Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Fun! Picking up her ashes

TUESDAY, March 30 – Do you suppose these people practice? Probably. In front of a mirror, no doubt. Or sitting opposite each other. One plays the widower and the other does her best to exude understanding and to imagine herself in a period ‘which is still so difficult, since it is not that long ago.’ In the end she gets down to business, since a funeral parlor is also – indeed, above all – a business.

I give her a C minus. Barely a passing grade.  A professional. The corners of her mouth turn down, making it difficult to conjure up a friendly, natural smile. Her posture is stately, but without a trace of warmth; especially, when this woman, who represents the funeral directors, opens her mouth.

‘And, Mr. Overdiek, how are things now?  Still difficult, I assume. It’s not that long ago.’

Emotionally, of course, we already had a 3-0 lead. Two kids, young widower.  You can’t lose. As we walked in, Eamonn had already whispered  that he ‘would never want to work here’.

We graciously accepted the offer of a glass of water. And then… how does one act in these circumstances? I had to think about this. In view of her sepulchral voice, I couldn’t very well make light of things, but I didn’t feel like echoing her ‘it is indeed not that long ago, so you’ll understand…’

Sander beat me to it. ‘Things are better. A lot better.’

Confusion on her face. I did my best not to laugh out loud. ‘Especially compared with October.’ Only a short time ago, true, but nevertheless.

The kickoff’s been taken.

Now for the paperwork. Receipt. Declaration that the urn does indeed contain the ashes of Jennifer Mary Overdiek-Nolan. The boys’ reaction was electric. That’s not Mom’s name and they were right. Jenn was proud of her own name, which she retained after we were married, and for us it was only natural that the boys would bear her name.

Why are offspring always given the father’s name, anyway?  In the States my name invariably came out terribly garbled. Moreover, Sander was the first grandchild on Jennifer’s side of the family.  In short, no big deal. Although it did lead to some consternation in the weeks immediately after the cremation. People saw Sander and Eamonn Nolan, with my name above theirs. Were the boys from a previous marriage? No, Jenn was simply making her point, posthumously.

Did we have any further questions, inquired the tight-faced woman? Well, yes, a few. We’re planning to take the urn to the United States where the ashes will be scattered and we’d like to take a look inside. We’re also thinking of an ornamental container of some kind for the children with some of her ashes inside. The woman’s face had obviously not yet reached its maximum degree of rigidity. (Eamonn later described her as creepy).

She clearly regarded our questions as too much of a good thing. Surely we realized that the urn was sealed and could not be opened, since that would invalidate the declaration for export to another country. As far as the jewelry was concerned, we should have mentioned that beforehand. There are rules for things of this nature. My head began to spin. How are we supposed to solve this problem?

Sander did it for me. ‘If I understand this right, the urn is our property. So we have a right to decide what we do with it. We’re entitled to open it if we want to.’

The lady was stunned into silence. And so was I.

She excused herself and returned with a senior colleague, who was not only familiar with the rules, but also knew that there were ways of getting around them. The metal urn had to be exchanged for a synthetic one, so that we wouldn’t have a problem going through customs. We could make our choice of jewelry and some of the ash would be reserved for later. As far as she was concerned, the problem was solved as it was for us, as well.

The booklet with  jewelry samples didn’t amount to much as they were tacky and cheap-looking. But, then Sander caught sight of the miniature urns. That might just be an idea. Eamonn agreed, and they each selected one. Then Eamonn said I ought to pick one out, too. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but for him it was perfectly logical. ‘Because there are three of us, Papa.’ His reasoning was watertight. So I chose one for myself.

The lady disappeared and a half-hour later she was back. One large urn, three small ones. Sander immediately unscrewed his. He’s always been inquisitive, like both his parents. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the sight of grit, dust and minuscule bits of bone, as someone once described ‘the ashes’. But I had no choice after Sander opened his urn and showed it to me. Hmm.

Eamonn’s was differently wrapped, and he didn’t like that. He insisted that his and Sander’s ought to be the same, and mine different. So we traded and everything was fine. Eamonn hadn’t looked inside the urn because he didn’t feel the need. The lady stood there watching, and drew her own conclusions. She was smiling, though, which was something. Progress.

We were smiling, too. on the way home. ‘Well, that wasn’t as bad as we expected,’ said Sander cheerfully.

‘Hey, did you buy me a present, too?’ called the mailman, spotting us as we were walking from the car to the house. The two red cardboard boxes we were carrying could have contained large wine bottles.

‘No, they’re special presents just for us,’ I replied. Sander couldn’t help laughing. Eamonn followed with a knowing smile on his face.

At home, it didn’t us take long to decide. The three small urns were placed in front of the photo of Jenn. The large urn disappeared into the closet. The scattering of the ashes will wait until later.

The end (which Eamonn called the perfect ending).

‘Give your wife a kiss from me’

MONDAY, March 29 – Dear friend R, what wonderful news! I laugh and cry at the same time at your hilarious story about the birth of your second child.  I’m so very happy for you. Now the four of you are a complete family. I know that, since I remember how we felt when Jennifer gave birth to our second son. I laugh and I cry when I think of what was once, for us, a complete family; but, above all, I’m happy for you, my best friend.  And give your wife a kiss from me. Your happiness is worth so much to me. I’m going to hang up now, and have a good cry on my own, this time for the loss of what was once our family of four.

Feeling a bit better, thanks

SUNDAY, March 28 – Are you feeling better, Mr. Overdiek? Have I calmed down a bit and seen the error of my ways? What exactly happened last night?  It was as if you totally flipped. But why?  I wonder if your fit of rage was caused by physical neglect.  That thought was in the forefront of my mind when I woke up this morning, tossing and turning.

I haven’t been taking very good care of myself the last week or so. One evening a lot of alcohol, and the next day unhealthy food and not enough sleep. I haven’t been to the gym in a while and I spend hours at the laptop, frittering my time away. I conclude that all of this is getting me nowhere. The body becomes the victim of negligence and ultimately the mind as well.

So what’s wrong with that – asks the wicked little voice inside my head – in view of the outpouring of misery that is our daily lot ? No, no, that’s not permitted. No way. Maybe it’s not good for you, having to battle the living nightmare going on in your head in which you play a leading role. Yet there’s no sense in cultivating those haunting memories.

We’re on daylight saving time now and this Sunday morning I resolve to devote more time to sport, keep away from nibbles, eat more fruit. That’ll teach the tormented mind a lesson.

Victory on the diamond

SATURDAY, March 27  – Physically, one small step, but for his heart and head a giant step. Eamonn was back on the diamond.

Not exactly enthusiastic. In fact, with the greatest possible reluctance. Each practice, each game had been an experience shared with his mother. There was a biological link between them, and she was the driving force behind his love for the game. The urge to grab his glove and trot onto the field is gone.

This morning he made the effort, a minimum effort. For the last few weeks I’d been prodding him, so gently that sometimes it didn’t even register with him.

How about tossing a ball around in the park? Or on the playground? How about if we go to the field, just take a look? Each time it was a bridge too far.

One time he began to talk about how sad he felt whenever anyone mentioned baseball. It immediately called up the image of his mother, who had taught him to catch, throw, run, slide, duck, bat – everything that made him so American, and so much his mother’s son. To him, baseball means dying a little.

I’ve come to the conclusion that baseball is the key to dealing with his loss. Which is why I keep pushing him, sometimes literally, often more subtly.

This morning I persuaded him to go along to a practice game. As a spectator. No more than that. When we got to the field we heard that the game had been cancelled, so his team was practicing instead. We headed in their direction and my eyes filled with tears when the boys all came running over to us, giving Eamonn a somewhat shy high five.

‘So nice to see you again,’ said the coach. And off he went for a turn at bat and then in the field. Without a glove.

He was back.

10:30 pm – Like Eamonn yesterday, I totally lose control. I scream my lungs out, throw objects all over the living room, bellow at Sander to piss off. I can no longer stay calm, I can’t control myself, can’t deal with the situation. Why are we knee-deep in this shit?

And how are we going to get out of it? Fucking hell!!  Tears go flying in all directions. I’m angry with myself. No one gives a shit about us. Goddamnit. Sander comes downstairs and we hug each other. His anger and mine always seem to clash, but in the end that brings us into each other’s arms.

But, in no time we’re at each other’s throat again. This time it’s about the dog. I want him to take Elsa out more often. What do I have to keep at him? Why isn’t he pulling his own weight? Why do I blame him? Why don’t I just let him be?

We hug each other again.

I’m sitting forlornly on the couch, expressionless. Sander’s gone back upstairs. Why?  I think. This is followed by a mad, insane question mark. Am I going out of my mind?  Why am I getting all upset over our life and why does it seem as if I’m losing it on everything. Nothing works. I’m trying to build a foundation, one brick at a time, and with the slightest breeze, it all topples over again. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

The power of brotherly love

FRIDAY, March 26  – Tonight I retire to the john, intending to read the second section of the evening paper from back to front undisturbed, when suddenly I hear a loud scream and another one followed by an ominous thump and then silence.

As a rule I’m inclined to drop whatever I’m doing and head for the living room, to find out what the devil is going on. This time I decide to let things run their course.

A few minutes later I saunter into the living room, outwardly as if  totally at ease. Sander is sitting on the couch with his brother’s head in his lap. Eamonn is sobbing his heart out. Sander has his arm around his brother’s shoulders. As I come closer, Sander starts to cry softly. Quiet tears, as he goes on trying to comfort Eamonn. I kneel down and put my left arm on Sander’s leg and my right hand on Eamonn’s head.

‘I’m not going to ask you what just happened,’ I say.

Sander nods. Tears are trickling down his cheeks. Eamonn is still buried in the lap of his older brother who explains, in a smothered voice,  ‘I don’t know what came over him. He started to scream and suddenly he threw a shoe at my head.’

For a moment all three of us are silent. Eamonn still doesn’t look up. Usually he takes refuge in the arms of his father, but now he opts for the security which his brother offers.

‘All of a sudden I was very, very angry. I don’t know why.’

His voice is smothered.

Sander strokes his shoulder.

‘That’s all right, Eamonn. Things like this happen.’

Again, silence.

‘I’ll leave you two alone for a little while,’ I say.

Then I get up and leave the room. Upstairs I fold up the laundry. Downstairs everything is quiet, even serene. Two brothers – no problem. Things like this happen.

So much love disappeared

THURSDAY, March 25 – When I wake up, I light three candles next to Jenn’s portrait. The bond between us seems stronger than ever, which is a comforting thought, but at the same time I’m aware of how much love has disappeared from this house. Do I still cherish the same love for her or is it the absence of the ‘love that was’ which is so overwhelming? They say love always endures, and I believe that, but while she was alive she radiated so much love that sometimes – like now – her absence is unbearable.

News! Making a contribution

WEDNESDAY, March 24  –  Super-long workday, with consecutive meetings from 9:30 am to 11:00 pm. The good news is that I mustered the necessary energy and concentration throughout the day, and was able to make a serious contribution. Hardly thought about the boys, although once in a while Jenn came cycling through my thoughts.

My son writes his book

TUESDAY, March 23 –  Woke up early, five-thirty. Ten minutes later Eamonn comes downstairs. He’s wide awake. A man with a mission.

‘I want to write a book,’ he announced.

I put down my pen. ‘Great idea. About what?’

‘About the best and the worst day of my life.’

He goes off to get Jennifer’s laptop and then gets down to work. Three-quarters of an hour later he’s done. I start to read and the tears come. Tears of love and pride. He’s sad, but also happy that he’s written it all down. At last.

The Best and Worst week of my life

By Eamonn Nolan

The Best Week

7 July, 2000 – Boom. Right there my life began. I was alive. The first thing I did when I was born, was grabbing the doctor’s scalpel. Frantically the doctors tried to yank it back, but they couldn’t. Everybody was laughing, even my mother, a little, even if she was in so much pain. I was still holding on to the scalpel, but then I let go. And started to cry. I was alive.

8 July, 2000 – My second day alive. My mom and dad noticed I was a curious little fellow, always wanting to find something out. I crawled around the house, bothering the cats by touching their ears. I learned to type at a very young age. I had my own email when I was three. I learned to type by banging on the keyboard.

9 July, 2000 – My luckiest third day alive. As they say, 3 is a magic number. My brother Sander was starting to pick me up and hug me. Even as much as he annoys me now, he doesn’t remember back when I was in the best week of my life.

10 July, 2000 – Number 4. The cats (Poeka and Ed) started to befriend me. They were coming to me and stroking my leg with their head. Sooner or later, the cats were jumping up on the space next to me and stroking me with their heads again. Right now, our cat Bodhi always goes to Sander.

11-14 July, 2000 – What happened in these 4 days? About all the same of what happened in the last few days. Crawl, eat, sleep. Crawl, eat, sleep. My daily schedule. Crawl, eat, sleep. Crawl, eat, sleep.

The Worst Week

22 October, 2009 – Me, Sander, my Mom, my friend Roy, and Roy’s mom were on our way to the park. But then Sander saw that our dog Elsa (who we got on the 19th) had lost her toy on the way. So mom went back to look for it. And she said, ‘Wait here, I’ll find the toy.’ So we kept walking, and we heard Roy’s mom say, ‘Wait here, I need to check what happened back there.’

So we were waiting, and Roy’s mom signals for us to run there and hurry your butts up. I ran beside Sander and then I said to Sander, ‘Wait! That’s mom!’ We started to sprint as fast as lightning to her, and saw mom on the road. I kept saying, ‘Mom, are you ok?’ But she wasn’t responding so she must not be ok. Her eyes were still open and her body was moving, so I knew she was still alive.

I went sadly to the curb and sat down, feeling how hopeless I was. I heard some teenagers walk past and saying, ‘coooool’. And laughing. I wanted to shout, ‘HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOU GOT HIT BY A MOTORCYCLE?????’ But I didn’t. I knew that was wrong.

23 October, 2009 – We were in the hospital. I saw dad in the hall. I ran toward him as fast as I could and hugged him. He said, ‘Let’s go into the waiting room.’

He was talking about mom had a 50-50 chance of dying, or living. And he also said that mom was talking last night. He said mom was saying, ‘What am I doing here?’ and dad told her about the accident that she had. Mom was talking about if she didn’t live until the next day and dad told her it was going to be fine.

Later that night dad said to come to the hospital to see mom again. I knew that if we were coming to the hospital, it would be good news or bad news. My hopes were for good news. When we got into the same hall, I saw dad’s face was not good. He said in a small voice, ‘Let’s go into the waiting room. I need to talk to you.’

When we were in the waiting room dad told us that mom was not going to open her eyes. We all cried. He also told us that my Grandma and Grandpa and all the uncles were coming over for the memorial service. This was the worst week of my life.

29 October, 2009 – We were at the memorial service and my uncle Pete went up to say a speech. A few more people spoke and then it was my turn to go. Sander was at my side. I read a part of the first line but I cried in the middle of it. My dad went up to say it. I hear in his voice that he felt that he was going to cry. But he didn’t. My dad is a strong man.

23 March, 2010 – This is right now. I am writing this book on 23 March 2010. And it is finished on 23 March 2010. It’s a quick book. But my life isn’t. I hope my life can be as long as it can be.

The End.

‘Are you going to publish your diary?’ Eamonn asks, when I tell him how great his book turned out. It’s not the first time he’s asked me that. ‘And if you do, will you include my book?’ he asks.

I promise him I will.

Not long ago I was rummaging around in the attic when I came across Jennifer’s diaries. A sizable collection. I picked one up and started to read, but put it down almost immediately. Too precious, too private, too inquisitive, too discreet, too Jennifer. I’ll save them for later. When I have the time, when my head isn’t so full, when I feel that I’m ready to learn how she saw herself, me, the children, and other people in her life.

(Interested in reading the full diary of a widower? Click here)

Beware of unstoppable widower

MONDAY, March 22 – And then I decided I’d had enough… and I really got going. The morning began with a quick trip to school to drop Eamonn off, followed by a short but intense session at the gym. I showered and then there was no stopping me.

Made an appointment with the accountant, called to order an extra kitchen cabinet, phoned the crematorium Westgaarde.  Next Tuesday at ten o’clock I’m going to pick up the urn with Jennifer’s ashes. After that a phone call to Route Mobiel and within a half-hour the yellow Mini Cooper was on the road and I could see myself in the rear-view mirror heading for Hilversum.

That glance hit me in the pit of my stomach. Before driving off, I’d had to adjust the mirrors and move the seat back. Another piece of Jennifer deleted from our life. The car – her car – adapted itself to my body and was now mine and not hers.

I pretended, somewhat naively, that she was there with me as I drove to work, taking back-roads through fields and woods. Especially, when I spotted lambs frolicking in the fields, I could hear her cooing with pleasure, the way she always did when she caught sight of them. She couldn’t help calling out to the animals and she was never happier than at this time of the year, the season of fresh, young, innocent animals.

But that didn’t alter the fact that at the end of the day I had a moment of panic. The Mini refused to start. Something with the battery. There were more than enough colleagues available to help jumpstart the car. Soon I was heading home, where Sander and Eamonn were sitting there together, waiting. It was a kind of test – which they passed with flying colors. Wonderful to see them accept responsibility.

It was a great day and they can’t take that away from me.

No choice. It hurts so much

SUNDAY, March 21 – It’s lying in wait around the corner. I’m sure of it. Any minute I going to find myself face to face with the all-encompassing truth that Jennifer Mary Nolan from Brooklyn is, indeed, dead. What will happen when this reality finally gets through to us?

I shudder at the thought.

Luckily, the weekend is almost over. One more dinner and then I can relax and wind down until it’s time for bed. It seems as if I haven’t done a damn thing. A couple of chores maybe, so it wasn’t entirely for nothing. All in all it feels like a wasted weekend, heralding the realization that Jennifer will always be absent.

The three of us are confronted with our own uncertainties – the first signs of depression – which are becoming stronger and stronger. I toy with words, trying to capture this weekend.


He sat on the couch, dejected

Having played happily all day

Glum, a lip that trembled

A hand that searched nervously for mine

And found it.

Hand in hand on the couch

He is unhappy with himself

Since others

Apparently refer to him

As ‘odd’.

Going overboard, I stress that

He is cool and friendly

Good at sports and bright.

But he does not believe

In himself.

Arising from the couch

He walks away. His self-esteem gone.

Because he

Doesn’t listen to what I say.

Would rather hear it from her.

But she can’t be found

Nor can he.

And yet we find each other

In a comforting embrace

Not far from the empty couch.

After dinner we go out for ice cream, the first this year – because it’s spring. We each order our customary two scoops, double lemon for Eamonn and then his smile fades. I lean towards him and say, ‘I know what you’re thinking.’

He looks at me. ‘Mom would have licked it clean for me.’  He hates sticky fingers and Jenn always licked his cone, so he wouldn’t get the melting ice cream on his fingers. So I say, ‘From now on, I’ll do it.’ I keep my promise, but I also tell him that it will get easier as time goes on.

When we get home, Eamonn requests a group hug on the couch.  It feels great! When Sander leaves the room, Eamonn confides in me: ‘The whole weekend I’ve been thinking about Mom. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way and I hope you won’t be angry with me, but I think that Mom’s death is worse for me than for you or Sander.’

He’s probably right.

And Sander is right, too, when he walks in at nine-thirty, sits down next to me, and voices the fervent hope that ‘some day things will get better. That’s all I wish for.’ I promise him – as I have done so often in the past – that one day it really will be better. Really and truly. He is not convinced.

‘That’s what you said five months ago.’ And he’s right.

He wishes it was six years later. ‘By then it should be much better.’

I agree, but first we have to get through this difficult period.

‘And that means it hurts. We have no choice.’

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