Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Family & Friends”

Strengthening our family ties

THURSDAY, May 27 – At the crack of dawn, the boys and I are off to Schiphol where we’ll be picking up Uncle Pete, before I drop  them off at school. Pete, their favorite uncle, has flown over from New York to celebrate what would have been Jennifer’s 42nd birthday.

It comes as no surprise when, in the early afternoon, Sander calls to say that he’s on his way home. He keeps seeing flashbacks of the accident and it’s impossible for him to concentrate.  It is even less of a surprise when twenty minutes later Eamonn calls. ‘Bad day, bad day, I just want to be with the people I love.’

Half an hour later Eamonn and I are sitting on the bed.  He tells me that all of a sudden he realizes that we’re going to be celebrating Mom’s birthday, but Mom won’t be there. The shoe has dropped and the end result is a painful tangle of thoughts in his head. Logic is no good, but a good hug helps to unravel the knot.

Uncle Pete is sleeping off his jet lag. He and I talked for three hours this morning: about life and death, about Jenn, friends, family, the suspect, about him and about me – exchanging profound thoughts about life, in general. The boys wake him up earlier than planned, but the sight of those happy faces makes up for any lost sleep.

Who wants to be sitting in a classroom or office?  We refer to this as ‘playing social hooky’.

Grandpa, but no grandma

TUESDAY, May 18 – A colleague calls to tell me that he’s become a grandfather. I remember his son from our stay in the States, when he was in high school. Wow!  Solid proof of how time flies. I smile at the thought of my friends as grandparents and I’m reminded of the two baby quilts that his wife W made for our boys, the oldest of whom is now a high school student himself. Baby. Grandparent. Me someday.

But never Jennifer.

Price of grief: 985 euro

TUESDAY, April 27 – Inexplicable and irresponsible, but fun.  A sudden urge.  I go for a walk, heading in the direction of P.C. Hooftstraat, Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Fifth Avenue.  Wearing jeans, sneakers, and an old T-shirt, I walk into Oger’s.  Salesmen raise their eyebrows.

Ten minutes later I walk out of the shop wearing a new sports jacket.  I decline the ridiculously large bag.  I’ll wear it. On the street I run into the writer H, who’s sitting at a sidewalk café with a young lady. We shake hands and right away he asks how long it’s been… And the children, how are they coping?

Normally, we’d immediately start gabbing about soccer or mutual friends from some bar or other.  About London, the States… anything.  But things are different now.  I smile my unflappable smile and move on.  Still totally non compos mentis, but in a thoughtful frame of mind.

I stare at myself in a store window.  Anyone who’s lost some pounds mourning a loved one and is now getting out and around is expected at the very least to look decent. Fuck it. The fabric is magnificent, the fit is superb, and at 985 euros, the price isn’t half bad.

19:58 – Two minutes to eight.  It was at this that precise moment exactly 32 years ago that my father died. I saw it happen. He was sitting in a black leather chair. His right hand clutched the left side of his chest and his face convulsed as the life drained out of his frail body.  Mother immediately sent us upstairs and closed the sliding doors leading to the living room.  The parish priest came up to our room to tell us that our father ‘was now with God’ and that everything would be all right.  I think about the family members who came that evening and sat around in the living room except in the empty chair, which remained empty.  Memories… no more than that.

Where to find peace? And how?

SATURDAY, April 24 – Nervous. The boys notice. They want to know if I’m okay. Yes, I’m okay.  We take the boat out, Sander at the helm. Then a walk in the park, lying on the grass with Eamonn. It’s a Saturday that feels like summer, but I can’t seem to relax.

This morning I called my brother and begged off.  He’d emailed me that it was a good idea for us to meet. He called to pick a date, but didn’t mention whether he’d be coming alone, with his son, or with the whole family.  I was open to all options, I said, so he would have arrived in one of the above combinations.

I cancelled this morning.  He sounded relieved. I can’t blame him. Where can I find peace?  And how?  And when? Things are not good:  I am not okay.

I must have loved my dad

WEDNESDAY, April 21 – My father would have been 87 today.  He’s been dead for almost 32 years.  I was thirteen when he died.

It had been his second heart attack in a row. He was manic-depressive and he’d been sitting at home for years and had not been able to go back to the Dutch Royal Leatherworks factory in Oisterwijk.  He loved music, especially jazz as well as walking in the woods with his field glasses around his neck, spotting birds.

He was married twice, lost his first wife to cancer. They had had three children. With his second wife he’d had two children: my younger brother and me.  Five boys.  Three plus two half-brothers.  I didn’t have that much of a brotherly connection with them because we were often played off against each other.

He was crazy in a good way because of his illness.  We did fun things together, but he could get really angry and then I was afraid of him. Actually, a wave of relief came over me when he died and I didn’t even feel guilty.  At least we were freed from his blind rages.

Back then he had seemed huge, but looking at the photos I realize that I would have towered over him if he had lived until I was an adult. I remember his enormous shoes, but of course my feet would have been small back then.  He usually wore the same kind of clothes:  sports jackets  and turtleneck sweaters.  And orange swimming trunks. He was thin as a rail with hollow eyes and rotton-looking row of lower teeth..

I never told him so, but I must have loved him. That puts me ahead of him, in any case. My children often tell me they love me and I do the same.

Congrats, old man.

Playing Mom. And hating it

MONDAY, April 19  –  I start the day by emailing my brother.

‘Hi Brother,

These phone calls don’t really seem to work, for either of us. Why don’t you just come by this weekend?  I’d like that. With the whole family, with your son, or alone.  Whatever’s convenient. These perfunctory phone calls at regular intervals aren’t getting us anywhere. Take care!’

8:00 – It’s cold this morning. I remind the boys:  make sure you put on a coat. Eamonn says okay. Sander bargains. A sweat shirt without a jacket or a T-shirt with a jacket.  I say:  ‘a sweat shirt with a jacket’. He says no. I say:  ‘I hate having to play Mom.’  He says, ‘Then stop giving me a hard time.’  I laugh. At him and myself.

Stupid question, stupid answer

SUNDAY, April 18 – My brother calls. The usual listless conversation… the same questions, answered by rote. I don’t feel like explaining exactly ‘how things are’, which is what it’s all about. The conversation invariably ends with the assurance that we’re welcome to come by sometime or that they could come and see us.  Meantime, I simply expect them to do something … anything. Use your imagination, surprise us, do something unexpected, but,  please, no more perfunctory how-are-you-doings.  I’m okay, no more and no less. Goodbye, brother.

Being sociable is a tough job

FRIDAY, April 9 – Initially, I didn’t much feel like going to L’s housewarming party tonight. After dinner I was overcome by a kind of apathetic melancholy. I had only myself to blame after having spent far too much time at the laptop. There were plenty of things I could and should have done that would have given me energy for this evening.

All things considered, it had been a really good day. I went to the new apartment where the renovation is going smoothly. I had a great guitar lesson. I made three appointments with potential movers and then, all of a sudden, I went into a dip. I told the boys I was going to stay home.

That is until the moment when I was changing the beds and I suddenly said to myself: ‘For Pete’s sake, go to the party, meet some new people. You can always leave early.  If you don’t go, you’ll only feel worse.’  So I went.  It did help – the people there were pleasant and easy-going. L’s new boyfriend has just moved into her boat house and there were German, English and Dutch friends there.

I spent a long time talking to P from Brighton. Good conversation, I dropped her off at her hotel, where we said goodbye with a pleasant, warm feeling – no more than that. A fine evening. So, it is possible. I can be sociable, meet new people, do my own thing and just be myself. Now, off to bed and try to keep to the new course. Positive energy.

In bed I open my laptop. I look at P’s Facebook photo. Suddenly I notice how tiny she is. And that she has short black hair. Large eyes. Just like Jennifer. That gave me a bit of a jolt.

A visit to my dead dad

THURSDAY, April 8 – Spent an hour in Oisterwijk, the town where Id grown up. I had a business meeting in a nearby city and took advantage of the opportunity to stroll through the cemetery. The death of my father was my first confrontation with mortality. Would it do something to me, seeing his grave? Would it evoke forgotten emotions? Provide new perspectives?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

It must be years since I was here last.  He shares a grave with his first wife, who was in her thirties when she was struck down by cancer. Pa had been left with three young sons. What a morbid resemblance between our lives, but am I actually conscious of that bond?  Not really. I never discussed that time with him, since he died far too young. And now he’s lying here.

I had no trouble finding the grave. Turn left at the end of the path. A simple gravestone with simple lettering. No frills. Not because he was a modest man – he was sick and, in my childhood memory (which is unbeknownst to mental illnesses), he was crazy – but because the grave had to be cheap. You can barely make out his name and the dates of his birth and death are illegible. I felt no urge to tidy up the grave.

‘Give your wife a kiss from me’

MONDAY, March 29 – Dear friend R, what wonderful news! I laugh and cry at the same time at your hilarious story about the birth of your second child.  I’m so very happy for you. Now the four of you are a complete family. I know that, since I remember how we felt when Jennifer gave birth to our second son. I laugh and I cry when I think of what was once, for us, a complete family; but, above all, I’m happy for you, my best friend.  And give your wife a kiss from me. Your happiness is worth so much to me. I’m going to hang up now, and have a good cry on my own, this time for the loss of what was once our family of four.

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