Only recently have I begun to allow myself to feel my emotions as they come, and I mean really feel them. I used to be so scared of judgement. Scared of the sidelong glances of nosy people as they tried to sneak a peek at my unexplained outburst of emotion. Scared that someone would notice the streaks in my makeup from where the tears left their mark. Scared of being vulnerable. I'm a crier. I cry at movies where the couple gets their happy ending they so desperately deserve. I cry at videos of tiny puppies tumbling down the stairs and their mothers comforting them. I cry at weddings when the groom looks at his bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle, tears in her eyes. But when it came to something real, something that mattered, something of importance, I wouldn’t shed a tear.
I didn’t want to be viewed as weak. I thought revealing my emotions to others would somehow make me less of a strong, fearless, resilient woman. I didn’t want anyone to look down on me for being openly emotional when something would pierce through my seemingly hard exterior. I have learned, though, that having these overwhelming feelings doesn’t make me weak. It makes me human.
Seeking out the company of others when you are feeling vulnerable, sad, angry, scared isn’t cowardly. It’s brave. It has taken me a long time to allow myself to be brave, to be open to those around me about how I am actually feeling and, God, do I wish that I did it sooner. Bottling up my emotions for years didn’t do me an ounce of good. All it did was leave me feeling alone when I really could have used a shoulder to cry on.
When I found out my mother had cancer, I was so concerned with taking care of everyone else that I forgot to take care of myself. I let myself fall to pieces in the hopes of keeping my family whole. But it’s just like they say when you’re on an airplane and they advise you what to do in case of an emergency: “Before you help others, you must first help yourself.” If you are so far broken that you can’t even get yourself out of bed in the morning, how can you expect yourself to take care of your loved ones? We need to remember that, before we take care of each other, we must first take care of ourselves. Let yourself feel what you need to feel. Reach out when you need help. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles. Chances are that someone else is going through something similar and would love to know that they are not alone. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be human. You won’t regret it.
The following is a non-fiction narrative written from my perspective.
A Little Cancer
Everyone knew it was coming. We all talked about it openly, as if it didn’t scare the shit out of us. It’s only a little bit of cancer, right? No big deal. Cut her open. Snip snip. Take away a third of her kidney. Sew her back up and she’s good as new. That’s how everyone was treating it.
When the time finally came, however, everyone’s mood shifted. It wasn’t as lighthearted as it was the week before. My mother reassured us. Us being, Sian, my mother’s best friend, Kaitlin, my sister, and myself. Shouldn’t it have been us reassuring her? There was a lot of waiting that day. First, we waited to see her before the operation. The nurse called us in after about twenty minutes of setting her up. I stood anxiously in the corner while everyone listened intently. When my sister looked to me for solace, I smiled even though I didn’t feel like smiling. The nurse explained to us how it would go down. They would wheel her off into the operating room and we were free to travel around the hospital for the time being. There was a monitor that listed all the patients’ names in code, and we could see their progress from there. But there was only one code we cared about. My mother's.
When there was a little, green check mark next to her specific code, we were able to see her again. Once more, we waited. Waited downstairs by the Tim Horton’s where we had just finally had our first meal of the day at half past noon even though we had been awake since six in the morning. We busied ourselves with conversation. Sian had brought a book to read. Kaitlin was on her iPad. I was listening to Amy Schumer’s new audiobook. Sian and Kaitlin kept getting up to check the monitor and when they would walk back, noticeably disappointed, I focused, again, on Amy’s voice. When the check mark appeared, none of us had realized that it was four hours passed when the operation should have ended. We jumped from our seats and spoke with the receptionist to find out where my mother was located. We hesitated before going into the crammed room with blinking lights and beeping machines, all connected to my mother in some way, as if we could sense that something wasn’t quite right. When I saw her, my heart sunk. She looked like my grandmother just before she had died.
My mother’s comatose state was too much for my sister to handle, and she began to cry into her hands. “It’s alright,” I said. “She’s not sick anymore. She’s better.” But she didn’t look better. For the first time, she looked like someone with cancer. And when I saw her, and saw the resemblance to my grandmother, that’s when it hit me. The familiarity of the situation. My sister crying, and me trying to comfort her. I remember everyone sobbing around me while my grandmother lay in her casket. “Brittany, you’re so strong,” my aunt said at the funeral. “It’s okay to cry,” my mom had told me, but my eyes refused to shed a tear. I didn’t cry then, and I didn’t cry now. My mother didn’t wake up once the whole time we were there. Not fully. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she would ask us what we did over and over, unable to remember our answers, and we told her.
“What did you do?” I asked, in an attempt to diffuse the tension. To make everyone smile when it didn’t seem like smiling was an option. Kaitlin and Sian laughed. The corner of my mother’s lip turned up in a half smile. That was all she was capable of. Her eyes were still closed when we left the hospital at nine o’clock that night. Only once I was in the back of the van, and I was certain that no one could hear me, I began to cry. Is that strength?