Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Grieving”

One year later. We’ve done it

SUNDAY, October 24 – ‘Now where were we?’ I joke, as I stand there in front of 130 guests gathered in the concert hall of the Amsterdam Conservatory.

Most of them I hadn’t seen in almost a year, since the cremation service. We’d taken leave of each other in sadness, but with hope in our hearts. This afternoon I don’t intend to grieve for our loss, but rather celebrate the fact that we are here today. That we are not only alive, one year later, but also living.

This morning I’d re-read the speech I gave then. At the crematorium I’d frequently quoted Jennifer, herself and her most important message was, ‘Live now. Live in the moment’.

(Why this blog? Click here)

That’s what we’re doing, together with musician friends, whose contributions are much appreciated. In my thank you-speech, I referred to the past year as a ‘piece of crap’. I impress on them how difficult it has been without describing each and every crap moment. I stress life, and offer a number of variations on the theme:  Survive. Experience. Empathize. Live on. Enjoy ourselves.

And that’s what we’re doing this afternoon. Emcee Sander is the ultimate entertainer, addressing the audience with amazing aplomb between several pieces on the piano. He’s also a genuine crooner, as if he’s spent most of his waking hours in smoky cafes. He winds the audience around his little finger, as he introduces the various acts. Effortlessly.  And the kid is only thirteen. When I was his age, I was almost afraid to look people in the eye in answer to them merely asking me a simple question. This afternoon it is clear to all that Sander is a born performer.

Eamonn brings the first set to a close with the rock ballad ‘Basket Case’ by Green Day. There are tears running down my face and I’m not the only one as this ten-year-old takes his place on a high-backed chair and starts to play. It’s as if he’s sitting on the living room couch, casually strumming away. He plays and sings, makes a mistake in the middle of a song, laughs at himself, picks up the thread, and then finishes the song amid a tumultuous storm of applause. Proudly he returns to his seat alongside me.

God, how I love my children. Jenn’s children.

The first anniversary of her death is a true celebration. Just as I had envisioned it:  a memorable afternoon with family and friends, during which Jennifer was present in the music. It was a fitting way to introduce C: living proof that love is possible after tragedy. May our hearts be filled with the spirit of Jennifer’s beloved Baudelaire poem, so that we take no notice of the passing time.

Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,

Get drunk!

Stay drunk!

On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!

We are alive. No matter whether our stay on earth is long or it is short, that’s what it’s all about.

(Would you like to go to the start of my blog, one year earlier? Click here and scroll down)

Retracing her last foot steps

FRIDAY, October 22 – I take the dog out for a short walk before starting breakfast. Eamonn comes along. ‘Papa,’ he asks, ‘when you’re old, will you get a really huge dog like the one we saw in the park the other day?

‘Sure. An old geezer probably needs a big dog.’


‘Why did you want to know?’

‘Because then I can come by with my kids and you’ll let them ride on his back.’

Something tells me this is going to be a good day.

11:34 –  ‘Do you really think I should do it, Papa?

‘Eamonn, this is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.’

‘I know. But do you think I ought to do it?’

‘To be perfectly honest, yes. I think it’ll do you good.’

He tumbles onto the bed and I leave him behind in my bedroom. It’s his decision, his idea, and his moment. I mustn’t try to decide for him. I start to fix lunch. That’ll give him time to think.

‘Okay,’ he says, ‘let’s go. Not on foot. By bike,’ he says.

We’re off.

At the flower shop on Beethoven Street we buy a bunch of red and white roses. The saleswoman thinks we’re a bit odd because we don’t want the stems trimmed and we don’t need wrapping paper. We cycle past our old house. There’s a brief moment of confusion about which street we should take to get to Stadion Road. Eamonn hasn’t been here for a while. One year, to be exact.

It was during the summer vacation that he decided he wanted to cross the street there Just like ‘then’, when he was with his mother, his brother and Elsa. This morning he said he was ready to go there, but asked if we could go in the morning and not at ten to four in the afternoon. He wanted to put it all behind him.

We turn the corner at 11.57 a.m. and the crosswalk comes into sight. We follow the sidewalk until we reach the spot. He starts to cry softly. We park the bikes and Eamonn gives me a hug. I lock his bike for him. He puts the flowers down next to the tree and goes over to the crosswalk. Almost immediately the light turns green.

Looking straight ahead, Eamonn crosses the street. His coat is open, his arms hanging loosely at his sides, and his steps are firm. I count them. When he’s halfway across, he looks to the right and left, and again to the right, and then walks on.

When he’s reached the other side, after 23 steps, Sander and I follow.

Eamonn is leaning against a tree. He’s crying. We hug each other. Then, he turns around and looks at the spot where Jennifer lay. Where the ambulance was parked. Where he sat down. Where a woman who lived in one of the nearby houses spoke to him.  We don’t say anything.

Sander takes pictures of the flowers and the crosswalk. Eamonn and I sit down on the curb. There are so many questions, there is so much to talk about. I confine myself to the remark that it was ‘very brave’ of him to do what he just did. Sander comes over and sits down next to us. Passersby look at us. I start to cry and Eamonn suggests that it’s time to go home. We stand up and then realize that we’ll have to walk back over that same crosswalk to get to the bicycles.

‘Would you like to take my hand, Eamonn?’

He nods. We wait for the light to turn green. It takes a helluva long time. First, all the traffic gets to go and then it’s our turn. The only thing that registers is Eamonn’s hand in mine. I don’t even realize that we’ve reached the other side.

We take the same route back home and stop at the supermarket. Time for a bag of potato chips. On the living room couch, we polish off the whole bag in five minutes.

Mom would have made sure we finished our fruit before the potato chips appeared. Which we had.

14:10 – The rest of the day is uneventful. I say, ‘Okay, guys, how about if we take the dog for a run in the Amsterdam Forest. No, on second thought, let’s go to Beatrix Park instead.’ No problem. We’re on our way – out the door, right turn and then Eamonn stands stock-still.

Damn!?! There’s an ambulance parked in the middle of the street and, on the sidewalk two houses down the street, there’s someone lying in a stretcher. No way is Eamonn going to walk past that stretcher. I tell him that all we have to do is turn around and walk in the other direction. We can get to the park via a detour. He’s clearly upset.

‘Why did this have to happen today?’ I think to myself. What lousy timing.

We’re approaching Stadion Road, when suddenly we hear an enormous crashing sound. Two cars in a collision. I can just get a glimpse of what’s happened some fifty yards ahead of us. Apparently a car was about to turn left onto Minerva Lane when a taxi rammed it on the side. Both vehicles shot straight through the crosswalk, coming to a halt on the sidewalk.

Eamonn stops. ‘What else can go wrong?’ I say, trying to make light of the situation, but a wave of disbelief comes over me. How in the world is this possible?  ‘Come on, buddy, this is too bizarre for words, I know. But it just proves how resilient we are – we’re going to go to the park anyway.’

He won’t fall for that one. I don’t even believe it myself.  Eamonn turns around and heads for home, leaving Sander and I to make our own decisions.

Sander continues on in the direction of the park, with the dog, and I follow Eamonn. Back home, we sit on the couch and at his request look at funny cat pictures on Google.

‘When I’m depressed, I always go to Google and look for something funny,’ he says. Before long, he’s smiling again. We hear the wail of sirens in the distance. Sander comes home and whispers in my ear that there are two ambulances at the scene of the accident.

I suggest we watch Groundhog Day to get us through the afternoon. Good move, as it was one of Mom’s favorites. Eamonn goes into the kitchen to make popcorn. For now, we can take on the whole world, without even leaving the house.

18:20 – Since it’s close to dinner time and we have to eat, Eamonn and I hop on our bikes and head for Albert Cuyp Street for some take-out food. On the way home, Sander catches up with us. He’d gone to the Conservatory to see his piano teacher, so that he could can practice his compositions before the concert this coming Sunday.

As soon as he sees his brother, Eamonn starts singing along. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen, which Sander only got down pat the day before. It may turn out to be his encore on Sunday. The boys are singing at the top of their lungs as we turn onto our street. I smile and listen eagerly to the lyrics which we could well take as our theme song today.

Tonight I’m gonna have myself a real good time

I feel alive and the world it’s turning inside out, yeah!

I’m floating around in ecstasy

So don’t stop me now, don’t stop me

‘Cause I’m having a good time, having a good time.

21:50 – Just before bedtime, Eamonn finds a pile of papers on the coffee table. I’d printed out the text of the speeches from the funeral service, along with the various anecdotes that Jennifer’s friends had sent us. I was planning to spend an hour or so going through them with the boys, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

‘Will you read a couple of them out loud when I get into bed?’ Eamonn asks. But of course. There’s a kind of fairy-tale atmosphere in the room and Eamonn is lying in bed with a blissful smile on his face. Once in a while he looks over at me, checking to see that I don’t break into ‘that high-pitched voice’ again. I do my best.

‘And some more tomorrow, okay?’ he says.

Just say it, that you miss her

MONDAY, October 18 – It’s the beginning of National Donor Week and donating came up as a  subject  at the dinner table. C’s daughters listened in fascination to Sander and Eamonn who took turns explaining just what happened to the body of their mother such as, which people were given new organs. The girls were impressed and so was I; especially, by the calm way in which they explained everything.

Then, Eamonn asked if he could be excused from the table. Sure, but remember to take your plate into the kitchen. Eamonn headed straight for my bedroom. I went after him. He was already lying on the bed, staring out the window. I asked him what was wrong.

‘Why did you start talking about organ donation?

‘Me? I got the impression that the two of you thought it felt good to talk about it.’

That much was true, but it also upset him. The conversation at the table had brought back visions of the hospital, of Jennifer in her coffin with the bandage on her forehead from the accident and the scar on her breast from the organ-removal.

‘And all of that this week, Papa. Don’t you understand?  This week?’

I understood all too well. However, there was something else that he had to understand:  I still miss Mom, every single day and yet she was able to do something fantastic after her death. Also, that I love him. And Mom, and Sander, and the dog and the cat, and C and her daughters. This week was going to be tough; but, together, we’d manage to get through it.

I heard myself talking, and I realized that it had been a while since I had last said to him or to myself that I still miss Jennifer, every single day.  I thought it so much I’d come to think it went without saying and so that’s  why I was saying it now. Eamonn said he was glad to hear me say so and gave me a big hug. And for me, for me it felt good to say so out loud.

Hello, tears. Welcome back

THURSDAY, October 14 – After waking up around six-thirty, I’m sitting on the john when suddenly I start bawling. Without warning. The same kind of crying fit I had almost daily last October and November. There was something comforting about it, although I can’t say exactly why. It occurs to me that having a good cry on a regular basis isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Being a dad (without a dad)

SUNDAY, October 10 – My brain is reeling and I can’t get to sleep. There’s a kind of logic going round and round in my head: I lost my father when I was thirteen, so I never had a good role model for bringing up my children.

The boys lost their mother when they were nine and twelve, which means they don’t have the right role model to pass on to them the necessary maternal instincts.

As a single parent it’s fairly easy to drive yourself up the wall. I mumble that I’m a good father to my boys and that I’m doing my utmost best to fill in for their mother. I am a good parent and the boys will grow up to be stable and happy adults.

I tell myself out loud that I’m doing a good job, but I don’t believe a word of it. It’s only quarter after two.

Lennon and his dead Mom

SATURDAY, October 9 – I was playing around on Google and YouTube. John Lennon would have turned seventy today. An excuse to surf the net for interesting information about the murdered ex-Beatle. At every click, Jennifer pops up.

She was a Beatles fan and somewhere in the house I should be able to find that special issue of Time Magazine published shortly after his death in 1980. It’s a collector’s item whose cover I can quickly find on-line, with the headline: ‘When the Music Died’. Jennifer once told me about the evening when the news was announced. She cried and cried and couldn’t get to sleep. For days she felt depressed and even talking about his death decades later made her unhappy.

I watch the videos of the coverage: listen to the reporters stationed in front of the Dakota Building in New York, where Yoko Ono still lives. Jenn pointed it out to me and later to the children; the magnificent building bordering Central Park. In the early nineties Jenn lived in that neighborhood and almost daily she walked past the Strawberry Fields memorial.

Our children have grown up with the Beatles. Not long ago I discovered that Eamonn has the same birthday as Ringo Starr. Moseying around Wikipedia, I realize that Jenn was only one year older than Lennon was when he died. What a cold statistic.

Lennon’s childhood was anything but happy, with a father who left for New Zealand, an aunt who raised him, and a mother who was killed on the street by a goddamned cop. Holy shit! The coincidence! The difference in this case being that the cop was drunk. Lennon was seventeen years old then.

He would later write a song called ‘Mother’, that was inspired in part by his therapeutic sessions with the American psychologist Janov, who firmly believed that deep-seated emotions could be dealt with by means of a heartfelt ‘primal scream’.

This makes me curious about the song, and I go to iTunes and listen to it.  Good God Almighty, what a piece of shit.

Death is all around us

THURSDAY, October 7 – Death. It’s really something. I’m reading the newspaper and see an article about a 12-year old boy who was run over by a bus driver. Just then a tweet comes in about the suicide of a famous Dutch actor, followed by reports that a woman and a child have just been murdered in a town near The Hague. Tragedy comes in all sorts and sizes. Is it some kind of horrible contest? I think about the next of kin, those still alive, who will be confounded by these deaths. I wouldn’t know how to explain what will come their way. Not even now.

Yearning for the impossible

WEDNESDAY, October 6 – I’m overcome by an unbearable thought. I no longer yearn for life as it was before October 22, 2009. I no longer yearn for our life together:  Jennifer, Sander, Eamonn and me, plus two pets. How can you yearn for something that’s impossible? Yearning is futile. At most, you can cherish it. Or wallow in memories. But yearn for what once was? No, not any more. And that makes me unbelievably sad.

October, the month when…

FRIDAY, October 1, 2010 – Time to be on guard. You think you’re almost there, but that moment doesn’t amount to shit. It’s October, the month when.  We can almost see the finish line. Nonsense, of course. Dangerous thinking.  So, this morning I tell myself:  it’s just an ordinary day. Like yesterday. And like tomorrow.

I’m not the only one who looked at the calendar this morning. A colleague came over to me. She wanted to know if our life is becoming more bearable now that the end of the first year is approaching.

I’m quick to reply. ‘Our life has never been unbearable. Life itself is too precious.  Of course, we’ve been through more than enough shit and we still have a long way to go. But was it unbearable? No.’

I leave her behind in dazed confusion.  Actually, things are going pretty well, I could have added; but somehow I was afraid to say the words out loud. You’ve got to stay on your guard. It’s merely October.

Avalanche of young mothers

THURSDAY, September 30 – Every morning I treat myself to the sight of all the attractive mothers in our neighborhood, as they usher their offspring out of the house, zip up coats, kiss them, and reprimand them when they race down the street, battling wind and rain. Suddenly I feel a wave of hate for all those mothers who are allowed to take their children to school today. Why them?

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