Diary of a Widower

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

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.

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