How diary notes for my dead son saved me from drink and drugs

By Rosa Doherty, August 29, 2014
Family snap: Rochelle with Dean (left), Jolan and Eddie

Family snap: Rochelle with Dean (left), Jolan and Eddie

The mother of a young actor who collapsed and died while playing football has spoken about the extraordinary lengths she went to, to escape a depression that saw her spiral into drink and drugs.

Rochelle Saunders and her husband Eddie say they lost a year of their lives, mixing a cocktail of drink and prescribed drugs and abandoning their parental responsibilities to cope with the pain.

The only way she got through it was by writing it all down in the form of a diary as a way of trying to keep a conversation with her son.

Dean Saunders, 16, had just scored a goal for Wingate and Finchley when he collapsed and was rushed to St Albans hospital. He died of the rare condition, adult death syndrome.

Rochelle's Diary has now been published as a book which she hopes will help people facing the same tragedy.

She said: "I never expected it to be a book. It was just a place to speak to Dean and to write about the pain I was feeling, each day as it came.

"Our life stopped when Dean died and for a year as parents we were out of it."

The couple from Chigwell sold their family business in electrics and entered a downward spiral of grief and isolation.

Mrs Saunders said: "We were drunk all the time, we took pills all the time. I don't know how Jolan, our eldest son, survived watching his parents fall apart.

"He didn't just lose his brother he lost us, for that first year we were awful, we didn't exist at all and he had to be the parent. There were times I forgot to cook because I'd been drunk or I was crying. To go out shopping was the biggest ordeal."

As a child actor, Dean had appeared in EastEnders as Ian Beale's step son for six weeks.

He also played Gavroche the street tearaway in the stage show Les Misérables, for four months while at Chigwell School.

Ten years on from his death Mrs Saunders, now 62, said taking each day as it comes and the gift of a grandchild has given them a new joy to focus on.

Her 72-year-old husband said they became social outcasts in the months following Dean's death.

He said: "At first everyone gathered around us but soon people just vanished, they avoided us, they crossed the road when they saw us coming. We stopped being invited out by most of our friends. People don't know what to say, they don't know what to do, so they do and say nothing."

As members of Newbury Park Synagogue in Ilford, religion has always played an important part of their life.

But Mrs Saunders said she struggles to feel positive about her faith "I still believe in God but I don't like him.

"I never go to shul and I won't go to the levayah or the grounds."

Rochelle's Diary is available on Amazon, Publisher and Waterstones.

    Last updated: 11:45am, August 29 2014