A doting man has taken on his seven-year-old autistic brother after both their parents died within a year of each other.
Devastated Conar Sycamore, 29, was even asleep in the same room as his mother when she passed away suddenly in her sleep – just weeks before her partner planned to propose.
Childhood sweethearts, Clara Sycamore, 50, and her long-term partner, Colin Flatman, 51, both died suddenly from unrelated illness within 12 months of each other.
Clara’s oldest son, Conar has bravely stepped up from ‘fun brother’ into a fatherly role as he attempts to bring up his younger sibling, Mason Flatman, single-handed.
The half-brothers, who shared mum, Clara, are now trying to navigate a life without their much-loved parents.
Conar, a head chef, from Colchester, Essex, said: “As Father’s day approaches it’s all starting to feel really real.
“I can never replace Mason’s amazing dad, but I have to try and do all the things that he would have done.
“I’m still his big brother but now I’m the one raising him.
“Coupled with the loss of our parents, it’s a lot to take on but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Family is family.”
Conar, who gave up his job as a chef to take care of his little brother, is now taking stock of his new role as guardian.
He said: ”I’ve been a chef most of my life and it was the typical restaurant lifestyle, lots of late nights working and then beers with the staff after.
”I used to work 70 hour weeks, working Tuesday to Sunday, in hotels and nice restaurants.
”We’d go into town after work or at weekends and not stumble in til three or four in the morning.
”I was a bit of a party animal.
”On days off or weekends I’d be at festivals, or socialising down the pub with my mates.
”We’d often go to the beach at Yarmouth for days out.
”Basically anywhere there was beer, music or dancing I’d be there.
”It was fun but it was a gruelling lifestyle.
”I can’t do any of that now I’ve got proper responsibility with Mason.
”I gave up my job pretty much as soon as I heard about what had happened to Colin, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do look after Mason and work those mad hours.
”Things are going to be really different now, I’ve got proper responsibilities.
”I was always fairly responsible before but this is another level.
”I’ve got to plan everything with Mason in mind, keeping him at the forefront of all my decisions.
”It is a really big change.
”I was a single man before with nothing really tying me down.
”My life has changed a lot.
”These days it’s going to be trips to the park, Legoland and days out at the zoo.
”Lots of football of course too.
”Any fun actives that Mason wants to do.
”We’re also going to try and spend more time with the family so he’s got a really secure network around him too.
”I’m looking at getting back into being a tree surgeon, something I’m already qualified in, as the hours perfectly fit in with Mason’s school day.
”Or maybe a job in a cafe. Restaurant hours just won’t work now.”
The family’s ordeal began in 20th March 2020 when Conar woke to find step-dad, Colin trying to revive mum, Clara, who had fallen asleep on the living room sofa.
Despite his best efforts, Clara was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics just minutes later.
He explained: ”She was on medication for various things, but nothing that anyone thought might be life-threatening.
”She did have a history of heart disease and we found out from the coroner that due to complications her heart just stopped beating in her sleep.
”It took me a while to get over the feeling of guilt that I could have done something, as I was on the airbed in the living room that night.
”I hated myself that I didn’t wake up to help her.
”But we were told she wouldn’t have been in pain which was some comfort.
”It was pretty harrowing waking up to that, but even then I knew I just had to focus on my little brother, making sure he was out of the room and distracted so he didn’t have to see his mum like that.
”My mum was such a fun, active caring woman – she had a very hard childhood herself which I think made her want to be the best mum she could be for all of us.
”Although it was very hard losing her, Mason and Colin and I all had each other.
”Colin had always been like a father figure to me and we grew really close after she died, we helped support each other through it all.”
Clara was also mum to Conar’s grown-up siblings, Ashton Sycamore, a beautician, 26, and Kirsty Sycamore, 30, who works in hospitality.
After bringing up Conar and his sisters as a single mum, he was ‘thrilled’ when she reconnected with Colin – who had been her childhood sweetheart – in 2011.
Conar describes mechanic step-dad Colin as a ”a hard working, gentle giant with a huge heart”.
Clara fell pregnant with Mason aged 42, much to the shock and delight of the family.
Mason was born in Ipswich Hospital on September 15th 2013.
Conar said: ”We were all there when he was born, he had loads of hair, he was very cute.
”They were just a really happy family, we all were.
”I used to stay there a lot so Mason and I got really close.
”Because of his autism he’s really into space, maths and he loves football.
”It made it even harder to explain to him about mum’s death, I don’t think it really sunk in until bedtime, when he would cry a lot.
”But Colin was so strong for him.”
Disaster struck for a second time for the family when Colin – who was also dad to grown-up daughter, Katie Flatman, 29 – suffered a brain aneurysm at work on April 23rd 2021.
He was found in a ‘pool of blood’ by a colleague and rushed to Ipswich Hospital.
As his condition deteriorated he was transferred to a specialist team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, but after suffering another haemorrhage and a stroke medics decided nothing could be done.
His heartbroken family made the decision to turn off his life-support three days after he was first taken to hospital.
Conar said: ”When I heard that Colin was in hospital my first thought was to make sure Mason would be OK.
”I made sure I was there in time to pick up him from school and take him home as normal, so he wasn’t out of his routine.
”Telling Mason that his ‘dad’ had died too was one of the worst, hardest moments of my life.
”We waited until Colin’s mum and daughter were there too but saying those words out loud was just horrific.
”Mason couldn’t understand why his dad had left, he said: ‘Daddy promised he would never leave me like mummy, why did I let them leave?’
”It broke my heart.”
Devoted Conar explains how he ‘very quickly’ knew he would step up to the plate to look after Mason full time.
He said: ”I almost didn’t really think about it, I was on autopilot.
”But I knew I had to do it for my mum and Colin.
”Our other siblings have their own kids already too – so it made sense from that perspective.
”I know it’s a lifelong commitment, but I wholeheartedly believe I can do it.
”I’ve done lots with my life already so I’m not worried about missing out.
”I just wanted to take care of Mason.
”It has hit home a bit more recently, I’m not disappointed it’s just going to be a big change.
”I’ve got to knuckle down.
”It is a lot to let go of the freedom, it’s a big deal but the sacrifice is way more than worth it.”
Conar is in the process of applying for a Special Guardianship Order- SGO- which will give him legal guardian to his younger brother.
The pair are still living in the family home, but plan to move to Ipswich to be nearer family in the coming year.
”I really want to thank Mason’s amazing school, Hazelmere Infant’s School, in Colchester, Essex,” he said.
”They’ve been so supportive to us both.
”The headmaster started a Go Fund Me page so that Mason and I could go for a day out at the zoo but the fundraising as surpassed all expectations.
”It’s up to about £5,000 now so we’re going to start a savings account for him which he can do nice things with, but it’ll also help a lot with paying for stuff he needs over the next few years.”
For now Conar continues to be a rock for his sibling as the pair try and rebuild their lives as a team of two.
”We play football a lot, we take the dog out for walks and go out on our bikes,” Conar said.
”I want him to have a nice, happy life, despite all we’re going through.
”I want to be the best brother and father figure I can be, all rolled into one.
”My aim in life is now to make his life better, I’m going to be the brother and dad that he deserves,” he explained.