Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Kid’s grieving”

Punching at our sad reality

THURSDAY, June 3 – Bought a punching bag today, with three pairs of gloves. To work off our anger and frustration. Eamonn goes first, but quickly throws himself face-down onto the bed, in tears. ‘What I realize is that Mom will never see us grow up.’

I know, Eamonn.  I know.

I often think of my father who never saw me grow up either. He sees the connection. ‘That’s really sad,’ he says, as he considers what that means in the here and now, ‘because you have a really good position at work.’  And I add, ‘But also because my father never saw what great boys you are.’

His boxing gloves feel soft and smooth against my shoulder blades. For now, no more blows fall.

‘This is the perfect life’

FRIDAY, May 28 – Eamonn wakes me up. He has a drawing in his hand. For me. There are four people and two animals at the top of a hill and Papa has his arm over Mom’s shoulder. Big brother has his arm over his little brother’s shoulder. On the left the cat, on the right the dog. ‘This is a perfect life,’ Eamonn explains. Tears come to my eyes and I go off to look for a frame for the drawing.

Long after midnight – the guests have departed and the house is empty. The dishwasher is doing its work. At this ungodly hour, Elsa went to the end of the street, did her duty and trotted back. Long enough, said her sleepy-eyed look. I couldn’t agree more. It was a good party: friends, singing, music. Eamonn was exuberant and refilled all the glasses. As usual, Sander was in charge and delighted everyone by playing the piano. What’s left to be said? Maybe that the house is still empty and will always be empty. Very empty.

It’s okay to have fun

SUNDAY, May 23 – We’re off Later to a barbecue at a friend’s house.  Eamonn is clearly not looking forward to the outing. He says it’s because he’s never really enjoyed anything since Mom’s death. Of course, he sometimes has fun, ‘but it’s not real pleasure, if you know what I mean, Papa.’

It’ll come back, I venture. He has his own thoughts on the matter, but he says nothing.

Later that evening, as we’re driving home, I ask Eamonn if he had a good time. He can hardly say no, since during the barbecue he and another kid seemed to do nothing but race by, screaming with laughter. He nodded. Yeah, it was fantastic. As he spoke the words, he remembered what he had maintained so emphatically earlier in the day. His face fell and he corrected himself:  ‘It was okay.’

I struck while the iron was hot. ‘It’s more than okay to enjoy yourself, Eamonn. More than okay.’ I accepted his silence.

Haunted by the images

FRIDAY, May 21 – I have a feeling this could be one of our last visits to the psychologist.  It was a meaningless session during which we didn’t really discuss anything, and the boys were full of playful banter. A couple more times, maybe, and then we can make it on our own.

But how wrong I was – I failed to pick up on the signals.

The evening before Sander had indicated that he was still haunted by images of the accident. This time it was worse than ever. He said he was able to put himself in the shoes of both his mother and the police officer. He relived the accident as victim and as perpetrator. What he called a ‘bad moment’ was something that came and went. At least, that’s what I’d thought.

Today he didn’t want to talk about it with the psychologist, so we dropped the subject until this evening:  twice we get into a furious argument and twice we make up. Then the truth finally comes out. Today he was sent out of the classroom.  There’d been anger and frustration leading to miscommunication with his Dutch teacher.

‘I’m tired of explaining to her that it’s because of the accident,’ he said. So, he didn’t tell her why he was acting up and as a result, his conduct was misinterpreted – by me as well.

I’m so thankful that I’m able to talk to both my boys; although not necessarily immediately or on request. At some point the topic comes up, often spontaneously, and that’s the real advantage. This is one of the results of the weekly sessions with the psychologist that I had gotten going the week after the cremation. Every Friday afternoon from two to three we’ve been there, all three of us. Laying the foundation for the real therapeutic work, if that proved necessary in the future.

Now that future is knocking on the door. Sander himself came up with the diagnosis ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.  He must have picked it up somewhere and then realized what was actually going on inside him. I emailed the psychologist and she can squeeze us in on Monday afternoon. Little by little we’re going to sweep away all the shit from the past. With professional help, not by lovingly brushing it aside with paternal hugs – which he gets anyway.

Just wanting to be alone

SUNDAY, May 16 – We all have a right to our shitty moments. Today it was Eamonn ‘s turn. After a fun morning together at IKEA where we had bought a desk for him, he’d had a great afternoon with his best friend. But, then, someone suddenly snuffed out the candle.

I found him lying on my bed, in voluntary solitude, for which he apologizes later that evening.

‘I didn’t even want to be with you, Papa.’

But there’s nothing wrong with that.

‘I was afraid you’d be hurt.’

Absolutely not. I have moments like that, too, when all I want is to be alone.


Yes, really. Problem solved.

It could always be worse

THURSDAY,  May 13, 2010 – A plane crash in Tripoli, Libya. Seventy Dutch passengers killed. It’s all over the news. Shocking news, which I try to shield the children from.  Eamonn sees the news anyway and asks: ‘Tripoli … is that far away?’

Yes, it’s far away. The geographical distance gives him a sense of security. Until he hears that a nine-year-old boy named Ruben is the only survivor of the crash. I do my best to keep the photos from him since the intensive care unit in that far-away hospital is identical to the one Mom was hooked up to in the hospital here in Amsterdam.

We end up talking about Ruben that evening when we go out to dinner. Sander’s friend comes along, and he describes the incident down to the last detail. I can see Eamonn thinking. That means that Ruben is the same age as I am and he’s just crashed in an airplane and is lying in a hospital. Not only his mother is dead, but also his father and his brother.

For a moment he’s silent. ‘That means that what’s happened to him is even worse than what we are going through,’ he concludes. ‘I guess you could say that,’ I concur with relief. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Time to celebrate again

WEDNESDAY,  May 12 –  I never knew we had such beautiful plates and cups and stuff. All of it was stored on the bottom shelf of the cabinet in the dining room and I’m seeing it for the first time, as I unwrap the various pieces.  Dinner plates, bowls, serving dishes.  Magnificent.

Never seen them before – or maybe never noticed them, due to lack of interest. Everything was unused. No doubt wedding gifts from aunts and uncles, carefully tucked away, afraid something might get broken which would have been a shame.

There were more surprises. Things the boys had made over the years, which I had long since forgotten. An imprint of five-year-old Sander’s hand in a plaster heart, for Mother’s Day. A snowman made out of an old sock, with ‘Eamonn’ scrawled across the front. The most touching memento was hidden in the wooden shoes someone gave us when Sander was born:  a handwritten card accompanying the flowers that Eamonn had bought for Jenn last year:

Happy 41st* B-Day Mom!

The asterisk was clarified on the reverse in red letters:  ‘Even though you look 25’.

This afternoon Eamonn came up with the idea of organizing a party on the 28th of this month, her birthday and to ask the same people who were invited to the Halloween Party that was cancelled last October. Eamonn declared that ‘it was time to celebrate something again’.

I told him he was a wise child.

Getting rid of her clothes

TUESDAY, May 4 – The house was quiet and serene when I woke up. Sander in Switzerland, Eamonn staying overnight with a friend in Arnhem. For the first time, a night alone.  It felt good, really good.  Empty house, empty head.  Now I can focus all my energy on moving to our new place later this week.

I mucked out Sander’s room. Then, I collected Jennifer’s clothes from the attic and took them to a church on the other end of the city.  That had always been the plan. Our downstairs neighbor suggested a used clothed store in the neighborhood, but I didn’t want to risk running into someone wearing one of Jenn’s dresses. No way.

When I threw the bags down the stairs, one of them split open and a couple of sweaters fell out. I smelled them. Nope. No Jennifer, no memories. A clothing smell I didn’t recognize. I put them in a new bag and loaded everything into the car. Mustn’t stop now. Just keep going. Think about today. Not about yesterday when she was wearing the clothes, not about tomorrow when someone else might be wearing them.

A shiver went down my spine. Just keep your head cool, I tell myself. This is my chance to get rid of the clothes, once and for all. Gone. At the drop-off point, no questions were asked and I felt no need to elaborate. The bags were added to the existing pile and, as I wrote on her Facebook wall: ‘Some time soon a number of women will be wearing purple.’

23:00 – By that evening I’d already picked up Eamonn from his stay in Arnhem.  A two-night sleepover was a bridge too far. When we got home, all he wanted to do was cuddle – as close to me as possible, and vice versa. Security is the mantra. After taking a shower he grabbed me and said, ‘I want Mom back.’

If only I could make that happen.

‘If only life was a video game,’ he said. ‘Then we could die and come back to life again.’

Contemplating ‘that way out’

MONDAY, May 3 – Eamonn is bored stiff, to the point where he himself decides that even the computer is monotonous.  Nothing on TV, nothing playing at the movies, it’s pouring, so no baseball on the corner lot and the bowling alley is fully booked. As a last resort, I suggest we go to the indoor driving range. I try to pep him up – getting out of the house is the first step. We take a bucket of golf balls up to the top floor, where it’s quiet.

We don’t get any further than ten balls. He’s angry and it looks like he’s ready to bash something, just to blow off steam. He sits down and then he seems to fold.  I sit down next to him and he moves closer. Let’s not do anything for a while. Just talk, he says. Good idea.

We talk about ‘him’, the one we’re angry with. Eamonn hates him.

We talk about ‘her’, the one we want back. Eamonn misses her.

I allow myself to say the word ‘dead’. He says: that’s a horrible word, I don’t want to say that word, or even think about it. And yet, it keeps going through his head and filling his thoughts. We hit the last ball together. Then he leans over the railing and asks me what would happen if he jumped.  You’d break both your legs, and if it was a bad fall, you’d be dead.

I tell it like it is since I’m starting to suspect something. As we gather up the golf clubs, I ask him if he has recently wished that he was dead.  Yes, of course, he says. Was that really what he had wanted. No, not really. When was this?

‘Three months after the accident. I didn’t want to go on living like that,’ Eamonn said simply. When I asked him why he didn’t tell me, he said it was because I hadn’t been home at the time.

At any rate, the feeling did go away and as I go on asking him questions, as carefully as I can, he says that no, that isn’t what he wants. He’s sure about that. But what if thoughts like that enter your mind… ‘Yes, I know, then I’ll come to you.’

Or your brother, okay? Yes, that’s settled. I promise myself again and again that no matter what, I’ll be there for him. Being there – that’s become the key to our life together.

We need a break from life

SUNDAY, May 2 – At eight o’clock this morning I dropped Sander off at his friend’s house.  He’s going to spend a week in Switzerland with the rest of the family. Yesterday we had a bit of a crisis. ‘I don’t want to go, and I’m not going!’

He was dreading the trip. ‘I’ve seen enough of my friend already. And we’re going to a country where I don’t speak the language. What am I supposed to do there?  Stupid mountains. They don’t even have internet. All I need is a break from life.

He has a point there. That’s what we all need, but staying at home is not a good idea. And at this late date, he can’t back out. So, I summoned up the patience of a saint – for me, a true accomplishment – and managed to convince him. Or rather, I bribed him by letting him borrow my camera. If things get really difficult later in the week, I promised to jump in the car and drive to Switzerland.

And I meant it. If necessary, I’d drive the nine hours there and nine hours back in one go. Luckily, Sander’s mood soon changed. The sun came out and continued to shine right up to this morning. But then my eyes started to blur and the tears came. It’ll be the first time since October that he’s slept somewhere else. And for a whole week. Big deal for this Daddy.

I’m going to miss him and I hope he’ll miss me, but that guarantee lasts only until the moment your soon-to-be teenager closes the car door just after eight o’clock and disappears behind the horizon. And that’s as it should be.

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