Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Kid’s grieving”

Dreading his 10th birthday

MONDAY, July 5 – He doesn’t know what he wants. He knows that he’s not enthusiastic. It’s not that he’s sad or anything. He just isn’t cheerful and expectant, the way you ought to be two days before your birthday. It’s more like ‘been there, done that’. He doesn’t feel anything at all.

So I grab hold of him. Eamonn, it’s going to be a fantastic birthday.  And that’s a promise.

He’s not convinced. If you ask him what he wants for his birthday, then he knows. And can easily put it into words. ‘The present I want is impossible.’  

Don’t mince words. ‘Son, I know that what you want most of all is to get your mother back.’ I put my arm around him. And again I promise him:  ‘You’re going to have a wonderful birthday.’

Later that day I go into action. I buy tickets for the movie Toy Story 3, and inform three mothers that their sons will be picked up on Wednesday afternoon. I arrange for a birthday cake, which a good friend has offered to make. I dash into a store that sells party goods, and buy a selection of paper streamers, balloons, and candles for the cake. And then I buy a present that’s much too expensive and very much against our principles.

Principles. For years, Jenn and I had made it clear to the boys that we were against video games at home. They weren’t good for the children’s development and because we kept to our beliefs, they had stopped asking for them. But, now things are different and I decide to risk a posthumous marital quarrel. I buy a Wii.

I promised him a fantastic birthday, and that’s what he’s getting!

Composing his ‘Tears of Love’

SUNDAY, July 4 – Tonight, at my request, Sander plays the beginning of his new composition: ‘Tears of Love’, a piano piece for his mother. He stresses that it’s a work in progress. No matter. Each note is an embrace, and a musical step forward.

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.

Sharing shit with a friend

THURSDAY, June 24 – It’s close to midnight and Sander is dead tired, but he insists on coming with me when I take Elsa out. He wants to tell me something and there’s no need for his little brother to hear it.

In fact there’s nothing to tell, but he wants me to know that he had a really good talk with C’s older daughter P. They’re the same age and they’ll be going to the same school back in Amsterdam. They found each other within the exchange of their own personal shit.  Big differences, but even bigger similarities: the death or departure of a parent. Loss, that’s what they talked about.

‘And it really helped a lot to finally be able to talk to somebody about it,’ he said suddenly. He doesn’t want me ‘to be offended or anything’, since he knows he can always come to me. But he also wants me to know that there’s something that he’s able to share, something recognizable, with a friend. I give him a hug and say that friendship, true friendship, may well be the most important thing in life.

Grieving = ‘feeling funny’

WEDNESDAY, June 23 –  ‘I feel funny,’ Eamonn says, and he is visibly upset. He can’t explain exactly what it is. No, he’s not tired, despite spending the whole day in the pool and walking around Monaco, so that it’s way past his bedtime. No, it’s not about Mom, and not about C, and not about the accident, not about school, not about me or Sander, he just feels strange.  Okay, then climb onto my lap. That helps. A little.

Kissing in front of my boys

SATURDAY, June 19 – Whoa! We couldn’t help it. C and I saw each other for the first time, after three weeks of detailed emails, intense phone conversations, and affectionate text messages. We were simply no match for this intense lovesickness.

Kissing. Kissing in front of the boys (and her girls). It felt so good, so embarrassing, so natural, so honest.  Also, somewhat confronting for Sander and Eamonn. They totally ignored our kissing, but not really, as later became clear.

‘You probably noticed that C and I are very fond of each other,’ I began, as we headed back to the campgrounds after midnight.

Mumbles of assent.

‘So how to you feel about that?’

Sander began: ‘You know what you promised us in the hospital, right?’

‘Yes,’ said Eamonn, ‘you promised us you wouldn’t remarry.’

In a fraction of a second I was back in that moment. I remembered exactly how I responded to Eamonn’s remark, scarcely a minute after I told them that Mom would never wake up again. He was on my lap and Sander was standing next to me, all three of us were crying. And then, in a mad moment of visionary clarity and prospective anxiety, he turned to me and said: ‘And now you’re probably going to get married again. But not really, are you?’ My head was spinning as I replied with the words, ‘Kids, remarrying is probably just about the last thing on my mind.’

Fast forward to this night, in the car, on a jet-black, winding road in the hills outside Nice. It wouldn’t have been helpful to get into a discussion about the precise wording, so I said nothing.

Then Eamonn said, ‘Whatever happens, she’s not my mother.’

At least that was an opening.

‘Eamonn, you only have one mother, and that’s Mom. No one can ever replace her, and you can take my word for that.’

‘And, in any case,’ I said into the darkness, ‘marriage is so totally out of the question at this point.’ Definitely the last thing on my mind. Children apparently think several kisses ahead. I wonder how this is going to affect the security of their world?

‘Sander, what do you think?’

He didn’t feel really at ease, he admitted. And he’d had his suspicions earlier in the day. All that obsessive text messaging back and forth.

I had to laugh. He was not amused.

‘It feels as if you’ve already left Mom behind you. But actually, I don’t really want to talk about it.’

So we let it pass. But it was still racing around in my head. I was searching for a bit of wisdom that would do justice to their feelings – and my own.

And I found it. (I hope.) ‘Boys whatever happens, I will always love Mom. Forget her? Never, never, never. For grown-ups, for me, there’s also such a thing as personal happiness. But do you know what is even more important? My sons. You and you. You’re what counts. And nothing – and no one – will ever change that.’

And I meant every word.

Beyond longing for sex

SUNDAY, June 13 – My bedsprings creaked as a result of all my tossing and turning, and I woke up to find myself in a state of extreme confusion. Under the shower I rinsed away my nocturnal fatigue, ran a towel over my face, and looked in the mirror. Then it became clear.

It’s so simple, flirting with single colleagues and mothers in the schoolyard, and sampling various other romantic possibilities.  It’s satisfying, enjoyable, sexy, and good for your ego. But God almighty, how do you keep it up? How do you combine it with work. With children?  And why?  What’s the object of the exercise?

In her book You Can Call me Anytime, author and widow Karin Kuiper says that the patience of the people around you usually lasts about six months. They figure that the period of mourning ought to be over, and before long the potential partners descend on you like flies on molasses. And she’s right. I’ve seen it happen. And while it’s fun, in the long term it doesn’t get you anywhere.

This is something I realized during a long telephone conversation with C. I’d been corresponding with her for some time by email. She’s a recent divorcee with two daughters. At the moment they live in France, but they’ll soon be moving to Amsterdam. This morning was the first time we’d spoken to each other. It’s clear that we have a number of things in common, but we have more to offer each other than consolation. We are genuinely interested in each other, and this morning under the shower I was conscious of a kind of turning point in my present life:  one step back in superficiality in exchange for one step forward towards potential love

19.30 – Damn it, stomach ache. I mustn’t let on. Stomach ache due to nerves, but I see to it that my face is all smiles. Again and again I emphasize how jealous I am and what a lucky dog he is to be able to go on the trip. He just nods.

The youngest son is going on a class trip.

Not a day trip to an amusement park, but three days in Brussels, for Space Camp to learn what it’s like to be an astronaut. The high point is the micro-gravity experience:  the sense of being weightless. That’s what he’s really looking forward to. Just as I’m looking forward to the moment when I can put my arms around him again. Damn it! Why am I so worried? He wants to go, he’s enthusiastic, he’s going to be away three nights and he’s excited that he’ll be sharing a room with two of his best friends. So what’s the problem?

I pace back and forth holding the letter from school, with the list of things he’s supposed to take along and another list with the things he’s not allowed to bring.  Sleeping bag, pillowcase, mattress sheet, shoes with white soles, three pairs of underpants plus one extra, socks, three T shirts and an extra pair of pants go into the sports bag. In his backpack he’ll have his Dutch passport, a copy of his insurance card, and twenty euros for the souvenir shop. Cell phones are taboo, but they’ve made an exception for Eamonn.

He’s raring to go. But I’m not. I remember how he came home holding the letter in which the space camp was announced.  He was simply wild about the idea. Jenn and I exchanged glances, thinking how big our little guy was getting. We had all sorts of plans for those three days. We would have no problem finding an address for Sander for three days.

In the week after her death Eamonn announced that he would definitely not be going. He didn’t feel like going anymore and he couldn’t bear the thought of being away from home for even one night. Far away from me.  I said: we’ll see how you feel when the time comes.

And now that the time has come, I’m grateful and deliriously happy that he’s looking forward to the trip. Which is why I have a stomach ache.

A kid’s newspaper on grief

THURSDAY, June 10 – Is it okay if I use that newspaper, Papa? To read? No, to draw on. Faces with moustaches, glasses, a new hairdo, and rotten teeth. Dutch politicians Balkenende, Rutte, Wilders and Cohen are horribly mutilated. Together, we laugh at his caricatures. Did you do that when you were little, Papa? Hell, yes. 

With the tip of his tongue between his lips, Eamonn starts on another portrait.

‘You know what, Papa?  I’d think it would be fun to make a newspaper.’

Way to go, an editor-in-chief in the family!  Not an illustrator, but a writer.

‘What kind of newspaper, son?’

‘A newspaper with stories about children who’ve gone through the same things I have. Stories for each other.’

Our elder son joins in the discussion.

‘Somewhere I saw a book like that, with stories.’

A while back I’d left the book on the coffee table, so they could leaf through it if they felt the urge. There are fellow-sufferers out there and a lot of them are children.

‘Do you feel as if you’ve changed?’ I ask Sander.   

‘Yes. I grew up from one day to the next. Suddenly I had to face up to reality,’ he says with remarkable clarity. ‘Sometimes I wish I was ordinary again, just like the kids in my class.’

‘Could be a good story for the newspaper,’ I venture.

But my young editor-in-chief has already started on a wig for Labor Party boss Cohen. Priorities.

Traumatised by the images

SATURDAY, June 5 – Back to square one. That’s what it feels like. The physical numbness, the uncontrollable tears, the big hug on the baseball field when Eamonn threw in the towel. The will is there, but he can’t do it. All because of him. He hates him, and I understand those feelings all too well.

Yesterday Eamon walked into my study where Sander had just discovered an article with the news that the motorcycle cop is soon to be prosecuted. The photo knocked him for a loop. Luckily, there was no photo of the ambulance men putting his mother on the stretcher. But there was a silent witness: the overturned motorcycle.

That was the image that remained imprinted on his retina. It continued to haunt him this morning, paralyzing his body. He couldn’t think of anything else and all he wanted was to be held tight. In the dugout, on the sidelines, in the parking lot… He wanted desperately to play, but he couldn’t. Because baseball was Mom, and Mom was baseball.

All he said was ‘I want Mom back’.

We went home after the warm-up. On the way to the car Eamonn said: ‘Let’s stay real close to each other today.’

I feel strong. I want to be there for Eamonn, for Sander, for myself, and for Jenn as well. I know I can do it – the trial is not too far away. I intend to make use of my legal right to speak. In my mind the first few sentences are taking shape. I will talk about  determining exactly where the truth lies. The judicial truth, but above all the truth of our life. The facts of the investigation and the facts of our day-to-day life.

Compassion, despite the hate

FRIDAY, June 4 – I was furious, but I didn’t let on. When Sander called to tell me how his whole morning was screwed up, I served as a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

Things went wrong almost from the start: he couldn’t concentrate and his head was full of images of the accident.

His teacher took him aside and it was clear that his frustration had to find an outlet. ‘I want to smash something to pieces,’ Sander said, and she gave him a canvas to give free rein to his anger, and work off his frustration.

That didn’t really help, Sander said, so she gave him a knife and told him to use it on the canvas. At that point, I asked, ‘And what did you do?’

‘I pretended that the canvas was R,’ he said, ‘and I began stabbing him.’

I felt the floor give way under my feet, but I didn’t let on. Mentally I cursed the teacher, who undoubtedly meant well but should never have allowed something like that to happen. It’s contrary to everything Jennifer and I have tried to teach our boys.

Violence is never the solution, no matter how great the hate and loathing.

Violence doesn’t solve the problem and imagining that you’re plunging a knife into the body of the man responsible for your mother’s death is totally unacceptable.  I understand his feelings of unspeakable hatred, but I know that the only thing you can do with hate is to transform it into anger.

From hate to anger, and from anger to acceptance.

It is quite something else to imagine R sitting in front of you, while you call him all sorts of horrible names. That can actually bring a kind of relief. Imagining what it would be like to use violence against him won’t get you anywhere. I’ll have to talk to Sander about this. Both boys know that Mom preached compassion. Even for the man who killed her.

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