Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Traffic victim”

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.

Is this ever going to stop?

THURSDAY, October 21 – My rage goes so deep that I’m shocked every time it’s unleashed. Today the explosion was so violent that I very nearly called the Amsterdam police commissioner on his cell phone. I felt like doing so to give him a piece of my mind, to rant and rage, and to let him know I’m sick and tired of him and his whole damned police force.

Then I change my mind, count to ten, and continue on my way.

Minutes earlier a woman pushing a baby carriage had been about to cross the road. I slowed down, even though she was on the other side. A motorcycle cop was approaching from the other direction. The woman was about to step onto the crosswalk and in slow motion I saw it happen. Or rather, not happen. The policeman just kept going and the woman with the baby carriage stopped short.

I started shouting from behind the wheel while keeping my hand on the horn. No response. The guy drove straight on and the woman just stood there. Much more shouting and honking from me.


Then, I exploded. Is it ever going to stop, goddamnit?

Catch me if you can

TUESDAY, October 19 – Suddenly I was gripped by paternal concern. Sander wasn’t home yet. Forty minutes ago I’d talked to him on the phone and he was laughing on his way back from the Conservatory. I said we’d wait with dinner until he got home, but now dinner was getting cold. I was starting to worry, so I called him.

He answered, but he sounded dejected. ‘Hi, Papa.’

My relief was inaudible. ‘Hey, Sander, where are you?’

‘I’m not ready to come home.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Where are you?

‘I was at the place where the accident happened.’

‘Shall I come to you?’

‘No. I’m heading for the next neighborhood over.’

‘What are you doing there?’

‘I’m following a couple of motorcycle cops. They were going way too fast.’

‘Why don’t you just head home?’

‘Not yet, Papa. Right now I want to be alone.’

‘Okay. I’ll see you when you get here. And if you want me to come, just call, okay?’


He didn’t call, and after a half hour, I called him. It turned out that he was already home. He’d sneaked in and gone straight to his room. I went upstairs and asked him to make room on the bed. Five minutes of silence, both of us staring at the ceiling until I turned to him and said, ‘And did you catch up with the cops?’

‘No,’ Sander replied. And then he laughed out loud.

‘Well, better luck next time.’

A roar of laughter filled the room.

Wishing I’d been there

THURSDAY, September 23 – I just notified the hospital that I have decided to let the matter rest. I can’t afford to waste my precious energy on a long, drawn-out search for possibly culpable medical mistakes. The main reason is that it won’t change anything. Another chapter has been closed, but others are still lying ahead of us. The only thing that really gets to me is the uncertainty about what happened in the last moments of Jenn’s life. I wish I could at least have held her hand.

‘I was just talking about you’

SATURDAY, September 18 – ‘Oh, are you the husband of the woman who was killed by a motorcycle cop?’ said my table companion at dinner tonight.  ‘I was talking about you the other day.’ We’d never met before, and it seemed strange that people were still talking about us ten months later. The man who lost his wife. The woman who lost her life.  The tragedy that touched the hearts of people I don’t know.

Dealing with loss is an art

FRIDAY, September 17 – Much consternation in Dutch society about the future of the black Suzuki Swift driven by Karst T. The police museum is planning to exhibit the wreck.

No way, says the mayor of Apeldoorn, where on April 30, 2009 T. launched a failed attack on the royal family.  He himself was killed, but not before causing the death of seven people. The survivors have branded the idea lugubrious. And they’re right. Why on earth would anyone want to visit an exhibition consisting of the remains of the vehicle that broke your husband’s bones, crushed your daughter’s skull, or disemboweled your friend?

The word ‘lugubrious’ is too mild. It’s morbid exhibitionism.

A while back the boys asked me what had happened to the motorcycle that knocked their mother down. The public prosecutor told us that the vehicle had been temporarily retained as evidence in the trial of R and, after the verdict, it was returned to the Amsterdam police department. On the internet there’s still a photograph in circulation showing the motorcycle after it slid onto its side and went skidding across the pavement.

That, too, was morbid. I hope no one ever rides it again.

For a while Sander toyed with the idea of tackling it with a sledgehammer and Eamonn thought it was a good plan. Whacking the daylights out of the object that took their mother away from them. For the same reason, the Suzuki Swift ought to be turned over to the loved ones of the seven Queen’s Day victims. Call that the art of dealing with loss.

Sick of myself, of everything

TUESDAY, September 14 – The rain was pouring down and before I knew it, I was soaking wet. Glorious. I needed it, since I was feeling pretty grungy.  I’d just spent an hour with my lawyer crunching numbers, writing up scenarios, and counting hours in order to establish what Jennifer’s death was worth financially. The city of Amsterdam is legally bound to pay compensation to her family.

The calculations could have been done months ago, but mentally I hadn’t been ready for all that.. Come on, your wife is dead and you have to decide how much she was worth. The procedure in itself seemed fairly simple, but, nonetheless insurmountable.

I got on my bike and prayed that the rain would wash away the unpleasant nasty aftertaste. Once home, the smell of vultures lingered and the first thing I did was take a hot shower. I felt like crying my eyes out, but the tears wouldn’t come. Besides what would I be crying about?  About Jennifer, who is no longer here, or the unbearable fact that someone has put a price tag on her absence?

That wretched feeling dogged me like I was wrapped in a smelly blanket, following me to work, where I stared listlessly in front of me. With my typical naivety, I had apparently expected that I would be capable of sitting around the table with my lawyer in a businesslike manner in the morning, and then head back to work in the afternoon as if nothing had happened. On the agenda that afternoon there was the first in a series of four cross-media workshops, the sort of project I’m expected to lead, as deputy editor-in-chief.  I just couldn’t swing it. I felt paralyzed and all the misery of the morning meeting was starting to fill my head.

One of the scenarios my lawyer and I had discussed was the very real possibility that I would not be able to combine my demanding work load with the role of father. Today that was clearly the case. I left the building. Sick of myself, sick of everything.

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.

Did we really forgive him?

FRIDAY, July 2 – It’s a bit crazy, but I do it anyway. I look at my reflection in the mirror and ask myself out loud and straight from the shoulder: ‘Tim, do you still really mean everything you said and felt and wrote yesterday?’

The answer is a heartfelt ‘yes’. 

Yes, we have forgiven him. 

Just checking.  Can’t do any harm. 

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.’

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