Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Our new back-up: An au pair

SUNDAY, January 31 – Soon we’ll be off to Schiphol airport in order to pick up E, our au pair, who’s flying in from the United States. The tentative plan is for a year. We need some back-up. Especially me, but the boys as well. She’ll provide stability for them when they come home from school and hopefully more flexibility for me after I return to work.

I want to work full time and it’s a step I feel I have to take. It’s not that I’m trying to take refuge in my work, but, rather, I know that my work gives me new energy and this renewed strength will help me being a father to my boys. Finding a balance between work and family can only help us to face the future with more confidence.

It was during our time in Washington that we got to know E. She lived on the same street and sometimes looked after Sander and Eamonn. We were crazy about her. Last Summer she’d emailed Jennifer to ask if we knew of anyone who was looking for an au pair. We didn’t, but I remember Jennifer telling me about her email. So, in late November I sent her a cautious email.

She replied immediately and enthusiastically, as she had already considered this possibility herself. After a few phone calls and emails back and forth, we decided to take the plunge and at this moment her plane is just about to land. There was a slight delay due to the winter weather, which may be quite shocking for someone who has spent years in Florida.

It’s going to involve considerable give and take. Not only because the three of us are so close, but also because there will again be a woman in the house. Naturally, she is not going to replace Jennifer.  She’s not going to be a surrogate mother or a stand-in wife. Nothing like that. What we need is help for the family and I’m very grateful. I also admire her courage and her willingness to come and take up this job.

According to the boys, there is only one disadvantage: ‘Now we can’t go running around naked anymore.’

E. emailed back that that was not a problem, which was reassuring.

Determined to risk it all

SATURDAY, January 30 – This morning I am determined. I, of course, know that determination can be treacherous, but I’m willing to risk it. I let my Facebook friends know that ‘This morning nothing, I repeat, absolutely nothing can ruin the excellent mood I’m in. As far as I’m concerned, it can only get better.’

With unflagging cheerfulness, I thank the neighbor who ran into the three of us on the street and who nearly burst into tears. She offered to come and cook for us, but that wouldn’t be necessary, I said. We’re doing just fine. No, we’re not miserable or pathetic. We’re managing quite well, especially today, since it’s such a beautiful day, with both sun and snow.

Then I talked to my brother on the phone.  For once in recent months  I didn’t send him straight to my voicemail.  He wanted to know how was I doing, so I switched to automatic pilot, informing him of my daily trials and tribulations.  A ten-minute chat sufficed.  At one point, you hear yourself blabbing on and the mental energy quickly fades. That’s the signal to stop.

I open a new book and finish it at one go:  You May Call Me Anytime by a Dutch woman, who recorded her experiences after her husband’s death, are gripping and should actually knock me for a loop. Instead, I simply smile and nod at the recognizable situations. At the end of the evening, I put the book back in the bookcase, grinning at the familiar situations and the sheer lunacy of death.

I wasn’t even dispirited by Eamonn, who came downstairs crying after having a bad dream. By Sander who also came out of bed and began demanding that his mother come back. I was in a really great mood from then until I closed my eyes that night. The next morning a smile reappeared on my lips and refused to be banished.  I had no idea why and, for once, I wasn’t even going to ask myself.

Memorials. Friends need them

FRIDAY, January 29 – Two emails from abroad: one of them came in yesterday, but I had deliberately ignored it. No energy. Today I received a similar message, thus,  forcing me to ponder them. Permission for a memorial service:  one in Italy, the other in America. I go all cold at the very thought, even though the requests are full of warmth and love.

J explains that he wants to organize a concert in Italy. He and Jennifer met a few years back in a castle where she regularly spent the weekend. It was a dilapidated country house near Bologna, full of books, with a vineyard and interesting guests:  the ideal getaway from her life in London, with husband, children and the hustle & bustle of everyday life.

J is a professional violinist who lives in London with his partner A. He and Jenn had become the best of friends and last summer they had even gone to visit his parents in Portugal. As it happened, just last weekend the boys and I had watched the jerky images of Jenn taken there with my flip camera. These are the  last moving images of her, lasting only a few seconds, still  her voice sounds so close-by.  J’s idea is  to organize a concert, plant a tree on the estate, and entice as many of their mutual friends as possible to come to Italy for the occasion. He wants to know whether I’ll be there with the boys.

The other request, which came in this morning, is also an invitation, from Swarthmore College. Will the boys and I be attending the unveiling of a bench on  campus in memory of Jennifer?  The email was from Jenn’s college friend B. Their class reunion, which takes place every five years, will be held this coming June, twenty years after their graduation. Jenn had  already been making tentative plans to attend. A stab of pain shot through my body at the thought that she would indeed be there, although not physically. Instead, in the shape of a bench in the park with her name on it, and a favorite motto or saying.

Yes, of course, I reply and I’d be pleased to be involved.  I can’t say yet whether we will be physically present, but I’ll do my best. I didn’t tell J and B that their requests set off an enormous crying fit or  that I was pained by the definitive nature of their initiatives, nor  that I could only see them as another burial.  They seem the fulfillment of a memory of something that no longer exists, but that once was. History.

At the same time, I do realize how precious these initiatives are and how very sincere. In the long run, they are more valuable than the stab I feel in my heart right now. We can’t yet say whether we will actually be coming . The boys have school, of course, but it’s good to know that friends from Jennifer’s past want to show us how greatly they were influenced by her. History doesn’t focus only on the mistakes that have been made, but also or perhaps primarily on what was beautiful. And what will always be beautiful.

“My Dad is #1”

THURSDAY, January 28 – Don’t have a clue what I meant when I wrote down last night’s terms. Can’t remember much about yesterday. What on earth does Auschwitz have to do with Sander’s half-birthday?  Jennifer perfected? Dammit! I’m losing my marbles.

Well, maybe that’s not such a bad idea.  A chance to catch my breath. Maybe that’s what I need most at this point.

I quickly, however, reject that idiotic idea. My mission, my life task, could not be clearer:  the children. Nothing but the children. And then myself. I have to take care of myself and it was a good thing that  I gave in to my fatigue, left the dancing letters to their own demise, and went to bed.

I found Eamonn in my bed.  During and probably because of my absence he had become upset and vomited all over the stairs. Sander called me during the meeting. The babysitter assured me that it wasn’t serious. ‘Entirely psychosomatic’ was my diagnosis, and I hung up after suggesting that Eamonn might want to crawl into my bed.  That helped.

This morning he came downstairs with a poem, written specially for me. Tears immediately came to my eyes. ‘It made me cry, too,’ Eamonn said. It’s called ‘My Dad’.

“My Dad

Is #1.

I love

To hear him hum,

His meals

Make me say yum.

My Dad

Is #1.”

I hang it on the wall.

(The book is now for sale. Click here for more information)

Reflecting on th… Need sleep

WEDNESDAY, January 27 – Fighting against sleep. Why don’t I go to bed? I want to reflect on things. I just got back from my first obligatory evening meeting since October. This one was with the staff of the Kids News regarding their plans for the future and the notes drawn up by the senior staff.

The future hmm… it remains a pretty vague concept.

Scribble down some notes on a piece of paper. Gotta work on this tomorrow: dog kibble Auschwitz commemoration, ideas for Sander’s half-birthday.  Jennifer perfected.  Off to bed.

When there was still hope

TUESDAY, January 26 – During a meeting I was leafing unsuspectingly through my business notebook.  There were a few sheets of paper at the back and, suddenly, a card fell out. It was a drawing Eamonn had made for Jenn.

Get well soon, Mom

He’d drawn a big heart around the text, which read:

Dear Mom, I hope you get well soon, because it’s lonely here

without your humor. Get well soon. From Eamonn, Sander, Oma.

PS:  Elsa wants to see you. PPS. Bodhi also wants to see you. I hope

you feel better.

I must have turned a ghastly shade, since within seconds I felt the blood draining from my face. For an instant my body froze, and then collapsed helplessly. No one noticed or, at least,  they all pretended they didn’t see my tears. The note was written the morning after the accident, when Jenn was already in a coma. It was full of concern, but also childlike hope which was to remain unfulfilled.

Who am I? Why am I here?

MONDAY, January 25 – I’m concerned about my memory. I forget everything, literally everything or at least that’s the way it feels. I walk into a room to do something, and before I get there I’ve forgotten what it was I came to do. Then, I’m distracted by some other chore that needs doing and begin on that instead. I’m a stranger in my own house. I make lists of chores that need doing and then forget where I left the list.

And I almost never know where my keys are.

Today there was a painful moment when I called the American Embassy to apply for Social Security benefits for the children. Simple question:  When were we married? I replied, with some hesitation, September 6, 1996. Then, immediately added, ‘At least I think so. It may sound stupid, but I’m not absolutely certain.’

Well, it didn’t make that much difference, according to the civil servant at the other end of the line.  But I didn’t agree and after we’d gone through the next couple of questions, it began to bother me. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘I can check the date, it’ll only take a minute.’ I went into my office, picked up my wallet, and took out my wedding ring.

Engraved on the inside, alongside our initials, was the date: September 7, 1996.  Slightly embarrassed, I corrected my mistake on the phone. The man told me ‘not to worry too much about it’. I laughed wryly.

The imprint of the ring is still visible on my finger.

How are you today? Great!

facebookpicSUNDAY, January 24 – I’m rested, my energy is returning, and my dirty house must pay the price. I feel an urge to embrace the outside world, starting with Facebook. Sometime ago I turned my back on most of my virtual friends.  My scribbled messages were too personal. Now I want to make friends again, invite them to become part of our daily life again. There’s nothing to hold me back: the windows are wide open again.

Let’s filter fine fatal figures

SATURDAY, January 23 – It’s encouraging news, that’s for sure, and I was able to say so without a trace of sarcasm when I saw the news item put out on the website of my own organization, NOS News. ‘In 2009 the number of traffic fatalities continued to drop. The figure is now below 700. To be precise, the police registered 605 deaths.’ I feel the inclination to make a sarcastic remark about our protection forces, but I decide to let it pass.

Memories are merciless

FRIDAY, January 22 – Three months since Jennifer and the boys went to the park with Elsa which had been only the third day she’d been taken out for a walk. It feels like three seconds ago.

I remember clearly that around four o’clock, Sander had called me at work. Come right away. Mom’s had an accident. He couldn’t tell me what had happened. Just come home. Now. Okay, Sander, I’m on my way.

It happened right around the corner. In our minds, it’s still right around the corner. What a waste, what a crime, what a ridiculous, absurd, unacceptable, unfair accident. Have we come to understand it? No. Do we realize that?  Sometimes. Are we dealing with it now?  Yes.

We have no choice. The choice was made for us. Three months ago. Three beings that will never forget. The memory will always be there. I hope with all my heart that we will remember the right things. Memories are merciless.

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