Chapter 3 – Making sense of family patterns

Making sense of family patterns

‘But how does writing it down help?’ Bea placed a finger on her lips as she gazed at the butterflies that fluttered in the morning sunlight outside the window.

‘We need to understand what the hell was going on,’ Sophie’s green eyes narrowed spoke firmly. ‘I told Mum’s story to the staff at the hospital to explain why she was so difficult.’ Tears welled up in her eyes and slid down her cheeks as she looked at Bea who was smiling encouragement. ‘I hoped they might be kinder to Mum if they understood the tremendous loss and trauma she’d suffered since losing her own mother at the age of three.’

Bea leaned over and gently touched Sophie’s arm, ‘Did telling the staff her story help?’

‘It seemed to. There were no more jokes about Mum. They stopped telling me stories of how aghast they were about her bad behaviour toward Dad before he died.’ Sophie sat with her shoulders hunched. ‘They started to speak more compassionately about her.’ She reached for her handkerchief. ‘And telling made it easier for me to cope with it all.’

‘It sounds as if you felt you had to defend your mother’s behaviour.’

‘We spent our lives defending her!’ Sophie blurted out as she gulped down the rest of her tea. ‘So you see writing the story will help to make sense of it all for me, my sisters, and our families.’ Her jaw tensed. ‘You know, there was one time when Mum looked at me and said to the carer, “There’s my mother.’’’

Bea’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Goodness! It sounds as though your relationship with her was very complicated.’

‘You’re so right about that. By the time I’ve mapped out the links between generations, it will, I hope, become clear what patterns of behaviour need changing.’

‘You won’t rest until you’ve turned over every stone; I can see that.’ Bea’s fond tone warmed Sophie’s heart. Waving her index finger, she said, ‘The whole family, as well as the in-laws, have suffered a lot from what was done to Alida, including Emmanuelle’s husband and your dad, far away in Australia.’

‘As far as I’m concerned, Opa may as well have murdered her. It must have been a living hell for Alida to be deprived of her children for most of her life.’ More tears welled up in Sophie’s eyes. ‘I bet she wanted to be away from many other people who were in the same situation as herself.’

making sense
What happened here?

Bea nodded. ‘Yes, sometimes in the company of certain people we are more alone than when we really are alone. I hope you’ll succeed in helping others understand the impact of Opa’s actions on Alida as well as on the children.’ Her eyes narrowed as she folded her arms on the table and leaned forward. ‘Your grandfather has a lot to answer for.’

‘Mmm … And you know, to continue to denounce his power, part of me wants to expose the secret he has forced everyone to keep. It’s the least I can do for poor Alida. She needs to tell us about her life through what you saw and remember about her.’

‘I know what you mean. You are the only living family member who has listened to nearly as many of the family’s stories as I have.’ Bea nodded as she gazed pensively out of the window at a hill across the meadow and canal.

Sophie inclined her head. ‘I suppose so. I’ve seen and heard stories from almost all of Alida’s children.’ She leaned forward towards her aunt. ‘I’m not breaking my promise by writing the truth now, because Mum can’t know about it or be hurt anymore.’

‘I’m very proud of you, because I know only too well how hard it is to face this horrible situation alone.’ Bea looked thoughtfully at Sophie. ‘My husband didn’t want to discuss the matter, even though Alida was his mother.’

Sophie nodded, ‘Mum believed we should just solider on. She always shut down any conversation about the past by saying, “What does it matter?”’ Her lips quivered. ‘Alida lives on through us all, and I want the suffering to be resolved and finished.’

A little laugh escaped from Bea. ‘That’s an ambitious goal, but you can almost certainly help yourself by knowing what happened, and perhaps help others who read what you write.’

Sophie smiled. ‘I’m so grateful you visited my Oma Alida and are happy to talk about the past. Unlike Mum.’ She drew circles on the tablecloth with a finger, then looked up. ‘You and I have talked endlessly about the weird happenings in the family, about Oma and Opa, as well as my mother and other family members and their reactions to what occurred.’ She stopped to cough. ‘I just want to try to make some sense of it all, but can’t do it by myself because I don’t know the story like you do.’

Bea grimaced. ‘I still find it hard to believe that what happened to Alida and her children was real, even after sixty-five years of living with your family.’

‘Tante Bea, I really hope you will talk some more, so that I and my sisters and future generations of our family can learn the truth about what happened and be somewhat healed.’

Bea sighed and briefly smiled. ‘I’ll do my best.’