Diary of a Widower

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

Crying over her obituary

FRIDAY, November 6 – Good morning, Jenn.  You would have loved this. Eamonn is sitting on the couch with your laptop.  (Naturally Sander knew what your password was.)  He’s just started on a book, and prefers writing to watching TV. The story is about living food, and Uncle Pete appears in the form of a peach.

10.50 – Our first session with the family therapist.  N is petite, just like Jennifer.  Her office is near Vondelpark and is, thus,  close enough to go to by bike. She’s British and we speak English with her.  It feels strange. The boys wonder why we’re there. Let them discover that themselves.

For now it’s important to lay down the building blocks for later when we have to come to terms with things.  Above all – withthe accident itself.   They were there, and I wasn’t. They suffered the trauma and I can’t take that away.  As their father, I can make up for the loss of their mother, but the accident… that’s an area where we need professional help.

After the session we treat ourselves to chocolate.  Food for the soul, you would have said, Jenn. We each bought a bar of dark chocolate. Did you know about this shop, I wonder?  In a way,  I hope not.  It would have been fun to come home and tell you about it.  My discovery.  The next day you’d have biked to the shop to check it out.  Eamonn gave me his last bite. Sweet.

17:45 – Home alone. Tomato soup in the microwave.  Eamonn at his friend T’s house, Sander on his way to his music lesson.  No, I keep telling myself, I’m not worried about traffic even though his route takes him through the busiest section of the city – Dam Square, theRokin, and past Central Station – and knowing that something can always happen.

No.  No worries, not really, and again I reassure my inner self. That’s one thing I learned from Jennifer’s accident. Even when you obey all the traffic rules, you can still get killed.  Her death is described in a brief and ‘businesslike’ manner in the obituary which appeared in Elsevier magazine.

I re-read it with a bowl of soup in front of me and tears running down my cheeks.  That’s how beautiful it is. And so fucking bizarre.

Jennifer Mary Nolan 1968-2009

Wherever she lived, American-born Jennifer Nolan made new friends, whether it was New York, London or Amsterdam:  She was smart and funny, but according to her younger brother, who works as a consultant in New York, her greatest talent was her empathy and love of people. ‘Jennifer was a good listener and a tower of strength for her family and friends, under all circumstances. A top adviser.’

Jennifer Nolan was born into a Catholic family in Brooklyn, New York. She was the fourth child and had four brothers. Her father was a sales rep with a publishing company, her mother a nurse. The dinner table was the scene of lively discussions. Jennifer often acted as referee, bringing the various standpoints closer together.  She attended Swarthmore College, where she majored in history and religion, and graduated summa cum laude.  In 1991, while working as a researcher for CBS Sports, she met Tim Overdiek, then a sports writer with the newspaper Het Parool, who was gathering information on the American skater Dan Jansen. After several faxes and phone calls back and forth, Nolan sent him a film roll: ‘If you want to meet the woman behind the faxes, have this developed.’  After a whirlwind visit to Holland, Nolan moved in with Overdiek. Initially she worked as an au pair and, after learning Dutch in record time, as a translator. ‘But she couldn’t get used to our mock tolerance,’ said Overdiek (44). ‘In 1994 she went back to the United States. I gave up my job and followed her.’

In New York Nolan trained as a pastry chef, creating themed cakes for special occasions.  When visiting friends, she’d bring homemade brownies or a chocolate cake and she continued to translate. After the birth of Sander (1997) and  Eamonn (2000), she stayed at home to take care of the boys.  For Overdiek’s work at NOS (Netherlands Broadcasting Service), they moved to Washington. When the boys were older, she taught French at their school. In London, where the family lived from 2005 to 2008, Nolan became acquainted with Buddhism. That development made the subsequentmove back to Amsterdam easier. She set up her own translation agency, read voraciously, danced with her young sons, enjoyed jazz concerts, and made new friends.

‘Jennifer was an articulate speaker and had a social conscience,’ recalls Elise Reynolds (40), also an American translator. ‘Less than a year after we met, she was one of my best friends.  Her interest in others was entirely genuine. Good advice was always accompanied by a joke:  the ideal combination.  She gave of herself.  Jennifer was a source of happiness for herself and for others.  She was always fun to be with and always herself.’  For her, things didn’t have to be grand and stirring, says Overdiek. ‘She found enjoyment in simple things and tried to live in the present. Thanks to all her contacts, she was a fountain of anecdotes.’

On October 22nd she took the new family dog for a walk, together with Sander and Eamonn.  When the dog dropped a toy, Nolan went back to the crosswalk to pick it up. She was knocked down by a motorcycle cop without a flashing light who had sped through a red light.  She sustained a basalskull fracture, but was still conscious. That night she died of a brain hemorrhage. Nolan was 41, and donated her organs for transplantation.

(Gerlof Leistra, Elsevier)

19:30 – Eamonn sounds so happy. He just phoned and there was laughter in his voice.  He asked if he could stay overnight with T?  Yes, yes, yes!  Of course. You can do anything that makes you happy.

This was sheer bliss, Jennifer, and just what I needed at the end of the first week. It triggered an enormous crying fit.  The sad part is that I can’t tell you that for the first time since that day Eamonn laughed out loud.

22:00 – Sander is in bed. At least, I hope so. He’s more or less back into his usual routine, which means that he’s dilly-dallying on the way to bed.  Taking his time, just checking a couple of things… When he got home from conservatory tonight, I asked him how things had gone.  His answer was just a tad perfunctory:  ‘Fine.’ Then he looked up and corrected himself. ‘No, it wasn’t fine. It was fantastic.’

All in all, quite a good week.  No, I correct myself. It was a fantastic week.  Considering the situation.

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