Thursday, 27 November 2014

Big girls don't cry


Big girls don't cry

When I was growing up, I often joked that I was a princess. But not in a pretty, tiara-wearing way; my royalty meant a heavy burden of responsibility. Daddy was a big somebody in his home town and far beyond and this put our family into a spotlight.
My brothers and I tried to rebel. We wanted the right to a childhood and to be allowed to make mistakes. But we quickly learnt that that those would cost daddy his reputation so we did our best not to embarrass him.
I have never heard my mum shouting. She always carried herself with dignity and class. Friendly, wise and full of energy she was loved by everybody. She was my queen and I was looking up to her.
And even though she was a warm, affectionate woman, the display of emotions felt somehow inappropriate. Because I never saw her crying (other than an odd classy tear at funerals),  I adopted ‘Big girls don’t cry’ attitude and started dealing with emotions in the privacy of my room and after dark.
By my early 20s I learnt the art of denial and was excelling at pretence. Tears and any display of emotions became a huge no-no and a sign of weakness. If I ever got overwhelmed and the tears could no longer be contained, I felt the need to apologize to whoever witnessed my embarrassing outburst – even if it was my boyfriend. Good girlfriends don’t cry.   
Years went by. The queen passed away and I was swallowing my tears over her grave. She left me her crown but it felt too big for me. So in desperate attempt not to let her down, I stayed strong for daddy and my brothers – being positive and helpful during the day, I sobbed myself to sleep at night, missing her dearly.
Last summer I found out that daddy had a cancer. Not wanting to believe and deal with the reality, I pretended it wasn’t serious and carried on with my life. It wasn’t until I saw him (or what was left of him), did I realise what was going on. My daddy was dying. The illness was eating him away and there was nothing I could do.  The feeling of helplessness and despair swept through me like a tsunami, washing away denial and any scraps of hope I had left.  
But my family needed me, and I had to stay strong. So I bought a month worth of supplies in cakes and chocolate – we ate, drank, laughed, took photos, shared stories and reminisced. I was constantly aware that I needed to be positive and cheerful. It took every ounce of my energy but I never let go.
Back in the UK, in the privacy of my flat I collapsed.  I got in the shower and cried until I had no more tears left.
What felt like hours later, I climbed on the sofa and called Mr Chateauneuf. As soon as he picked up, the floodgate opened again. I was embarrassed, I didn’t want him to see or hear me being a mess. So I apologised.
Much later that night, disintegrated into the sofa and surrounded by a box of used Kleenex tissues I was staring at TV. I couldn’t help but wonder, when something so terrible like cancer happens, surely it is ok to be upset. Then why couldn’t I give myself a break? Why couldn’t I let be my nearest and dearest to be there for me?
The following morning I got ready to get back to work. With the keys in my hands I took one last glance in the mirror. The reflection smiled – it wasn’t me, it was the queen. And right there I realised I grew into her crown.