Tag: Mother

Generational Trauma

When my mother got very ill in 2007 I spoke to hear a lot about family. She shared a lot of things with me that she had never shared before; about our family, about our heritage, about her upbringing, and some of the troubling things she had to endure. Some of the things she shared explained some of her very fundamental traits. What was remarkable is how aware she was of how the damage she sustained had influenced her attitudes and behaviours.

Life has not always been kind to my mother. Part of that unkindness was because my grandmother had been ill-equipped as a mother due to life being unkind to her. My grandmother did the best she could, given the post-world war circumstances she had to survive in. She made choices that, in hindsight were probably not the wisest, but she made them in order to survive. Stress makes your planning horizon shorter, and when the stress becomes institutionalised it turns into trauma, often locking you in that short term thinking. Her trauma impacted how she raised my mother the best she knew how, but like so many others who suffered trauma, could not keep herself from traumatising her daughter.

My mother’s life was not easy, but it was a hell of a lot easier than my grandmother’s. So the trauma, which was passed down from one generation to the other, became a little less. She was able to sooth some of the pain and heal some of the trauma and make better choices for herself. Better, but not always good. Her horizon expanded a little bit, when compared to my grandmother’s. She did the best hat she could in raising her children. She set me up with slightly less trauma, to make slightly better choices and therefore a slightly better life.

It is undeniable, however, that I have traits and display behaviours that are dysfunctional, which I can trace back to my mother’s dysfunctions, which in turn I can trace back to my grandmother’s dysfunctions, which in turn are linked to the things she had to do (the person she had to become) during the war. This is what I understand to be generational trauma. With a bit of luck you can diminish it with each generation, but if you are not that fortunate, you pass it along to, or even exacerbate it for the next generation.

Two weeks ago one of my friends, a person I have known for decades, made a heartless comment when we were discussing the Netherlands considering apologising for their role in the transatlantic slave trade. He mocked the idea that such a move would make any difference and cynically joked that he wanted an apology for WWII. At best he suggested that generational trauma does not exist, at worst he suggested that even if it did exist, he wasn’t suffering from it (which I doubt) and therefore nobody should be.

He’s well aware of me, my life and I’ve shared things with him about my family, their struggles and my own. His comments and callousness really hurt me and I’m not entirely sure what to do with that.

Thirteen Years

Lieve mamma,

Het is dertien jaar geleden dat ik je voor het laatst heb gezien, en ik wilde je laten weten dat het goed met me gaat. Ik ben gelukkig in mijn relatie, wat je altijd het belangrijkste vond. Ik denk dat je Joasia heel erg leuk had gevonden. Het is jammer dat je haar niet hebt mogen kennen. We wonen nog steeds in Engeland, en hebben onlangs een huis gekocht. Met een mooie tuin; eentje waarin je waarschijnlijk fijn had kunnen keutelen. Dat idee maakt me blij.

Het gaat ook goed met mijn werk. Het blijft een means to an end, en is voornamelijk zodat ik financieel stabiel ben en de overvloed kan gebruiken voor hulp en plezier, ookal is dat laatste moeilijk geweest de laatste paar maanden tijdens de pandemie.

Ook vriendschappen zijn moeilijk geweest door de pandemie de afgelopen paar maanden. Mensen hebben het moeilijk met de isolatie en ik ben niet altijd een fantastische vriend. Mijn verhuizing naar Engeland heeft het niet makkelijker gemaakt, ondanks dat ik een paar leuke mensen heb ontmoet hier. Jody en ik praten veel sinds ik ben verhuisd, maar mijn vriendschap met Robin is niet zo sterk als dat het is geweest. Hij is met andere dingen bezig, en ik ben er niet.

Ik denk vaak aan je; meestal zonder verdriet, maar dat is wel moeilijk. Soms lijkt het moeilijker met de jaren. Aanvankelijk miste ik je omdat ik bang was, en je was weg, en ik had niemand die me kon opvangen als ik viel. Maar nu mis ik je omdat ik je mis. Bij je zijn, met je praten, je dingen vragen, en dingen leren. Ik heb zo’n spijt dat ik je niet meer gevraagd heb. Ik heb een ouder nodig om me te vertellen wie ik ben. Ik mis zoveel context die alleen jij zou kunnen verschaffen.

Ik zou echt alles geven voor een paar extra jaren. Alles.

And it was cold and it rained, so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk
We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

Family History: A Dream About My Mother

This morning I woke up from a very vivid dream. I had spent the day with my mother, going around Hoorn and visiting the sites. We talked about history, of the town, of our family and of ourselves. She filled in gaps, cleared up misunderstandings, put things in context and explained things that I was sometimes too young to understand. Then we had a meal together somewhere in the harbour of Hoorn. It was a good day.

There are so many things that are unclear about our family, about our origin, about the feuds and the fights and about everything which has had an incredible impact on my personality. So much understanding has been lost regarding the generational trauma which has been passed down. Gypsies, Jews, the war, Rotterdam, Katendrecht, poverty, Hoorn, a big family, a secret, second family, physical abuse, sexual abuse, death…

It’s unfortunate that I don’t have the relationship with the few remaining family members of my mother’s generation where I can go to have conversations about some of the things which have happened during my childhood and what caused them. I miss having someone who can augment, correct, corroborate and validate some of the history; like a tribal elder.