Diary of a Widower

Daily entries by a husband, who stayed behind with his two sons

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

‘Papa, what if you also die?’

MONDAY, November 30 – Shit, shit, shit!!!  I screamed my lungs out on the way from Amsterdam to Hilversum.  Eamonn couldn’t get going this morning and wouldn’t let me leave the schoolyard.  I left him behind, took care of a few things at home, and bought some presents and stuff for the St. Nicholas celebrations on December 5th.

I was in the store when my phone rang.  Eamonn.  Headache, stomach ache, but basically his heart was bleeding. I tried to be stern, but couldn’t.  I promised I would arrange for him to come home early.  How?  I simply didn’t know, and on the way to work I burst out crying.  I swore.  Shit, shit, shit!!!

I’d been in the office less than ten minutes, when the phone rang again.  Someone from school. Both Sander and Eamonn were now sitting disconsolately in the counselor’s office.  All sorts of things were going wrong.  Every imaginable complaint had been laid on the table, but behind it all was the pain in their heart- a pain which I shared. I turned to my colleague and said I had to leave.

On the way back to Amsterdam I realized that right now there is no cure for what they are suffering from. The best we can do is to stick together, at home on the couch, battling what fate has sent our way.

15:00 – Sander and Eamonn on the couch, with me in the middle.  Frantic attempts to understand it all. But it’s quite simply incomprehensible.

Sander: ‘It’s all true, and I still can’t believe it. That she’s gone forever.’

Eamonn: ‘I think of her every second of the day.’

No one says anything.

Eamonn: ‘Papa, you need a backup.’

Me:  ‘What do you mean?’

‘In case you die, too. Someone will have to take care of us.’

‘Do you have someone in mind, Eamonn?’

‘I was thinking of Grandma, or Grandpa.’

‘Or one of your uncles?’


‘But listen:  I’m not planning to die in the near future.’

‘I know that.’

Sander: ‘But why Mom? Why her?’

Getting rid of her clothes

SUNDAY, November 29 – Sleepless night. The first since Jennifer’s death. I stagger to the john and try, in vain, to piss away yesterday’s skid marks. Then, I happen to see the shelf with the toilet freshener and some candles. There’s also a mug with a toothbrush, and a little jewelry box with two tampons. I’d never noticed them before.

I throw them all out. Stubborn traces of a past you have no desire to erase. Jennifer always saw to it that the house was spic and span and I cling to that thought.

Then, a grin appears on my face. Just look at me, cleaning house. Who would have thought it?  I start on the second drawer of her dresser, then the third, followed by the bottom one. It’s not easy. Understatement.  I feel as if I’m doing something furtive.  As if any minute someone could walk into the room and catch me at it. But at what? Read more…

Taking over Mom’s tradition

SATURDAY, November 28 – I start the day by preparing two breakfasts and taking the dog for a walk.  I’d rather have taken the day off and the boys understand that, but when the youngest looks up at me with that innocent look on his face and the oldest announces that I’m the only person on earth who can make a ‘super bagel’, then I capitulate.

But my weakness was conditional:  I demanded the ‘last bite’.  They agreed, and this was a biggie. The last bite had always been reserved for Mom – no discussion.  Last bites were consumed by no one else but the woman who had brought them into this world and by the woman I was married to.

Once in a while we’d forget, and Jennifer would pretend to be shocked, offended or just disappointed.  Oops, sorry. Then we’d look for an excuse:  so scrumptious that we totally forgot about the last bite.

It was a family tradition, and one that was firmly anchored:  Last bite was for Mom. Wherever I was, I would automatically spear that last bite, to give to Jennifer.  Even in the office canteen or in a restaurant during a working lunch, I felt the urge to hold up my fork. Here, the last bite.

For you.

At the dining room table Jenn and I fantasized about this Nolan tradition.  How it would continue for generations, how our children would initiate their grandchildren in the tradition of ‘the last bite’.  I hope that it will become a culinary legacy and that I will continue to feel that automatic reflex at the dining table.

Sander just gave me his last bite. I thanked him with a kiss. We didn’t say anything.  It felt right and it was delicious.

21:15 – Holy shit. I’m feeling totally devastated.  Have I just dropped into a yawning chasm of emptiness?  I remember my mother’s loneliness and desolation after the death of my father. As such, I began busying myself with things that were doomed to be counterproductive.

Cleared the top drawer of her dresser. Panties, bras, lingerie… straight into a garbage bag.  I don’t want to think of anyone else wearing them. I wouldn’t want that. It was beautiful underwear intended for her body and no one else’s.  Out it goes.

Aha, one empty drawer. Next, I changed the queen-sized bed, evenly dividing the sheets and blankets, which wasn’t necessary, since she no longer pulls all the bed covers over to her side. I have the bed all to myself.  I can snore as much as I want to.  No one there to give me a kick.  No one who finally retires to the spare room and, over coffee the next morning, makes it clear to me that I really went to town last night.  There’s none of any of that, merely the emptiness of the night ahead of me.

Tomorrow I’ll empty drawer number two.

Royal chat about this and death

FRIDAY, November 27 – A long afternoon of largely superfluous questions, during the fiftieth anniversary of the Society of Editors-in-Chief. Or were the answers superfluous? Not many people knew what we were going through. (As if I knew.) So everyone was walking on eggs.

It felt good to be with colleagues. We could address The Subject and deal with it.  Which was good for them, and for me, since it was a kind of leitmotif trailing me wherever I appeared.  One or two people were unaware of the situation, and I was happy to leave it at that. In a way it was easier: we reverted to journalistic chit-chat. No problem.

After the official celebration, I was one of a small group of colleagues who’d been invited to a personal meeting with Crown Prince Willem-Alexander. After a round of handshakes, His Royal Highness began by saying, ‘I want to offer my condolences on the death of your wife’. He realized that it was ‘difficult for others to comprehend what has happened to you.’

He also noted that it must have required considerable courage to attend the event. I said that I appreciated his sympathy, and stammered a few other things that I don’t remember.  In order to avoid a tense silence, I asked him a question about his own manner of ‘consuming the news’. Ten minutes later the meeting with the future king of the Netherlands was over, and people could refill their glasses and revert to the usual shop talk.

Longing for her soft, warm body

THURSDAY, November 26 – How long will it be before these memories slip away or will they remain with me forever? I have to write it all down, right now, so I won’t forget. As quickly as possible and as fully as possible:

The warmth, the softness of her cheek, that dear face that I continued to kiss until it was time to go, time to allow her to die physically as well, to leave the body for what it was and would become.  The earthly frame from which all life, mind and spirit had departed the day before. It was explained to me that her body was optimized at the moment she was declared brain-dead. On that Saturday morning, just before Jenn’s parents and her four brothers arrived, I helped the nurse to freshen up her body. Read more…

Signing ‘our’ mortgage papers

WEDNESDAY, November 25 – Feeling terrified by the howling wind. It’s stormy this morning and even the dog is edgy. Dry leaves blow up all around her and invisible gusts of wind attack her from all sides. It gets to me, too. Weird thoughts enter my head. What if a huge branch were to fall from that tree? What if an entire tree gets blown down? My own vulnerability is palpable. The boys aren’t the only ones to feel it. In a matter of seconds, it could become reality and I fear an early death that’s just around the corner.

15:20 – I am writing this entry with a brand-new pen that I snitched from the bank where I signed the new mortgage papers.  A dozen or so initials and one full signature. I don’t know whether I was even in the neighborhood of the lines, since I was blinded by tears.

I couldn’t see the last few pages. It’s possible that the document was ultimately sealed with tears of love.  Two months before, Jennifer and I sat in here together, in that same bank building in Amsterdam, joking about the number of papers we had to sign in connection with the life insurance clause.

Fucking bizarre – pardon my French – to be sitting there again, the same two chairs positioned in front of the desk, one of them occupied by my briefcase. Conflicting emotions.  On the one hand relief, since our American Dream – a house of our own – was going to come true after all, but it was also excruciating painful because that dream had been blown to smithereens, making way for a nightmare.

Changing residences without Jennifer. Each stroke of the pen on the revised mortgage papers felt like a shovelful of sand falling on a coffin.  Each time I formed those two small initials, I was deleting Jennifer from her own life. She was getting closer to becoming an administrative procedure, in settlements of something that once was. She’s dead and that fact is brought home to me with every breath I take.

Tears of sorrow, of relief, of love?  Who knows?  Tears, buckets of tears.

The woman at the bank, who had gone to a great deal of trouble to make it all possible after the whole deal had almost fallen through, asked me if I’d like to be alone for a moment. I’ve already been alone for a month, I thought, but she meant well, so I just shook my head. When the tears had dried, I broke the silence by taking over her role:  ‘Well, Mr. Overdiek,’ I purred, ‘congratulations on the purchase of your house.’

Even a gruesome joke can do wonders.

Scared to also lose his dad

TUESDAY, November 24 – Crying while riding a bike is never advisable, especially in traffic.  But I couldn’t help myself.  I’d just left Bickers Island, where Jenn had rented a desk at the Wordsmithery, a non-profit writers’ office. She spent two or three days a week on the island, in the shadow of Central Station, with its slightly wacky residents, their gossip and intrigues.

She loved the animals at the nearby Children’s Farm and passing dogs knew she always had a treat for them. Jenn was excited about the prospect of taking Elsa with her to Bickers Island. She’d already calculated how long it would take to walk there so that the dog could get used to the noise of the city before letting her trot alongside the bike. Read more…

First day back at work. Sorta

MONDAY, November 23 – Exhausted after my first full day at work, not that I did a great deal. I was there. Talked to a lot of people and gave three German colleagues a tour. They didn’t know about what had happened, which was great.  My concentration was good.

Attended several meetings where I was conscious of the way people were conscious of me. Every minute or so my thoughts began to wander, or that’s the way it seemed. Attended the editorial meeting.  Came home to find two cheerful youngsters waiting for me.  It wasn’t a bad day, they reported.

We felt grateful. Eamonn gave me an exceptionally big hug before he put on his pyjamas. Sander came downstairs and said he’d called Mom’s answering machine again. Eamonn wanted to do the same, so I picked up my cell phone and called her number.  On the speaker phone.

It lasted barely ten seconds. Nothing out of the ordinary, actually quite businesslike for her. She can’t come to the phone right now, but if we leave a message, she’ll get back to us as soon as she can.

‘Maybe I’ll leave a message,’ said Sander. I think we were all hoping against hope that she would one day emerge from that lengthy meeting, or return from that business trip that had lasted far too long.

Her last words in her diary

SUNDAY, November 22 – A month since the accident. That’s how milestones are created. I clearly remember the day that Sander was exactly one month old.  That was another Sunday morning, August 27, 1997.  Jenn was breastfeeding him and I went to the front door of our house in Weehawken, New Jersey, to pick up The New York Times from the doormat.

The latest news was splashed across the front page:  Lady Di has been killed in a car accident in Paris. Like the rest of the world, we were in a state of shock. We sat there on the bed with the baby, who knew nothing about life and death, happiness and unhappiness, and who did nothing but drink ravenously at his mother’s breast, occasionally looking around with those big brown eyes of his. Read more…

It was all just a dream

SATURDAY, November 21 – Dreams. A dream about confusion and another about lack of understanding. I’m muttering all sorts of sentences addressed to no one in particular.

‘But Jennifer will do it.’

‘Why won’t Jennifer do it?’

‘That’s something Jennifer will have to decide.’

No specific questions or situations, and I’m the one who announces that there’s no problem, since ‘Jennifer will solve it’.

I wake up and realize where I am: I’m in my bedroom, in my bed; but, Jennifer isn’t there and I realize that Jennifer will not be solving the problem. Not any more.

Eamonn came in at five-thirty.  His alarm clock had gone off.  He couldn’t sleep. He stayed in my bed for half an hour. Then he decided he was hungry and went downstairs.

I stayed in bed, fell asleep again, and dreamed that we were cuddling. He said something sweet to me.  I looked into his face and resolved to tell Jennifer all about it.  Woke up again.  Eamonn was gone.  Jennifer wasn’t there and again I realized that there wasn’t anything to tell Jennifer.

Not any more.

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