Diary of a Widower

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

When nothing means just that

MONDAY, February 8 – The pain was still there, but now it was surfacing differently. It had started with my son incessantly pacing back and forth across the living room.

‘Eamonn, is anything wrong? I asked.

‘No, I’m okay,’ he said.

I knew there was something wrong, so I asked him again what was bothering him.

‘It’s nothing,’ he again assured me. I followed him as he continued slowly walking around the room, after each round returning to the coffee table where he took tiny sips from his glass of water and I could see an expression of horror in his eyes.

‘Come on upstairs with me,’ I said. Once up in my bedroom he refused to sit down next to me on the bed. He just stood there, stock-still, next to the mirror.

‘There’s nothing wrong,’ he repeated.

Then it started to dawn on me: ‘This nothing. Is that what you have been talking about? Is that what you feel? I asked.

Indeed, this is what he was now feeling.

‘I’m nothing. My body is worthless. It’s nothing but me, and I don’t care about it.’

My brain was going full tilt and I spoke to him straight from the shoulder.

‘Do you want to live?’

‘Yes.’

Relief. We were in touch. He began to explain.

‘I drink sips of water to push everything back into my head,’ he said.

‘I don’t understand. What do you mean?’

‘I feel like if I don’t do that, I’ll fall apart.’

Eamonn took another sip of water, this time from the glass on the bedside table.  Eventually, he agreed to come and sit next to me on the edge of the bed. He wouldn’t let me touch him.

Trying to comfort him, I said the first thing that came into my head: ‘It’s all right to have feelings like that, when you think that you’ve lost control over yourself. But just remember that if you explode, or if you fall, that I’ll always be there to catch you. I know that you’re feeling totally empty, that there’s nothing that seems to make your life worthwhile and that it feels imposible to find pleasure in anything at all. But listen carefully, and remember this: I promise you, here and now, that one day you’ll wake up and discover that you can still enjoy life. You’ll be able to have fun again and this ‘nothing’ will make way for ‘something’, and gradually that ‘something’ will become ‘everything’. When that happens, you’ll feel Mom close to you, inside you, and know that somehow she’s watching over you.’

I took a deep breath. That waterfall of positive thinking which had seemed to flow so automatically from my mouth was becoming a bit too much, probably. Just so long as he believed that ‘nothing’ wasn’t that bad at this moment in his young life.

He looked at me. ‘I think I’m going to be sick.’

I held his hand and told him to breathe slowly, in and out. For fifteen minutes we sat there together, I was lying on my bed and he was sitting on the edge. That was all I could do. It proved to be enough. Just enough.

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