Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Kid’s grieving”

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.

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.

Doing really well… NOT

TUESDAY, August 31 – He’s enjoying life at the top of his voice. He goes around the house singing, baking cookies for everyone, and playing the piano. This has been going on for days. ‘Come and sit down for a minute, son,’ I tell Sander. ‘How are you doing?’

Pretty well, apparently. But I try to explain that I find his uninhibited cheerfulness a bit worrying. That it wouldn’t surprise me if one of these days he had a relapse. That’s only normal and I wanted him to know that if that happened, I’d be there for him.

‘I had a bad moment today.’

This surprises me. ‘Really? I didn’t notice anything.’

It happened while he was on the way to the Conservatory. He was on his bike and had to stop for a traffic light, when all of a sudden he started swearing. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Just plain mad. Because Mom was gone. Because he had to go to his music lesson for the first time since Summer vacation and because everything seemed so ordinary.

‘I’m glad to hear that,’ I say.

Now it was his turn to look surprised.

‘I’d be really worried if you didn’t have moments like that, Sander. It’s only been ten months.’

‘That’s a pretty long time.’

‘We’ve got a much longer way to go, Sander. No matter what happens with you, with us, with C and her children, what our lives are like, and where we finally end up, just remember that I’ll be there for you.’

He still looked slightly surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have made such an issue of it, but it was for my own peace of mind, as well. I still have to pinch myself and the children every once in a while. Just to make sure we’re not dreaming.

Is life some kind of contest?

SATURDAY, August 28 – I give in. I can’t go through it all again: grab hold of him, kiss his forehead, and try to talk him into it. Convince him that the pleasure that baseball once gave him will come back, that he’s a good player and that his team needs him. I’m trying to make him realize that he well… what actually?

I give in. He looked at me with that wounded look. I saw the pain in his eyes. I saw his contorted body. I felt the tension in his head, the throbbing of his heart. I heard the desperation in his voice when he asked: ‘Papa, do we really have to go to baseball practice?’

I give in. Why should I keep trying to persuade him? Why force him? Why bring back those memories that cause him so much pain?  He told me himself. ‘When I go to baseball practice, I go through it all over again.’ Why pretend to him and to myself that continuing to play baseball, the sport that he and his mother loved, can become part of a healing process?

I give in. ‘Okay, Eamonn. We’re not going to baseball practice. Maybe we ought to sit down and talk about the rest of the season.’  He visibly relaxes. Is this a victory or a defeat?  I don’t know;  but if today I happen to bump into the convicted motorcycle cop, he can expect an enormous punch in the nose. Maybe two.

I’ve finally given in, I say to C, in search of understanding or at least a bit of support.  She looks up, ‘How do you mean, given in? Is life some kind of contest?’ Good point, I admit.

Not just another first school day

THURSDAY, August 26 – ‘I’m going to be late for work, on purpose,’ I whispered in Eamonn’s ear. It was the first day of the new school year and things were as chaotic as always.  The children are super-nervous, and the parents themselves are so worked up they can’t seem to calm their offspring.

For some inexplicable reason, I thought I could just drop him off and then go on to work where I had an important nine-o’clock appointment. I was going up the stairs of the school when I realized that I probably wasn’t going to make it. Eamonn buried his face in my coat and clung to me.

I went inside with him into the jumble of careening children, tense parents, and teachers doing their best to put on a heartwarming face. Eamonn opted for the role of statue and I was his pedestal. The hands of the clock moved inexorably toward nine o’clock. I tried to pry him loose by telling him that I was almost certainly not going to get to Hilversum on time.

He saw his chance. ‘Will you come to the classroom with me?’ he replied. I couldn’t refuse. Just this once, I thought to myself. There was another boy who’d also persuaded his father to go along to the classroom.

‘Do you know why this is so hard for me?’ Eamonn whispered in my ear. ‘My new teacher doesn’t know about what happened.’

‘Of course he knows.’

He didn’t believe me.

Fortunately the teacher came straight over to us. Unasked, he came up with a solution. ‘If necessary, Eamonn can call you during recess. And we have people here he can talk to if things get to be too much for him.’

I looked at Eamonn. ‘You see?’

His face brightened. A new year, but everything was familiar. He would find a place for his grief, in his heart, in the classroom. He gave me a kiss and walked down the corridor with his teacher.

That afternoon he called me:  ‘My teacher is fantastic. He’s telling jokes all the time.’ I talked to Eamonn while I was at the pre-seasonal press conference of the Dutch public broadcasting networks. Surrounded by colleagues I’d last seen a year ago, I tried to launch into interesting conversations; however, my attempts were invariably stranded in a brief silence that gave rise to the question:  ‘And how are you doing now?’

Will it ever get any easier? Maybe when there are people around me who don’t know about our ordeal?

Terribly angry and desperate

TUESDAY, August 24 – I had a premonition.  Despite a hug here, a giggle there, it was a quarter of an hour before I actually shut the door behind me. Even after I again promised that I’d be at the baseball field at the stroke of six and not a second later. ‘I’ll be on time for your game. Honest!’ He still looked at me as if he didn’t quite believe me.

I’d laid out his uniform on the bed. His new glove on top and the new shoes next to the bag with helmet and bat. Bottle of water. All this so he won’t have to worry about that when his coach comes to pick him up. Good preparations are half the work and yet this proved to be the herald of an unexpected relapse.

Eamonn called just after lunch. He wanted to know, ‘why can’t I get home sooner?’ Patiently, I explained that I had several appointments at work and that later in the afternoon I had to go to Amsterdam for another meeting; but, I assured him that I’d be at the field on time. He went on grumbling. I began to lose patience and spoke to him in a gruffer more-businesslike manner.

Less than a half hour later, I had good news. One of my appointments had been cancelled, so I knew for sure I’d be there well before the start of the game, maybe even during the warming-up. Telling him the news, he burst into tears. ‘I miss you, Papa’.

Sigh. I told him I missed him, too. On my way to Amsterdam, he called again. Couldn’t I get there a little bit earlier. Impossible. Could I tell him what time I thought I could get to the field. No later than ten to six, I promise with my hand on my heart. This was getting to be annoying, but in a way I understood. The first game after the Summer break. Of course, he’d be nervous after five weeks off.  It’s also only a couple of days before school opens.

Triumphantly I set course for the field. With any luck, I should be able to make it in half an hour. Then, suddenly, I got a text message from Sander. Could I call him back right away? Something had happened at home. I’d barely gotten through when I heard Eamonn  ranting and raving in the background. A bit of a crisis, I was told.

The phone was handed to Eamonn who was crying in long, anguished gasps. Then he said something.

‘I’m sorry, Eamonn, I can’t understand you.’

Still unintelligible.

‘What did you say?’

Again, I couldn’t make head nor tails of what he was saying.

‘Calm down, Eamonn! Take a deep breath and repeat what you just said.’

For a moment he was silent.

‘Papa,’ he began, and then he told me what was bothering him, and what he’d been thinking about.

A brief pause on my end.

‘Son, do you really feel that bad?’

‘Papa, I’m so terribly angry.’

‘I know, son, I know.’

‘No, you don’t, Papa. You don’t know how angry I am.’

He was probably right. This morning I left the house thinking he was going to have fun with his baseball buddies. It was only normal that he was a bit nervous. But so angry? And so distraught?

I kept him talking until I got home. The front door flew open and he came running. The phone fell on the doormat. We held each other tight and without saying anything, walked inside, went upstairs to my bedroom and lay down on the bed, still holding each other tight.  We still didn’t say anything. I didn’t feel anger, but there was fear.

‘Were you really that angry, Eamonn?

‘Yes, Papa, terribly angry.’

‘That surprises me a little. I thought things were really improving.’

‘I’m angry every day, Papa. Every day.’

‘Every day?’

‘Yes, a little bit. Sometimes a couple of times a day. But I usually know how to deal with it. Until today. I just got angrier and angrier and…’

I decided it would be better not to go into what he’d said on the phone. Earlier this year he’d promised to come straight to me. That was now. He had come to me. And I was there.

‘What are you angry about?’

‘About everything.’

‘Are you mad at the motorcycle cop?’

‘A little bit.’

‘Are you angry because Mom isn’t here anymore?’

‘Yes, that’s part of it.’

He buried his head in my armpit and nodded. ‘A little bit.’

I understood.

‘Are you angry because I’m at work, and not here with you and your brother?’


Damn it. He had every right to be angry. Damn it.

Spreading little mementoes

SATURDAY, August 21 – I’ve finally found the time to tackle the bookcase in my office.  All those weighty documents that have been lying there for months, looking smugly important. Until now I haven’t really had a chance to go through them in order to decide which ones need immediate attention and which can be relegated to a large box up in the attic.

Certain items are quickly moved to a spot beyond my field of vision: Jenn’s medical records, the criminal file, the correspondence with the crematorium, the insurance company, and the mortgage company from when Jennifer was still alive. All the condolences go straight to the attic and a folder with Jenn’s favorite recipes goes to the kitchen.

I hang her ballet slippers in the living room and on top of the bookshelves in the dining room I place the bottle of wine someone gave us on our wedding day (which we polished off one year later).

Her college diploma ends up in Eamonn’s bedroom. He’s thrilled and has already decided he’s also going to Swarthmore. Let this inspire him.  I put the photo of Jenn with the dog on Sander’s dresser. It’s a beautiful portrait.  It was also on her casket. The last few weeks I found it a bit distracting, the way her face stared back at us so intently. No doubt, Sander will appreciate it.

Quite to the contrary, I hear:  ‘I don’t want that photo in my room. It belongs downstairs, on the piano.’ He won’t budge an inch, so I do as he says.

“It’s okay if you get married”

MONDAY, August 9 – Night has fallen, but we’re wide awake and restless. In the moonlight the waters of Lake George continue to roll restlessly. On the small pier in front of the hotel we see three comfortable chairs and we accept the invitation.

We realize that we’re tired and ready to call it a day – to leave the country we still regard as our fatherland, but Amsterdam is our home, even though we speak English there.  Her and their native language. Even I find it easier to express my emotions in this language.

‘I smile a lot more,’ Eamonn says, as we attempt to draw up the balance. Things are improving. It’s not all good, but it’s better. A lot better, in fact. I remind Eamonn of the moment when he declared that he would never be able to have fun again.  ‘So things actually can get better,’ I say.

Sander agrees. ‘Things feel right. We’re starting to get over it.’

I have no desire to undermine, qualify or feed his optimism. I leave it at that. Sitting here, on the pier, we can take on the whole world.

‘You know what, Papa?  I’d understand if you and C got married.’


‘Watch what you’re saying,’ I laugh.

‘No, I mean in a year or so. That would be all right.’

‘Thank you, Sander.’

Eamonn has something to say, and requests the floor.

But first: ‘Papa, you mustn’t put this in your book. Not yet.’

I give him my word.

Then he tells us what he’s planning to do in a little over two months, what he wanted to do last May, but couldn’t.  What he’ll do later. Sander and I are deeply impressed. On one condition, he says: that we do it together. Sounds like a great plan.

And one thing is clear:  We’re doing well. Very well, indeed.

Whoa, plans for the future!

SUNDAY, July 25 – The advantage of a road trip is that you’re bound to get into some good conversations. Music has a way of postponing talk, while there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of silence. But a trip that lasts longer than three hours, inevitably invites confidences… that verbal connection. The golden moments.

Sander began, after it had become clear that the line of traffic in the direction of the beach was going to keep us together for some time. He talked about wanting to open up a restaurant. Didn’t Papa have a catering diploma, which meant that we could start up a business right away? Yes, but I’d also need a retailer’s diploma. Well, can’t you hurry up and get one, so we can start up a business together.

‘Yeah,’ said Eamonn, ‘and what’s unique about our restaurant is that children will work as waiters and waitresses.’ Our fantasy knows no bounds. What kind of music would we play? And would customers get free refills? And what kind of food would we serve? And would C and her children want to join in? There in the car, we put together a menu, an interior, a workforce, and customers, together with ambitions and a plan for the future.

Until Sander suddenly raised a question: ‘Would Mom have liked the idea, too? Would she have joined in?’  And then he added in the same breath that ‘it really isn’t important what Mom would have wanted, because she’s gone’. I let that colossal statement pass and sink in. At the end of the day I still hadn’t come up with a satisfactory analysis.  Let’s call it healthy progress.

The amazing person, my Mom

WEDNESDAY, July 7 – At the stroke of seven, as agreed, he’s sitting there with the gift-wrapped present on his lap. Next to him a sleepy older brother and opposite him a worn-out father, who has decorated the living room with paper chains, balloons, cards and that one big present. The one the birthday boy isn’t sure he’s going to like. ‘Eamonn, don’t worry. Just open it.’

He looks a bit doubtful as he tears off the gift paper and he sees what’s underneath. He looks at me, then at the present, and then back at me.

‘Papa, this is against the rules.’

‘Yep,’ I say, with a touch of triumph in my voice.

‘Mom would be furious with you.’

‘Yep,’ I say again, with that same triumph.

Sander laughs out loud. ‘Mom would be sending you ‘post-death’ divorce papers.’

‘Yep,’ I say. That’s the morbid humor I share with my older son, which we’re gradually perfecting.

2:00 p.m. – I awake with a start in the movie theater. The film is nearing the end, so I must have dozed off for three-quarters of an hour. On my left are the birthday boy and his brother and on my right three boys from his class. Toy Story 3 is about Andy, who at the age of seventeen, takes leave of his puppets Woody and Buzz.

In one of the scenes Andy is about to leave for college. His mother, who’s standing in his bedroom, is suddenly overcome by her emotions. Behind the dark 3-D glasses I feel the tears welling up. Damn it. Here I am sniveling while the five boys are laughing, chatting and devouring popcorn.

That film fragment went straight to my heart: the mother sees her grown son leave home. Something not reserved for Jennifer and her boys. Boom. I let the tears flow. In the dark no one notices.

7:00 p.m. – Eamonn had made his announcement that morning. Now the moment has come, and as soon as everyone has a glass, Sander broaches the subject. ‘Eamonn, it’s time for a toast.’

He doesn’t mince his words. He’s knows what he wants to say, he’s rehearsed it, and he means it. ‘To Mom. Cheers.’

Cheers! That’s all. What had to be said has been said.

10.30 p.m. – When asked what the best part of the day was, he said, ‘That I’m in double digits now.’ He’s turned ten. A job well done, I say, but it’s also an inevitable and painful step. What makes it so damned hard is the realization that he is no longer nine years old, the age at which he lost his mother. This birthday increases the gap.

Towards midnight I get out the speech that Eamonn had written himself (including the sole misspelled word) and had also been planning to read during the cremation service.  He couldn’t manage it, but that wasn’t a problem. On his behalf, I spoke the following words:

“The amazing person, my Mom

Mom, I only knew you for only 9 years, and I have decided that that is too short. I hope that you can understand that, because you were way too young to die. You didn’t deserve to get hit by that motorcyclist. I remember that you always liked music and Buddhism, and I hope that you always will. We are all very upset about this incident, and we hope that you will have a peaceful life from now on. You were the strongest and bravest Mom that I have ever known. Please be strong and kind forever, and we will always belive in your cheerful spirit. RIP Mom.”

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