.
‘It was horrible seeing the worry in her face, she loved us all so much,’ Shannon said.
‘But I promised her that the kids would never be alone and that I would step up to look after them.’
Shelley’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and just two days later they were told the end was imminent.
Shannon (centre) has adopted the role of mother to her five younger siblings (Picture: Alex Cousins / SWNS)Shelley was moved to Alice House Hospice, Hartlepool, to make her final days more comfortable, and the family gathered around to make their heart-breaking goodbyes.
‘I can’t thank the staff there enough, they were brilliant to poor mum,’ Shannon said.
‘They were so lovely and understanding and made sure she had everything she could have needed until the time came.’
On January 25, 2018, Shelley sadly passed away aged 39 – just nine days after she first started to feel unwell.
Shannon knew she had to keep her final promise to her beloved mum and stepped up to become the legal guardian for her five siblings.
She said: ‘I couldn’t have done it all without Kieran – he had no experience of looking after girls, let alone teenagers. But he took my siblings under his wing and was a pillar of strength for all of us.
‘Mum was always a brilliant judge of character and she adored him, so I’m glad she will have known that he will always look after us.
‘I can’t believe how strong my brother and sisters have been.
‘To be so young and suffer such a devastating loss is heartbreaking, but to still act as maturely as they have is amazing.
‘They are coping really well and I’m really proud.
‘We talk about mum all the time and constantly get photos out and laugh about the joy she brought to our family.
‘I think she’d be smiling down at us, proud of how we’re doing.
‘She will always be the head of this family, and I am trying every day to follow the incredible example of motherhood she set.’
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