Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Grieving”

Wishing I’d been there

THURSDAY, September 23 – I just notified the hospital that I have decided to let the matter rest. I can’t afford to waste my precious energy on a long, drawn-out search for possibly culpable medical mistakes. The main reason is that it won’t change anything. Another chapter has been closed, but others are still lying ahead of us. The only thing that really gets to me is the uncertainty about what happened in the last moments of Jenn’s life. I wish I could at least have held her hand.

Sleepless in Sadness

WEDNESDAY, September 22 – That was the second sleepless night in a row and I’m exhausted.  Anyone who is exhausted after spending hours staring at the ceiling, pacing through the house, and tossing and turning eventually starts to have doubts. Doubts about everything. Especially himself. What the fuck am I doing?

Pretty destructive thoughts. You get in a negative spiral, inclined to reject everything and everyone. The things that went through my mind last night!!  Pfff.  Maybe those thoughts were so negative because the boys and I have been making such progress. Can all that be wiped out in a single blow? Right now that’s the way it feels.

A couple of hours sleep early in the morning keeps me going. A refreshing shower, strong coffee, kids setting off for school without too much of a hassle. There are a lot of things that fill me with doubt, but my relationship with C is not one of them. To be on the safe side, I tell her so and that feels good on this Wednesday morning, exactly eleven months after the accident.

Having the time of their lives

SUNDAY, September 19 – The children are having the time of their lives in the Amsterdam Tropical Museum. The guard cautions them about  laughing too loudly while I pretend they’re not with me. They race from one floor to the next. I follow them at a leisurely pace, hiding the grief that overwhelms me. Shouldn’t Jennifer be here with us?

Sick of myself, of everything

TUESDAY, September 14 – The rain was pouring down and before I knew it, I was soaking wet. Glorious. I needed it, since I was feeling pretty grungy.  I’d just spent an hour with my lawyer crunching numbers, writing up scenarios, and counting hours in order to establish what Jennifer’s death was worth financially. The city of Amsterdam is legally bound to pay compensation to her family.

The calculations could have been done months ago, but mentally I hadn’t been ready for all that.. Come on, your wife is dead and you have to decide how much she was worth. The procedure in itself seemed fairly simple, but, nonetheless insurmountable.

I got on my bike and prayed that the rain would wash away the unpleasant nasty aftertaste. Once home, the smell of vultures lingered and the first thing I did was take a hot shower. I felt like crying my eyes out, but the tears wouldn’t come. Besides what would I be crying about?  About Jennifer, who is no longer here, or the unbearable fact that someone has put a price tag on her absence?

That wretched feeling dogged me like I was wrapped in a smelly blanket, following me to work, where I stared listlessly in front of me. With my typical naivety, I had apparently expected that I would be capable of sitting around the table with my lawyer in a businesslike manner in the morning, and then head back to work in the afternoon as if nothing had happened. On the agenda that afternoon there was the first in a series of four cross-media workshops, the sort of project I’m expected to lead, as deputy editor-in-chief.  I just couldn’t swing it. I felt paralyzed and all the misery of the morning meeting was starting to fill my head.

One of the scenarios my lawyer and I had discussed was the very real possibility that I would not be able to combine my demanding work load with the role of father. Today that was clearly the case. I left the building. Sick of myself, sick of everything.

Family with an uneven number

SUNDAY, September 12 – The rules are clear. No more than two people at a time on the slide; but, here we are, in our local pool, the three of us. We look at each other for a fleeting second. Eamonn goes first, Sander follows, and seconds later I shout, ‘Clear the way!’

Municipal rules will have to be bent this Sunday morning. There are three of us and that’s that. We hurtle triumphantly down the chute, ending up in a disheveled tangle of limbs in the shallow pool as the water sloshes over the sides. I realize how much we have grown.

Mentally, but also physically.

Sander is turning into a gawky beanpole, Eamonn is in the middle of a growth spurt, and I am literally in between. The speed at which we whoosh down the slide together reflects the energy that we’ve rediscovered, and that we radiate. It is proof of the self-confidence with which we face life. Together, the three of us can take on the whole world. So, out of the way!

But it’s still an uneven number. So what do we do with two whirlpool baths?  Eamonn and me in one, and Sander in the other. Once in a while Eamonn jumps over to visit his brother, and, together, we lounge around in the hot, bubbling herbal water.

‘It’s great here, isn’t it,’ I say to Eamonn, as he swims over to me.

He nods.

‘Do you think C and the girls would like it?’

I nod.

‘And Mom. Would she have liked it, too?

‘Yes, I’m sure she would have.’

From the other jacuzzi, Sander asks if we can go down the slide again.

Wrapping up our therapy

FRIDAY, September 10 – Half an hour later, it was decided. We got out our diaries and made appointments for the last two sessions. One would be in early October and the last one sometime in November. The psychologist felt that it was time to round off the Friday sessions and we, or rather I, agreed.

We had last seen her in early July. There had been various developments during the summer vacation, and I called her earlier this week to bring her up to date. About C and the children, about the vacation, about the scattering of the ashes, about my work, about my book, but above all about Sander and Eamonn.

The boys indicated that things were ‘actually pretty okay’. At the moment they’re happy with life, although they still have their bad moments. If there’s one thing that they’d like to change, it’s the frequency of our outings and more often, with just the three of us.

I made a mental note of that. We mustn’t forget to plan things just for us guys. It’s great fun with all six of us, as Sander stressed, but we have to cherish the indestructible bond between father and sons. Maybe we can reserve Friday afternoon or evening for our outings.

I look back on our sessions with satisfaction. Maybe it’s hard to explain the exact areas where the psychologist was able to help; but, she certainly found a way to get Eamonn to come out of his shell and talk about the accident. At unexpected moments she helped Sander to realize that he was carrying unaddressed anger and how he could deal with it. What she ultimately taught me was how, as a father, I could find peace during all those months of inner tornados. All this plus the invisible support that, thanks to her, we were able to give each other.

For me, the best part was the fact that we did it.

There’s a good chance that one of us, in the years to come, will feel the need or the urge to go back into therapy. That, too, was the added value and the investment of the past year. Making everything open to discussion, in secure surroundings, and with a patient listener. Now we can move on.

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.

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.

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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