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Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Stories From the Home Front: Emilie Lauwers: I did not know how to live without him

Following this post on All Quiet on the Home Front and emotional narratives, the blog is featuring submitted images and stories on their family life: Stories from the Home Front. This is from Emilie Lauwers who first told me her story when I was showing her the All Quiet dummy at the Gazebook Festival in Punta Secca.

Here's my story.

When I was twenty five, my brother died of health issues. He was twenty one. There is much to write about that moment that isn't relevant here. What matters, is that the days after, as the sun came up and went down and came up again, I was paralyzed. It took me some time to realize that sadness was not what paralyzed me. There was something else.

I did not know how to live without him.

It was not only the missing of a person I loved that scared me. What scared me, was that I didn't know who I was, apart from 'my brothers sister'.

I was 3 when he was born, so I had no memory of a life without him. We grew up together, and I built my identity upon his existence. His health issues were the clockwork of our family. I was a good girl, very responsible, very empathic, because that was the role I naturally took beside him. I was highly sensitive - I used to listen to his breathing all the time, and understood the unspoken sadness of my parents. I was his sidekick. I was funny when he lost courage. I defended him, lied for him, made his homework, carried him out of the sea when he was too tired to swim. Every single decision I took in my life until his death, whether it was the fact that I never traveled, a choice of study or an interest in certain men, was to be brought back to my brother in one or the other way. When I was 25, we said goodbye, and in that instant, everything I had come to be seemed to have lost purpose.

For a brief, very frightening moment, it occurred to me that I completely forgot to build a personality of my own.
An identity, independent of anyone else. 

It was a very brief moment, because one month later, I was pregnant.

Deus ex machina, my new function in life came from the skies.
I was no longer a sister. I was now a mom.
I was the kind of mother that completely ignores herself. Everything for the baby. It was the perfect alibi.

The situation made me connect even deeper with my parents. Becoming a parent always brings your own parents back to the stage. In my case, since my brother left, it was just the three of us anyway.

My parents are not random parents. My mom is the mom of everyone. The best way to describe her is that she owns a stock of postcards and she manages to send them to everyone on the planet, on the exact right moment. There will be a perfect postcard when someone is born or somebody dies, but also when someone graduates, moves house, gets married, gets divorced, gets chemo, swam without safety straps, saw a real squirrel, fears a big decision, loves chocolate, needs to pack for Italy. Anything. She does the same thing with books. I think if you'd take the books out of my parents place it would collapse. My mom offers books to people all the time: books with the perfect title, the perfect theme, or the perfect phrase in them. She's a big example to me, but as for perfectly timed postcards, for the time being I don't even manage to buy stamps in time.

You'll never guess, but my dad is the dad of everyone. I grew up with all his students nearby, the young artists and performers he was teaching. We'd have long dinners, with candle light and music and dozens of young people sitting around the table listening to my dad, eating the food my mom cooked for them. He was their master, and in many ways he still is mine. Many people knew him, and as I followed his footsteps into theatre, I was often introduced as 'the daughter of my dad'.

In my life, apart from 'my brothers sister' and 'the daughter of my dad', I occasionally was someone's employee, someone's colleague, someone's illustrator, someones designer or someone's scenographer. I was often someone's friend, someone's best friend, someone's neighbor. I also was someone's wife. I found the perfect man for a relationship in which elaborating one's own identity was not a topic.

Two years after my brother died and my daughter was born, my father had an accident. In a few hours time, he went from the charismatic director I was working with, to a body full of tubes in a hospital bed, so far gone in a coma he didn't even hear us speak. It took six months for him to recover, and in those six months my mother got breast cancer. All of a sudden, my immortal parents turned out to offer no certainty. Being 'just' their daughter wouldn't work forever. Being 'just' his brother never did the trick either.
Predictably, my husband had seen enough existential misery and our relationship didn't survive the worrisome times. We split up. I was no longer 'his wife'. The universe, just to make its point clear, also made sure that I got fired from my full time job. I was no longer someone's employee, someone's colleague, someone's designer. At that point in my life I was 29, and there were simply no more external factors to hold on to when it came to the simple question: 'who am I'?

There was one person left.

My child, then 3.

I realized I had to do things differently.

In order to be a parent, I had to be a person.

I had to identify myself.

It took me a few years to observe who I was and figure out what parts of my personality were essential to me, independent of others. You could say that I was 30 when I was born (again). I'm 33 now and I'm growing up, slow but steady. By the side of my daughter, who forces me to total integrity simply by calling me 'mom'. It's a beautiful journey, that I am enjoying with all my heart. If the story above seems heavy to you, don't worry, it has a happy ending and sharing it does no longer cause me any harm.


Gina Rodríguez said...

My name is Gina Rodríguez, I'm, a Mexican photo historian, as well as a curator, editor and author. I discovered Emilie Lauwers some days ago, by pure chance, looking for some examples of photography and opera. I loved her work and I wanted to know more about her. Thank you both for this intense and sensitive text. Lauwers's work now have another dimention, a deeper one, as well as my admiration to her.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Gina - she's got an artist's book coming out very soon which is on her work in theatre and so on. It looks really great