IT WAS a tragedy that shocked the nation in the run-up to Christmas.
The grim discovery of the bodies of Melanie Stevens and her two young football-mad, train-loving boys touched families far beyond the small North Wales community where they were found.
Barely a month later, it is still not known what moved Ms Stevens to smother her two children, before hanging herself.
But weeks after haunting images of brothers Izaak, two, and Philip, five, and their snow-covered Trawsfynydd cottage stopped being a feature of the nightly evening news, their grandmother – Melanie’s mum – has spoken of her entire family’s enduring agony for the first time.
In a brave interview, loyal to the memory of her daughter, grief-stricken Pauline Stevens insists her daughter was a “good mother” who loved her children.
“She was lovely. She was complex. She loved her children,” she told Wales on Sunday
“That sounds really bizarre, but she did love her children.
“She was a good friend to people. She was a 36-year-old modern young lady.
“I thought she was very beautiful. She had her down times as well as her up times as we all do.”
Ms Stevens, 67, did not criticise her daughter, who she said at one time suffered post-natal depression, for the deaths, and insisted anyone could crack under strain.
“We’re all capable of doing something like she did – every single one of us given the right circumstances.
“I believe only God will know what was in her head at that time. She must have been in a very bad place.
“I’ve been talking to friends and there were a few things that happened to her in the last 12 months that she wasn’t happy about.
“But I don’t know how deeply, and I don’t suppose any of us would ever know how deeply, they had affected her.
“There were all sorts of problems; she never had a very easy life.
“She had had post-natal depression and there were lots of complications in her life.”
Recalling the horror of the past six weeks, the heart-broken grandmother, who has four grown-up children, said she felt “cold” and “numb” when told of her daughter’s death by police.
“For the first few weeks you are sort of numb. Absolutely numb. You don’t feel anything very much.
“It’s like somebody switches off all the things you would normally be doing.
Ms Stevens, from Wolverhampton, added: “You forget to have a wash, you forget to clean your teeth, you forget to eat – all the things you would do automatically.
“It’s almost like a time warp. I don’t think I cried for a long time. You’re just so shocked and then other things take over. The police are suddenly involved in your life and you’re waiting on this report or that. Your life just stands still for a long time.”
Mum-of-five Melanie, 36, had lived in Trawsfynydd for about 18 months, after moving from nearby Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Police forced their way into the single-mum’s stone-built property at 8pm on Sunday, December 19, after frantic relatives were unable to get in, and came across the scene of horror.
In the wake of the tragedy Izaak’s father Nicholas Smith movingly described his son and brother Philip as “beautiful little boys”.
He called them “lovers of trains, footballs, cars, puddles and tickles” and said they “absorbed all the love they were given from all who knew them and returned it a million times over”.
A grandmother of 11, Ms Stevens told how she and her three sons and daughter Natalie did their best to shield the youngsters from the tragedy over the festive season.
“It was Christmas and new year and we had to do Christmas because we have other young children in the family and they didn’t know what was going on.
“So we had to still have the presents and the dinner because that’s what they were expecting, but it was all very sad and very poignant.”
Melanie, who went to secondary school in Harlech as well as Blaenau Ffestiniog, also had three older children – Rebekah, 15, Adam, 14, and Ryan, 12 – with ex-husband Peter Akister. The two older boys live with their father in Penrhyndeudraeth, in Gwynedd, whereas Rebekah lives with her aunt Natalie in the West Midlands.
Ms Stevens stressed the anguish caused by the deaths extended well beyond her – not least to Melanie’s three older children.
She said: “They are going through hell. To try and normalise situations that are nothing like normal is very hard.
“And they’re going through all the usual teenage angst anyway. Like all teenagers they know everything and they know nothing, bless them. And Rebekah is living with my daughter (Natalie), who has her own teenager daughters so it’s been difficult.
“We have to explain things in greater detail than you would to another adult because they’re teenagers and they don’t understand the world or necessarily understand what’s happened.
“They understand their mother’s not there, but they don’t understand the sorts of things that could have led up to it any more than we do.
“We have no idea what the catalyst was and we’re all asking questions.
“We all live in a very stressful world and there are all sorts of things people cope with on a day-to-day basis that they don’t necessarily share with family or friends.”
But while dealing with the formalities surrounding her daughter’s death has been a distraction from her grief, Ms Stevens said she has been overwhelmed by heartrending messages of support from strangers.
“You sort of prepare yourself for a lot of things, like the police interviews. You take your tissues so you’re prepared.
“But it’s when somebody says something that it hits you. I had a card from somebody who knew my daughter and her family and it said the most beautiful things.
“That makes you weep. It’s when people who are nothing to do with you – they’re not your friends and they’re not your family – have to write and express their feelings. And that sort of thing really does touch you.
“And I had a lovely letter from her Sunday school teacher from years ago. I’ve been amazed by how many people it has affected.
“None of us know how many people we have touched in our lives through a kind word here or a smile there and people remember it.
“The ripples go out so far and you’re surprised by how many people feel it.
“I just told somebody today what happened and they got very upset so I gave them a hug.
“Nobody ever prepares you for anything like this. It’s not something you can ever prepare yourself for.
“It’s very different from somebody who has been ill; it was totally out of the blue. There are so many ifs and onlys.
“I think we might still be asking why even after the inquest. We may never know why.”
Meanwhile, the mother and grandmother said she wanted to avoid falling into the trap of looking for someone to blame for the deaths.
“Whenever there’s a death, regardless of how it happens, even if someone just dies in a car crash, people want to blame somebody because it’s easier.
“I don’t necessarily want to do that. It’s never going to go away. We just have to learn to live with it and cope with it.”