Sunday 16 December 2018

'Dad told me you are your own person, always strive for better' - Carlow Rose on her secret to remaining positive

Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey with her daughter Emmy and mother Angela Ray. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey with her daughter Emmy and mother Angela Ray. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

It's the classic fall-back, a difficult childhood, problems in later life and who do we usually look to blame? Our parents.

But one young woman proved last week that your past does not have to define who you are. And her powerful story struck a chord with the nation.

Just when we thought the Rose of Tralee was old hat, into the limelight steps Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey.

Ms Ray Lacey stunned a television audience last Monday night with her admission that her late father Francis and her mother Angela had been heroin addicts when she was growing up. But she said, rather than let it define her, she made the best of the cards she was dealt.

Speaking this weekend to the Sunday Independent, she explained that the secret to her success in life was down to her positive frame of mind and -most notably - the fact that her parents' love and belief in her was far greater than any addiction.

"I'll tell you a little story my dad told me," she said. "He told me a story about twin brothers who were brought up in an alcoholic home. They were shown how to be alcoholics. They were in it every day. There was violence and abuse in the house. But in the end one brother became an accomplished solicitor and outshone everyone, while the other was drinking and doing drugs. And people asked the accomplished brother, 'how are you the way you are - given where you have come from?' and he said, 'from what I have seen in my life, I went down the opposite road and knew I wasn't going to let that be part of my life and the other brother said, 'I know no different'.

Shauna at the Rose of Tralee contest, where she paid a moving tribute to her father with a version of Aslan’s Crazy World. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Shauna at the Rose of Tralee contest, where she paid a moving tribute to her father with a version of Aslan’s Crazy World. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"And my father told me: 'you be that brother you accomplished himself, who strived for better and you go for anything you want in life because you are a special, special person.

"I remember he used to say to me 'at the end of the day, no matter what I do or how you are affected, you are your own person and you will never be painted with the same brush as your mam and I. You were put on this earth to shine and make sure you do that, Shauna.'"

It was in fifth class that Shauna noticed a change in her parents. Having previously dealt with alcoholism in the family, she recalls: "My first memory was seeing my mammy was different. She looked different. She acted different and her eyes were different. I knew something was up...so I would have lost my innocence at a young age. I would have had to grow up quite quickly and be there for my siblings, help with the washing and around the house. I just felt I needed to be there for her."

She kept her struggle hidden from friends.

"Of course, growing up I was a little bit embarrassed and I didn't really tell any of my friends in school what I was going home to. And I suppose my daddy used to say to me 'there is no need to be embarrassed about who your parents are'. You are you and you make the best of what you can for yourself. Since I was a baby, he used to tell me that I was an incredible human being and to believe in myself."

Her father worked hard to get clean from heroin and by her late teens he was free from its grip. But two years later - just as they were enjoying life - he died due to heart complications.

Shauna appreciated the two years she got with the man she calls "the best daddy in the world" and it spurred her on to make the most of her relationship with her mother.

"After losing one parent, it made me cherish the other more. Even though there was a problem with drugs, my parents have always been my biggest supporters and they have been there for every part of my life.

"And even though I wasn't given the best hand of cards, I appreciated my mammy during the times I could, when she was herself. Yes, she was affected by the disease but I realised life is too short and at the end of the day, my mammy didn't make a choice.

"She didn't wake up in the morning and say 'hey, I am just going to ruin all four of my kids' lives, I'm going to make a horrible choice and wreck my body and wreck myself. It was a disease.

"So I really wanted to try and help my mammy and I suppose the only way I could help her from my own personal point of view was to be there for her in her time of need, to give her support and to give her a hug when she was down. Because I believe, even though she is battling a horrible disease, she still has a daughter to give her a hug, to still love her, to still accept her for who she is."

Shauna's mother sought help and became abstinent after Shauna told her she was going to be a mother herself.

Now a mother of daughter Emmy, Shauna says her ambition is to travel to schools - particularly those in disadvantaged areas - and to young people in Irish prisons to share her story and show that no-one is destined for a certain path, based on their parents or their past. She said it would be "incredible" if people in relevant positions of authority would reach out to her and help her to achieve her goal. She has already received dozens of hand-written letters delivered to her hotel room in Tralee, from people asking her advice.

For now she shares the philosophy she has always carried with her: "There is light, life and a great big smile at the end of the tunnel."

Sunday Independent

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