As we now enter the second half of January I have had time over Christmas and New Year to reflect on the year past. No, as probably for most people 2020 was not the best year. But as events unfolded in the first days and weeks of January it looks like this new year will be even worse.
In 2020, during the first lockdown, I lost my ex-partner and father of my oldest child to complications and possibly returning cancer. He was only 57. We were together for about 3 years and when my son was 2.5 I had to escape with my life after he became more and more aggressive and threatening. That was 15 years ago. My son didn’t have much of a relationship with him either, he hardly called and only saw him maybe once a year for a few weeks. Off course we live in another country but even before that he struggled to keep a connection going. He was a big, tall man with very few words. He struggled with empathy and had suffered terrible physical and emotional abuse from his mother. He has 3 brothers of which one committed suicide at 18. So yes, I understand why he was the way he was. We had made amends a few years ago, there were no hard feelings anymore between us. But still, his death was a massive shock for me, and for my son.
It is strange, lots of memories and pain surfaced in the wake of his death. When my son was 1 I became pregnant again, but after 3 months I had a miscarriage at Christmas. My mother had a dream about this baby, it was a boy and his name was Toep. But my partner was not supporting me at all. He got annoyed that I was mourning him, having waves of intense sorrow, I was crying for days and weeks. When he was born, he was so tiny, but perfectly formed fingers and toes. He was no bigger than the palm of my hand. I held him for a moment, and then I burried him in the front garden and planted a tree on top, called ‘golden rain’ in Dutch.
When I moved out and came back a while later my ex-partner had removed the tree. I don’t know why. But that was very painful. The whole separation was horrendous. I was terrified of him. I was really afraid he would kill me. He nearly did a few times. If I had stayed, I am sure it would have come to that. My son was also afraid. His first memory was of me and him huddled together under the dining room table, afraid his dad would beat us.
But, there were also many good memories, and we did have good times. So when he died all those also came back, and why things went wrong. I felt pain and intense sadness that we had failed our relationship and that now my son doesn’t have a father anymore. I feel very sad for my son, I so much wanted him to have a father, to have his guidance and friendship and love. I know his father has done his best with the few parenting skills he had, with the even less emotional skills he had to be a good dad to him. And really, you can’t do more than that. Now that he died, it made me reflect on my own parenting and behaviour towards my children. I am not much better off than him, really. And all I can do is my best with the tools and skills I can learn and have.
Yes, 2020 has made me reflect and then more determined to try and be a better person, a better parent and to work harder on loving myself, being myself and accepting who I am. My ex-partner’s death has made me realise there is no time to lose, I have to do what I want to do with my life now, today.
Last year I also broke with my parents. And renewed my relationship with my sister. I decided to try and live exactly the life I want, on my terms. That is not easy. To try and improve myself I had weekly phone calls with a very good therapist, who has helped me a lot. I started this blog, making drawings, poetry and photography to help with this too. And I started to study. It is ironic that in the year I decided to want to break my social isolation and face my social fears a pandemic breaks out and I am back locked up in my home with my children and my dog. And the devil I know.
As I am here alone at Christmas, I think of Christmas past. Seventeen years ago I miscarried my son Toep. I held him in my hand for a moment, not bigger than my palm. His face, hands and feet were already developed, he had the tiniest fingers and toes.
I buried him in the front garden and planted a tree on top. As the grief washed over me, wave after wave, his father was cold and heartless. My cries annoyed him. My sorrow angered him. I ended up running away from him, with our son, fearing for my life. He died last year.
Now my son only has me, and my other daughter, his half-sister. And I grieve alone. I look back and I realise I have always ever been alone.
Just like that Christmas Star. It is enveloping me, like a comforting blanket. But it is time to get out there, and face my fears and demons.
So my goal for 2021 is that I make new friends and truly connect. I need to show my real me, but also set boundaries and protect myself. Because I don’t want to be alone at Christmas or any other day. I want to live outside the cage I built and truly enjoy life. And I want to share it with someone.
But only with someone I can trust and who is interested in me, someone who actually cares.
So for all of you out there, cherish the people who love you, and love them back. But most of all love yourself. At the end of the day, the person you have to live with every second of the day, is yourself, so you better get to love that person most.
If you are like me, treated badly all your life and you can’t trust your own parents, you have to trust and rely on yourself. What has happened to you is not your fault. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t mean you are worthless. On the contrary, you are precious.
If you can’t think of any reason why you should live, make time to discover your talent, your joy, your reason. Dig into yourself and discover the gem inside. There is one. But it all has to start with self love. Find the little spark of love inside and shield, feed and care for it. It’ll grow bigger, the care becomes easier. And you’ll suddenly find yourself enjoying something intensely. You are then on your way.
That is my Christmas pledge to myself and my message to you. Life can get better, just work on it one tiny step at the time.