The year after my wife’s death
Diary of a Widower describes the first year after Jennifer, my wife and mother to our two young boys, died at the age of 41. This blog was officially launched on November 2, 2012, and provide my almost daily diary entries. Below you will find some of the later entries, so you get some idea of what’s to come.
For more background, please click on Introduction above, for the first chapter in my, which I will make available as an e-Book when it’s ready for publication. It has just been translated from Dutch. See for more information (in Dutch): tranenvanliefde
Also, read the Accident entry (see above), which will tell you about the week that ended family life as we knew it, and that started that first year without her.
For example entries out of Diary of a Widower:
WEDNESDAY, November 11 – Math is no longer Eamonn’s favorite subject. In fact, he says he hates it. Why, I ask him, as he keeps repeating that mantra while we wait in the schoolyard. I hate math, I hate math.
‘But why, Eamonn? You’ve always been good at math?’
‘Yes, I know, but I still hate math.’
‘I don’t understand. Explain it to me.’
He drags his feet.
‘I hate math because Mom always signed the tests I brought home. And now she can’t anymore.’
‘It’s the little things that hurt the most, isn’t it?’ I say. ‘But from now on I can sign your homework.’
But of course that’s not the same.
‘Do you know what it feels like, Papa? It feels like a paper cut.’
Damn, he’s right. That sharp pain you feel when you cut your finger on some stupid piece of paper. Brief but intense.
Eamonn explained. ‘A paper cut so small you can hardly see it, but it really hurts.’
I was astounded. What a metaphor for the wounded life that all three of us are living at this moment. I thanked him for those lovely words. ‘You just made my day’.
TUESDAY, April 20 – So tired, dead-tired. This is all I was planning to write today. Things turned out differently.
In the Mini, on the way to an appointment at an Amsterdam hotel … good-looking women on bicycles raced by. It was a lovely sight, and in the back of my mind I saw Jenn on her bike, going over the bridges, saw how people looked at her, in her denim mini-skirt, purple leggings, her black leather jacket and pale blue scarf, and the black-brown locks with those incredible curls.
Then I began to cry – and I’m still crying, as I write it all down.
Why was all that taken away from her? It’s that question – to which there is no answer – that makes me so sad. Sad for her. Not so much for myself. She’s dead, and I’m not. I’m alive.
I couldn’t shake off that feeling, and during the business lunch I felt my mind drifting. Two colleagues were trying to provoke each other. I was the chair and I should have intervened, taken over, gotten the meeting back on the rails. But I couldn’t care less. At that instant, I was painfully conscious of the futility of it all. What the fuck am I doing here? I excused myself, walked out of the room, put on my coat, got into the car and went home.
Home to my children. Love, that’s what I needed right then, and that’s what I told Eamonn later in the car, on the way to baseball practice. That’s why I was waiting for him in the schoolyard at three-thirty: a surprise, since he expected his brother to pick him up. ‘You know why I enjoy picking you up, Eamonn?’ No, he didn’t know.
‘Love is that fleeting second when our eyes meet. When I see the little rush of surprise. Hey, it’s Papa! You’re standing there. The quick smile of recognition, of affection, of closeness. This afternoon, Eamonn, I needed that moment.’
Oh, okay. And he accepted my words for what they were worth. We were both still for a moment. ‘Or do you think I’m a jerk, Eamonn?’
He laughed out loud. ‘That sounded funny, Papa.’
TUESDAY, September 7 – Was our wedding day the happiest day of my life, as romantic souls insist? No, that honor was reserved for the day our oldest son was born, followed a nanosecond later by the moment our youngest son first saw the light of day.
Our wedding day was special, of course, attended by so many friends and family members who traveled to the States especially for us. To witness our exchange of solemn vows. On a Saturday in 1996 in a Catholic chapel in Princeton, Jenn (in a clear voice and self-assured) and I (in a voice strangled by emotion) spoke the following words:
I take you for my lawful spouse, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.’
‘Until death do us part’. And then the groom was permitted to kiss his bride. It was a traditional service. We opted for a Catholic ceremony, in deference to the faith of our parents,but also because we wanted to lend a spiritual touch to this festive day.
The event followed American tradition: reception and dinner in a restaurant, followed by the opening dance and then drinks in abundance. Jenn and I had rehearsed a tango which, true to tradition, went wrong. We had to start over twice before I succeeded in leading my brand-new bride around the dance floor. Sheer hell.
Our anniversary didn’t mean a great deal to me. Just one of those obligatory events, a tribute to the ‘happiest day of our lives’, when the husband is expected to come home with flowers, or celebrate the occasion with a lunch or dinner at some romantic venue.
Women see all this in a different light, and Jennifer was no different. So we always went out for dinner, to a restaurant we didn’t usually frequent. I have a special recollection of our tenth anniversary, because of the news that was about to break. We were living in London, and later that day Tony Blair would formally confirm that he was resigning as British Prime Minister. We had lunch reservations at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. I had no choice, and with a grand gesture I turned off my cell phone. Not on vibrate mode, but completely off. The foreign correspondent was temporarily incommunicado. Looking back, a trifle melodramatic.
In any case, each anniversary was well and truly celebrated: we made time for each other, dressed to the nines, and dined in top-class restaurants. A glass of champagne and a bit of reflection on the past year were part of the celebration. Somewhere I have a note in which we looked forward ten years, full of plans and aspirations. I couldn’t put my hands on it, but I did find the card that Jennifer wrote last year.
Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Fran blew through overnight, and in the morning the sky was dazzlying blue and swept clear of clouds. It was hot, and muggy, and our friends were there.
We have dwelt in a lot of ongoing turbulence over the years. Today, the sky is blue, and we are here.
Sometimes we find ourselves choosing the same card. Or agreeing on the same place to live. Surprising, and yet not.
Let us not want more than this: accepting fully what the other can give. Unreservedly.
When we ware content, then we have enough.
The message was obvious. Here and there a bit cryptic, but clear enough for both of us. We realized how deep our love was anchored, but also the precipices we had conquered and the deep valleys we had crossed. A year ago, thirteen years into our marriage and almost eighteen years since we met, we still knew the value of our relationship.
We loved each other, no matter how you looked at it. Despite all sorts of events that are no long relevant. Death has separated us. Death is an asshole.
Good that you’re still writing, man. It helps you and I’m sure it’s helping a lot of other people going through grieving the loss of family… Ofcourse I read your book already in dutch. I knew you ofcourse, but at the same time I did not. It warmed my heart reading about the intense relationship you and Jen apparently had and how special your family dynamics with the kids and the multicultural aspect of it proved to be. And then, ultimately, yes, it made me so very very sad.
I was at Jennifer’s service and the one thing I will never EVER forget is the resiliance that was shown by you, but also by the boys. I will never hear someone again play the piano with so much love and emotion as Sander did at that very moment. And if I recall correctly, he was only 14 at the time..
It tells me you and Jen have layed such fundamental groundwork with these kids and she would be so so proud of all of you. In fact, knowing her, she probably didn’t expect anything less, right?
We wish you and the boys strenght to keep going, dreams to keep seeing her face, determination to reach all the things she would want you to reach and enough love to keep eachother safe and warm when times are extra tough..
Big Hug, Elliott & Sandra Rivera (from DVH), now living in New Jersey. Xxx
Thanks so much for responding. And for reading the Dutch book. It’s definitely The One Thing I’m proud of having done with Jennifer, raising two wonderful boys. Doing it now, in her spirit, which gives me strength and is so incredibly hard at the same time. My best to Elliott and your boys. Take care.