October 3rd, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
Godelieva, who taught anatomy to nurses, had been in therapy since she was nineteen. With each new doctor, she embraced the therapeutic process anew, adopting her doctor’s philosophy and rewriting her life story so that it fit his theory of the mind. She continually dissected the source of her distress. “I am confronted almost daily with the consequences of my childhood,” she wrote to her mother. She’d wanted to be a historian, but her father, domineering and cold, had pressured her to be a doctor. Her mother, who was unhappy in her marriage, reminded her of a “slave.” “New insight,” she wrote in her diary. “Do not want to always nod yes like her and be self-effacing.”
Godelieva was preoccupied with the idea that she would replicate her parents’ mistakes with her own children. She married when she was twenty-three, and had two children. But the marriage was tumultuous and ended in divorce, in 1979, when her son was three and her daughter was seven. Two years later, their father, Hendrik Mortier, a radiologist, committed suicide. As a single parent, Godelieva was overwhelmed. In a diary entry from 1990, when her children were teen-agers, she instructed herself to “let my children be themselves, respect them in their individuality.” But she found herself fighting with her daughter, who was independent and emotionally distant, and depending on her son, Tom, a “victim of my instability,” she wrote. She worried, she told her psychologist, that her children were “now paying for all that has happened generations earlier.”
The happiest time in Godelieva’s life began when she was in her early fifties and had a new boyfriend. She felt as if she had finally moved beyond the dramas of her childhood, an achievement for which she credited her new psychiatrist. “He opens the wound completely, cleans it thoroughly and closes it so it can heal,” she wrote to a friend. Godelieva, who had blond hair and a wistful smile, made many friends during these years. “She was the most beautiful woman,” Tom told me. “People would say to me, ‘Oh, I could fall in love with your mother.’ ” Christiane Geuens, a close friend, said, “People always wanted to know her. When she walked into a room, everyone knew.”
Godelieva was delighted when Tom and his wife had a child, in 2005. She promised that she would make up for her failures as a mother by being an attentive grandmother. In photographs, she is physically affectionate with Tom’s daughter, holding her as she brushes her teeth, or sitting on the bed with her, braiding her hair.
Then, in 2010, her boyfriend broke up with her, and she felt black again. She stopped wearing makeup and doing her hair, and she cancelled dates with friends, she said, because she felt ugly and old. She felt that she had lost her levensperspectief, a Dutch word that refers to the sense that there is something to live for. Tom was only thirty minutes away, but she no longer had the energy to drive to his house. She accused Tom of being insufficiently sympathetic, and Tom, who had just had a second child, blamed her for abandoning him and his family. After several months of fights, they stopped speaking. In her diary, she wrote, “I don’t think there can be fruitful contact with the children with all his aggression toward me.” Tom’s sister, a lawyer who does human-rights work in Africa, also avoided her; she found it too painful to be sucked back into her mother’s depression, which had dominated her childhood. (She has asked not to be named.)
Godelieva felt as if her emotional progress had been an illusion. She had seen the same psychiatrist for more than ten years and had consulted him on every decision, even those involving financial investments and home renovations, but she had now lost faith in his judgment. She complained to friends, “I give him ninety euros, he gives me a prescription, and after ten minutes it’s over.” Her psychiatrist acknowledged that there was no cure for her condition; the best he could do, he said, was listen to her and prescribe antidepressants, as he had been doing for years.