Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Three Guys”

One year later. We’ve done it

SUNDAY, October 24 – ‘Now where were we?’ I joke, as I stand there in front of 130 guests gathered in the concert hall of the Amsterdam Conservatory.

Most of them I hadn’t seen in almost a year, since the cremation service. We’d taken leave of each other in sadness, but with hope in our hearts. This afternoon I don’t intend to grieve for our loss, but rather celebrate the fact that we are here today. That we are not only alive, one year later, but also living.

This morning I’d re-read the speech I gave then. At the crematorium I’d frequently quoted Jennifer, herself and her most important message was, ‘Live now. Live in the moment’.

(Why this blog? Click here)

That’s what we’re doing, together with musician friends, whose contributions are much appreciated. In my thank you-speech, I referred to the past year as a ‘piece of crap’. I impress on them how difficult it has been without describing each and every crap moment. I stress life, and offer a number of variations on the theme:  Survive. Experience. Empathize. Live on. Enjoy ourselves.

And that’s what we’re doing this afternoon. Emcee Sander is the ultimate entertainer, addressing the audience with amazing aplomb between several pieces on the piano. He’s also a genuine crooner, as if he’s spent most of his waking hours in smoky cafes. He winds the audience around his little finger, as he introduces the various acts. Effortlessly.  And the kid is only thirteen. When I was his age, I was almost afraid to look people in the eye in answer to them merely asking me a simple question. This afternoon it is clear to all that Sander is a born performer.

Eamonn brings the first set to a close with the rock ballad ‘Basket Case’ by Green Day. There are tears running down my face and I’m not the only one as this ten-year-old takes his place on a high-backed chair and starts to play. It’s as if he’s sitting on the living room couch, casually strumming away. He plays and sings, makes a mistake in the middle of a song, laughs at himself, picks up the thread, and then finishes the song amid a tumultuous storm of applause. Proudly he returns to his seat alongside me.

God, how I love my children. Jenn’s children.

The first anniversary of her death is a true celebration. Just as I had envisioned it:  a memorable afternoon with family and friends, during which Jennifer was present in the music. It was a fitting way to introduce C: living proof that love is possible after tragedy. May our hearts be filled with the spirit of Jennifer’s beloved Baudelaire poem, so that we take no notice of the passing time.

Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,

Get drunk!

Stay drunk!

On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!

We are alive. No matter whether our stay on earth is long or it is short, that’s what it’s all about.

(Would you like to go to the start of my blog, one year earlier? Click here and scroll down)

From young kid to young man

SATURDAY, October 23 – It’s a miracle: Sander’s going to the barbershop for the first time in a year and a half. C and her daughters are tagging along as advisers. Then they’re off to the mall. Sander buys a velvet blazer, tight jeans and a striped shirt. I was so used to his eternal white T-shirt and sloppy jeans that I almost didn’t recognize him in his new clothes. A young man. If only she could have seen him. Is there such a thing as vicarious pride?

Retracing her last foot steps

FRIDAY, October 22 – I take the dog out for a short walk before starting breakfast. Eamonn comes along. ‘Papa,’ he asks, ‘when you’re old, will you get a really huge dog like the one we saw in the park the other day?

‘Sure. An old geezer probably needs a big dog.’


‘Why did you want to know?’

‘Because then I can come by with my kids and you’ll let them ride on his back.’

Something tells me this is going to be a good day.

11:34 –  ‘Do you really think I should do it, Papa?

‘Eamonn, this is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.’

‘I know. But do you think I ought to do it?’

‘To be perfectly honest, yes. I think it’ll do you good.’

He tumbles onto the bed and I leave him behind in my bedroom. It’s his decision, his idea, and his moment. I mustn’t try to decide for him. I start to fix lunch. That’ll give him time to think.

‘Okay,’ he says, ‘let’s go. Not on foot. By bike,’ he says.

We’re off.

At the flower shop on Beethoven Street we buy a bunch of red and white roses. The saleswoman thinks we’re a bit odd because we don’t want the stems trimmed and we don’t need wrapping paper. We cycle past our old house. There’s a brief moment of confusion about which street we should take to get to Stadion Road. Eamonn hasn’t been here for a while. One year, to be exact.

It was during the summer vacation that he decided he wanted to cross the street there Just like ‘then’, when he was with his mother, his brother and Elsa. This morning he said he was ready to go there, but asked if we could go in the morning and not at ten to four in the afternoon. He wanted to put it all behind him.

We turn the corner at 11.57 a.m. and the crosswalk comes into sight. We follow the sidewalk until we reach the spot. He starts to cry softly. We park the bikes and Eamonn gives me a hug. I lock his bike for him. He puts the flowers down next to the tree and goes over to the crosswalk. Almost immediately the light turns green.

Looking straight ahead, Eamonn crosses the street. His coat is open, his arms hanging loosely at his sides, and his steps are firm. I count them. When he’s halfway across, he looks to the right and left, and again to the right, and then walks on.

When he’s reached the other side, after 23 steps, Sander and I follow.

Eamonn is leaning against a tree. He’s crying. We hug each other. Then, he turns around and looks at the spot where Jennifer lay. Where the ambulance was parked. Where he sat down. Where a woman who lived in one of the nearby houses spoke to him.  We don’t say anything.

Sander takes pictures of the flowers and the crosswalk. Eamonn and I sit down on the curb. There are so many questions, there is so much to talk about. I confine myself to the remark that it was ‘very brave’ of him to do what he just did. Sander comes over and sits down next to us. Passersby look at us. I start to cry and Eamonn suggests that it’s time to go home. We stand up and then realize that we’ll have to walk back over that same crosswalk to get to the bicycles.

‘Would you like to take my hand, Eamonn?’

He nods. We wait for the light to turn green. It takes a helluva long time. First, all the traffic gets to go and then it’s our turn. The only thing that registers is Eamonn’s hand in mine. I don’t even realize that we’ve reached the other side.

We take the same route back home and stop at the supermarket. Time for a bag of potato chips. On the living room couch, we polish off the whole bag in five minutes.

Mom would have made sure we finished our fruit before the potato chips appeared. Which we had.

14:10 – The rest of the day is uneventful. I say, ‘Okay, guys, how about if we take the dog for a run in the Amsterdam Forest. No, on second thought, let’s go to Beatrix Park instead.’ No problem. We’re on our way – out the door, right turn and then Eamonn stands stock-still.

Damn!?! There’s an ambulance parked in the middle of the street and, on the sidewalk two houses down the street, there’s someone lying in a stretcher. No way is Eamonn going to walk past that stretcher. I tell him that all we have to do is turn around and walk in the other direction. We can get to the park via a detour. He’s clearly upset.

‘Why did this have to happen today?’ I think to myself. What lousy timing.

We’re approaching Stadion Road, when suddenly we hear an enormous crashing sound. Two cars in a collision. I can just get a glimpse of what’s happened some fifty yards ahead of us. Apparently a car was about to turn left onto Minerva Lane when a taxi rammed it on the side. Both vehicles shot straight through the crosswalk, coming to a halt on the sidewalk.

Eamonn stops. ‘What else can go wrong?’ I say, trying to make light of the situation, but a wave of disbelief comes over me. How in the world is this possible?  ‘Come on, buddy, this is too bizarre for words, I know. But it just proves how resilient we are – we’re going to go to the park anyway.’

He won’t fall for that one. I don’t even believe it myself.  Eamonn turns around and heads for home, leaving Sander and I to make our own decisions.

Sander continues on in the direction of the park, with the dog, and I follow Eamonn. Back home, we sit on the couch and at his request look at funny cat pictures on Google.

‘When I’m depressed, I always go to Google and look for something funny,’ he says. Before long, he’s smiling again. We hear the wail of sirens in the distance. Sander comes home and whispers in my ear that there are two ambulances at the scene of the accident.

I suggest we watch Groundhog Day to get us through the afternoon. Good move, as it was one of Mom’s favorites. Eamonn goes into the kitchen to make popcorn. For now, we can take on the whole world, without even leaving the house.

18:20 – Since it’s close to dinner time and we have to eat, Eamonn and I hop on our bikes and head for Albert Cuyp Street for some take-out food. On the way home, Sander catches up with us. He’d gone to the Conservatory to see his piano teacher, so that he could can practice his compositions before the concert this coming Sunday.

As soon as he sees his brother, Eamonn starts singing along. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen, which Sander only got down pat the day before. It may turn out to be his encore on Sunday. The boys are singing at the top of their lungs as we turn onto our street. I smile and listen eagerly to the lyrics which we could well take as our theme song today.

Tonight I’m gonna have myself a real good time

I feel alive and the world it’s turning inside out, yeah!

I’m floating around in ecstasy

So don’t stop me now, don’t stop me

‘Cause I’m having a good time, having a good time.

21:50 – Just before bedtime, Eamonn finds a pile of papers on the coffee table. I’d printed out the text of the speeches from the funeral service, along with the various anecdotes that Jennifer’s friends had sent us. I was planning to spend an hour or so going through them with the boys, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

‘Will you read a couple of them out loud when I get into bed?’ Eamonn asks. But of course. There’s a kind of fairy-tale atmosphere in the room and Eamonn is lying in bed with a blissful smile on his face. Once in a while he looks over at me, checking to see that I don’t break into ‘that high-pitched voice’ again. I do my best.

‘And some more tomorrow, okay?’ he says.

Now how did she laugh again?

WEDNESDAY, October 20 – ‘Do you remember how Mom used to laugh?’ I ask Eamonn. We’re on our way to the park and for no reason at all he’s started pulling funny faces. Of course, he says and not only that.  Mom had a lot of different laughs. Give me an example, I say. He doesn’t answer for a while. He’s thinking hard.

‘Her snigger.’

‘What did it sound like?’

Eamonn sniggered. And damn it, that was exactly what it sounded like!  I couldn’t have come up with it on my own, but I recognized it immediately. Things have a way of fading: the voice, certain facial expressions, her scent, and now the way she laughed. It’s annoying, this gradual memory loss. Eamonn won’t be troubled by such fading for some time to come. He’s smiling as we walk on towards the vast expanse of grass in Beatrix Park where Elsa is challenging the other dogs to imitate her graceful leaps.

I’m going to chance it. I didn’t ask Eamonn to come along for nothing. ‘Exactly one year ago today we were here with Mom, Sander and for the first time Elsa.’

Eamonn looks around in surprise. ‘Really?’

Then he points to the edge of the field. ‘You’re right! We were over there running back and forth with Elsa.’

He immediately heads off in that direction, the dog loping along behind him. The colors of the approaching autumn are just as they were a year ago – so lovely that I can enjoy them without becoming overly emotional.

Secretly I am hoping that we’ll sense that kind of vibrating dimension we were aware of last November, the indescribable sensation, the certainty that ‘she is there’. But no luck. Unless it’s the double rainbow that appears as we head for home. We accelerate our pace, to avoid getting caught in a shower.

An audience looking from above

TUESDAY, October 12 – Nerves have proved his undoing. Eamonn is sitting on the floor, leaning against the fridge. His speech is lying on the floor, the speech he wrote a day or two ago and then triumphantly read it aloud at the top of his voice. Now that the time has come to do some serious practicing, he realizes just how difficult public speaking can be.

There are tears in his eyes. I pick him up, give him a kiss and put the new candidate for the student council of his school on the kitchen stepstool. ‘You know what, Eamonn? When I was a kid, I had the same problem. If I had to say something in front of a big group, I sometimes felt as if I was about to cry.’

This confession does away with his fears. He practices his speech. Over and over and over again. Towards the end he even allows himself the liberty of a joke.

‘It will really go over well,’ I promise him. Each ounce of paternal encouragement is a welcome bonus and I give myself a mental pat on the shoulder.

On the way to school I asked him if he was nervous. He wasn’t. His thoughts had wandered off in a different direction.

‘I just pretend that all of  this is a play,’ he says.

‘How do you mean, Eamonn?’

‘You know, where the whole world isn’t anything but a stage and we all have our own roles to play.’

Whoa! I need a minute or two to fathom such profound reflections. I reply with a question of my own. ‘Who is our audience, Eamonn?’

That’s easy. ‘Someone up above. Who’s watching our play.’

I can’t think of anything to say except that I wish him lots of luck with his speech in front of the whole class. ‘Just pretend you’re acting in one of your plays.’

All of a sudden I feel the urge to whisper that today Mom is looking down at him, but I bite my lip instead. Inappropriate sappiness. Then I look at him and feel a tear welling up. Not from nerves or sadness, but pride. And love.

Being a dad (without a dad)

SUNDAY, October 10 – My brain is reeling and I can’t get to sleep. There’s a kind of logic going round and round in my head: I lost my father when I was thirteen, so I never had a good role model for bringing up my children.

The boys lost their mother when they were nine and twelve, which means they don’t have the right role model to pass on to them the necessary maternal instincts.

As a single parent it’s fairly easy to drive yourself up the wall. I mumble that I’m a good father to my boys and that I’m doing my utmost best to fill in for their mother. I am a good parent and the boys will grow up to be stable and happy adults.

I tell myself out loud that I’m doing a good job, but I don’t believe a word of it. It’s only quarter after two.

Lennon and his dead Mom

SATURDAY, October 9 – I was playing around on Google and YouTube. John Lennon would have turned seventy today. An excuse to surf the net for interesting information about the murdered ex-Beatle. At every click, Jennifer pops up.

She was a Beatles fan and somewhere in the house I should be able to find that special issue of Time Magazine published shortly after his death in 1980. It’s a collector’s item whose cover I can quickly find on-line, with the headline: ‘When the Music Died’. Jennifer once told me about the evening when the news was announced. She cried and cried and couldn’t get to sleep. For days she felt depressed and even talking about his death decades later made her unhappy.

I watch the videos of the coverage: listen to the reporters stationed in front of the Dakota Building in New York, where Yoko Ono still lives. Jenn pointed it out to me and later to the children; the magnificent building bordering Central Park. In the early nineties Jenn lived in that neighborhood and almost daily she walked past the Strawberry Fields memorial.

Our children have grown up with the Beatles. Not long ago I discovered that Eamonn has the same birthday as Ringo Starr. Moseying around Wikipedia, I realize that Jenn was only one year older than Lennon was when he died. What a cold statistic.

Lennon’s childhood was anything but happy, with a father who left for New Zealand, an aunt who raised him, and a mother who was killed on the street by a goddamned cop. Holy shit! The coincidence! The difference in this case being that the cop was drunk. Lennon was seventeen years old then.

He would later write a song called ‘Mother’, that was inspired in part by his therapeutic sessions with the American psychologist Janov, who firmly believed that deep-seated emotions could be dealt with by means of a heartfelt ‘primal scream’.

This makes me curious about the song, and I go to iTunes and listen to it.  Good God Almighty, what a piece of shit.

Daddy is such a sweet housewife

TUESDAY, October 5 – I tell Eamonn to get a move on since his karate lesson is about to start. His instructor is strict and hates it when pupils come late. Eamonn’s a bit in awe of him, and so am I. Together we try to make a knot in the white belt.

‘I washed your uniform yesterday and put in the dryer, so it should fit much better now,’ I reassure Eamonn. His uniform allowed for growth and during his first lesson he was almost swimming in it.

One of the moms was watching us. Touched, she smiled when I say to Eamonn, ‘Don’t worry about out-growing your karate uniform. One time in the dryer and it won’t shrink any more.’

‘Imagine your knowing that,’ the mother exclaimed. ‘Just like a regular housewife. It sounded so sweet.’

I chased Eamonn up the stairs in the direction of his lesson. I follow at my leisure, pondering the idea that I resemble a sweet little housewife. In the life of a widower who’s been chastened by adversity, in which category does this crazy compliment belong under – falling down or picking yourself up again?

She was way more courageous

WEDNESDAY, September 29 – I seem to be an exceptional human being.  A fantastic man, superb father. Would a woman be showered with the declarations of support and sympathy that are still coming my way? Or would her decision have been seen as quite normal – the fact that her career was being put on the back burner, shelved or interrupted? Jenn would have known the answer and so do I.

Is putting your kids first ‘brave’?

MONDAY, September 27 – I’d prepared a pretty good text, which I was planning to read at quarter past one, during the daily meeting. As long as you have the words in front of you, on paper, there’s no problem. No matter how difficult the text is. I’d made out all right speaking next to Jenn’s coffin, surrounded by hundreds of sobbing friends, and I didn’t do too badly in court either when I faced the man who had killed her and who was himself sitting there sobbing uncontrollably.

But this afternoon, it doesn’t work. I just can’t do it. Goddamn it! I start off with a joke while my colleagues look back at me with rapt attention; but then I’m the one who can’t keep back the tears. My vocal chords were paralyzed. After several attempts, I had to give up. H took the text from my trembling hands and read it for me:

‘It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation as deputy editor-in-chief. I can no longer totally devote myself to fulfilling my duties with total dedication. NOS News deserves an executive management team that functions at a full one hundred percent of their capacities.  Unfortunately, my personal circumstances make this impossible.

I made this decision shortly after Hans, Giselle, Marcel and I embarked with confidence on the new season. Gradually I have taken up my duties again. I had and still have the energy, interest, peace of mind, concentration, and qualities necessary for the job. I’m doing much better, but that is not my only consideration.

It’s important for me to be there for all of you, my colleagues both during office hours and outside office hours. That means following all the broadcasts and all the responses and reactions to those broadcasts. This means not only during regular hours, but also in the evenings and on weekends and doing so alongside the busy program here in Hilversum, in The Hague, and elsewhere.  This makes for an incredibly hectic job.

The nature of my work clashes with my home life, which is no longer ordinary since Jennifer’s death. In making this decision, I have opted for my children. I want to be there for them, as a father. Unconditionally. During the past few months I have done my utmost to make it all work. I wanted to give myself until the end of this year, but last week it became clear to me that things were not working out the way I had envisioned. Either you do it the right way or you don’t do it at all. For this reason I am resigning effective as of today.

I will still be with the NOS. The exact nature of my work will become clear in the days to come. I am extremely grateful to all of you, for your trust, patience, understanding and support. Thank you all.’

The hours that followed were like a warm blanket that settled over me. People responded by email or phone, via Twitter and Facebook. What kept recurring was the word courageous or a variation thereof.

Am I brave? I feel that I’ve done the only thing I could. Re-reading this diary, thinking back to the way I struggled to adjust my working life which meant so much to me to suit the new circumstances, I again experience the avalanche of emotions which I had to surmount in order to reach this rational conclusion: ‘I’m only giving up this job because I love my children and I want to be there for them.’

Courageous? Apparently.

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