Diary of a Widower

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

Archive for the category “Traffic victim”

Raging in traffic at myself

WEDNESDAY, June 30 – On Beethoven Street a magnificent sports car comes to a halt in front of me. Behind the wheel is a good-looking man with dark, wavy hair, wearing sun glasses. The colleague next to him, clearly his subordinate, looks in admiration at the driver, who is talking a hundred miles an hour and gesticulating wildly.

Apparently he’s putting the new convertible through its paces. When the light turns green, it shoots off, immediately at top speed, only to come to a standstill 300 yards further up. I pull up alongside him and open my window.

‘Good-looking car,’ I say, loud and clear. The driver gives me a broad smile.

‘I have a good-looking car, too,’ I continue, fixing him with a penetrating gaze.  From behind the wheel of Jenn’s Mini Cooper. He smiles uncertainly.

‘It belonged to my wife.’  I raise my voice. ‘Last October she was run over and killed. Right there, just up ahead. By someone who was speeding, and for a split-second not paying attention. You’re not supposed to travel at such an idiotic speed with that beautiful car of yours. Wait until you get on the highway.’

For a moment, there is silence. I roll my window up, but I see that the driver is pointing to himself and smiling sheepishly. His passenger is smiling, too.

Again I open my window, and in an angry voice I say ‘You can laugh if you like, but apparently you don’t know what I mean.’

‘I wasn’t the one who caused the accident,’ he says.  And he’s right.

I retort, ‘That’s what the other guy thought, too.’

He nodded. The light turns green and we both accelerate. Further up we’re again standing next to each other at a red light. We ignore each other. What needed to be said was said. Was this my civic duty or a call for victim support? I ask myself this as he blasts onto the highway and disappears into traffic. I notice that, unconsciously, I’m speeding and I slow down.

No revenge, only justice

THURSDAY, June 17 – A brief message on Jennifer’s Facebook wall, addressed to her and her friends: ‘Today criminal proceedings will take place against the motorcycle cop who killed you. We will be there and we will speak on your behalf. We are not interested in revenge.  Only justice. We will be compassionate and charitable. That was how you lived. And that is why we love you.’

1:00 p.m. – We shake hands with him. I see fear. Yet, during the trial I address him as follows, in a voice that is firm and strangled at the same time.

“We are here today in order to hear the facts. We are here today to discover the truth. The technical facts of the accident are clear.  What you, Mr. R., brought about on the afternoon of Thursday, the 22nd of October 2009 was in my view avoidable and culpable. I believe this to be the truth, and I hope and trust that the court will come to the same conclusion.

What I came here to tell the court and you, Mr. R., is our truth. The facts of our everyday life, which came to a standstill on that Thursday afternoon.  Jennifer and the children were on their way to Beatrix Park. With our dog Elsa, who had come to live with us earlier that week. Naturally, every day was full of fun thanks to our new pet.

On that day as well. Then, Sander, our oldest son, noticed that Elsa had dropped a toy she’d been carrying in her mouth. Jennifer told the boys to go on, while she went back to pick up the toy. We know what happened after that. The testimony, the technical investigation, and your declaration are all indisputable. There are people who try to comfort us by claiming that Jennifer was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  I disagree.  Jennifer was in the right place, at the right time, and she waited until the light turned green so that she could cross safely.  How many times had she scolded us for casually crossing the road, even though the light was red?

But not Jennifer.  And that makes it unacceptable. And incomprehensible. We’ve all had moments of confusion when in some way we blamed ourselves. Sander wondered if he shouldn’t have said that Elsa dropped the toy. And our younger son Eamonn felt guilty for wanting to go to the park that day. And I tried to make sense of it all, to find a reason, something that could have prevented what happened.

Today, in court, we are seeing each other for the first time. In late October you wrote me a letter. To which I replied. I said, among other things, that I bear you no malice. That is not easy. I am unable to explain to myself, to my children, and to Jennifer’s family in America why this happened.  In the past seven months there were times when I did curse you and even hated you.

And yet I tell myself and the children that hate is uncalled for. That’s what  Jennifer would have said. No matter what happens, hate always causes more  pain than necessary. That was Jennifer. Humane. What you brought about that Thursday afternoon still cannot  be quantified. Time is both a good friend and a treacherous enemy. The shock, the pain, the realization, the grief, the depression, and the bereavement all have their own familiar patterns. No doubt you are going through a similar process yourself.

But where one day you will pick up the thread of your life, together with your family, we are left with a void which can never be filled. And I want you to know what my children have said to me:

‘Papa, do you know that Mom will never see us grow up. Papa, I know that some day we’ll have fun again, but to really enjoy things, the way we did with Mom, we can’t do that anymore. Papa, I want her to come back. Now. Papa, I don’t want to live any more.’

Moments that come by, moments that disappear again. For time heals even wounds like these. I know that from experience. But I want you to know that in America two elderly people, Jennifer’s father and mother, have no idea how to get through each day. Those wounds will not heal in the remaining time that is given them.

I want you to know that at times I don’t know how to get through the day either. That going to bed alone and getting up alone the next morning is pointless. That my career has suffered. And what is perhaps most frustrating is the realization that, while time will no doubt grant us new chances in life, Jennifer will always be denied them.

Mr. R, I am sure that there will come a moment of forgiveness, on the part of my children and me.  But that moment will have to wait until the law has taken its course and until you truly realize and acknowledge your responsibility as a participant in traffic, as a motorcycle cop, as someone who acts on behalf of the police, as someone who ought to know what is and what is not permitted in traffic, as someone who has betrayed that trust, and as someone who acted irresponsibly on that Thursday afternoon last October.

It is the task of the court to judge and to punish. Only then will we – you and my children and I – be able to get on with our lives. Without hate.  Thank you.

Seeing the face that killed Mom

FRIDAY, June 11 – The face looks back at us quite cheerfully from the passport photo that my lawyer has just put on the table. Isn’t there always something strange about passport photos? Something faulty or unintentionally ugly? Not this one. It’s a pleasant portrait. One that with the worst will in the world, no one could possibly object to.

A picture of the man who killed Mom.

The boys are somewhat taken aback. He looks around nineteen. I thought he’d be much older, Eamonn says. His hair looks a lot different, not the way I remember it, remarks Sander. At first glance he seems to be a nice guy, is the consensus. That is, if you don’t know that the now 33-year old H.R. is being prosecuted for wrongful death. He has Jenn’s death weighing on his conscience.

It is just the tiniest bit reassuring that we now know what he looks like. At least it doesn’t look as if the confrontation this coming Thursday will be as unpleasant as we thought. Did R google us to find out what we look like? Eamonn asks. Undoubtedly. That gives him and us something to go on, for the moment when we look each other in the eye. Small comfort.

Letting go of my fear

TUESDAY, June 8 – A new day dawns, in spite of everything. So, you pick yourself up and get on with it. You have no choice.  At any rate, in my view. In that respect I am uncompromising. Life goes on.

Eamonn had brought up his particular question the week before, and I suppose I should have been delighted. But now his request made me swallow hard.  His question: Wasn’t it about time for him to bike back and forth from school by himself?  Under any other circumstances I would have given the kid a hug and wished him good luck out in the wide, wide world. But now I was terror-stricken. Biking on his own?

Love means letting go of fear, a little more each time.

So this morning I decided to let him go on his own. I told Eamonn that I’d be right behind him but that I wouldn’t say anything. He was surprised. ‘You mean we’re not going to talk to each other?’

Nope. The twinkling in his eyes said it all.

I can’t count the times he’s scared me half out of my wits. By chattering away as if he was oblivious to the traffic around him. By colliding with other cyclists.  By crossing the street diagonally without even looking behind him. I don’t know how many times I’ve warned him. It was as if he was unaware of all the dangers.

For months after Jennifer’s accident, he refused to go anywhere except by car. Cycling was taboo. Until the weather improved and he saw the advantages. Now it was time for the next step.

With his ‘invisible’ father behind him, he was a totally different kid. Concentrated, cautious, and, but yet self-confident. Braking, watching, waiting, and yet resolute.  In the midst of all those pedaling daredevils who populate the morning traffic, Eamonn held his own. Nothing seemed to faze him.

The crucial test came on Minerva Lane where he had to cross Stadion Road:  a busy intersection with no traffic lights but plenty of cars, bicycles, taxis, trams and no doubt the odd police car. Three hundred meters east, Stadion Road crosses Diepenbrock Street, where his mother was knocked to the ground. Eamonn had never revisited that spot and he closed his eyes every time we drove past it.

He crossed the road with verve. The rest of the route was a piece of cake. The final test came as he approached the school, where he had to cross diagonally to get to the school grounds. ‘And… how did I do?’ he asked expectantly. The mistakes amount to… zero!! Proud, proud, proud! And despite – or maybe because of – the stumbling blocks we encountered this past week, I do a little dance.

This afternoon we’ll repeat the exercise. And then I’ll have to get used to the idea.  Whether I want to or not.

It’s called ‘letting go’.

12.30 – When I went to pick up a package, I had to show them my ID. I put my wallet on the counter, flipped to my driver’s license, and out rolled my wedding ring. I’d forgotten it was there. The cashier pretended she hadn’t noticed.

The envelope was sent from France by one of Jennifer’s best friends in college. There was a note, with photos of her wedding to G, now years ago. Jennifer had been her maid of honor. Five photos of my radiant wife. And yes, you can still tell which finger I wore my wedding ring on. Nothing wrong with that, I mumble to myself.

It can actually get worse

MONDAY, June 7 – Oh my God. So things can actually turn out to be worse. New facts of our fucked- up reality turn up in the formal analysis of the medical report, with the maddening conclusion in black and white:

“The final conclusion is that during the hospitalization of the patient there was a degree of carelessness within the intensive care unit. If it were not for that carelessness, the death of Mrs. Nolan could have been prevented. Without medical intervention the injury resulting from the traffic accident was lethal, but a medical intervention undertaken in an earlier stage might have prevented her death. It is likely that if the secondary bleeding resulting from the cranial injury had been discovered earlier, the patient would have survived the accident.”

Could have been prevented. Could have been prevented. Could have been prevented. Could have been prevented. Could have been prevented. Could have been prevented. COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED!!!!!!

These are the conclusions that followed a study of the medical file that was recorded by an external expert at the request of the Public Prosecutor. Is it never going to stop, goddamn it? Of course, it says that it could ‘possibly’ have been prevented; the crushing blow of that possibility is something I’m incapable of dealing with right now.

It brings me back to that afternoon, to the early evening in the hospital. I had wanted to stay with her. I could see her pain and the blood coming out of her ears. I talked to her, discussed whether I should stay or go home to be with the children. I said I didn’t want them to see the blood, since in the end everything was going to be alright. That’s what the ambulance driver had told me. That’s what the doctors had told me. It would be better for the boys, I reasoned with Jenn, to come back the next day, when she would be better able to talk. I was confident that she was getting the proper care and yet I still felt the urge to do more, to care for her. But they told me to go home.


The report says so.

I start pacing through the house, from living room to dining room, through the  hall to my bedroom and, by way of the bathroom, back to the living room. Faster and faster, with loud bellows somewhere between a sob and a shout. Tears, more tears, curses and maledictions. I could have saved her. Shouldering the blame. I could have saved her.

Which is downright nonsense, of course. But emotions take over. I didn’t save her.  And for me that conclusion means that she has died again. And died needlessly. I’m lying on the floor, and so the morning passes. 

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.

Gearing up for his trial

WEDNESDAY, May 26 – Maybe it had something to do with that phone call from my lawyer giving me  the latest news. Maybe not. In any case, since this afternoon I’ve been dead-tired, in my legs, my arms … and my head is spinning. No energy.

While what I really need now is to pep myself up. Prepare for that Thursday afternoon on the 17th of June. My lawyer just phoned to tell me that R will stand trial that day.

The summons will be in the mail this afternoon, indictment  pertaining to section 6, paragraph 5:  Wrongful death. His lawyer has requested a meeting before the sitting, but I have no desire to see him nor would it be in my interest.

From now on I must try conserve my energy.

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.

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.

Post Navigation