Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Bad day. That’s okay

SATURDAY, July 31 – Can we go? Can we go?  We’re off to an amusement park, together with the family we’re staying with. Roller coaster, swimming pool, plenty of sun, exuberant children, and amiable parents, but I can’t seem to join in. I feel depressed, have trouble being polite and just stay on the sidelines. I apologize later in the afternoon. Bad day. And that’s okay.

The Deceased gets a refund

FRIDAY, July 30 – ‘We are of the opinion that the U.S. tax service is obliged to refund a sum of just under two thousand dollars,’ pronounced the accountant in Washington D.C.  I couldn’t help grinning. Haven’t a clue how he reached that conclusion, but it sounds good to me. This was number one on my list of administrative commitments, which I hadn’t exactly been looking forward to.

So, it’s a refund. We’ll have to wait and see if the IRS tax authorities are of the same opinion. The smile faded from my face when I had to sign the declaration and remembered the reason for my visit. Jenn was dead and I had to finalize her administrative existence. She was no longer the translator, the pastry chef, the mother of two children. She was The Deceased.  It was there in black and white, and as The Beneficiary, I was asked to confirm this.

My accountant gave me a discount of one hundred dollars and invited me to stay for lunch. I said no, since I had appointments with my tax adviser, the bank, and the agency that administers our pension. Jennifer has been closed down.

I’m doing a great job, he says

THURSDAY, July 29 – It’s five-thirty in the morning when my father-in-law walks into the dining room where I’m sitting at the table, writing in my diary.

He puts his arm around me and says: ‘I want you to know that we’re behind you one hundred percent. We love you and your boys. We want you to know that you’re a wonderful father and you’re doing a great job.’

‘Thank you,’ I say. He leaves the room, this man of few words. He can scarcely talk about his daughter. And then this, however brief. Tears are rolling down my cheeks.

Whoa, plans for the future!

SUNDAY, July 25 – The advantage of a road trip is that you’re bound to get into some good conversations. Music has a way of postponing talk, while there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of silence. But a trip that lasts longer than three hours, inevitably invites confidences… that verbal connection. The golden moments.

Sander began, after it had become clear that the line of traffic in the direction of the beach was going to keep us together for some time. He talked about wanting to open up a restaurant. Didn’t Papa have a catering diploma, which meant that we could start up a business right away? Yes, but I’d also need a retailer’s diploma. Well, can’t you hurry up and get one, so we can start up a business together.

‘Yeah,’ said Eamonn, ‘and what’s unique about our restaurant is that children will work as waiters and waitresses.’ Our fantasy knows no bounds. What kind of music would we play? And would customers get free refills? And what kind of food would we serve? And would C and her children want to join in? There in the car, we put together a menu, an interior, a workforce, and customers, together with ambitions and a plan for the future.

Until Sander suddenly raised a question: ‘Would Mom have liked the idea, too? Would she have joined in?’  And then he added in the same breath that ‘it really isn’t important what Mom would have wanted, because she’s gone’. I let that colossal statement pass and sink in. At the end of the day I still hadn’t come up with a satisfactory analysis.  Let’s call it healthy progress.

Memorialised on Ellis Island

FRIDAY, July 23 – While on Ellis Island, I tell the boys about the American roots that millions of people began to establish on this little island just off the coast of Manhattan as well as the hardships those immigrants faced when they made the decision to leave everything behind and start a new life in America.

I bring history to life in the stories of Jennifer’s great grandfather who set foot on land here, spoke poor English, and, thus, saw his Greek name corrupted. Then I take them outside, to The American Immigrant Wall of Honor, where countless names of immigrants are engraved.

On panel 627 my own name: Tim H. Overdiek.

It was a gift from my brother when Jenn and I got married in 1996. A gracious gesture to the bridegroom, who in late 1994 quit his job in Amsterdam, sold all his possessions, bought a one-way ticket to New York, and joined his one true love. There’s an accompanying certificate, and my name is inscribed on the aluminum wall on Ellis Island. The boys say they are impressed.  And so am I. I really do have certain roots in America.

Yet, it’s also a bit strange: here I am explaining to my Dutch-American children things that have to do with their mother’s DNA. and how they feel more American than Dutch, and how I – as a Dutchman – ventilate more American sentiments than they are aware of, because they’ve lived abroad for five years. A world turned upside-down, and yet so familiar.

I can’t do any more than help them find their true identity. We are who we are. Children of an American mother and a Dutch father. Roots are important, but they can grow anywhere as long as they are nourished.

On the run again, from the past

THURSDAY, July 22 – Out of the grandparental house. It’s just before nine and I need to get away. It’s very hard for us to relax in this house. I stand there looking at four suitcases that somehow or other will have to be packed. Things that go, things that stay. In six days we’ll be back with Jenn’s parents.

I toss one pile of clothes into two bags, and the rest into the other two. Jenn was a past master when it came to packing, and she always knew exactly what to take along.

Right now, she’s doing her bit by getting in the way. The urn with the ashes stays behind, stuffed into the carryall with the jackets and the jeans purchased yesterday.  Seeya later, honey.

My mother-in-law and I have decided that the ashes will be scattered on the grounds of Swarthmore College. Last month a bench was installed with her name on it.  ‘Jennifer would like that,’ her mother said. So that was settled. I informed the brothers-in-law that the ceremony would be on the 11th or 12th of August. Whoever can make it is welcome. If not, tough luck.

Eamonn is complaining of a stomach ache. When I lose my temper – something which I shouldn’t do but which still happens – he says it’s because of Mom. I assure him that I do understand and give him a hug, but I don’t want to spend too long on words of comfort. I order the boys to get into the car. A brief farewell, and then we’re off – heading for New York. It’s almost as if we’re fleeing, while what we’re really looking for was some peace and quiet.

A mortal blow to her parents

WEDNESDAY, July 21 – Jennifer’s accident claimed other victims as well. While our scars may even now be starting to heal, I fear that her parents have been dealt a mortal blow. He doesn’t want to talk about it, no matter how you broach the subject.  She does want to talk, but he won’t listen. This is a source of conflict and discord in this marriage, which has lasted 49 years. For now, there is no indication that they are coming to terms with their loss. Perhaps they never will. It is heartbreaking to watch.

Revisiting our engagement

TUESDAY, July 20 – Up early. Thanks to jet lag. I slipped out of the house in my stocking feet, so as not to wake anyone, and went for a long walk. Three streets further on, I really woke up. It was on this spot on Clarksville Road that Jennifer and I decided to get married.

It wasn’t a romantic proposal. We’d gone for a walk, just the two of us, like I was doing now – and the subject of children came up. We wanted them. ‘But then I’d like to get married first,’ Jenn said, a standpoint that I found quite conservative; but, of course, we were in the States.

‘Agreed,’ I said, ‘so we’re going to get married.’

We looked at each other briefly, and nodded. A quick kiss and then we continued our walk. At dinner that night we announced our engagement.

Now I stopped there briefly, but then quickly walked on. Despite the memories, I felt little emotion. No more than a smile. Is that a good sign? Does it mean that on this trip, unlike the one in December, there will be no painful memories and associations?

I don’t believe a word of it, but this morning walk bodes well.

Going home with her, at last

MONDAY, July 19 – The inevitable question, when taking a cab to the airport. ‘Where are you headed?’

‘The States. New York, Washington D.C., and a few other locations.’

‘All on your own?’

‘No. My children are already there. I’ll be seeing them tonight.’

‘In a hotel or a house?’

‘They’re with their grandparents. They were born in the States.’

‘Oh, I see. And where’s their mother?’

‘Their mother,’ I laughed, a bit viciously, but mainly to give myself time to think. ‘Their mother is in your trunk.’ He screwed up his eyes, and for the umpteenth time, I

explained it all. The rest of the ride was blissfully quiet.

13.20 p.m. – Was it because no one noticed the urn when my bag went through X-ray? Was it recognized, but the inspectors didn’t think it was worth opening my bag for and demanding an explanation? Maybe the urn wasn’t important?

In any case, on the passenger bridge leading to the Delta aircraft, I was suddenly overcome by emotion. Memories of all those flights from the States to Holland, and vice-versa. The first time she flew from New York to Brussels, where I was waiting with a red rose in my hand and she gave me three Dutch kisses.

We must have flown across the Atlantic at least twenty times. Just the two of us at first, and later with the children. Last December her absence had been so tangible, when the three of us were able to sit next to each other.

This time it was the awareness of our ultimate finiteness that hit me and I was totally unprepared for it. This is the very last time. Her ashes are going back to America, to be scattered. I had always felt that she was close to me and maybe that was why I occasionally pretended to be unconcerned and even jokey about the two and a half kilos of dusty body remains. But not right now.

I stepped on board without wiping the tears from my cheeks. The steward’s face was permanently fixed in an expression of cheerful hospitality. ‘Welcome, sir. 24G. On the other side of the aisle.

The urn stood at my feet. ‘We’re going home, dear Jenn.’

Longing for a dog’s life

SUNDAY, July 18 – Elsa will be going to the farm, where she boarded for a few days in December and February. This time she’ll be there for four weeks, but her caregivers  have assured me that she’ll recognize us when we come to pick her up. How simple life must be when you have no sense of time. Sometimes I wish we were dogs and could cheerfully banish worries with a wag of our tail.

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