Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

‘When shall we dance?’

MONDAY, May 31 – In the schoolyard I get into conversation with one of the teachers. She was at our party with her husband and child. It’s a beautiful day and I’m in an impetuous mood. I remark that spring has gone to my head.

She tells me about her twin sister who last October went through an unpleasant divorce. I say ‘If she’s just as pretty as you are, maybe we should arrange to meet.’ She takes my suggestion seriously, and explains that she’s already told her sister what we’ve been through.  A sorrow shared, etc.

When I get home, I look her up on Facebook and send her an impudent email:  ‘Okay, when and where are we going to dance?’

Does this first year not count?

SUNDAY, May 30 – Uncle Pete is going back to New York. At Schiphol Airport we have time for a sandwich and we discuss the months to come. I confess that I’m a bit worried about the boys and how they’ll be looked after. It’s important for the uncles to understand that their nephews are no longer happy, carefree children able to forget about their grief as soon as they set foot on American soil.

Am I being overprotective? That seems to be what Peter is suggesting when he says that everything is going to be all right. I impress on him how difficult all this is for me. He must realize that and he must also impress on his brothers that the last seven months have been pure misery. What I want is for him to take a little bit of our shit back home with him and to realize what we’ve been going through, day in and day out.

He puts his arm around me. ‘Tim, we don’t know how to handle this. I don’t know. You don’t know. My parents don’t know. Or my brothers. There’s no blueprint for situations like this. That’s why we’d do better to simply forget the first year. Accept that we’ve made mistakes, that we’re doing our best to survive this year. And agree that the past year doesn’t count.

I understand what he’s getting at, and I appreciate what he’s saying, but his reasoning is faulty. This will be thought of as the most precious year in my life – this year following Jennifer’s death – no matter how awful that sounds. The intimacy that has grown between the three of us, the alternating sensations of intense grief and delirious joy, the certainty and the gnawing doubts about single parenthood, and not least of all the many mistakes we’ve made this year and will continue to make in the future. Forget this year?  Not on your life.

When family can’t cope either

SATURDAY, May 29 – A change of plans. Grandma is not coming to visit this summer, after all. Pete saved the announcement until after the party and chose his words carefully. I fully understand her decision. Apparently, she is close to a nervous breakdown, her blood pressure regularly shoots up and the mere thought of setting foot in Amsterdam, where her daughter died, sends her into a state of panic.

The original plan was that she would arrive in early July, spend a week here during the final school days, celebrate Eamonn’s birthday, and then fly back to the States with the boys. Everything was settled: the flight was booked in consultation with the brothers-in-law and I’d made plans for the two weeks that I’d be alone in Amsterdam. But now she must beg off.  It’s rotten luck, but it was to be expected. I call to tell her that I fully understand. Relief on the other end of the line.

Normally, I would have made a real fuss about a setback like this. Now I can muster the self-control to deal with such a last-minute change. I’m able to let it all sink in, and then accept that somehow things will work out for the best. How? I haven’t a clue. We’ll think of something. If necessary, the boys can fly to the States on their own. In any case, they’re going. ‘We want to go home,’ said Eamonn, speaking for his brother as well.

‘This is the perfect life’

FRIDAY, May 28 – Eamonn wakes me up. He has a drawing in his hand. For me. There are four people and two animals at the top of a hill and Papa has his arm over Mom’s shoulder. Big brother has his arm over his little brother’s shoulder. On the left the cat, on the right the dog. ‘This is a perfect life,’ Eamonn explains. Tears come to my eyes and I go off to look for a frame for the drawing.

Long after midnight – the guests have departed and the house is empty. The dishwasher is doing its work. At this ungodly hour, Elsa went to the end of the street, did her duty and trotted back. Long enough, said her sleepy-eyed look. I couldn’t agree more. It was a good party: friends, singing, music. Eamonn was exuberant and refilled all the glasses. As usual, Sander was in charge and delighted everyone by playing the piano. What’s left to be said? Maybe that the house is still empty and will always be empty. Very empty.

Strengthening our family ties

THURSDAY, May 27 – At the crack of dawn, the boys and I are off to Schiphol where we’ll be picking up Uncle Pete, before I drop  them off at school. Pete, their favorite uncle, has flown over from New York to celebrate what would have been Jennifer’s 42nd birthday.

It comes as no surprise when, in the early afternoon, Sander calls to say that he’s on his way home. He keeps seeing flashbacks of the accident and it’s impossible for him to concentrate.  It is even less of a surprise when twenty minutes later Eamonn calls. ‘Bad day, bad day, I just want to be with the people I love.’

Half an hour later Eamonn and I are sitting on the bed.  He tells me that all of a sudden he realizes that we’re going to be celebrating Mom’s birthday, but Mom won’t be there. The shoe has dropped and the end result is a painful tangle of thoughts in his head. Logic is no good, but a good hug helps to unravel the knot.

Uncle Pete is sleeping off his jet lag. He and I talked for three hours this morning: about life and death, about Jenn, friends, family, the suspect, about him and about me – exchanging profound thoughts about life, in general. The boys wake him up earlier than planned, but the sight of those happy faces makes up for any lost sleep.

Who wants to be sitting in a classroom or office?  We refer to this as ‘playing social hooky’.

Gearing up for his trial

WEDNESDAY, May 26 – Maybe it had something to do with that phone call from my lawyer giving me  the latest news. Maybe not. In any case, since this afternoon I’ve been dead-tired, in my legs, my arms … and my head is spinning. No energy.

While what I really need now is to pep myself up. Prepare for that Thursday afternoon on the 17th of June. My lawyer just phoned to tell me that R will stand trial that day.

The summons will be in the mail this afternoon, indictment  pertaining to section 6, paragraph 5:  Wrongful death. His lawyer has requested a meeting before the sitting, but I have no desire to see him nor would it be in my interest.

From now on I must try conserve my energy.

Working with heart and soul

TUESDAY, May 25 – Is it possible that I have been inspired by our Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende? The words he spoke this morning on Radio One held a certain appeal. Why was he prepared to work so hard all those years, and why did he now want to remain Prime Minister?

‘Because I want to continue to do my work with heart and soul,’ he said. ‘And I’m able to do so because I have a fantastic home front and Bianca supports me every step of the way.’

Hm… The home front. Work with heart and soul. That’s always been my goal and that’s how I’ve lived. If you’re going to do something, do it well. With single-mindedness and enthusiasm. It is inevitable that that will be at the expense of the home front, especially at a certain level, whether as a politician or – in my case – as a journalist with executive responsibility.

The words of the Prime Minister kept going around in my head, as I hurried from one appointment to the next. Long, exhausting discussions about personnel management, journalism, and company strategy which I actively participated in.  But at the same time, my mind wasn’t fully functioning.

I had to leave at three o’clock and race to pick up Eamonn. I was a bit late. At four I had an appointment in the city. Got there three minutes late. At 5:30 I headed home to fix dinner and dropped Eamonn off for his guitar lesson. Just made it. At 6:30 I had an appointment with the contractor and in the evening I had my hands full with Sander and Eamonn. After they were in bed, I had time for some paperwork.

Now it’s well past midnight. Too late for someone who has to be up at 6:15 the next morning to fix breakfast and make the boys’ lunches. How long can I keep going around in circles?  And how do I write it down?  In the form of a question:  ‘Am I going to make it?’ Or do I already know the answer? Which might be: ‘No, I’m not going to make it.’

It’s much too early to ponder this, but the simple fact is that I’ve asked the question…

Single dad or grieving widower?

MONDAY, May 24 – I email a thank-you note to the hostess:

‘Thanks so much for inviting us to the barbecue. It was a great bunch of people and the kids certainly enjoyed themselves. Sometimes I realize that there are things that keep me from accepting invitations. As a single dad with certain responsibilities, you have a totally different social life. But I’m slowly learning to shrug things off and the great group you had there last night really made me feel good.’

Is that it?  Am I now a single father instead of a grieving widower? Do single women or mothers no longer see at a glance what kind of shit I’m carrying around with me every day? I wonder if they see what I can still see: that there was once a wedding ring on my left hand.

It’s okay to have fun

SUNDAY, May 23 – We’re off Later to a barbecue at a friend’s house.  Eamonn is clearly not looking forward to the outing. He says it’s because he’s never really enjoyed anything since Mom’s death. Of course, he sometimes has fun, ‘but it’s not real pleasure, if you know what I mean, Papa.’

It’ll come back, I venture. He has his own thoughts on the matter, but he says nothing.

Later that evening, as we’re driving home, I ask Eamonn if he had a good time. He can hardly say no, since during the barbecue he and another kid seemed to do nothing but race by, screaming with laughter. He nodded. Yeah, it was fantastic. As he spoke the words, he remembered what he had maintained so emphatically earlier in the day. His face fell and he corrected himself:  ‘It was okay.’

I struck while the iron was hot. ‘It’s more than okay to enjoy yourself, Eamonn. More than okay.’ I accepted his silence.

Haunted by the images

FRIDAY, May 21 – I have a feeling this could be one of our last visits to the psychologist.  It was a meaningless session during which we didn’t really discuss anything, and the boys were full of playful banter. A couple more times, maybe, and then we can make it on our own.

But how wrong I was – I failed to pick up on the signals.

The evening before Sander had indicated that he was still haunted by images of the accident. This time it was worse than ever. He said he was able to put himself in the shoes of both his mother and the police officer. He relived the accident as victim and as perpetrator. What he called a ‘bad moment’ was something that came and went. At least, that’s what I’d thought.

Today he didn’t want to talk about it with the psychologist, so we dropped the subject until this evening:  twice we get into a furious argument and twice we make up. Then the truth finally comes out. Today he was sent out of the classroom.  There’d been anger and frustration leading to miscommunication with his Dutch teacher.

‘I’m tired of explaining to her that it’s because of the accident,’ he said. So, he didn’t tell her why he was acting up and as a result, his conduct was misinterpreted – by me as well.

I’m so thankful that I’m able to talk to both my boys; although not necessarily immediately or on request. At some point the topic comes up, often spontaneously, and that’s the real advantage. This is one of the results of the weekly sessions with the psychologist that I had gotten going the week after the cremation. Every Friday afternoon from two to three we’ve been there, all three of us. Laying the foundation for the real therapeutic work, if that proved necessary in the future.

Now that future is knocking on the door. Sander himself came up with the diagnosis ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.  He must have picked it up somewhere and then realized what was actually going on inside him. I emailed the psychologist and she can squeeze us in on Monday afternoon. Little by little we’re going to sweep away all the shit from the past. With professional help, not by lovingly brushing it aside with paternal hugs – which he gets anyway.

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