Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Grieving”

Longing for a dog’s life

SUNDAY, July 18 – Elsa will be going to the farm, where she boarded for a few days in December and February. This time she’ll be there for four weeks, but her caregivers  have assured me that she’ll recognize us when we come to pick her up. How simple life must be when you have no sense of time. Sometimes I wish we were dogs and could cheerfully banish worries with a wag of our tail.

Be more social, widower!

WEDNESDAY, July 14 – Friend F does not mince her words. She tells me I shouldn’t isolate myself. She’s tried without success to make an appointment with me. I had finally come up with a suggestion, but at the last minute I had begged off. That’s something I’m good at: avoiding contact.  People accept that. The widower needs a bit of space, so leave him in peace.

This friend understands all that, but still has something to say: That I mustn’t forget that people are constantly thinking of me. That it’s not good to cut myself off from my friends. That it’s important to stay in touch, even if it’s just a five-minute conversation. For others to hear whether things are going well, or not. That friends are always there for me, but it’s good for them to know what’s going on. A simple sign of life is enough.

She’s right. There’s something egoistical about cutting yourself off and mourning on your own. In the beginning it was a question of survival, but after almost nine months the right to crawl into my shell has more or less expired. I promise to do my best.

How are you? I mean, YOU?

MONDAY, July 12 – ‘I feel just like you felt over Christmas,’ Grandma said, when I pressed her. Every time I asked her how she was doing, she started talking about one of her sons who’d done this or that. After two unsuccessful attempts, I discarded subtlety. ‘No, I want to know how you are.’

Good grief! Holland loses

SUNDAY, July 11 – Eamonn called right after the last whistle, to share his disappointment with us. In fact, he was hopping mad. ‘Well, son, now you know what I went through twice as a child.’ Losing a World Cup final.

Strangely enough, my memories of the 1974 game are stronger than those of 1978. I was nine when we lost to West Germany and I can still see each and every goal in detail. Neeskens. Breitner. Müller. Four years later my recollections of the World Cup, then in and against Argentina, were bound up with my father, who had died several months before. I could not accept the fact that he was unable to experience that game which was also the final.

The impact of my father’s death – the definitive irreversibility of the snuffing out of a life – was painfully reflected in his empty chair in the living room.  In the same ridiculous logic, I could accept the fact that Holland lost that night – stupid Rensenbrink! Hitting the post in overtime! – because it meant that my father hadn’t actually missed anything.

Neither had Jennifer, I concluded this evening when after the Spanish goal  Eamonn called shortly afterwards, highly indignant, but still he reasoned that Holland would have another chance in four years’ time. That sounded like a good plan to me. This kid will always make out okay. Life isn’t a bed of roses, but intuitively he takes a pragmatic approach.

Why worry about death?

THURSDAY, July 8 – I’ve never been a hypochondriac, but once in a great while I feel one of those terrifying physical symptoms that suggest my last moment has come. This morning under the shower I suddenly felt queasy and wondered what it would be like to suddenly collapse.

At times like that your imagination starts running away with you. Within seconds you see yourself already cremated and the children in good hands, while life – no doubt mildly traumatized – continues as usual. So, why worry?

The F-word for my wife’s killer

THURSDAY, July 1, 2010 – Judgment Day.  As he unlocked his bike, Eamonn intoned:  ‘Write in your diary that it’s all over. Thank heavens.’ Once more he succeeded in capturing in simple words what we all felt. No doubt that included the motorcycle cop, whom we’d just shaken hands with.

He was found guilty of Jennifer’s death. The sentence deviated from what the prosecutor had called for. Instead of a two-month conditional prison term, he was given 120 hours of community service. In keeping with the sentence, his driver’s license was suspended for six months. During sentencing, R sat in the dock and cried. We were in the front row, on the left, and looked stoically straight ahead.

What we felt? Relief, of course, that this chapter could now be closed. Actually it was all over two weeks before, after the trial. That was the worst day, the pain of reliving the accident and the first real confrontation with the culprit who sat there looking straight ahead, like a dead bird. Now and then he mumbled a few words, but he could not summon the courage to publically express his remorse.

‘What a nightmare,’ he stammered, as we sat opposite one another in the lawyer’s office. At my request, the meeting took place immediately after sentencing and on site. There were no lawyers present. That’s the way Eamonn – and Sander, too – wanted it, and actually I couldn’t see myself coming back sometime next week and reliving the nightmare. We want to look ahead.

I said that I didn’t really know what to say. That now, eight months later, things were getting a bit better. He began to cry. And so did I. And his girlfriend. The children said nothing.

Of course, there wasn’t much we could say. We looked one another in the eye.  Then, finally, came the expression of regret. The extended hand. We said we realized that he had never wanted this and that we remembered how he had immediately tried to help Jennifer. That he had snarled at Sander to get the dog out of the way. Of course he couldn’t have known that he was the victim’s son, with Elsa, her Elsa.

Sander spoke. ‘I don’t hate you. But I do hate what you did. This is probably the worst mistake you’ve ever made in your whole life.’

Eamonn said nothing and buried his face in the crook of his arm. R looked at him and began to cry again. Then the moment had come. I talked about forgiveness. The word rolled across the table in his direction. We were the first to leave the room. He and his girlfriend remained behind. There was no reason to look back.

Eamonn was right. Thank heavens it’s all over. Sander cycled on ahead of us and Eamonn told me that he’d been a bit afraid of R. and the judge in his black gown, whom we had thanked afterwards, had also given him a bit of a fright. Intimidating and overpowering. Still, there was one bright spot because what he had feared the most did not happen: ‘No images of the accident came back to me. Nothing.’

What did bother him was the fact that two grown men had sat there bawling. His father and the perpetrator. ‘I just hated that.’ Tears rolled down his cheeks as we crossed Stadion Road. THE Stadion Road. I told him how proud I was of him, and I said the same thing to Sander.

Jennifer’s children. They’re good. It’s all right.

Later that afternoon I sent the following statement to the press:

‘Today the truth has been established beyond the shadow of a doubt: A motorcycle policeman has been found guilty of causing Jennifer’s death. The police are supposed to protect us, give us a sense of security. At the same time, we are aware of the risks that policemen run and the risks they sometimes have to take in order to protect us, the public. We understand that.

But what now? I call upon the Amsterdam authorities, following this sentence, to take disciplinary action. In my view, this man no longer belongs on a police motorcycle. I also expect you to send a clear signal to all police personnel who participate in traffic. Let this be not only a lesson that cost our dear Jennifer her life, but also one that can prevent such tragedies in the future.

This verdict in no way diminishes the pain. The decision of the court cannot bring Jennifer back. It is unacceptable that someone who stepped onto the crosswalk when the light was green did not survive that act. And it remains unthinkable that the life of a young mother can be snuffed out by one moment of recklessness. My children and I will go on living. We love Jennifer and that’s something no one can take away from us.

Thank you.’

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.

All’s back to normal. Shit

MONDAY, June 28 – It hit Eamonn in class, Sander on his bike, and me when I opened the door of the fridge: everything is back to normal. And we know damned well what’s normal. Eamonn cried, Sander sighed and I swore. Yet, over dinner I explained that all this was normal. The boys agreed. Normality stinks.

No revenge, only justice

THURSDAY, June 17 – A brief message on Jennifer’s Facebook wall, addressed to her and her friends: ‘Today criminal proceedings will take place against the motorcycle cop who killed you. We will be there and we will speak on your behalf. We are not interested in revenge.  Only justice. We will be compassionate and charitable. That was how you lived. And that is why we love you.’

1:00 p.m. – We shake hands with him. I see fear. Yet, during the trial I address him as follows, in a voice that is firm and strangled at the same time.

“We are here today in order to hear the facts. We are here today to discover the truth. The technical facts of the accident are clear.  What you, Mr. R., brought about on the afternoon of Thursday, the 22nd of October 2009 was in my view avoidable and culpable. I believe this to be the truth, and I hope and trust that the court will come to the same conclusion.

What I came here to tell the court and you, Mr. R., is our truth. The facts of our everyday life, which came to a standstill on that Thursday afternoon.  Jennifer and the children were on their way to Beatrix Park. With our dog Elsa, who had come to live with us earlier that week. Naturally, every day was full of fun thanks to our new pet.

On that day as well. Then, Sander, our oldest son, noticed that Elsa had dropped a toy she’d been carrying in her mouth. Jennifer told the boys to go on, while she went back to pick up the toy. We know what happened after that. The testimony, the technical investigation, and your declaration are all indisputable. There are people who try to comfort us by claiming that Jennifer was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  I disagree.  Jennifer was in the right place, at the right time, and she waited until the light turned green so that she could cross safely.  How many times had she scolded us for casually crossing the road, even though the light was red?

But not Jennifer.  And that makes it unacceptable. And incomprehensible. We’ve all had moments of confusion when in some way we blamed ourselves. Sander wondered if he shouldn’t have said that Elsa dropped the toy. And our younger son Eamonn felt guilty for wanting to go to the park that day. And I tried to make sense of it all, to find a reason, something that could have prevented what happened.

Today, in court, we are seeing each other for the first time. In late October you wrote me a letter. To which I replied. I said, among other things, that I bear you no malice. That is not easy. I am unable to explain to myself, to my children, and to Jennifer’s family in America why this happened.  In the past seven months there were times when I did curse you and even hated you.

And yet I tell myself and the children that hate is uncalled for. That’s what  Jennifer would have said. No matter what happens, hate always causes more  pain than necessary. That was Jennifer. Humane. What you brought about that Thursday afternoon still cannot  be quantified. Time is both a good friend and a treacherous enemy. The shock, the pain, the realization, the grief, the depression, and the bereavement all have their own familiar patterns. No doubt you are going through a similar process yourself.

But where one day you will pick up the thread of your life, together with your family, we are left with a void which can never be filled. And I want you to know what my children have said to me:

‘Papa, do you know that Mom will never see us grow up. Papa, I know that some day we’ll have fun again, but to really enjoy things, the way we did with Mom, we can’t do that anymore. Papa, I want her to come back. Now. Papa, I don’t want to live any more.’

Moments that come by, moments that disappear again. For time heals even wounds like these. I know that from experience. But I want you to know that in America two elderly people, Jennifer’s father and mother, have no idea how to get through each day. Those wounds will not heal in the remaining time that is given them.

I want you to know that at times I don’t know how to get through the day either. That going to bed alone and getting up alone the next morning is pointless. That my career has suffered. And what is perhaps most frustrating is the realization that, while time will no doubt grant us new chances in life, Jennifer will always be denied them.

Mr. R, I am sure that there will come a moment of forgiveness, on the part of my children and me.  But that moment will have to wait until the law has taken its course and until you truly realize and acknowledge your responsibility as a participant in traffic, as a motorcycle cop, as someone who acts on behalf of the police, as someone who ought to know what is and what is not permitted in traffic, as someone who has betrayed that trust, and as someone who acted irresponsibly on that Thursday afternoon last October.

It is the task of the court to judge and to punish. Only then will we – you and my children and I – be able to get on with our lives. Without hate.  Thank you.

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.

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