Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Back to work”

Crying in the workplace

THURSDAY, April 15 – The NOS foreign correspondents are back visiting at headquarters and I will have to address them at some Amsterdam hotel. This is the first time they’ve seen me since last year, and their support from a distance has been heartwarming. The plan is that I’ll start off the morning with a few brief remarks related to Jennifer’s death before we get down to the nitty-gritty of the meeting.

Unfortunately, I’m overcome by my emotions and this despite my rehearsed talk, despite just the few short sentences I had intended to utter. I thank them and tell them how we’re doing at the moment and I tell them I’m looking forward to a challenging program – a day full of debate, but then I choke up.  A colleague takes over for me and I sit down.

Why the tears? Because at that moment I realized that a foreign correspondent is only able to do his or her work when the home front is covered one hundred percent. When you can be available twenty-four seven because your partner takes complete care of the children. For years, that was the way I had worked:  it was single-mindedness bordering on monomania, because Jennifer had allowed me to. The same is true of the many colleagues who work abroad.

Without Jennifer, I would not be standing there.  I knew that and so did they.

News! Making a contribution

WEDNESDAY, March 24  –  Super-long workday, with consecutive meetings from 9:30 am to 11:00 pm. The good news is that I mustered the necessary energy and concentration throughout the day, and was able to make a serious contribution. Hardly thought about the boys, although once in a while Jenn came cycling through my thoughts.

Hardly any time to grieve

THURSDAY, March 18 – Overwhelmed. Totally overwhelmed.  It’s all getting on top of me and I’m ready to collapse.  There’s so much to do while at the same time  I’m longing for the moment when I can resume my life. Start with a clean slate. That’s all nonsense, I know – starting with a clean slate, but that’s what I want.

So tired and yet so energetic. And so happy together with the children, so full of hope, so optimistic.  Still, sometimes it feels as if I have nowhere to turn. I want to be super dad, Superman, super lover and super employee, preferably all at once while, in reality, I barely have time to grieve for Jennifer.

There’s a tiny voice inside me that keeps shouting: ‘Call it a day, Overdiek, take a time-out.’ but it’s beyond me. I can’t manage to listen to that voice and it feels as if I’ll sink and drown if I don’t take action. There’s so much to do and so little time for self-reflection, so little time to think about what has actually happened to Jennifer, to me, to us.

This all seems so contradictory, since things are actually improving or maybe that’s just what I tell myself. Aren’t they just words to use when people ask me how I’m doing and I reply  ‘Better and better’. Since,in reality there’s nothing but chaos inside my head and in front of me I see the ‘To-Do List – Urgent’.

My job is slowly but surely making more and more demands on me. What it boils down to is that I don’t have the energy to do everything.  Emergency scenarios pop into my head.  Should I call in sick? Is it an option to apply for paternity leave? Or should I simply establish priorities and stop whining?

My life and that of the boys continues as usual; but, what, indeed, is ‘usual’ when you no longer have your life under control?  As far as my work is concerned, it is my fervent wish to get back to functioning at my old level. There are so many challenges ahead of me and so many fun things waiting for me, but I’m not up to it. I’m simply not up to it.

Death works from nine to five

March 10 – It’s just a routine day and yet, time and again,  I’m reminded of my personal tragedy to the point where people are beginning to notice.

Just before the start of a big meeting, I see a colleague heading in my direction. He saunters at first, but then firmly sets course in my direction. Then comes the question:  ‘And how are you doing now?’ Well meant, of course, but clearly the wrong moment, with people all around us. I hear myself saying something about spring being just around the corner. My heart contracts.

It’s even worse when a colleague describes to a small group of people how he suddenly had to race home because his wife had fallen off a ladder and had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. No details were spared: wounds, blood, bandages, and the shock of it all. I continued to listen, but I felt the tears welling up, saw Jenn lying there.  At first they said everything was going to be all right. The colleague looks at me despairingly, then he comes over and we hug briefly.  No problem.

In the corridor I chat with two staff members about foreign correspondents and their expense accounts. I speak from experience. One of them remarks that in the United States it was different for me because I was married to an American. Time suddenly stands still, but then he chatters on and I let the moment pass. The other shuffles his feet uncomfortably. He lost a family member last year. We don’t dare to look at each other, but we are gripped by the same emotions.

I stop briefly to greet a colleague whose wife recently gave birth to a stillborn child. The funeral has just taken place. It’s a case of ‘a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved’, and we talk briefly. As a widower, I’m permitted to inquire, but I catch myself asking well-meaning questions which I myself might consider inappropriate. Or am I seeing ghosts?

Later that afternoon there’s a meeting, devoted to cross-media journalism, which had been repeatedly postponed and now even has a new chairman. His question was logical: ‘What exactly is the purpose of this meeting?’ I immediately explain that the death of my wife Jennifer is the reason that we are only now able to get together and that was that. Sometimes it’s better not to beat around the bush.

A normal meeting, but with death sitting in. Over four months later.

In the land of the living

TUESDAY, February 23 – No time to write. Too busy. A good sign, but how am I so busy and why on earth is that a good sign? No time to write, because I’d rather focus all my energy on my work. I don’t accomplish much, but it feels good to be back in the land of the living.

Getting away the easy way

TUESDAY, February 17 – Got drunk with my colleague G.  Always good fun from time to time. Except for the damned alarm clock the next morning.

Our new back-up: An au pair

SUNDAY, January 31 – Soon we’ll be off to Schiphol airport in order to pick up E, our au pair, who’s flying in from the United States. The tentative plan is for a year. We need some back-up. Especially me, but the boys as well. She’ll provide stability for them when they come home from school and hopefully more flexibility for me after I return to work.

I want to work full time and it’s a step I feel I have to take. It’s not that I’m trying to take refuge in my work, but, rather, I know that my work gives me new energy and this renewed strength will help me being a father to my boys. Finding a balance between work and family can only help us to face the future with more confidence.

It was during our time in Washington that we got to know E. She lived on the same street and sometimes looked after Sander and Eamonn. We were crazy about her. Last Summer she’d emailed Jennifer to ask if we knew of anyone who was looking for an au pair. We didn’t, but I remember Jennifer telling me about her email. So, in late November I sent her a cautious email.

She replied immediately and enthusiastically, as she had already considered this possibility herself. After a few phone calls and emails back and forth, we decided to take the plunge and at this moment her plane is just about to land. There was a slight delay due to the winter weather, which may be quite shocking for someone who has spent years in Florida.

It’s going to involve considerable give and take. Not only because the three of us are so close, but also because there will again be a woman in the house. Naturally, she is not going to replace Jennifer.  She’s not going to be a surrogate mother or a stand-in wife. Nothing like that. What we need is help for the family and I’m very grateful. I also admire her courage and her willingness to come and take up this job.

According to the boys, there is only one disadvantage: ‘Now we can’t go running around naked anymore.’

E. emailed back that that was not a problem, which was reassuring.

Reflecting on th… Need sleep

WEDNESDAY, January 27 – Fighting against sleep. Why don’t I go to bed? I want to reflect on things. I just got back from my first obligatory evening meeting since October. This one was with the staff of the Kids News regarding their plans for the future and the notes drawn up by the senior staff.

The future hmm… it remains a pretty vague concept.

Scribble down some notes on a piece of paper. Gotta work on this tomorrow: dog kibble Auschwitz commemoration, ideas for Sander’s half-birthday.  Jennifer perfected.  Off to bed.

When there was still hope

TUESDAY, January 26 – During a meeting I was leafing unsuspectingly through my business notebook.  There were a few sheets of paper at the back and, suddenly, a card fell out. It was a drawing Eamonn had made for Jenn.

Get well soon, Mom

He’d drawn a big heart around the text, which read:

Dear Mom, I hope you get well soon, because it’s lonely here

without your humor. Get well soon. From Eamonn, Sander, Oma.

PS:  Elsa wants to see you. PPS. Bodhi also wants to see you. I hope

you feel better.

I must have turned a ghastly shade, since within seconds I felt the blood draining from my face. For an instant my body froze, and then collapsed helplessly. No one noticed or, at least,  they all pretended they didn’t see my tears. The note was written the morning after the accident, when Jenn was already in a coma. It was full of concern, but also childlike hope which was to remain unfulfilled.

You don’t look good. Oh really?

MONDAY, January 11 – A colleague I’ve always liked falls into step with me in the corridor and tells me how great it is that I’m back.

‘The feeling is mutual,’ I assure him, and no matter how ‘standard’ that sounds, I really mean it.

‘Just one thing,’ he says. You don’t look too good.’

‘Well, thanks a lot,’ I say with a laugh. (How are you supposed to handle a remark like that?)

‘No, I’m serious. You really don’t look good.’

Then he throws one arm around me and adds, ‘It’s plain to see you’re having a hard time dealing with it all.’

I was upset for hours. There you are, walking down the hallway, cheerful and full of energy, and boom; someone hits you with that.  Does everyone expect to find you to be well-rested and carefree, since everything has so obviously been going your way?

‘No, you fucking idiot, at the moment I’m living through a nightmare. So keep your goddamned  trap shut, will you?’

Unfortunately, a retort like this always occurs to me too late to be of any use.

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