Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

Colour of grief today is orange

FRIDAY, April 30 – The flea market in Amsterdam South on Queen’s Day is always worth a visit. Sander learned from his experiences last year and now he has a reserved spot, with his keyboard and loud-speaker. The sign next to his top hat reads PLAYING FOR IPAD.  He comes home with 42 euros.

Eamonn and I walk around, keeping an eye out for possible bargains. He throws two raw eggs, one of which hits the organizer smack in the face. That made his day. But not mine. Wherever I look, I see jaunty earrings, daringly short skirts, unusual shoes, or other crazy objects that remind me of Jennifer’s taste.  We don’t buy anything.

In another respect today reminds me of last year. I was home that afternoon, glued to the TV, listening to the radio and clicking my way through our website. The big news was a failed attack on the royal family – something I wanted to follow, even on my day off.

I remember everything about that day, but what suddenly comes to mind is totally different:  the moment when Jenn stood in the doorway looking at me. She pointed out that now that I had a day off it might be better to do something with the boys.  It wasn’t so much her words as the withering look she gave me that will always remind me of that Queen’s Day. An ominous premonition.

Everybody has a tragic story

THURSDAY, April 29 – I’m sitting in the public gallery during a symposium in honor of a colleague who’s retiring.  Sitting next to me is a woman who lost her sister during a simple operation. She was in her late forties. Elsewhere in the audience there’s a colleague whose son committed suicide last year. In front of me was another, whose wife is fighting a losing battle against a brain tumor.

Everyone carries some sort of tragedy, some more heartwrenching than others.  Those who have endured great suffering and are still weighed down by the pain do not necessarily show it. Often they don’t want others to know.  But among ourselves, it isn’t necessary.  Exchanging a look of understanding, a meaningful smile or wink, is more than enough. The widower-to-be puts out his hand. I grasp it with both my hands and press it. Among companions in adversity, that is more than enough.

At the reception following the symposium there is time to mingle. How I’m doing six months later is still the only question that non-fellow-sufferers ask. Occasionally, someone makes a painful mistake.  A jovial colleague, for whom the event took place too long ago, comes over to me and calls out:  ‘Hey, Tim. How’re you doing?  Now what did I hear? You’re divorced or some such thing?’

I can’t help but laugh.

Spam straight through my heart

WEDNESDAY, April 28 – Fuck off, Flora2000-spammail, with your fucking header:  ‘May Day! May Day!  Forgotten it’s Mother’s Day?’ Piss off, Frederique’s Choice, with your fucking Mother’s Day Offer, a gorgeous bunch of flowers for the special price of thirty-two euros and forty-five cents!  Piss off all of you!

Price of grief: 985 euro

TUESDAY, April 27 – Inexplicable and irresponsible, but fun.  A sudden urge.  I go for a walk, heading in the direction of P.C. Hooftstraat, Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Fifth Avenue.  Wearing jeans, sneakers, and an old T-shirt, I walk into Oger’s.  Salesmen raise their eyebrows.

Ten minutes later I walk out of the shop wearing a new sports jacket.  I decline the ridiculously large bag.  I’ll wear it. On the street I run into the writer H, who’s sitting at a sidewalk café with a young lady. We shake hands and right away he asks how long it’s been… And the children, how are they coping?

Normally, we’d immediately start gabbing about soccer or mutual friends from some bar or other.  About London, the States… anything.  But things are different now.  I smile my unflappable smile and move on.  Still totally non compos mentis, but in a thoughtful frame of mind.

I stare at myself in a store window.  Anyone who’s lost some pounds mourning a loved one and is now getting out and around is expected at the very least to look decent. Fuck it. The fabric is magnificent, the fit is superb, and at 985 euros, the price isn’t half bad.

19:58 – Two minutes to eight.  It was at this that precise moment exactly 32 years ago that my father died. I saw it happen. He was sitting in a black leather chair. His right hand clutched the left side of his chest and his face convulsed as the life drained out of his frail body.  Mother immediately sent us upstairs and closed the sliding doors leading to the living room.  The parish priest came up to our room to tell us that our father ‘was now with God’ and that everything would be all right.  I think about the family members who came that evening and sat around in the living room except in the empty chair, which remained empty.  Memories… no more than that.

Getting to that fork in the road

MONDAY, April 26 – Drank too much last night, didn’t get enough sleep, mind and body affected.  Goofed up again.  This morning I realized how easy it is to end up on the road to ruin. Tempting. You can get there in no time.  But that’s not on my agenda. I’m searching for willpower:  it’s the only thing on my agenda today. Just one small grain of willpower.

‘Home is where your stuff is’

SUNDAY, April 25 – There is a gold-colored metal plate attached to the front door by a single screw, but glued more firmly than I expected.

Tim Overdiek

Jennifer Nolan

Sander & Eamonn

Not any more.  Just removed. One firm blow with the screwdriver and it’s lying on the table in front of me. Graceful lettering.  Spelling correctly.  I had double-checked that in June 2008 when I ordered the nameplate at the hardware store.

I wanted to make sure that it would be on the door when the boys arrived from London: proof that this was their new home. But Jennifer’s motto was ‘home is where your stuff is’.  To which I would add:  But, make sure your name’s on everything.

By removing the nameplate, we lost Jennifer once again.

Where to find peace? And how?

SATURDAY, April 24 – Nervous. The boys notice. They want to know if I’m okay. Yes, I’m okay.  We take the boat out, Sander at the helm. Then a walk in the park, lying on the grass with Eamonn. It’s a Saturday that feels like summer, but I can’t seem to relax.

This morning I called my brother and begged off.  He’d emailed me that it was a good idea for us to meet. He called to pick a date, but didn’t mention whether he’d be coming alone, with his son, or with the whole family.  I was open to all options, I said, so he would have arrived in one of the above combinations.

I cancelled this morning.  He sounded relieved. I can’t blame him. Where can I find peace?  And how?  And when? Things are not good:  I am not okay.

Moving house is a new ending

FRIDAY, April 23 – The worst thing about moving, Sander said to the psychologist this afternoon, is that pretty soon we’re going to be leaving an apartment that was furnished almost entirely by Mom. She knew exactly how she wanted it. The new house is great, but it’ll be furnished by us, instead of by Mom and that is really sad.

I contemplate all this around five in the afternoon as I sit down in a chair on the tiny balcony. Our new house has two big balconies providing more than enough sun to sit outside at the end of the day. Admittedly, without Jennifer.  But isn’t that the whole idea behind the ‘new start’, as well-meaning friends tell us?  Jenn often sat outside on this postage-stamp balcony, reading, or writing in her diary.  She wore sunglasses against the glare of the setting sun and – just as now – Bodhi the cat was usually close by.  Inquisitively he followed what was happening on the ground or on the adjoining porch.  Sometimes, he lay innocently on her lap or at her feet.

Worn and faded Tibetan prayer flags hang from the railing.  There’s not much left of them, but that’s as it should be. Air, wind, fire, water, earth:  corresponding colors, blue, white, red, green and yellow.  According to Tibetan tradition, these flags must be handled with respect by replacing them with new ones and burning the old. I don’t see myself doing that. They’ll end up hanging on our future balcony. Or is that tempting the evil spirits?

I find the carrier straps for my bike that I had searched for in vain a while back.  Jenn had appropriated them to hang two planters. Tomatoes, peppers and assorted herbs… now hopelessly wilted in parched soil.  My head slowly falls back, resting against the wall. I close my eyes and listen to a whiney child in the distance. A passing wasp alights briefly and then continues his journey, presumably in good spirits.

I cannot deny that my mood is something akin to bliss. At this moment precisely six months ago, I took Eamonn on my right knee, put my arm around Sander’s shoulders and told them that Mom was not going to wake up. The cat meows. It’s dinner time.

Playing hooky at 6 month mark

THURSDAY, April 22 –  An ingenious plan, if I do say so myself and worked it out down to the last detail.  It started with a small act of vandalism. When I took the dog out, I let the air out of one of Sander’s tires.  Then, I emailed the school informing those concerned of the conspiracy and which the main figures – Sander and Eamonn – are still unaware of.

An ordinary morning, with the familiar rush at quarter past eight: looking for the P.E. stuff, packing the lunches, and leaving the house, on the double. Then Sander discovers to his horror that he has a flat tire. Okay, jump in and I’ll give you a lift. Bingo!  All three of us in the car heading for school. Right on time.  Quick kiss, see you this afternoon, and the car door swings open.

‘Hey, guys, wait a minute. Close the door.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, I have another idea. We’re not going to school today. We’re going to spend the day at the Apenheul Zoo.  Let’s go see some monkeys!’

Astonishment, silence, no resistance from the back of the car.  The youngest has a big grin plastered all over his face. Whatever. Playing hooky is playing hooky. ‘Any time, Papa,’ he said once when I came to pick him up early.

But the oldest isn’t so sure. ‘We can’t do this, Papa. The whole school is going to be mad at us. This is going too far.’  Relax, Sander, the school already knows. It’s beginning to dawn… ‘Did you let the air out of my tire?’  I can’t help laughing.  Sander shakes his head.

So we’re on our way!  It had been Jennifer’s idea, for the fall vacation in October.  But the visit to the monkey zoo had been postponed because that was the week Elsa had arrived from Spain. Jenn loved the idea of a zoo with nothing but apes of all sorts and sizes. ‘When you get right down to it, we’re all monkeys.’

The accident had happened on this day, exactly six months ago. At first I just wanted to let it pass: today isn’t really any different from yesterday or tomorrow: but, in the end, I decided to mark the occasion by taking the day off and doing something with the boys. In the car on the way to Apeldoorn, we talked briefly about The Six-Month Moment. We didn’t attach great significance to the occasion but focused on the fact that we were together, enjoying the zoo.  And, of course, we were aware of how much Mom would have loved to be there with us.

We got back in good time.  Eamonn put on the Avatar DVD – a good long one, while Sander and I bought flowers and walked to the crosswalk. We laid the flowers near the tree and shortly afterwards walked back home.  It’s rotten, but life goes on.  Tomorrow everything will be normal again.

I must have loved my dad

WEDNESDAY, April 21 – My father would have been 87 today.  He’s been dead for almost 32 years.  I was thirteen when he died.

It had been his second heart attack in a row. He was manic-depressive and he’d been sitting at home for years and had not been able to go back to the Dutch Royal Leatherworks factory in Oisterwijk.  He loved music, especially jazz as well as walking in the woods with his field glasses around his neck, spotting birds.

He was married twice, lost his first wife to cancer. They had had three children. With his second wife he’d had two children: my younger brother and me.  Five boys.  Three plus two half-brothers.  I didn’t have that much of a brotherly connection with them because we were often played off against each other.

He was crazy in a good way because of his illness.  We did fun things together, but he could get really angry and then I was afraid of him. Actually, a wave of relief came over me when he died and I didn’t even feel guilty.  At least we were freed from his blind rages.

Back then he had seemed huge, but looking at the photos I realize that I would have towered over him if he had lived until I was an adult. I remember his enormous shoes, but of course my feet would have been small back then.  He usually wore the same kind of clothes:  sports jackets  and turtleneck sweaters.  And orange swimming trunks. He was thin as a rail with hollow eyes and rotton-looking row of lower teeth..

I never told him so, but I must have loved him. That puts me ahead of him, in any case. My children often tell me they love me and I do the same.

Congrats, old man.

Post Navigation