The last week of the year is normally a time of reflection for me as it probably is for many people across the globe. At the end of 2020, I vowed not to. Because... why? What was the point? What could I possibly reflect upon more than what I had already demanded of myself, or screamed into my own ears, or lie curled up in a ball worrying about?
With the festive season safely behind us and both feet firmly planted into the new year - that's 2021 in case you were wondering - it's probably time to write the traumatic experience that was 2020, off of me, and to regain a sense of hope and even a sense of humour about it all. After all... aren't people going through so much worse on any given day and what the hell do I have to be so sad about?
Well. There's plenty. Plenty! Some things I've made the choice to shoulder on my own. It's okay. If there is anything I've determined that I can lean on from 2020 it's that even when I feel down and kicked to smithereens, what matters the most is I'll always have a reserve of inner strength to care for my loved ones.
There is, however, a flip side too. There are limits to my strength. I'm no superwoman. I'm a woman with a newly discovered stress-ceiling. And a newly discovered swear phrase in French that I've really learned to embrace. Putain de merde!
Before 2020, I didn't know either.
In 2020, there was life, there were world events that will affect us all for years to come, there was the fact that I nearly lost my mother not once, but four times. In January and February, the first two of four hospitalizations, I was able to be with her. The next two, we were brutally cut off from one another. And, of course, my husband's parents in the U.S. were cut off from their son. Mortifying!
Any expat anno 2020 can probably attest to not having signed up for a situation like full border -and society lockdown when deciding to live abroad. Despite being married to the most supportive and wonderful man that has surely ever graced this planet, as an only child I have never felt so lonely, so... out of control. As a daughter-in-law, all I could think was what have I done!
My husband always laughingly says that since I was raised Catholic, it's normal to beat myself up. Putain de merde... That is not at all an unreasonable observation.
Having always been the kind of person to do the right thing, between being worried sick for our parents' wellbeing and being genuinely afraid of the virus (scared to be around other people) more than ever I put myself through the mill quite relentlessly over my life choices.
Shame, accountability, worry, helplessness, fear, shock, guilt, pressure, frustration, disbelief, insomnia, stress all contributed to a level of anxiety I've never had to face before. I was angry. I was sad. I yelled at my husband for being too overprotective. We yelled at our parents to stop seeing people. My mother was suffering in hospital after her slip down the stairs. And wasn't any hospital a lion's den of disease? And the horror of people losing people without the ability to say goodbye but over an Ipad if they were lucky?!
Putain de merde!
The stories that began to emerge in the news as well as the expat groups on social media were nothing short of gut-wrenching. Abuse. Mass graves, funerals in parking lots, very sick people receiving oxygen in their cars outside of hospitals. In my local community, too, parents whose children abroad had contracted the virus were cut off from caring for them. To think there are so many with a lack of empathy, with the temerity not to do the right thing for each other... it makes me sad and angry. Covid-19 numbers are not just numbers. They are someone's empty chairs at the dinner table.
Meanwhile across the world, Australia was on fire, killing people, property and entire ecosystems. A biblical plague of locusts swarmed from country to country between Africa and the Middle East threatening the food supplies of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Yemen... where innocent children were starving anyway, victims of a politically charged civil war that has the country cut off from desperately needed aid. And in Europe, let's not forget the murky mess that is Brexit.
In the United States, the presidential elections breathed anxiety across the world, black people continued to be brutally murdered by the authorities, and the response (or lack thereof) to the pandemic all caused even deeper division among the people, my friends and family among them, people I love and care about regardless of their political beliefs.
To be clear, as an introvert working from home, lockdown itself wasn't too devastating. Please! Ask me to stay home and I'm already there, braless and in comfy clothes. But the feeling of being restricted to 1KM of movement around the house was suffocating. The Vendée is but a small corner of France, but it is no small area to discover and photograph. Lockdown was not only detrimental to nearly two years of very hard work but to all the small businesses, locals, expats, and tourists I work for. But it had to be done. Wearing a mask, quarantine... much like flying it's like putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others.
At home with Moeke
Looking for silver linings to life in the midst of a pandemic drove me right into a depression. Some thought it ok to berate me for 'not being myself'. I couldn't have cared less. If it wasn't for my family, and the lessons of my father in facing adversity, I may not have left my bed. I retreated into a cocoon of self-preservation... and my work was truly a savior throughout 2020.
Driving to Belgium again was a pure joy... being on the road again even more pleasant than before. It was so wonderful to get into my car and drive. After our 5-week summer visit, in early October mum and I celebrated her 80th birthday. It was a joyful 9 days despite the raging pandemic.
But not a week after my return to the Vendée, right at the cusp of lockdown #2 my mother was in hospital for the fourth time.
The pandemic forced Moeke to recover from heart surgery at home. I took this picture in a moment that I felt utterly overwhelmed
As it turned out she needed an urgent heart procedure. In a mad rush I wrote 5 weeks worth of posts for inthevendee.com and drove back to Belgium in time to warm the house, buy groceries to last for a couple of weeks, and welcome her home. Needing beds for Covid-19 patients, they discharged my mother within a day of surgery. I thought the stress of March was bad but putain de merde, the third week of October was mental!
For four weeks my husband dealt with the house, our pets and going to work. We texted a lot and he called my mother a lot to help us both through emotionally. Price always manages to make my mother laugh (and me). I slept in the sofa to keep an eye her, convenient as November 3rd rolled around. I spent night and day scouring news channels for live coverage of the most important U.S. elections in my lifetime. What a nail biter that was!
And so, after months that seemingly lasted years, 2020 finally eased to a softer ending. Knowing our parents and family were safe, my husband back to working from home, inthevendee.com stronger than ever since literally donating all of my time to it and the community, I was able to chill through the festive season. Two weeks of putting the Z in zombie. The only thing to navigate... the remote control.
It was a stink year for everybody. That much stands in stone. There's not an ounce of me that could detract from the year that kept on giving. Who could! Medical personnel the world over are in a situation of war. The commitment to their job and to saving lives is nothing short of miraculous. My gratitude and admiration for them and for the sacrifices of their families is beyond measure.
Certainly, 2020 was the hardest year I've ever lived personally. Harder than 2015 (moving overseas), harder than 2010 (devastating miscarriage), harder than 1997, the year my father died.
In fact, it was my father who taught me in the face of uncertainty and adversity, to work harder than ever, to give it all I have. He'd say: "If you know that you have given it all that you can throw at it, no matter what it is, and even if the result is less than you expect it to be, it's okay. You'll know in your heart that it was good enough, and probably even more than good enough."
Well, 2020. Year of Putain de Merde. I confess there were days that I needed to retreat into the walls, moments when the need to unplug were too overwhelming. But I did my very best for my family, for my fellow human beings, for myself. And like my dad predicted, it was good enough indeed.
Yes. This. Thinking these words through has
allowed me to finally embrace the experience
that was my 2020.
First time I laughed out loud about the current world situation... Deepest thanks to Megan J Herbert, whom I don't know.
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