Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Conversation with a widower

THURSDAY, September 9 – ‘I was a bit afraid to give this to you,’ said the friend, but,  fortunately, she did. I had never heard of the glossy magazine she held in her hand, but one of the articles was very much of interest. Conversation with a widower.

The man lost his partner five years ago. She died when a couple of young thugs threw a paving stone from a bridge. Straight through her windshield. She was killed on the spot. The boys said they were looking for some kicks. Three of the four were sent to prison for years.

He talked about their life, her death, the trial, and above all about the pointlessness of the act. The man’s anger and powerlessness were familiar to me. His anger clearly went very deep, five years on. I ask myself if that is healthy. Perhaps it is. I suspect that there will never be true acceptance.

The same thing must hold true for me. No acceptance. If that ever came, then Jenn’s death would be reduced to a futile event. The very thought makes me angry and frustrated and that in turn has a comforting effect: an inimitable logic which makes the confusion complete.

Formulating a new farewell

WEDNESDAY, September 8 – While I was doing the ironing this morning, I caught myself formulating words of farewell. Working out which arguments carry the most weight, I was thinking about how, at some point in the near future, I would explain to my colleagues why I can’t go on like this. How I would be resigning as deputy editor-in-chief, for the simple reason that combining a demanding job with raising my children is not a realistic option.

I’ll need more time to arrive at that conclusion, but the indicators signs don’t lie which explains why expressions like ‘Thank you and the very best of luck!’ are already circling through my head.

That made it somewhat surrealistic when, later that day, I got a phone call with the offer of a new job. It was a confidential request:  would I be interested in a position as editor-in-chief of a journalistic organization elsewhere in the country? Extremely flattering.  Indeed, an honor. Apparently, I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs, despite the fact that in the past year I haven’t been that visible. But how important is my journalistic career in comparison with my role as a father? My answer: totally unimportant.

This means that I cannot accept their offer. I only considered doing so for that one but serious second. Unthinkable actually. For one thing, it would mean moving, but even more important is the fact that I would have to devote myself to a new job for the full hundred percent. Impossible. Not an option.

Moreover, my loyalty to NOS News is enormous. I want to show that I can make my work a success in Hilversum. I am grateful to all my colleagues for their understanding, for their readiness to take over much of my work load and above all for their humanity, which has allowed me to mourn unbridled, both inside and outside working hours. That has been an enormous incentive to remain there.

And then, before I know it, I hear myself murmuring tearful words of farewell. What the fuck? Why do I make everything into an ‘all or nothing at all’ issue?  Try to keep your cool, Overdiek.

Death is a son-of-a-bitch

TUESDAY, September 7 – Was our wedding day the happiest day of my life, as romantic souls insist? No, that honor was reserved for the day our oldest son was born, followed a nanosecond later by the moment our youngest son first saw the light of day.

Our wedding day was special, of course, attended by so many friends and family members who had travelled to the States especially for us in order to witness our exchange of solemn vows. On a Saturday in 1996 in a Catholic chapel in Princeton, Jenn (in a clear voice and self-assured) and I (in a voice strangled by emotion) spoke the following words:

I take you for my lawful spouse, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.’   

‘Until death do us part.’ And then the groom was permitted to kiss his bride. It was a traditional service. We opted for a Catholic ceremony, in deference to the faith of our parents, but also because we wanted to lend a spiritual touch to this festive day.

The event followed American tradition: reception and dinner in a restaurant, followed by the opening dance and then drinks in abundance. Jenn and I had rehearsed a tango which, true to tradition, went wrong. We had to start over twice before I succeeded in leading my brand-new bride around the dance floor. Sheer hell.

Our anniversary didn’t mean a great deal to me. Just one of those obligatory events, a tribute to the ‘happiest day of our lives’, when the husband is expected to come home with flowers or celebrate the occasion with a lunch or dinner at some romantic venue.

Women see all this in a different light, and Jennifer was no different. So we always went out for dinner, to a restaurant we didn’t usually frequent. I have a special recollection of our tenth anniversary, because of the news that was about to break. We were living in London and later that day Tony Blair would formally confirm that he was resigning as British Prime Minister. We had lunch reservations at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. I had no choice, and with a grand gesture I turned off my cell phone. Not on vibrate mode, but completely off. The foreign correspondent was temporarily incommunicado. Looking back, a trifle melodramatic.

In any case, each anniversary was well and truly celebrated: we made time for each other, dressed to the nines, and dined in top-flight restaurants. A glass of champagne and a bit of reflection on the past year were a traditional part of the celebration.

I found the letter we wrote each other, in which we looked forward ten years, full of plans and aspirations. She wrote: ‘In ten years, we’ll be drinking coffee in a pastry shop in PARIS, while Sander and Eamonn think they are very cool sitting at another table all by themselves trying to order beer (Sander) and speak French with the waitress (Eamonn).’

My future with Jenn: ‘In ten years, we’ll be living in the Hudson Valley, working from home, saving money for that Bed & Breakfast we’re opening in twenty years.’

I also stumbled upon the card that Jennifer wrote last year.

Dear Tim,

            Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Fran blew through overnight, and in the morning the sky was dazzling blue and swept clear of clouds. It was hot, and muggy, and our friends were there.

            We have dwelt in a lot of ongoing turbulence over the years. Today, the sky is blue, and we are here.

            Sometimes we find ourselves choosing the same card. Or agreeing on the same place to live. Surprising, and yet not.

            Let us not want more than this: accepting fully what the other can give. Unreservedly.

            When we are content, then we have enough.


The message was obvious. Although here and there it is a bit cryptic, but clear enough for the both of us. We realized how deep our love was anchored, but also the precipices we had conquered and the deep valleys we had crossed. A year ago was thirteen years into our marriage and almost eighteen years since we met and we still knew the value of our relationship.

We loved each other, no matter how you looked at it and in spite of all sorts of events that are no longer relevant. Death has separated us. Death is a son-of-a-bitch.

Pre-nuptial shower shag

MONDAY, September 6 – It can be quite a perilous undertaking, making love in the shower. Like dancing on a slippery cord. Not long after C and I met for the first time, in France, we escaped to a bathroom, where we found the first opportunity to be together physically. The unsuspecting children were playing in the pool.

Every time we stand there under the warm jets of water, I think back to that memorable moment.  Just as now, one thing led to another, but this time it was a recollection of Jennifer that surfaced.  Perversely and at random, memory tapped me on the shoulder, taking me back to the sole occasion when Jenn and I made love under the shower.

It was the evening before our wedding. A pre-nuptial shag in the shower. Just to get that out of the way. And those goings-on took place exactly fourteen years ago. Bizarre the cold shivers that suddenly ran down my spine.

A little help from our foe

SATURDAY, September 4 – Went to pick up our little sloop in the Westerdok canal for a picnic on the water, but we were told that the boat had been towed away by the police because it was tied to a tree. The tree is municipal property and it’s going to cost me 250 euros. I decided to fib a little.

‘Do you have the pleasure boat decal for this year?’ asked the policeman.

‘It’s probably somewhere in the house. I couldn’t find it.’

‘Then we can’t release your boat.’

‘May I explain what happened?’

The answer was yes.

‘The boat belonged to my wife. She was the sailor in the family. She always left it tied to a tree and the sticker is somewhere among her papers. My wife died last October – run down by a motorcycle cop. I haven’t been down here since then. So you’ll understand that all this is a bit difficult for me.’

He understood and was silent.

The truth is that Jennifer was decidedly ‘not amused’ the day when, in quite an impulsive mood, I had bought the boat. It was something for me and the boys. Male bonding. She considered the purchase ridiculous, not to mention rash and irresponsible. How often do you think you’ll take the thing out?

Not that often, I had to admit. This was only the third time in the last year. So, in a sense, she’d been right; but, as a man, you’re not going to say so. Not even posthumously. The motor started without a hitch. The policeman standing next to the boat pushed us out into the open water and we were on our way. At least, that’s what we thought.  But then the motor conked out and we weren’t going anywhere. I cursed from the bottom of my heart. What now?

‘Where are you headed?’

‘To the south end of the city.’

Before we knew it, we were being towed by the police boat and gliding in the direction of the canals. The boys loved it and, gradually, I saw the funny side of our adventure. So, we took out our picnic lunch, leaned back, and began to enjoy ourselves. People on the quay smiled and waved.

Other boats passed us. One was almost identical to ours and I recognized my Facebook friend, a fellow widower who has long since remarried and started a new family. He was at the wheel, full steam ahead and under his own power while here we were being towed home by the Amsterdam police. We waved. I realized that there was considerable symbolism in the scene, but on such a lazy Saturday afternoon, I decided to let it pass.

‘Mom promised me the car’

FRIDAY, September 3 – It took four minutes and cost nine euros and twenty-five cents. One simple administrative operation at the post office and the Mini Cooper was now in my name. I was handed a piece of paper with a stamp which, according to the clerk at the counter, had been intended for the previous owner. ‘I’ll pass it on,’ I said.

I should have transferred ownership within five weeks after Jennifer’s death. That’s the law.  A letter from the Department of Transportation, accompanied by sincere condolences, explained the procedure, listed forms and documents I was expected to produce, and informed me that I would have to go to one of the larger post offices.

But sometime in December, I had lost track of the letter. When I found it, I couldn’t put my hands on the registration certificate for the Mini. After putting all the documents in a safe place, I had forgotten where that safe place was. That happened to me more than once during those first few months. They sent me a replacement document, but it wasn’t until ten months after Jenn’s death that I actually went to the post office.

It didn’t feel quite right. The car was hers, not mine; but, what did it matter? Last week the mailman delivered a ballot for the mid-term elections in the state of Maryland. Indeed, for Jenn. If dead people can vote, I guess they can drive, too.

Things got more complicated when it appeared that Jennifer was registered as having a parking permit at our old address. The new residents weren’t too happy about that, which was understandable. Steps had to be taken.  That afternoon when I picked Sander up in the Mini, he said, ‘Don’t forget that last year Mom promised I can have the Mini when I turn eighteen.’

I didn’t recall any such promise, but I was happy to reconfirm the agreement.  By that time he can do the paperwork himself.

Magic of telepathic threesome

THURSDAY, September 2 – Sander, Eamonn and I discovered that around eleven o’clock this morning all three of us were thinking of her. A flash of anger, sadness, dejection. We all found it very special, very comical, very eerie, very bizarre. How special, a telepathic moment like that.

Grieving is a great diet

WEDNESDAY, September 1, 2010 – I’m standing in front of the bedroom mirror and taking a look at my body, fresh from under the shower. A year ago I was carrying way too much weight. I’ve lost quite a few pounds since Jennifer’s death, but now I’m happily putting them on again. The naked body of a 45 year old man. Looking for scars? They must be there, but where?

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