Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

When the crying just doesn’t stop

FRIDAY, November 20 – At 8.17 in the morning I raise my arms.  Via Facebook I let my friends know ‘that I’ve fixed two breakfasts and two lunches, taken the dog out, done two loads of laundry, signed school papers, had a bite to eat, got myself dressed (more or less), and am now about to take the boys to school.  I am King! Thank God it’s Friday!’

On the way to school Eamonn says, ‘You know what, Papa, I feel like going over and playing with my friends, but I also want to stay with you.’

‘You should do what you’d rather do.’

But that was the whole problem. He didn’t know. I realized that this was an opportunity. Read more…

Do not hurt our ‘baby’!

THURSDAY, November 19 – Number 22 has got to go. One of Sander’s incisors is in the way – a legacy from his mother. The dentist frowns.  ‘We’ll have to get rid of this one.’ Sander looks up and asks me to stay. Why? Because Mom always did. His adolescent body moans in pain as the anesthetic shoots into his jaw.

Suddenly I’m reminded of the summer of 1997, when baby Sander was due for his first injections.  In his buttock or his upper leg, I can’t remember which.  He screamed louder than any baby I’d ever heard. The sound was heart-rending.  And at that point tears came to my eyes.

I remembered how Jennifer gazed in bewilderment at the injustice to which her child was being subjected.  I was angry and blamed the doctor, who just stood there, half smiling.  It was a primeval reaction… the sense of parental responsibility during those first months as young parents.  Now, over twelve years later, that sensation returns in all its intensity.

Leaving the dentist’s office, I put my arm around my tall son, who has long towered over his mother. Then and now… the protective hug. The loving, comforting words:  ‘Don’t be afraid, little guy, you’re safe with Mom and Papa.’

The emotions are the same, twelve years and one dead mother later.

11:30 – Ah, a letter from the crematory, about the destination of the ashes. A tasteful folder with creative suggestions, accompanied by the price list.  I feel like writing something really cynical, just to get it out of my system, but then I think better it.  I’m tired.  Dead tired.

‘Always follow your heart’

WEDNESDAY, November 18 – Went by our family doctor to have the death certificate signed by an authorized physician. The receptionist immediately showed me into a separate room.  There were tears in her eyes as, apparently, she knew who I was and what had happened.

The same thing had happened to her. Her husband died in a traffic accident, some time ago and she’d been left behind with a six-year-old.  Companions in misery. ‘Let’s seal that with a hug,’ I say, and there we stand in a warm embrace: two perfect strangers.

She gives me her name and phone number and says I can call her any time. And by the way, she says: ‘Whatever you do or don’t do, always follow your heart.’

23:15 – Jennifer, I miss you terribly. I can’t believe I’ll never hold you in my arms again. Never make you a cup of tea. Talk about your day. Listen to your stories.  Oh my God, oh my God. There’s a huge pile of cards and letters on the table that will somehow have to be answered.   Elsa is in her basket and the boys are upstairs in bed. Bodhi, the cat, keeps badgering me to feed him before he heads outside for the rest of the night. I cry and cry and cry.


Clinging to me like a 3 year-old

TUESDAY, November 17 – On the radio I hear an account of the controversial political decision not to screen American women for breast cancer until the age of fifty.  Up to now the eligible age was forty.  Jenn would have been furious.  On her behalf, I am incensed over this ridiculous decision. I sense her outrage and that brings some relief.

17:00 – Eamonn has a guitar lesson today, the first in a long time. He’s cheerful, chatters a mile a minute, and is happy to be doing something different.  This morning was awful. In the schoolyard he was overcome by his emotions and wouldn’t let me go. He clung to me like a three-year-old on his first day at the day care center. Read more…

What’s my wedding date? Uh…

MONDAY, November 16 – Sander walked into the bedroom this morning and reminded me about the instances when I had felt Jennifer’s presence. Twice in the woods, with Elsa and Eamonn. He gave me a penetrating glance and said: ‘I don’t know, but I haven’t felt anything yet. No Mom. Nothing at all.’

It was a simple observation, clearly not a sign of anxiety.  I told him that was okay, too and that when the time came, he would know. I left it at that, especially since we were late for school.  Made a mental note to talk to him about this later tonight.

9:00 – My Facebook post for this morning:  ‘Lawyers, diplomats, psychologists, bankers and police commissioners; all of them on the agenda for this week. But what on earth do you do when your nine-year-old is havinghas a crap moment?’

10:30 – Fuck, fuck, fuck.  Had to fill out a whole slew of forms for the American Consulate and my lawyer. Couldn’t for the life of me remember the date of our wedding. That’s how fucked-up the whole situation is.  I’m going crazy.

22:00 – Sander brought it up himself. This afternoon he’d been busy trying to get his hard drive to work. He’d been fooling around with it for over an hour when he saw his Mom lean over his shoulder and heard her say ‘Isn’t it about time you took a break?’ Sander said it was creepy, scary. I told him there was nothing negative about it, and that he ought to cherish the experience.  It’s possible that he was making it up, because hes been so anxious to feel her presence. On the other hand, what right do I have to cast doubt on his experience.

Feeling a body no longer there

SUNDAY, November 15 – For the first time since the accident, I have trouble sleeping. I wake up to find myself entangled with Eamonn, who at some point has crawled into bed with me. It’s still strange to find him in the spot where Jennifer lay for eighteen years.  We were bedmates, she and I, whereas, Eamonn and I are now fellow sufferers filling the emptiness of that same bed with our combined presence.

I’m confused. My eyes are open but my head isn’t awake yet.  Confused because I’m seeing Eamonn while I’m thinking of Jennifer.  I always used to caress her warm body when I got into bed. Read more…

Iron-clad promise to my son

SATURDAY, November 14 – Eamonn crawled into my bed. It was only quarter to five. Said he couldn’t sleep. ‘Sorry.’ No problem. So, I cuddled him and we both went back to sleep.  We woke up around seven and cuddled some more. I turned over, with my back to him, in the hope of getting a bit more sleep. A small voice said, ‘Papa, I love you.’

I turned around again and we began to talk about how hard it all was. About then and now, the differences, about the future and the trip we started planning last year.  From the American East Coast to the West Coast by motorcycle, when Eamonn is 21 and I’m 56. It’s an iron-clad promise, which Eamonn wants to confirm this morning, here in bed.

But we made one slight adjustment to our plans.  We’re going to forget about the motorcycle.  ‘I want a convertible.  A red Mercedes-Benz.’  There was a silence.  ‘But that’s probably too expensive.’  Heck no, I say, let’s go for it. A precious moment in the big bed:  that small voice and the overpowering cuddle.

9:15 – ‘Men aren’t allowed to have feelings’ is the heading of an article in the Volkskrant’s weekend magazine.  It’s about widowers and how they’re apparently not supposed to talk about their grieving process.  Fact:  In the Netherlands some 18,000 men are widowed each year.  There is no shortage of books, sites and organizations, according to the widower in the interview, but they’re all by and for women, who are clearly better able – or more willing – to express themselves than men. Bullshit, I say to him and to myself.

19.00 – Jenn’s parents called.  Earlier today there was a service of remembrance for their daughter. It was intended as a simple gathering, but there were over a hundred people in the congregation. Therewere relatives from several other states and friends who lived close by.  It was marvelous, heartwarming, a wonderful occasion for them, there and at that moment, but it made me feel sick.

Another farewell; another form of closure.  I didn’t want to hear about it, and I would certainly not have wanted to be there. It would have been a setback for the boys and me. Reliving everything was the last thing we needed. We have to move on, even though we’re still mired in disbelief.  Fuck the pluperfect.

Playing dead for ten minutes

FRIDAY, November 13 – There was only the one letter on the doormat. From Swarthmore College where Jennifer went to school.  It was a  letter of condolence which contained this notice: ‘In keeping with our tradition, we will place a book of remembrance in the McCabe Library Collection in which is engraved JENNIFER  M. NOLAN, CLASS OF 1990.’  I burst into tears, fell to the floor, and lay there crying until Elsa came down the stairs and lay down against me. After ten minutes playing dead I got to my feet.

Why did she have to die?

THURSDAY, November 12 – Capuccino at Bagels & Beans.  I look out the window.  On the other side of the street I see the boys’ school and on this side the court house where I have an appointment with the public prosecutor.  I have only one question plus one demand:  First, why did the motorcycle cop run a red light? And second, I want the truth and nothing but the truth.

I think back to a week ago:  Sander was sitting next to me, in this very same spot, as I explained to him what had to be done to put our administrative life more or less in order.  It was another good talk between father and son, one to cherish despite it all.

Last night when we were brushing our teeth, I asked Sander how he thought I was doing, as a father. His words: ‘You’re doing a fantastic job, all by yourself, in a situation like this.  Especially in the morning: making breakfast, lunch, taking the dog out.’

I gave him a kiss and thanked him. Jenn always said you should never brush aside a compliment, instead graciously accept it.  I still have that smile on my face. Can you see it, Jenn?

Pain feels like a paper cut

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.’

Oh, shit.

‘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’.

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