Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Wow! Two days without crying

THURSDAY, December 31 – The quiet morning hours provide the time and some breathing space to think about the final hours of this calendar year. I want to have a good talk with the boys. It won’t be about New Year’s resolutions… they don’t amount to much in comparison with the heavy burden we’re already carrying.

Again I announce:  Friday the first of January 2010 will not be a perfect kick-off in a new game. It is no more and no less than just the following day in a difficult, personal struggle. Yet, I want to be able to look back at the close of 2009 and compliment the boys on their admirable resilience.

But I must be careful, and not be tempted to think that everything is fine since such thoughts are deceptive.  On the other hand,  I haven’t cried once since we got back from the States. Two days without crying. That’s unprecedented. Is this progress? A false reality? Sometimes it’s as if it hasn’t registered. Am I suppressing reality?

Thank heavens there’s no danger of that with the boys around. In their own way, they manage to make their immense grief known to me. Understanding and patience, that’s what it’s all about in the reality of our everyday life. Let’s make that our resolution for the New Year. And may it be a reaffirmation of my commitment as a father. Quietly, I try to get through, one day at a time, with tact and understanding.

I love you, Jennifer. I love you, Sander. I love you, Eamonn. And yes, I love myself.

19:45  – Goddamnit, Overdiek, there you go with your pious promises about patience and understanding!!  This time I went off the deep end when I lit into Sander. He’d been working on some kind of building kit, gotten glue on his fingers, and came to me to complain. Not just any old glue, but ‘three-second’ glue. Try getting that off your fingers!

I called him a numbskull, a botcher, a stupid bungler – out of sheer frustration because I hadn’t been checking on what he was doing.  His mistakes were my responsibility and I realized that I couldn’t remedy those mistakes. While Jennifer would have undoubtedly known exactly how to remove the goddamned glue. All Sander and I could do was shout at each other.

Eamonn, the peacemaker, came between us. He begged us not to argue, especially on the last day of the year. He was right, of course. I apologized to Sander, who also said he was sorry. Together we fixed dinner.  Au Pair Meal: pasta with meat, according to one of Jennifer’s recipes that he remembered. He did a good job. It was delicious.

‘My dearest colleagues…’

WEDNESDAY, December 30  – Sent an email to the newsfloor. ‘Dear colleagues, on the eve of 2010 I want to express my heartfelt thanks for…’  Short and sweet, I tell them how heartwarming their support was, and is, but that it’s time for me and the boys to shoulder the burden of our personal sorrow. This will give me a chance to return to my work in Hilversum with renewed energy.

In closing, I call on all of them to at least consider the idea of registering as an organ donor. Two birds with one stone. No doubt this will give rise to a variety of reactions. So be it. Our loss belongs to us. It’s private, not public. Plus, this is also a good way to get back into my work routine.

At least I hope so. I know full well that we won’t be making a whole new start on New Year’s Day. Misery doesn’t just disappear overnight;but, with luck, things will start to get a bit better. I feel entitled to my New Year’s resolution, even though I’m not really convinced.

She would be okay. They said

TUESDAY, December 29 – We’re home. Sander is lounging on the couch. Eamonn is in his room, busy with his toys. Bodhi the cat has been fed and is looking for a warm spot. We’ll pick up our dog Elsa tomorrow. The central heating is on. I’ve had my coffee. The suitcases are unpacked, and the washer is going. The pile of mail, which is largely Christmas cards, I go through quickly and then discard.

I pay considerably more attention to the statement from my insurance company, addressed to The Heirs of J. M. Nolan. Transport by ambulance on October 22, 2009:  cost € 755.30.  The amount has been paid in full. I remember the ambulance driver, a woman with long blonde hair, who treated her on the spot and then took her to the hospital. She made a point of coming by at the Emergency Room waiting area where I was pacing nervously back and forth. Things were looking pretty good, she said. According to her, everything was going to be all right.

Looking at the bill, that moment came back to me, in all its intensity. The overwhelming relief – since everything was going to be fine.

Playing the sympathy card

MONDAY, December 28 – Back to Amsterdam on board a packed plane. Initially only Sander and I had a boarding pass. Eamonn was on a waiting list. I was getting more and more nervous. I went up to the counter and managed to produce a few theatrical tears, purely for the effect. To make it clear what our situation was. No way was one of us going to be left behind.

We got it all sorted out, of course, but it brought home to me how easy it is to lose control – and how easy it is to play the sympathy card at crucial moments. With Sander and Eamonn beside me, I feel fatigue setting in. In fact, I’m exhausted by the emotions and the intense pain.

A sign of healing, they say. Here’s hoping.

Pilgrimage in her foot steps

SUNDAY, December 27 – Spent the day in New York, the three of us. Alone, and yet together with Jennifer, I told myself. At Rockefeller Center we saw a droopy Christmas tree. Every year she used to make her own pilgrimage to the Christmas tree in midtown Manhattan. Together we walked through Central Park. Here the snow has already melted. It could be a lovely spot to scatter her ashes.

Talk or don’t talk about her

SATURDAY, December 26 – And here we are, in bed early. All three of us. Eamonn is next to me, by now sound asleep. Sander has his own guest room. All three of us want rest and quiet, or – as Sander put it – ‘I’m sick and tired of all these people.’

Grandma who talks at the top of her voice, Grandpa who can’t understand what she’s saying, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews vying for attention. The special charm of the Nolans:  boisterousness.  But not right now.

What I’ve noticed, and what disappoints me, is the fact that all mention of Jennifer is painstakingly avoided. Consciously or unconsciously. No one brought up her name. There were no indirect references, no anecdotes, nothing at all. Only my sister-in-law asked me how  I  and the boys were doing.

The rest of the family stuck to the usual subjects. Football, memorable family vacations, Seinfeld imitations, the latest movies. Jennifer did not feature in any of these conversations. Maybe it was better that way, but to my way of thinking there was something really wrong. Weren’t we all gathered here precisely because of her?

In a sense, it was understandable. At least this way we weren’t constantly being confronted with her death, but suppressing it and pretending it had never happened was getting on my nerves.  So much so that in the midst of this large and loud family I was feeling lonelier than ever. However, if the reverse were the case, and Jennifer was the sole topic of conversation, I would probably have been just as miserable.

Sander just came in. Couldn’t get to sleep. He wants to go home and, further, he has two wishes: He wants the new year to start and he wants Mom back. I start promising him all sorts of things, but actually that isn’t even the problem.  I hold him tight. That’s enough. He and I don’t even have to talk about Mom. We don’t need words… a simple hug says a lot more.

‘This is my gift to you’

xmascardFRIDAY, December 25 – They were all there. Grandpa and Grandma, Uncle Jim and Aunt Missy, their Conor and Ceara, Uncle Chris and his daughter Marina, Uncle Paul and Aunt Barbara, their Tommie and Grace, Uncle Pete and Margaret, Sander and Eamonn and me.

Of course, it was difficult. What did I expect? They were all there because you weren’t there. Everyone except you. Where are you? The day went by in a daze. So glad that Christmas is over. Thank God there will be no Second Christmas Day in America as there is in Holland. Around nine-thirty I sneak out. I’ve had enough.

I cry on Eamonn’s hand-written Christmas card.  ‘Happy Holidays’ it says on the front and inside:

‘Dear Papa, For all the shit we have gone through, this is my gift. The best presents don’t come in boxes. The best presents come from your heart. I hope you’ll treasure this one forever. From Eamonn.’

The body says, hold on

THURSDAY, December 24 – It’s two months since your death. I’m sick, struck down by a stomach virus. Eamonn  is staying over at his friend J’s. It’s Christmas Eve. Sander’s taking care of me. And of our lives. Tonight, he’s the big guy.

‘Dear Boi. I love you because’

WEDNESDAY, December 23 – It only gets worse. Her presence is palpable in every nook and cranny, or rather, her visible and tangible absence.

In my toilet case I find a folded piece of paper:  it is yellowed and the ink has run.  It dates from the fall of 2005 and it was written on the stationary of the Hilton in Brighton, England, where, on a whim, we spent a weekend, the four of us.

Jenn had left it next to my toothbrush and accessories, and since then this precious note had accompanied me on all my many trips. ‘Dear Boi. I love you because you know when it is time to take a break. xxx  Jenn.’

Oh, Jenn.

Dropping the ball. Literally

christmastreeTUESDAY, December 22 – Part of it is jet lag, of course, but I find myself depressed by the triviality of New Jersey.  The Marketfair Mall, for example, where for eighteen years I regularly watched Jennifer walk into and out of each and every store.

It’s around the corner from the movie theater and Victoria’s Secret where I used to buy beautiful lingerie for her. There was Baby Gap, where she’d buy outfits for nieces and nephews and the children of friends. And next door, the grown-up Gap where we bought our jeans. At the far end of the mall there was a Barnes & Noble, where we’d wander around for hours, often taking home three, four, five or six books. And sometimes we just settled for coffee and chocolate chip cookies.

There was a theater where we used to sit in the car for hours after the movie, or outside on the curb looking up at the stars and chatting. Or in silence, listening to the crickets. This is the movie theater where nothing ever changed:  there was always the same man who tore our tickets in two and waved us in – and that’s only the mall.

Further up on Route 1 we paid our traditional visit to Target. I saw Jennifer in each and every aisle, strolling in her flip-flops, hunting for bargains in the Girls’ Department. I bought the second season of the Mad Men series, one of our favorites. We’d gotten about half-way, and I couldn’t really see myself finishing the series all alone. I bought the DVD pack, without quite knowing why.

21:00 – They’re decorating the tree. One more damned tradition:  Grandma always waited until her daughter and the grandchildren arrived to decorate the tree. This time Eamonn and Sander were helping her. Then, on top of everything, Jenn’s favorite ornament got smashed to pieces. A silver-orange-and-blue New York Mets ball. I deposit the remains in the trash can. Still, there’s an empty spot in the tree, only visible to us.

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