Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Back to work”

Tell the world about love

MONDAY, August 16 – Here I am, hopelessly stuck behind a stubborn farmer on a tractor, who’s chugging along at a snail’s pace in the direction of Hilversum. The rain is pelting down, as if autumn was already upon us. Back in the wide curve of that provincial highway, which not long ago I had christened my personal vale of tears, I catch myself smiling broadly.

I’m happy. Overflowing with a zest for life, I’m tempted to open the window, stick my head out, and tell the whole world that I’m in love. The rain and the empty fields convince me of the futility of such public rejoicing and, anyway, I’ve already made it known worldwide via Facebook.

It was a simple check mark in the Friends Only section:  Tim is in a relationship.

            I left it at that. Friends are free to draw their own conclusions. The announcement quickly led to enthusiastic responses. Most people said it was ‘great’, some wrote to say that they were happy for me, others wanted more detail, and at work colleagues cast a knowing glance in my direction.

Not bad for a Monday morning.

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.

Oops! Forgot all about it

TUESDAY, June 29  – What a day.  All morning you’re busy with work, colleagues, meetings, news, and everything else that has to do with what I’m being paid for, and suddenly, around noon, you realize that not once have you thought about Jenn and the children.  Not a single second. The same thing happens during the afternoon, and you head home with a jubilant feeling. This is what we call shameless energy.

Not alone. That helps

WEDNESDAY, June 16 – One minute you’re in a business meeting discussing a particular NOS program and the next minute you’re in the middle of a personal conversation during which the person opposite you casually mentions that he lost his mother to cancer when he was eight and his father when he was sixteen.

There are people who – without being explicit – let you know that everything’s going to be all right and wish you the very best.

And I know: I am not alone. That helps.

14:00 – I’m in the park with Elsa, a sun-drenched afternoon. And damn it, what do I see? Jennifer, in the distance, sitting in the grass against a wall, bicycle on the ground, shoes kicked aside, dress pulled up to allow more sun on her legs. Writing in her notebook, oblivious to her surroundings.

Or in the middle of a stretch of lawn, I see her sitting on a picnic blanket next to another mother, with the children around them. Jenn takes some fruit from her bag as she talks a mile a minute with her friend, collecting stories she’ll recount later on when she gets home.

Beyond the bridge, on the other side of the water, Jennifer is lying in the shade, looking straight ahead. She’s laid her book aside for the moment, saving that last chapter for tonight when she gets into bed. Never read too fast, was her adagio – as if she ever took her own advice. Books were devoured, and there were always new ones waiting for her.

Of course I’m not seeing ghosts.  I see women who could have been Jennifer. That’s the way I saw her before me: relaxed, totally herself, enjoying life’s small pleasures during an hour stolen from work. This no longer makes me angry, but it does take away some of my courage and when I find myself thinking that she should have been there in the park, my heart takes a plunge.

A highlight, or so they say

WEDNESDAY, June 9 – Election day in The Netherlands. A celebration of democracy, a point I do my best to impress on Sander and Eamonn whenever there’s an election. You have a right to vote, to actively participate in the political process, and you’d be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity. I give Eamonn the red pencil and let him color in the circle I’ve selected, and then push the paper ballot through the slit.

It ought to be a journalistic highlight. The build-up, the excitement of the final days of the race, the vacuum on the big day, leading up to the evening broadcasts with the results and the hectic sequel. A journalist’s dream, and even more important for me, as deputy-head of the biggest and best news organization in the country?

The truth is: It doesn’t interest me one bit.

The fact that I’ve acknowledged that lack of interest is probably the worst sign of all. I can’t help it. I’m not on my toes and I can’t get excited about anything. There’s no rush of adrenalin, no energy and I’ve resigned myself to the situation.

Which is strange. These elections were always the sort of thing I truly enjoyed. I could have made a real contribution to all the new projects where journalistic crossmedia are put to the test. I just trail along, and although I feel a few pangs of guilt, the end of the story is that I can’t swing it.

My head is simply overflowing. With pictures of Jennifer’s memorial bench, the medical developments, the up-coming trial, the confrontation with the motorcycle cop, Sander who is overwhelmed by the thought of the trial, and telephone calls about his music lessons, Eamonn who cycled home on his own for the first time, arranging for care for the boys, thinking about accommodation for the summer, the unpaid bills, the tax returns that should already have gone out.

To be truthful, I feel as if I’m losing my way. So what else is new? 

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…

Leaving the kids all alone

WEDNESDAY, May 19 – Tonight I have a late meeting in Hilversum, so the kids will have to go to bed on their own.  I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to them, but at the same time I know it’ll work. I can’t always find someone to keep an eye on them, and they’re getting older. But still…  Get home around eleven o’clock and I’m touched to find Eamonn in my bed.

Back to work or not?

MONDAY, May 17 – Back to work. Can I really swing it? Will I be capable of devoting myself one hundred percent to my work as a journalist and my role as a father?  I’m not getting stressed out about this. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work and I’ll have to think up something else. It’s just that simple, I tell myself. And for the moment I actually believe it.

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.

Love is that fleeting second…

TUESDAY,  April 20 – So tired, dead-tired. This is all I was planning to write today.  Things turned out differently.

I was in the Mini on the way to an appointment in the city…  good-looking  women on bicycles sped by. It was a lovely sight and in the back of my mind I saw Jenn on her bike going over the bridges, saw how people looked at her in her denim mini-skirt and purple leggings, her black leather jacket and pale blue scarf. And the black-brown locks with those incredible curls.

Then I began to cry – and I’m still crying as I write it all down.

Why was all that taken away from her? It’s that question – to which there is no answer – that makes me so sad.  Sad for her. Not so much for myself.  She’s dead and I’m not. I’m alive.

I couldn’t shake off that feeling and during the business lunch I felt my mind drifting. Two colleagues were trying to provoke each other. I was the chair and I should have intervened, taken over, and gotten the meeting back on the rails.  But I couldn’t care less.  At that instant I was painfully conscious of the futility of it all. What the fuck am I doing here?  I excused myself, walked out of the room, put on my coat, got into the car and went home.

Home to my children. Love, that’s what I needed right then and that’s what I told Eamonn later in the car, on the way to baseball practice. That’s why I was waiting for him in the schoolyard at 3:30 which was a surprise, since he had expected his brother to pick him up. ‘You know why I enjoy picking you up, Eamonn?’

No, he didn’t know.

‘Love is that fleeting second when our eyes meet.  When I see the little rush of surprise.  Hey, it’s Papa!  You’re standing there. The quick smile of recognition, of affection, of closeness.  This afternoon, Eamonn, I needed that moment.’

Oh, okay. And he accepted my words for what they were worth.  We were both still for a moment. ‘Or do you think I’m a jerk, Eamonn?’  He laughed out loud. ‘That sounded funny, Papa.’

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