It’s been twenty years this year.
I am taking my moment to sit and think and write. It’s a thing I do each year and I like it. So here I am again. The weather outside is atrocious. Drops of rain hitting against the window, reminding me of memories hitting when I least expect them. I always think to myself “People who haven’t lived through this, do not understand.” Grief. And the way grief hits you randomly sometimes.
When the weather is too rainy, too dark, too cold outside. A specific street in Rotterdam where I don’t like to ride my bike. The road to the hospital. Memories of cycling there on my tiny bike. It was the bike I got for my tenth birthday. My mum had bought it before she went into the hospital. (She wrote a little note to my dad when the time for my birthday came around. “Don’t forget Vief’s birthday present!!”)
Happy birthday, now you can ride your bike to the hospital every day. In the cold, in the dark, in the pouring rain.
My birthday that year, my cousin came to escort a gaggle of primary school kids to a museum. She helped out and made sure we had a great time. I will always be thankful for that. For the way she ensured that I had a nice birthday party even though my mother was in the hospital.
Speaking of birthdays… December 9th was the date she picked to join my mum. December 9th, my mum’s birthday, the day we use to celebrate her life. Life works in these ways, sometimes.
It was hard. To see my little cousins at the same age that I was, twenty years ago. Running around, playing, not really understanding. What is there to understand when your mum dies at 46 years old? Nothing makes sense. Twenty years later, and it still doesn’t make sense.
All I want to do is take them and hold them and protect them from this life that nobody understands. And yet. The older I get, the more years pass… I meet more people who do. More people who encountered grief. And here’s the thing: grief is different for everyone. And I can’t protect anyone from anything.
So no, people don’t understand, and I don’t understand people… all we can do is try. Try to understand. Try to support where we can. And I’m not alone. Eventually, I need to stop thinking like this.
I was afraid to be “that girl who lost her mum” and that it would be everything that defines me. I was ashamed to be seen as helpless. So I fought hard to be independent and self-sufficient. But nobody is completely independent. And I learned that it is okay to rely on others, there is beauty in looking for help, and in being together.
For a big part of 2017 I was mourning. Mourning a relationship and all that it could have been. Mourning loss. Allowing the grief for what happened twenty years ago to finally be part of me. I am lucky to have people around me who are supportive and understanding. It’s been a tough road to try and understand, but I’m finally learning to comprehend things about myself, where I used to try and ignore them.
we accept what we expect
It took me almost twenty years to acknowledge my grief. To accept it. To do something with it other than ignoring it, pushing it away, pretending it doesn’t exist. You cannot hide from grief. Grief is real, and it grabs you sometimes, and you have to let it. You have to work through it. I am glad I finally have. I feel more like myself.
Is it ironic that I am listening to Coldest Winter – a cover of a song that Kanye West wrote about the death of his mother? Not at all. I find beauty in that coincidence, that this song made its way into my brain through my excessive listening of PTX’s Christmas songs in the past month. That this morning I woke up with the distinct thought that I needed to listen to that song. Then I found out it was about Kanye’s mum… and it made sense.
There are things like death that don’t make sense. And then there are things like that, things that just make sense.
If spring can take the snow away, can it melt all our mistakes?Kanye West – Coldest Winter
No, it can’t. The memories made in that winter will be some that I will never forget. Winter is a hard time and that is a fact of life. Sometimes I reread things that I have written and I want to grab past-Vief and hug her and tell her things will be alright. I am so glad I am now in a mental space where I feel that things will work out for the better. It took me a while to get there, but I have made peace with December this year.
Last year I thought I could finally be at peace with December and then right at the start of it that turned out to be one of the least peaceful Decembers in a while. But it’s okay, because it brought me where I am now. Apparently I needed to learn that lesson.
I tried to write about these things. I haven’t actually finished writing. But here’s the gist of it:
A lot of things happened in the last thirteen months and I keep saying, “If you told me one year ago that this would be my life now, I wouldn’t have believed you”. Luckily, most of it is for the better. I moved (twice!), I changed jobs, I picked up hobbies I hadn’t had the time for in a while, I met so many new [lovely!!!] people, I found a family, I came home.
For twenty years, I found my home in other people. I didn’t have a ‘real’ home in the sense of a family, a sofa and a cup of tea. I found the sofa and the cup of tea with my friends. With lovers. At other people’s houses. With other people’s families.
In the last year, I have finally found my home that is completely my own. I cannot put into words where my homes are, but the most important thing is I have my own place with all my things and I’m happy here. Really happy. It’s a happiness and a calmth that comes from within and I am so glad that it’s not thanks to outside validation …
However, it’s not just thanks to my home that I’m happy. It’s thanks to so many things. Things that happened this year, some things that I worked for. That I strived to get and that I put energy into. I was determined to work on myself and my life this year and I did. I was happy to do it. It’s beautiful and rewarding.
Eventually, coming home isn’t necessarily about starting again (although that can help). Someone who I was close to recently said it like this: “Your mum isn’t really dead. She lives on in you, in the things that you do.” I carry that part of me with me forever. It’s who I am. I carry all my past experiences with me forever and instead of letting it burden me, I want to take those things and let them help me.
turning change into growth
My word for 2017 was growth. The last part of 2016 was full of change. Change is inevitable… change can be good, bad, both, in-between. But it *is*. Yet the trick is to make change into something beneficial. To make it help you grow. This is why I picked growth for 2017. I knew things would change but I wanted to channel the inevitable. I feel I’m well on my way, but the beauty of growth is, you’re never done. Since, I have changed and grown a lot, and I hope I can continue to grow.
I’m still thinking on a word for 2018. The future is unknown, and that can be scary. But I know I can no longer rely on an “ideal”, a fantasy that is usually along the lines of “If only X, then I’ll be happy”. Fantasies that look like this: If only I have a partner, then I’ll be happy. If only I have my white picket fence. But no… Happiness is not a destination that you can arrive at. It’s a state of being and you can strive for it in really small, everyday things that you do. It’s in getting enough sleep, in loving what you do, in doing the things that you find meaningful.
One thing is for sure: You cannot rush happiness.
You also cannot rush relationships
It’s a lesson that I have learned in the last twenty years, and that I will continue learning. And I have a feeling I’ll write more about that as time passes. All I know is that by not having expectations, by leaving behind the immense pressure that no relationship is able to support, by going with the flow… I feel a lot more at peace and prepared for what might come.
Maybe I can equate it with my running adventures. I ran 31k in one weekend this year, and this is not an achievement that just happened. In contrast, I worked for it. I trained by running often, as well as going out multiple times a week. Different distances, different paces, different strategies. I got special soles made to work in special shoes. I made sure I stretched well beforehand and afterwards. Also, I had to keep in mind to stay hydrated. All things to ensure that you run a happy, injury-free long distance with a smile on your face.
slow and steady wins the race
Life and relationships work in much the same way. You have to take care of yourself, you have to make sure you’re doing the right things to keep things going smoothly and you can keep smiling, and in the end you will reach that happiness that all of us long for.
But ‘reaching’ is not the right word, for happiness isn’t in crossing the finish line. It’s running the 21km before that line with magic in your being. And yes, there are setbacks. You will not break records every time you go for that run. But you lace up your shoes and you strive for a good run anyway. And that’s all you can do.
Put everything in place to try and achieve the thing you need (maybe it’s a fast run, maybe it’s a long distance, maybe it’s just clearing your mind…) Sometimes you do end up injured. You figure out you tried too much, too fast. Or you didn’t stretch enough. So you readjust. Reconnect. Try again.
fall, get up, fall better
And sometimes you experience injury because of things out of your control. You find a setback through an accident. That’s the way life works. But don’t let the setback define you, let the way you work to get up, the way you choose to give that setback place in your being, inspire you to be the best person you can be. Don’t let things that happened twenty years ago, stand in your way. Grief will catch up with you. And although there is place for mourning, it’s not grief that defines you.
December 31st is never going to be a good day. It’s a day to stay in pyjamas and write things. But I’m glad I’m finally not depressed anymore. I can think about life and death without wanting to die myself. I am glad I found a balance, to allow myself to grow, as well as allow myself to stand still sometimes. To mourn and to celebrate. To try and live step by step. And to leave the outside expectations and societal pressures.
the end is not the goal
I feel that I am currently at this point in my life where I’m not scared to be where I am. Not scared to be the age that I am, or scared to not have achieved all the things I expected to have achieved. Not ashamed that I’m not riding the relationship escalator. Never apologetic for calling out problematic behaviour. Not afraid to speak my mind and fight for what I believe in.
I hope I can continue this. Because happiness is not a destination. It’s just a moment. It’s the journey. Best wishes and good luck on your journey.