dad-artist-of-life

Remembering My Dad, The “Artist of Life”.

Christel Van Gelder Stories Leave a Comment

Three years ago, July 10th, my dad passed away. And I was relieved. Which may sound strange, maybe even insensitive to you.

Let me explain.

My dad’s last years on earth were not good. He had Lewy Body dementia, a form of dementia that makes for a sudden and rapid decline in mental and physical capabilities.

Something was not right with my dad the last two years before this disease struck hard, but he literally short-circuited the day my ex sued him in court over lies and money that wasn’t really owed. It was really just to get revenge for me leaving him. The day of the hearing my dad turned out to be catatonic. Not really knowing what to do and what was going on I drove him to the court in a borrowed wheelchair, because he had to be there. I remember the judge looking shocked, not sure what was going on and my ex holding his head down with his hands partially covering his face, not even daring to look up. The coward way.

My dad never recovered after that.

I was furious with my ex for suing the man who gave him/us all the opportunities to start a business, to earn a good living. Only to then bite the hand that had fed, supported and launched him/us. It’s something that I’m confronted with every anniversary of my dad’s passing. And it’s something which makes me feel guilty. Guilt that I brought this on. That I couldn’t stop my ex from doing what he did. Guilt that I could not better this awful decline of my dad’s health.

Dealing with a person with dementia is not easy. Thing is nobody knows what goes on in a person with dementia. But I believe that their essence never leaves them, even though they can’t show it. I believe it gets buried somewhere deep inside, locked up, but still there. I also think they know what’s going on, very much so. But they can’t express themselves. Only on rare occasions or with facial expressions and noises.

It was sad to witness this downfall of health in my dad.
All the more so as he was a charismatic person. A genuine “artist of life”. He loved people, kids, food, sports, freedom, adventures, travel. He loved life. He had a joie de vivre that was contagious.

My dad didn’t have an easy childhood. He was the middle one of three brothers. Mostly he made jokes about his childhood, reminiscing the good times they had. Pranking the villagers, the local priest, hiding out when his mom was after them for being naughty. But one day he opened up and started telling about the dark part of his childhood, which he hardly ever spoke about to me.

He told me about how he had to leave home and school when he was only eleven years old to go work —alone— for a big farmer in the French part of Belgium. How he slept in the hay with the cows to stay warm in winter. How he had to harvest beets in the unforgiving summer sun. How he worked from sun up to sun down. How he got beaten when something was not done right or when he didn’t reach the set quota. I remember crying —as I’m doing now while writing this— when he left that evening. Tears for a childhood cut short. Tears for a man I loved dearly but didn’t get to express often enough.

His story made me appreciate more all the things he made possible for me, the opportunities he gave me. The education I got. The business start I and my then husband had thanks to him. It also makes me even more angry when I think of those court cases against my dad under the pretence of “it’s just business.” Because it wasn’t business. It was meant to hurt my dad and me. And it worked.

But even though my dad had a hard childhood, he was ever the optimist. He thoroughly enjoyed life. Even though he made some very wrong choices, he always tried to make it right somehow. All in all my dad was a pioneer, who boldly dared to do what others didn’t. In that he was a leader. One who created, followed his heart impulsively and either won or lost in the process. One who made friends —many of them false— but also many enemies. (Envy is a nasty thing.)

dad-and-me

He started over many times in his life. Starting from scratch a few times after being betrayed and losing everything. Started over in a new country, learned its language, integrated and became so well known you couldn’t go anywhere without people asking if you were related to “Mr. Van Gelder”. It often made for some funny and weird situations.

Even though at times he was down to rock-bottom, he never was a quitter. He wanted to make things right when he did someone wrong. He always tried to care for his family as best as he could. He was far from perfect, had his flaws and weaknesses, but he made up for it in charisma and personality. He was the type you couldn’t get angry with. Unless you hated him. And haters he had. Eventually it was the haters that helped bring him down.

He never gave up, even in hard times. Until this disease forced him to quit. To lose everything. It took away his freedom, his joy, his pleasure in life. It took away the possibility to make right the mistakes he made in his last years. This disease made his independent soul dependent on others to take care of him. It stripped the proud man he was from his dignity by putting him in a wheelchair and diapers. Unable to express himself. Just sitting there, staring away his days.

I write this because I needed to share this story. Because it’s time for me to let go of the anger and the guilt. But also to remind myself and you that things can get hard. But that it doesn’t mean you have to give up. That there is a way to start again, and again and again. Even though at times you feel like a failure and you don’t see a way out. That it’s only the end when your time has come —in whichever way— to yield and give in let the universe take over. Until then, there’s no such thing as quitting.

If you are feeling down and out right now, seeing no way out, you can always call me. Schedule a chat with me. It can take 20 minutes, it can take an hour. Never mind it’s free and I promise you’ll get some insights right there and then. A tiny step to your way out, to starting over.

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