Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Lost after our home-coming

MONDAY, December 21 – What do I write? What is there to observe or to register in this quiet house in suburbia, where I’m lying on the same creaky double bed the two of us shared for years. Though it was on the narrow side, it was still a perfect match, our bodies meeting in various places.

What to say about the place Sander refers to as our home away from home, since we’ve spent so many summers and winters here. Less than three hours by car from Washington D.C. and only an hour from New York, it was a welcoming destination whether we were coming from London or Amsterdam.

A familiar headquarters, a home base from which to visit the shore and family and friends, or explore other cities – all activities that we cannot summon the energy for right now. What to say about our host and hostess, Grandma and Grandpa, visibly suffering the pain of their absent daughter.  Every day they’re a year older as they busy themselves trying to entertain us, all the while asking themselves, just as I do, ‘Oh, Jennifer… where are you?’

What can I say about the photos scattered on walls and tabletops around the house: in the living room her formal high school portrait, and the sweet photo of her – back then with long hair – in front of a Dutch windmill after she moved to Holland; the one on the fridge, taken on Sander’s eleventh birthday when he celebrated with a cake he’d made himself and in the dining room the various family portraits taken over the years, including our wedding portrait.

What to write except for this:  what was, is. What is, once was. The past is pervasive in the present and we crave the invisible strength that will show us the way to the future.

Go, go, go! Let’s not go

vliegtuigSUNDAY, December 20 – Yesterday Eamonn decided which clothes to take on our trip: a  small pile on the dining room floor consisting of a few shirts, jeans, and underwear.  A bathrobe and his blanket also go into the suitcase. He’s taking some books and his iPod Touch on board with him as well as blank pages to draw on.

This morning he was the first one up and dressed, while Sander claimed he was too sleepy and too busy to give me a hand.  While I stuffed items into the suitcase, Eamonn ran to the corner to mail some letters and then back home again. ‘Since the faster you run, the sooner we’ll be in the States.’

He was sitting on the front steps waiting for the taxi, while I was still wrestling with the last suitcase. They say that women always take more with them than men. Jennifer certainly didn’t, but the empty space in our third suitcase is suspicious. I’ve probably forgotten something important, but we’ll worry about that when we get to the States.

We arrived at Schiphol Airport in plenty of time. Once there, I had to take the taxi driver to task for his driving: not once but twice he kept going even though there were pedestrians trying to cross. I also told him why. He wasn’t impressed. There were long lines at the check-in desk, but we made it onto the plane, which was overbooked. Eamonn had run all the way to passport control.

Once we’d gone through security, Eamonn couldn’t wait to board. Only a few minutes late, the doors closed and I looked at my children with anticipation.  Sander on the aisle, Eamonn next to the window, and me in the middle. ‘Seven hours and fifty minutes, and then we’ll be landing, guys.  Isn’t this fun?’

Eamonn was looking out the window. When I leaned over his shoulder, I got the fright of my life. He was crying his eyes out. Not making any sound. I put my head cautiously on his left shoulder blade, pushed my hand under his elbow and took hold of his fingers. Gently I rubbed his palm and planted a kiss on his hair.

After a few minutes he turned to me: ‘Papa, can’t we stay home? I don’t really feel like going to America.’

Ten minutes later, his grief had evaporated. That’s how fast things can change  when you’re dealing with children, I think to myself. Usually to my relief, but occasionally in exasperation. You’ve just opened a conversation with a bit of depth and they can’t wait to switch to some stupid video game. Like after this crying bout he decided that the first thing he was going to do at Grandpa and Grandma’s was to shovel the snow from their driveway.

Kicking Oma out of the house

SATURDAY, December 19 – I just asked my mother to leave the house. It had absolutely nothing to do with her, well-intentioned as she is, but I could not abide her presence in the house for one more minute.

It would have been the same with anyone else. She arrived yesterday and wanted to stay for an extra night. Suddenly, something snapped in me. Four people in my house and none of them Jennifer.  Impossible.

It was horrible to have to tell her that it would be better if she left, but in the end it was better. For all of us. I’d come close to saying things that I would regret later on. She phoned to say she was home, as she always did and I let the phone go to voice mail.

15:00 – We’re in the park and I see Eamonn racing in our direction. Then suddenly he skids on the frozen ground and hits the back of his head. For an instant we stand there, petrified. The back of his head. Then he gets up, pulls a face, and says, ‘Don’t worry. I’m okay. And I still have my sense of humor.’

22:30 – That same conversation again with Sander. About death, about not knowing, about the explanations we search for and can’t find. It’s wearing, the interminable repetition of useless information, but I don’t lose my patience. Then there’s a pause. Sander is about to tell me something.

‘You know what, Papa? Last night when everyone was asleep, even the dog and the cat, I woke up and saw this blue light floating through the hall. It went straight into Eamonn’s room. I saw it, and then suddenly it was gone.’

I don’t say anything, waiting for more. Sander: ‘I think it was Mom.’

He admits that he was a bit scared. I tell him that it’s ‘a very special experience’. And that he should try to treasure such moments, even though we don’t know what it was or what it meant.

I’m reminded of something Jennifer told me. How once, in the middle of the night, she woke up and saw my father appear in a corner of the bedroom.  How he looked at us, and kept looking, and that he saw that it was good. Later on, when Jenn told my sister-in-law L about it, she was ecstatic. L had had the very same experience years before.

As far as I’m concerned, Jennifer is more than welcome to come by and take a look at her boys. In whatever way and in whatever form she chooses.

Fighting a war of grief

FRIDAY, December 18 – Why not, I thought. If it makes such an impact on friends, why shouldn’t other people who follow me on Twitter?  Right now there are over two thousand who do, so I twittered:

This is a shameful – make that a proud – plug: Sign up as an organ donor. My late wife Jennifer has made it possible for four people to live on.

It reached a great many people, which was the object of the exercise. I hope it results in a slew of registrations. Some people have already announced their intentions on Twitter and tomorrow I’m going to issue a subtle reminder. Short-term activist … always better than long-suffering widower.

23.50 – Just back from a small farewell party for my colleague P, who presented his last broadcast tonight. I stayed for an hour or so, spent most of the time with M., a dear colleague. She compared the impact of my loss to that of her Jewish mother, who lost her entire family during the Second World War all exterminated by the Nazis. Her mother’s life was shaped by the war.

According to her daughter she would have said,  ‘This is Tim’s war.’

Tim’s war? That’s not the way it feels or the way I see it. Maybe I should sleep on it. Tim’s war?  Tim’s battle? Tim’s amputation? Tim’s betrayal? Tim’s revolt?

But then I knew. Tim’s victory!

Four people live. Thanks, Jenn

THURSDAY, December 17 – Snow! Recuperating after a bad night. Have to keep an eye on Sander, who spent most of the night on the toilet. I decide to bite the bullet and tackle some paperwork. If you’re sick anyway, you might as well deal with those damned  documents.

First the matter of succession laws:  I have to sign in a couple of places, scan the documents, and send them back. Then a phone call to the notary about the upcoming transfer of ownership of the new house.  Then two more tax documents:  one Dutch, one British. I email Jenn’s American accountant and talk to our investment advisor in Washington D.C.

Then the rest of the mail. I’m tempted to chuck it all out without even reading it. They’ve all done their best to find the right words, but all they do is confront me with reality. I don’t need this. Like the Christmas card from English friends who haven’t heard. ‘Best wishes to all four – have a great 2010!’ I toss it. They’ll find out somehow.

It’s almost four o’clock when I get the phone call. This is what I post on my Facebook wall:

The news is accompanied by tears of love. One woman (25) received her lungs. Another woman (64) her liver. Two men (55 and 63) each received one of her kidneys. All are doing well. Some had been on the waiting list for a long time. Thank you, Jenn. We love you.

Heartwarming responses. Several people immediately sign up as organ donors. Cautiously I inform the boys. They immediately want to know all the details.  They’re both enthusiastic and, separately from one another, they reach the same conclusion.

‘Thanks to Mom, four people will have a better and a healthier life.’

I am overcome by happiness. Tears of love, tears of joy.

Life in the sick lane

WEDNESDAY, December 16 – Sick as a dog. Felt my temperature shooting up yesterday. Diarrhea.  Sander offered to take the dog out, but then he got sick, too – only after he’d tucked me into bed and made me promise to check my temperature.

Eamonn had a sleepover at a friend’s house and I asked if he could stay an extra night. He preferred to come home: ‘I want to be with my dad.’ He brought me an extra pillow.

Better sick now than later in the week:  Monday we’re off to the States.

Suddenly she was there again

TUESDAY, December 15 – Last night the nightmare was briefly suspended. Not because I woke up, but because I dreamed about it. Suddenly Jennifer had walked into the living room. Not our living room, but some random place where her father and I were sitting at a table.

She walked into the room, as cool as could be. Smartly dressed. High heels. Tight-fitting jeans and a blouse I’d never seen before. A silk blouse with a colorful pattern. She was wearing make-up, her hair was short, and had earrings on that were just a bit too big.

My father-in-law and I were too surprised to say anything. ‘I know,’ said Jennifer, ‘it’s hard to believe, isn’t it? I’ve been conscious since twelve o’clock. No problem. That’s why they released me.’

I looked at my father-in-law, and again nothing was said. So it was possible.  Stupid! We’d taken her off the machines because she was totally brain-dead!  So miracles do exist.

Jenn went around the room, adjusting things here and there. I got up and walked over to her. You’d expect an embrace, but we kept some distance from each other since she was busy gathering up some papers and was bending over just about to deposit them in a recycle bin.

At that moment it became clear to me that it was a dream and I fought against waking up. I wanted to get back into the dream. I did everything I could, fully aware how difficult this was. Awake is awake.

I buried my head even deeper in the pillow in an attempt to recapture the dream or at least anchor that image of Jennifer in my head. I hoped it was still the middle of the night and not the moment when the alarm was scheduled to go off at ten to seven on this vacation day.

It was ten to seven. The alarm went off and I was back in our nightmare.

Mom in the present tense

MONDAY, December 14 – Scene 1, near the stairs, 8:15, on the way to the front door. Sander and me.

Me:  ‘It’s way too cold out, you need a scarf.’

Sander:  ‘No, I don’t.’

‘Yes, you do.’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘Here, take this one.’

‘Papa, I’m okay. Just leave me alone.’

‘You’re not okay. You were under the weather on Saturday, and yesterday you said you had a sore throat. So put the thing on.’

‘Oh, all right.’

In the car he puts it on. But the minute he gets out, he stuffs it into his schoolbag. It’s too late to intervene. And his coat wasn’t buttoned either.

Scene 2, in the bedroom. Sander walks in. Read more…

Kids look after their dad

SUNDAY, December 13 – No shortage of options, ideas, and suggestions, but the boys can’t agree. Until Eamonn says, ‘Let’s go back to bed.’ It’s nine-thirty and I concur wholeheartedly. We jump into the big bed, where we snuggle up to each other, laugh, and try to lie still as long as possible without moving a muscle. The record is 32 seconds before someone starts to grin. Just imagine: we make tangible progress by simply lying in bed, being silent and motionless.

11:00 – ‘Papa, it’s about time you started going to the gym again. Go on, we can stay home alone,’ Eamonn is advising me unsollicited. He wants to make sure that I stay healthy and he’s been caluculating how often I should go to the gym in view of the fact that I now take the dog out every day. I am touched bythesesimple questions and the almost philosophical musings of my youngest son.

So, off I go, for the first time since Jennifer’s death. Easy exercises on the various pieces of equipment under the watchful eye of G, the in-house physiotherapist and trainer. During a break, I told him what had happened, which explains why he hadn’t seen me for a while.

I continued to sweat my way through the exercises until I notice that suddenly he’s standing next to me, with tears in his eyes. He just wants to give me a quick hug.  So there we stand, my sweaty torso in a close embrace with his muscular body.

At home, the boys were playing.  Indeed, they really are old enough to stay home alone for an hour or so.

So where is she now?

jennmeditationSATURDAY, December 12 – My alarm clock was set for 5:15, so that I’d be up well before the boys. I felt the need to meditate. It’s been 49 days since Jennifer’s death. Her Buddhist friend N had written me to explain that according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Jennifer – or her soul – would now be entering the next phase of the bardo.

Forty-nine days after her first passage, her consciousness finally undergoes the process of reincarnation. This is our last opportunity to do something for her.  Meditation is one way of helping the roaming spirit to achieve the most positive reincarnation.  N also added that he was not entirely convinced that this was true.

And I certainly wasn’t… and yet, like N, I felt that, at least, we should not let this moment pass. So, I knelt down on my meditation cushion to wish Jenn a good journey, but on this day I never actually reached a meditative state.  In spite of my frantic efforts. I was trying much too hard to breathe slowly in and out, in an effort to achieve a higher level of awareness.  It was hopeless. Read more…

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