Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Phantom pain in an empty bed

FRIDAY, December 11 –  Every morning, somewhere between dream and reality, I still stretch out my arm to feel whether you are lying next to me. I run my hand over the mattress. Not that I expect to feel your bottom or your back, but, simply, because after eighteen years I’m still not used to lying there on my own in that huge bed.

Your pillows aren’t there anymore. They’re in the dresser. Every night I quite effortlessly fall asleep on my side of the bed.  Not in the middle of the mattress, but on the right, where I belong. Read more…

Dealing with kitchen ghosts

kitcheTHURSDAY, December 10 – This is something only one person can decide.  Jennifer.  And no one else.  In any case, not this afternoon and not all on my own.  I really, really didn’t want to have to do this, but I had no choice.  The question needed to be answered. What color counter top did I want in the kitchen?  The salesman was waiting for my answer.  How am I supposed to know?  And besides, I couldn’t care less. Fuck off!

The doors were called Ivory or something.  Never knew there were that many different shades of white.  I’m your typical husband, who pretends to be interested and involved, and can even discuss the pros and cons with a quasi-practiced eye despite the fact that I haven’t a clue. Read more…

‘What would Mom have done?’

WEDNESDAY, December 9 – Sander called just as I was I was starting off on a long walk in the woods with Elsa. He had a crap day and, after checking with the counselor, he was given permission to go up to the supply room and smash something to pieces.  It didn’t really help.

He asked if he could go home. Of course. I asked a few questions by way of trying to figure out what had suddenly caused him to lose his cool.  Nothing in particular, it seemed. He was just plain sad.  And angry.  He’s furious with the police in general and the motorcycle cop, in particular.

As it happened, I’d just emailed the criminal lawyer that very morning, informing him that we want to arrange a meeting with the cop. Apparently, the time was ripe – not this month, but somewhere around the middle of January.  This meeting might help us to start to come to terms with Jennifer’s death.  And with Sander’s anger, and Eamonn’s aversion to the spot where the accident took place. He still refuses to go anywhere near it.

I have questions of my own, of course, and I wrestle with my own emotions.  Read more…

Grief is not a mental disorder

TUESDAY, December 8  –  Back in control!  I have brought both the counseling and care at school equally into question. The breaking point came when one of the teachers suggested that it might be a good idea to call in a psychiatrist.

That made me angry.  Mourning is not a psychiatric disorder. Separation anxiety is a manifestation of grief. So I’m in charge again.

I had a forthright conversation with Eamonn and we forged a couple of iron-clad agreements.  He understood, and now everything’s going along fine. I’ll take him to his classroom and then say goodbye. We tried it out this morning, and it worked.  He stayed in the classroom as agreed, despite the pain that was visible in his face.

Yes, we can!  I love him.  And I love myself!

Don’t look at my blind rage

MONDAY, December 7 – Eamonn can’t make it any clearer, as we stand in the hall outside his classroom.  ‘I’m worried about you.’  He clings to my pants, my jacket, my hand – anything he can grab hold of.  He’s crying.  In a loud whisper he says that he doesn’t want me to leave.

He is convinced that if I were to leave now, I would be deserting him.  Or even worse, that something bad would happen to me:  the realization of his worst nightmare.  He’s lost his mother and now he’s going to lose me, too.  He indeed can’t make it any clearer: ‘I worry about you.’

His separation anxiety only increases.  Each concession to his fear leads to an escalation which is counterproductive.  At least that’s how it seems.  Another week to go until Christmas vacation and I’m already at the end of my tether.  I want to make it to Friday afternoon in one piece.  We make a deal: he only has to go to school in the morning and this appears to ease his anxiety.

We agree that I’ll walk him to his classroom and that I’ll leave as soon as the first of his friends arrive. That’s the plan. The reality is that he won’t let me go.  I try everything: sympathy, understanding, severity, mock anger, and – above all – unconditional love.

But he won’t let me go.  This morning I leave him behind with a counselor and walk away without looking back.  He starts crying and screaming, and has to be restrained. I don’t turn around.  Mainly because I don’t want him to see my tears. Or the pain in my heart, the rock in the pit of my stomach, the dizziness in my head. I cry as I pedal home and once inside I start ranting and raving against  the desperation of my life and my blind rage at her death.

All I want is for my little boy to be happy again.

Facts of the unbearable truth

SUNDAY, December 6 – It’s a miserable Sunday afternoon.  Sander’s away playing jazz at ‘The Bathtub’. I’ve picked up some potato chips for Eamonn which he is now devouring on the couch, absorbed in his new Garfield book. The dog seems happy enough.  The cat’s been mad at the dog for once again pinching his dinner, with just one sweep of her tongue. But, now, he’s comfortably ensconced on Eamonn’s lap. Maybe this is a good moment to go over that medical dossier.

Her last moments of consciousness:  ‘Friday 23 October 02:00.  Severe headache persists, T 36.7.  Procedure:  repeat paracetamol 1000 mg. plus tramal 50 mg.  After 3 hours,severe occipital headache persists. EMV max, lucid and oriented (in English). B / subcutaneous 5 mg morphine.  04.00 call in connection with sudden drop in EMV and immeasurable output: pulse 180, RR immeasurable, no exhalations: reanimation and intubation (initially without sedation):  during EIMIVI, anisocory, no response to light.’

All of this according to the doctor in attendance.  The surgery was to no avail…  It’s a  big pile of paper.  Shuffled in amidst all the medical terms, we – her husband and children – also make the occasional appearance.

Questions begin to arise. A great many questions. But the answer remains mercilessly  the same. She is dead.

Morbid gift from St. Nicholas


SATURDAY, December 5 – Tonight we’ll be celebrating St. Nicholas. I’m in the middle of wrapping presents when the doorbell rings. The dog starts to bark as she’s expected to do when the mailman makes an appearance.

Besides the  bill from the dentist (it’s a reminder: sometimes I’ve been forgetting to pay bills) and a belated condolence card, there’s also a fat envelope.  It’s Jennifer’s medical file that’s been sent to me by my lawyer. It’s what’s known as a ‘bulky report’. Since it’s too big for the mailbox, it’s presented to me in person:  It is a morbid present on such a festive evening.

No need to open it today.

23.30 – Even if Jennifer were still alive, she would not have been celebrating with us.  St. Nicholas just wasn’t her thing and she made no bones about that. ‘This is a part of your culture that I don’t want anything to do with.’

As an American, she was horrified by the Dutch cavorting about in blackface as incarnations of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Peter). It was just so politically incorrect and, further, in her eyes St. Nicholas was just too ridiculous.  Besides, she still believed in Santa Claus. Read more…

Cleaning is great therapy

FRIDAY, December 4 – As the saying goes; a nod is as good as a wink, to a blind horse.  After over thirteen years of marriage it is clear for all to see that I used to wear a ring on my left ring finger.  The stubborn relic of a devotion which is still visible?  Love until death do us part.

I do.  I still do.

stofzuigenSander and I agree:  Mom was always busy cleaning.  Just a bit too busy, we decide.

That doesn’t mean that from now on we’re allowed to live like a bunch of slobs. On the contrary, I have thrown myself into the task of cleaning and maintaining our house. I’m a veritable whirlwind of cleanliness.

On Friday and Saturday I change the beds, do loads of wash, and clean the bathrooms.  I try to vacuum as well, but I must confess that once in a while I ‘cheat’ a bit, despite the fact that when you have a dog it’s really important to stay on top of things.

I’ve  noticed that cleaning the house  gives a sense of ‘control’: control over our lives. It seems to be working.

22.45 – Tired.  Tired.  Tired.

Taking off my wedding ring

WEDNESDAY, December 3  – Before the clock has struck 7 a.m., Eamonn is walking around with a song in his head, which he sings at the top of his lungs and then hums under his breath. He tries out the melody on his electric guitar, waving the instrument around the way only The Beatles could.

Here comes the sun …

Just as I’m getting ready to take the dog out, he announces:  ‘Papa, I’m going to let my hair grow, just like Ringo Starr.’

That’s an excellent idea, my son, an excellent idea. The rest of the morning I can’t get the song out of my head. It feels good.

Here comes the sun

Dootin doo doo

Here comes the sun

And I say it’s alright…                                                                                            

Weddingring15.20 – At work, and it’s alright, doo da doo da.  Everybody in the building stops me – on the news floor, in the hall, by the elevator, even in the restroom – just to ask me how I’m doing which is not surprising given the mass outpouring of sympathy in the week after Jenn’s death. The organization was deeply affected by the news and the sincere involvement of my colleagues with our well-being has continued to grow.

I choose my moments of visibility and contact with the hundreds of people who work here. This creates the illusion that I’m back, batteries fully charged and raring to go.  Which, of course, is not the case.  I just walked out of a meeting because I had totally lost interest in the topic being discussed.

I also find it difficult to concentrate since my attention is riveted on the wedding ring on my left hand.  While all sorts of important business is being discussed, I can’t think of anything but the very pressing issue of whether or not I should remove my wedding ring, whether the other people at the table have noticed that I’m still wearing my wedding ring, and whether they can tell that I’m thinking about my wedding ring.

In short, let the record show that on this day, at 15.09, I removed my wedding ring.  So be it.  Totally without ceremony, here at my desk, in an empty office.  Now,  let’s see if anyone notices or ventures a comment.  In any case, it’s only a ring.  I put it in my wallet.

How we met. In her words

WEDNESDAY, December 2 – A letter from M, Jennifer’s Swedish pen pal who’d sent copies of three letters Jenn had written when she was still living in America. The first one when she was just sixteen and in another, written when she was seventeen, she describes herself:

‘As a person, I’d describe myself as talkative, and for the most part an extravert.  I enjoy speaking my mind, and sometimes I’m a bit too quick to say what I think, and I’d have done better to stop and think before opening my mouth.  I’m independent, although I enjoy meeting new people.  I laugh a lot and I want to be happy.’

Yep, that was Jennifer all right.

There is another letter, dated June 10, 1991, in which Jenn tells M what happened when she and I first laid eyes on one another. Read more…

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