Sinéad McGuinness, 14: ‘Before my dad died he said my name’

‘I learned after he died that you have to keep going. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. I wasn’t going to let it define who I was’

Sinéad McGuinness: “I notice there is a lot in the media about teenagers and sex and underage drinking. But there are a lot of teenagers who don’t drink or have sex, and they don’t get any attention.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Sinéad McGuinness: “I notice there is a lot in the media about teenagers and sex and underage drinking. But there are a lot of teenagers who don’t drink or have sex, and they don’t get any attention.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

This article is part of The Irish Times Generations project. Since April 2014, people ranging in age from 12 to 102 have shared their views on Irish life, past and present, with reporter Rosita Boland. Read all those published so far at irishtimes.com/generations

Sinéad McGuinness lives in Dublin

I was born in the millennium year. All my friends were. It’s kind of cool, because some people thought the world was going to end then.

I have three older brothers. Bobby is 26, Eamon is 29 and Gerard is 32. There is a big age gap between us, but we have always been really close, and they are very good to me. The main people in my life I look up to are my family. All my brothers have a ball in every court; they’re all clever and funny, and have a great social life.

My dad, Larry, was a secondary-school teacher. When I was eight he got sick. He had a melanoma on his ear. I didn’t understand what it was. When he got it removed they found something that wasn’t right. I knew he was sick, but I didn’t know what cancer was.

I turned nine at the end of September, and he was in hospital for my birthday, so I knew he was very sick because he wasn’t home for it.

He had a big grey beard, and I remember he lost his beard and his hair. He used to tell me that when he got better he was going to grow his beard really, really long.

He came home for Christmas at the end of 2009, but he was so weak he was in bed most of the time. He was in hospital a lot after that.

He came home in February. I remember my friends were over at the house, and I was playing them a Justin Bieber song. My father was panting, and he scared me. My mother, Eileen, was talking to him, and he wasn’t answering.

They called the ambulance, and they put a light in his face. He kind of woke up. His eyes opened.

I was too young to go to the hospital with him, but before he died he said my name, and he called out my mum’s name.

After he died my brothers and my mum brought me into the sitting room and told me. I definitely didn’t think he was going to die. I don’t think anyone understood how sick he was.

My mum’s friends were so good to us after he died, and so was my childminder, Marie Kinsella.

I learned after he died that you have to keep going. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. I didn’t want to be a victim. You have to keep swimming on. I wasn’t going to let it define who I was. I didn’t want to be the girl whose father died, with people feeling sorry for me.

When you’ve had something so big happen to you at that age, like your father dying, it makes you a stronger person. I had to be strong. You know how to deal with all the little things. Like, fights with my friends would bother me, but not that much. If I hear someone saying something bitchy about me it wouldn’t affect me. And I always tell the truth. You can only depend on yourself.

My brothers taught me to use a computer when I was three or four, to play Bob the Builder games. I got a BlackBerry in fifth class. I have an iPhone now, and I definitely could not imagine life without my phone.

 

I’m wiser now than when I was younger when it comes to dressing and make-up and hair. There’s pressure to have a nice profile picture on Facebook and look nice, although not in my group of friends. We never put pressure on each other, but I know others do.

If I think, This makes you look fatter, that’s pressure I put on myself. I had puppy fat as a child, and chubby cheeks. There is pressure to wear something that makes you look thin.

We go to discos at Wes. You don’t want anyone to think you look fat. Not that you’d care, but I do wonder what other girls are thinking. I shouldn’t care what some random girl thinks, but at the same time I wouldn’t want her thinking I was heavy or anything.

I don’t think people my age are taken notice of by society, or heard. Most people say, ‘She’s only 14, so what does she know?’ And I think if you are from a rough part of the city you are not going to be listened to the same way as if you were from a place with more money.

I notice there is a lot in the media about teenagers and sex and underage drinking. But there are a lot of teenagers who don’t drink or have sex, and they don’t get any attention.

What I think adults should focus on with people my age is mental health. Adults don’t take our mental health seriously, I don’t think. They only take it seriously if someone has committed suicide. They should take more interest in our mental health.

People my age shouldn’t feel alone. They should not ever feel that the only solution is to kill themselves. If you’re pretty and thin it doesn’t mean you’re always fine, and if you come from money it doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff going on in your head as well.