Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Looking better than ever

FRIDAY, July 16 – The privileges of a boss who has a great work week behind him.  At ten-thirty I order three platters of apple turnovers and send the following email to the entire editorial staff:

‘Why the apple turnovers?  Well, for several reasons. Because there’s no law against it. Because this week I’ve been re-energized by three great days full of news.  Because it’s fantastic to be working here, together with all of you. That’s why.  Enjoy!’

It feels good to be back, to be running the whole show again. I won’t know until the fall whether this is a true comeback or a false reality. Sometimes you have to convince yourself that things are really getting better. In any case, it’s my way of letting everyone know that progress is being made and that I find enjoyment in my work, my colleagues, and life itself.

There were lots of responses by email. People are happy to see me beaming. They say I’m looking a lot better than a while back. (What does that mean, ‘looking better’) Did I really look like a zombie?  Apparently.) Sincere expressions of sympathy, no longer based on the tragedy, but on the satisfaction of knowing that the worst appears to be over.

The right moment for apple turnovers.

She was cremated, in English

THURSDAY, July 15 – I’ve spent at least an hour plowing through piles of documents, in search of the English Declaration of Westgaarde Crematorium. It’s as if the goddamned thing has disappeared from the face of the earth. I have turned everything upside down and inside out. I had gone through tax documents, business documents, medical papers, legal pamphlets, personal papers, etc. etc., until I finally found that one vital piece of paper I need in order to take her with me to America.

Declaration of Cremation. Hereby I declare that on 29-20-2009 has been cremated the late Jennifer Mary Overdiek-Nolan born at Brooklyn (US) on the 28-05-1968. The ashes of the deceased are placed in a closed urn inscribed with the cremation number W155323, the name of the deceased and the date of the cremation.

It is signed by the manager of the crematorium. Jennifer would have said  ‘Lousy text. Another cocky Dutchman who thinks his English is pretty good.’ She would have taken out a pen and re-written the text.

Be more social, widower!

WEDNESDAY, July 14 – Friend F does not mince her words. She tells me I shouldn’t isolate myself. She’s tried without success to make an appointment with me. I had finally come up with a suggestion, but at the last minute I had begged off. That’s something I’m good at: avoiding contact.  People accept that. The widower needs a bit of space, so leave him in peace.

This friend understands all that, but still has something to say: That I mustn’t forget that people are constantly thinking of me. That it’s not good to cut myself off from my friends. That it’s important to stay in touch, even if it’s just a five-minute conversation. For others to hear whether things are going well, or not. That friends are always there for me, but it’s good for them to know what’s going on. A simple sign of life is enough.

She’s right. There’s something egoistical about cutting yourself off and mourning on your own. In the beginning it was a question of survival, but after almost nine months the right to crawl into my shell has more or less expired. I promise to do my best.

How are you? I mean, YOU?

MONDAY, July 12 – ‘I feel just like you felt over Christmas,’ Grandma said, when I pressed her. Every time I asked her how she was doing, she started talking about one of her sons who’d done this or that. After two unsuccessful attempts, I discarded subtlety. ‘No, I want to know how you are.’

Good grief! Holland loses

SUNDAY, July 11 – Eamonn called right after the last whistle, to share his disappointment with us. In fact, he was hopping mad. ‘Well, son, now you know what I went through twice as a child.’ Losing a World Cup final.

Strangely enough, my memories of the 1974 game are stronger than those of 1978. I was nine when we lost to West Germany and I can still see each and every goal in detail. Neeskens. Breitner. Müller. Four years later my recollections of the World Cup, then in and against Argentina, were bound up with my father, who had died several months before. I could not accept the fact that he was unable to experience that game which was also the final.

The impact of my father’s death – the definitive irreversibility of the snuffing out of a life – was painfully reflected in his empty chair in the living room.  In the same ridiculous logic, I could accept the fact that Holland lost that night – stupid Rensenbrink! Hitting the post in overtime! – because it meant that my father hadn’t actually missed anything.

Neither had Jennifer, I concluded this evening when after the Spanish goal  Eamonn called shortly afterwards, highly indignant, but still he reasoned that Holland would have another chance in four years’ time. That sounded like a good plan to me. This kid will always make out okay. Life isn’t a bed of roses, but intuitively he takes a pragmatic approach.

Making love. Everywhere

SATURDAY, July 10 – Call it idyllic. I’ve flown to the south of France this morning. Under the olive trees, fourteen steps away from the swimming pool, the sun that winks at us under the parasol. Our tempo is lazy now that my children are three thousand miles from here and hers are with their father. We kiss.

We saunter via the kitchen to the bedroom, where we make love. And then we stroll to the pool to rinse the sweat away.  Recover in the sun, where again we can’t keep our hands off each other, and now feeling sheltered enough under the tall hedges. And so, we pass our days drinking wine, eating, making love, sleeping, cuddling. It’s permitted. We’re allowed to live.

Kids go to the US. Without me

FRIDAY, July 9 – They were awfully nervous, and so was I. Sitting there at Schiphol airport, in a small room next to the passport check, where all children traveling alone are handed over to the flight service of our national airline. As I sign the papers, it feels like I’m giving up my children.

It’s just a formality, but still. For over eight months they were under my wing and now the two of them are off to the States. Without me. All this is racing through my mind, but outwardly I maintain a reassuring smile. ‘Everything’s going to be fine, kids. This isn’t the first time you’ve been on a plane. Before you know it, you’ll be giving Grandma and Grandpa a big hug.’

Sander is the big brother. ‘I know, Papa. Don’t worry.’ He looks around in all directions. He’s nervous too.

I go over to the two KLM stewardesses who’ll be keeping an eye on the boys and, in a whisper, explain the circumstances. They are clearly dismayed. ‘It’s good to know, sir. We’ll inform the crew.’

Then, the moment has come. Sander gives me a hug. He’s trying to be strong. He’s the big guy. We give each other a kiss. ‘I love you, Sander.’

‘I love you, Papa.’

It looks as if Eamonn’s not going to let go of me. He’s trying to be strong, just like his brother, but it’s all too much for him. He holds onto me, sobbing. In the end, he accepts the inevitable. We separate and he stands there watching me as I turn and walk away. I decide not to look back. My shirt is soaked with his tears.

Less than ten minutes later, I’m barely on my way home – the phone rings. It’s Sander. ‘Papa, you’re not going to believe this. We’re in business class! I told the stewardess about what happened to us, and she asked if we’d like to travel business class.’

I hear Eamonn exulting in the background. We hang up. I cry tears of relief.

Why worry about death?

THURSDAY, July 8 – I’ve never been a hypochondriac, but once in a great while I feel one of those terrifying physical symptoms that suggest my last moment has come. This morning under the shower I suddenly felt queasy and wondered what it would be like to suddenly collapse.

At times like that your imagination starts running away with you. Within seconds you see yourself already cremated and the children in good hands, while life – no doubt mildly traumatized – continues as usual. So, why worry?

The amazing person, my Mom

WEDNESDAY, July 7 – At the stroke of seven, as agreed, he’s sitting there with the gift-wrapped present on his lap. Next to him a sleepy older brother and opposite him a worn-out father, who has decorated the living room with paper chains, balloons, cards and that one big present. The one the birthday boy isn’t sure he’s going to like. ‘Eamonn, don’t worry. Just open it.’

He looks a bit doubtful as he tears off the gift paper and he sees what’s underneath. He looks at me, then at the present, and then back at me.

‘Papa, this is against the rules.’

‘Yep,’ I say, with a touch of triumph in my voice.

‘Mom would be furious with you.’

‘Yep,’ I say again, with that same triumph.

Sander laughs out loud. ‘Mom would be sending you ‘post-death’ divorce papers.’

‘Yep,’ I say. That’s the morbid humor I share with my older son, which we’re gradually perfecting.

2:00 p.m. – I awake with a start in the movie theater. The film is nearing the end, so I must have dozed off for three-quarters of an hour. On my left are the birthday boy and his brother and on my right three boys from his class. Toy Story 3 is about Andy, who at the age of seventeen, takes leave of his puppets Woody and Buzz.

In one of the scenes Andy is about to leave for college. His mother, who’s standing in his bedroom, is suddenly overcome by her emotions. Behind the dark 3-D glasses I feel the tears welling up. Damn it. Here I am sniveling while the five boys are laughing, chatting and devouring popcorn.

That film fragment went straight to my heart: the mother sees her grown son leave home. Something not reserved for Jennifer and her boys. Boom. I let the tears flow. In the dark no one notices.

7:00 p.m. – Eamonn had made his announcement that morning. Now the moment has come, and as soon as everyone has a glass, Sander broaches the subject. ‘Eamonn, it’s time for a toast.’

He doesn’t mince his words. He’s knows what he wants to say, he’s rehearsed it, and he means it. ‘To Mom. Cheers.’

Cheers! That’s all. What had to be said has been said.

10.30 p.m. – When asked what the best part of the day was, he said, ‘That I’m in double digits now.’ He’s turned ten. A job well done, I say, but it’s also an inevitable and painful step. What makes it so damned hard is the realization that he is no longer nine years old, the age at which he lost his mother. This birthday increases the gap.

Towards midnight I get out the speech that Eamonn had written himself (including the sole misspelled word) and had also been planning to read during the cremation service.  He couldn’t manage it, but that wasn’t a problem. On his behalf, I spoke the following words:

“The amazing person, my Mom

Mom, I only knew you for only 9 years, and I have decided that that is too short. I hope that you can understand that, because you were way too young to die. You didn’t deserve to get hit by that motorcyclist. I remember that you always liked music and Buddhism, and I hope that you always will. We are all very upset about this incident, and we hope that you will have a peaceful life from now on. You were the strongest and bravest Mom that I have ever known. Please be strong and kind forever, and we will always belive in your cheerful spirit. RIP Mom.”

More American than Dutch

TUESDAY, July 6 – The Dutch soccer team is through to the semi-finals. I just bought orange T shirts for all three of us. I haven’t been able to muster much interest in World Cup soccer lately, but this seemed like the right moment to foster a bit of Dutch identity in the next generation. They’re open to the idea and can scarcely believe their eyes when they see the crowds on Museum Square. They feel more American than Dutch, but this is really impressive and that gratifies my paternal pride.

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