Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Exhausted? Yes, but also rested

SUNDAY, February 28 – We leave England in the pouring rain. The boys are contented. They’ve seen their school friends and nothing much has changed – for them, at least. I’m carrying around a lot of raw emotions that I discovered while amidst Jennifer’s friends.

Yesterday evening, during a party, it was too much to handle. Got to bed late and this morning we were up early. Exhausted. But in any case I felt a real sense of satisfaction. Not until we turn onto the French highway continuing back to Holland did I realize why.

I’m  actually rested. Rested and recharged.

Meeting her ‘my gay best friend’

SATURDAY, February 27 – We arranged to meet in Le Fromagerie, a tiny and, thus, overcrowded cheese shop. Jenn and J used to meet here for lunch that would often drift into happy hour, or started with a cup of tea that would end with dinner. They talked and talked, the two of them: she a garrulous American, he a gossipy guy from Portugal.

She called him “my gay best friend”, something that many women in their thirties and forties cultivate.  He played the part with verve. He’d volunteer advice on her derierre and her breasts, which he referred to as ‘your tits, darling’. Together, they laughed their way through life, but it was more than that. The two of them had had a deep and strong friendship and I wanted to taste something of the joy they had shared.

Jenn had always said that J made her feel happy: ‘Wherever we are, whatever our mood, we always have fun together.’

He and I were now celebrating that friendship with a wine and a cheese platter. When we raised our glasses, I started to cry – just for a moment – but,  still. I had expected him, not me, to give way to emotion He’d been the sensitive violinist who, during the cremation ceremony, could scarcely hold his instrument; I was the one now who unsuccessfully fought back tears.

Maybe it was because, as he explained, he was too sad to cry. ‘I’m not depressed,’ he explained. ‘but I no longer have the energy to enjoy life. It’s beyond me.’  We talked about the past. About certain choices that Jennifer had made during her life. About things she had done, sometimes behind my back. About everything he knew, and didn’t know. About his understanding. About his disapproval. About him and her. About her and me.

I was touched to hear him talk about the adventures they’d shared. I knew most of the stories, since Jenn always enjoyed recounting them as soon as she got home, usually at the kitchen table. He now confirmed the fun they had shared often using the exact same words and gestures. Their friendship was unrivalled and irreplaceable. Again and again he sighed deeply. ‘That’s the way it is. That’s the way it is.’

His words kept resounding in my head; even if, not particularly eloquent, all things considered I found myself wondering what is the way it is?  And, besides, what does that even tell us?

Trip down memory lane

THURSDAY, February 25 – We’ve only been in England for a couple of hours and we’re already making an unadulterated trip down memory lane. Coming here had been Sander and Eamonn’s idea, for months. ‘When are we going to England again, to London and Gerrards Cross?’ This week I gave in, on condition that it would be a short stay. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

I think about this outing while on the train to London. We boarded in Gerrards Cross, a town just outside the beltway, where we had lived for three years. It was a period when Jennifer and the boys were exceptionally close while I was away working most of the time as the multimedia correspondent for NOS News. Much of what they were experiencing completely passed me by.

This afternoon the big moment came when we turned off the A40 and approached the circle that would take us to their old school in Hillingdon. Suddenly the voice of Johnny Cash filled the car, with Ring of Fire. Sander told me that they wanted to play it here again, ‘Because Mom always played it in her car, at this exact same spot.’

Eamonn sang along at the top of his voice.

That’s what made it special for them – those brief remembered moments. They were events I hadn’t shared with them, but that they wanted to re-live in the few days we would be spending there. This travelling back into their personal memories might work as a way of looking ahead into their shared future. It was important for them to anchor those memories.

That morning Eamonn had woken me up by whispering in my ear: ‘It’s so great to be in England.’ In the shower, Sander was singing. As soon as we had gotten off the Eurotunnel train and were surrounded by the rolling hills of Kent, both boys told me that for them it was like a homecoming. I’d been baffled, but now I understand.

Just to be on the safe side, they assured me that there was no reason for me to feel offended by the remark. I said that this was not at all the case (as I pulled a face). But, in a sense, it worried me. I was afraid they might experience a rude awakening when they realized that there were painful memories lurking here, as well and that, in the end, they would be even more keenly aware of the loss of their mother. I was wrong.

Jennifer had been a substitute teacher at the international school. She had made many friends among the American families, who often moved on at the end of the school year, as is customary in the expat world. We stayed in touch with some, but had long since lost contact with the others that proved to be too fleeting.

The bond with their old school has remained strong. In October it was heartwarming that the principal and the music teacher had come from London to attend Jenn’s cremation service. They brought with them a bag full of cards, drawings and letters from the small community which, from a distance, had felt our pain and shared our grief. Those messages said they had not forgotten us.

That’s why we’re here. The boys are enjoying themselves and they’re constantly  smiling; but, it’s different for me. Too often I have to brush away tears as we retrace her footsteps or follow the routes she drove in her yellow Mini Cooper. Unlike the boys, I take no joy in visiting our old haunts. But the hugs and greetings are sincere and I have Jennifer to thank for that. She was genuinely interested in people and she provided her boys with stories that were retold and experiences that were relived.

Stuck at the fatal scene

WEDNESDAY, February 24 – Sander called during the Evening News. He should have been home already from conservatory.  He always calls when he’s finished with his lesson. The usual chat. How did the lesson go? Are you hungry? And be careful on the way home.

That’s what he and Jennifer used to do: their phone calls were an exchange of idle chatter, like ours are now. But he’s still a child, and I’m still a concerned parent. So an alarm bell sounds when much later than expected the phone rings and his number appears on my mobile. I answer as calmly as I can.

‘Papa, I’m at the spot where the accident happened. Can you come?’

‘Of course, I’ll be right there.’

It’s just around the corner.

He’s standing there, holding onto his bicycle, near the infamous crosswalk. I slowly walk over to him and give him a hug and a kiss. I don’t say anything.

‘I felt as if I ought to come here and once I was here, I couldn’t leave. As if I was paralyzed. That’s when I called you.’

‘I’m glad I can help, Sander.’

Then he points to the tree across the road. ‘See, high up in the branches. The plastic bag for Elsa’s poop is still there.’

‘That’s what we call a silent witness, Sander.’

Neither of us speaks.

‘Shall we go home together?’

So that’s what we did. I was glad I was there. For him.

In the land of the living

TUESDAY, February 23 – No time to write. Too busy. A good sign, but how am I so busy and why on earth is that a good sign? No time to write, because I’d rather focus all my energy on my work. I don’t accomplish much, but it feels good to be back in the land of the living.

Wanna read the full Diary?

diaryofawidowercoverThe complete Diary of a Widower, with all entries covering the first year, is now for sale on both iTunes and Amazon.com

Want to read it on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, click here

You have a Kindle, click here

The book costs $ 3.99 plus tax. All proceeds will go to my sons’ college fund.

Amazing how strong we are

beachSATURDAY, February 20 – Off to the beach, with Sander and Eamonn. And the dog. A fabulous day. Amazing how strong the three of us are.

Return of the blue scarf

FRIDAY, February 19 – Another miracle. I took Eamonn to school by bike and said somewhat warily that I’d like to head straight for the gym. ‘Oh, fine,’ he said. Then he gave me a kiss and disappeared into the crowd in the schoolyard.

On this last day before February break, everything seemed to be okay. That is, it did when it came to dropping them off at school. When I went to pick them up at three-thirty, it was clear that something had gone well and truly wrong. Eamonn didn’t want to talk about it. He just held me tight on the way home. Not until he had sat down on the couch did he feel safe.

‘This afternoon there was a play in the auditorium. Sort of dull, but okay. It was about Frog, played by Miss N. It was a few minutes before I realized that she was wearing a blue scarf. The exact same color blue as the scarf that Mom always wore and that she was wearing on the day of the accident. That really upset me. I started to cry in school with all the other kids around me and I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.’

He lay in my lap and cried. I held him tight and tried to explain that things like that are bound to happen in the future, as well. He said: ‘This week it felt sort of as if I was recovering, and then this happened.’

As sad as the remark sounded, it cheered me up. He was beginning to realize that things were improving. What had happened was no more than a bump in the road. Recovery. A wonderful word for this day. And the scarf. Sander had asked me about it the other day. I had to stop and think, but at the same instant we both realized that the blue scarf, which she had looked so good in, had gone into the casket with her.

Him, gone, without me

THURSDAY, February 18 – I was flabbergasted. This morning Eamonn put on his shoes and his jacket, grabbed his schoolbag and gave me a kiss. He went down the stairs, followed by E, and they were gone. Off to school. I was left behind, wondering what had just happened. Last night she told him she was taking him to school. Which she did. It still strikes me as something of a miracle. Him, gone, without me.

Getting away the easy way

TUESDAY, February 17 – Got drunk with my colleague G.  Always good fun from time to time. Except for the damned alarm clock the next morning.

Post Navigation