Well, what an interesting year 2016 was, (in the sense of ‘may you live in interesting times.) My father died in February. We had always had a rocky relationship, and making sure he was cared for in his final two years, when he was suffering from dementia, was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. 2014-2015 brought the rest of my dysfunctional family back into my life in a big way too, putting me in their spotlight in a way I hadn’t had to endure before. I soon discovered I was not going to make it without help, and I put myself into therapy to try to make myself into the sort of person who could cope with this.
It was a year’s course of therapy, and how I wish I’d done it earlier! I learned that I had the right to say ‘no’ to my sisters. This did result in one of them deciding never to speak to me again – but after the months of weeping and raging over the rejection had settled, I discovered that I didn’t actually want to talk to her much either. So I am actually quite proud of her for making a move that did us both good, in the long term. Our family had always caused us pain – let it end, then.
And I’m sad to say that when my Dad died this year, that also came as a relief. I debated not saying this, because it’s not the sort of thing you’re allowed to say about your family. But then I remembered that this was also the year in which I promised myself I would stop being silent, and I decided I would say it after all.
I loved him – all my life I wanted his approval and raged because it seemed to me that although he loved me, he profoundly wanted me to be someone else (and therefore he didn’t love me at all.) Although the last two years almost killed me – literally, the stress symptoms were wild – I’m thankful that we had them, so that (maybe) he could see that my refusal to take money from him was because I didn’t need to be paid to love him, and so that I could see that his insistence on trying to give me money was because it was the only way he knew of to express love.
(We fought a lot about money. Dad used it as a way to gain power over people, and to accept it was to accept a position of subserviance. Everyone could be bought, but he didn’t think there was anything wrong in that – it was just the way his world worked. He honestly couldn’t conceive of anyone doing anything for any motive other than money. My writing was a mystery to him, when I could have earned much more in almost any other job.)
I also had the chance to finally get to know him as one adult to another. It amazed me to see in him the self same anxiety and depression I had been suffering all my life, and that my daughter now shares. It was an eye opener to realize that he too was maybe not entirely responsible for the workings of his own brain – that the desperate thing that whines and batters itself against the closed windows of the inside of my head was in him too. I wish he’d been able to have therapy too, before it was too late. It would have helped him. But he would have laughed for scorn at the very idea. I never told him about my own.
I never told him about his trans grandson. He would have ridiculed us both if I had, and so he never saw his grandson as he truly was… and now I’m just making myself sad.
In February my father died, and after the funeral I went through six months of feeling liberated; I felt wary – waiting for the other shoe to drop – and guilty for not feeling any real grief. (By contrast, when my mum died I felt like the world had ended and it was not to be rebuilt for two full years.)
I don’t know whether I’m a terrible person, or whether dad reaped what he sowed in raising us the way he did. But 2016 has been for me the first year ever when I have not been wrung like a dishrag with anxiety about my family of birth. I have felt hopeful and balanced and strong as a person for the first time ever. I even looked forward to Christmas with no fear that I would get everything wrong and be disowned. It was very odd.
But the world is not like a story, and every time you think you’ve got to a satisfying conclusion something new comes along to throw you back into a state of human turmoil. 2016 was also the year when I found a lump in my abdomen, which has grown rapidly to the point where I now look 6 months pregnant. On 1st February 2017 I will go in for a hysterectomy, at which point we will find out what it is. Is it a huge fibroid? Is it something more sinister? We just don’t know.
And then of course there is the state of the world. I doubt that 2017 is going to be better than 2016, with Trump as president, and Brexit on the way. The future is full of dread.
But even as I say that, I remember that my major lesson in 2016 was that nothing quite turns out the way you expect. The Lord has given me strength to get through two years where I wanted to die. He brought me through without being broken, and enabled me to treat my father as well as I could and make the end of his life as bearable as I could, even though I was terrified of him.
I guess I’ve learned not to look too far ahead. The future may be full of dread, but the present is full of warm electric light and the sparkle of the holographic stars with which I’ve decorated my walls. Good came out of the evil that I endured in the past, and if there is evil to be endured in the future, I have God’s promise that he can bring good out of that too. In the mean time I am counting my blessings while I have them, because I’m beginning to see that the present moment is all I really have.
Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.