On Sunday, I ran the Race for Life with a few friends. It was great, the atmosphere was fantastic, we raised a good amount of money, and Mum was there to watch us go (something we could never have imagined a few months ago).
Sunday evening came along and I began to struggle with the reality of Mum’s condition again. While I’m at uni, I’m in a bit of a bubble. Yes, I know Mum’s ill, and that never goes away. I’m always waiting for the phone to ring and not a day goes by when I don’t think about it; but I’m shielded from many of the day-to-day impacts that cancer has on Mum and home and family life. Being at home is different – I have no choice but to confront it; she has limited mobility, she is more tired, and she is visibly unwell.
When I got back to uni this Sunday, the pictures of the race began to appear on Facebook. There are some absolutely lovely photographs, capturing lots of really special memories. However, when I loaded them in my photo editor, they came up alongside one from last year’s race. Mum looked like any other 50-something year old woman. She’s standing next to me, taller than me, and we’re both smiling and laughing at the camera. This year we’re still smiling and laughing, but Mum’s in her wheelchair, has lost weight and is rocking the post-chemo hair (it will be the next in thing in Vogue, just you watch…). It’s horrible to see someone you love deteriorate so starkly before your eyes like that, and understandably, I’ve been feeling slightly more fragile than usual for the past few days as a result.
I’m trying to accept that it’s okay to be upset, that it’s okay to cry. To most it would seem a fairly natural reaction to cry when someone you love is dying. I remember the Monday after I found out Mum’s diagnosis, I saw someone from the uni welfare team and they asked me why I wasn’t crying (I shrugged whilst mentally responding that I was on a new record of 4 hours no crying since finding out Mum’s diagnosis and would happily cry again if that would please him). Logically, I know that crying is okay and that it is a normal reaction to death, illness, and anything else difficult in life, but sometimes I find it difficult to do.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think many of us struggle to cry or to show we’re upset. We feel like other will see it as a sign of weakness. I think we often judge ourselves if we cry and view ourselves as weak – I know I do. But I’m slowly learning that crying, or being upset, is not a sign of weakness – they are simply emotions like any other. They are natural human reactions to difficult situations. Everyone has times when they are upset, when they cry, when they completely break down and sob into their pillow. Every single human on this planet has cried at some point in their lives. Not only is that normal, but it’s completely okay. These difficult emotions deserve to be felt, and hard as it is to sit with them and experience them, it is important and healthy to do so.
I don’t think we should be ashamed of being sad or upset. I’m not saying we should cry all the time (that would be highly unproductive and a bit weird), but when we need to, and when the time is right, I don’t think we should be afraid to just let it out – whether it’s with a friend, with a teddy, on your own, or watching the final episode of Gilmore Girls one more time because it’s just too perfect. Crying is not weak; it’s simply a release of the built-up, difficult emotions that you’ve been holding onto for too long.