Diary of a Widower

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

Simple delight, breakfast in bed

WEDNESDAY, October 13 – It feels great to be able to surprise your beloved with breakfast in bed.

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.

Good news on the job front

MONDAY, October 11 – Breaking news of personal relief! From January on, I’m going to be one of the presenters of the evening edition of NOS Radio 1 Journaal. Magnificent job, and a perfect slot: Monday through Thursday.  It’s also a challenge, since it’s totally new. I am overjoyed. This is the best new start I could have hoped for.

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.

Death is all around us

THURSDAY, October 7 – Death. It’s really something. I’m reading the newspaper and see an article about a 12-year old boy who was run over by a bus driver. Just then a tweet comes in about the suicide of a famous Dutch actor, followed by reports that a woman and a child have just been murdered in a town near The Hague. Tragedy comes in all sorts and sizes. Is it some kind of horrible contest? I think about the next of kin, those still alive, who will be confounded by these deaths. I wouldn’t know how to explain what will come their way. Not even now.

Yearning for the impossible

WEDNESDAY, October 6 – I’m overcome by an unbearable thought. I no longer yearn for life as it was before October 22, 2009. I no longer yearn for our life together:  Jennifer, Sander, Eamonn and me, plus two pets. How can you yearn for something that’s impossible? Yearning is futile. At most, you can cherish it. Or wallow in memories. But yearn for what once was? No, not any more. And that makes me unbelievably sad.

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?

Lost at work. So what?

MONDAY, October 4 – My desk has been emptied. No trace of the two years spent as deputy editor-in-chief. There’s still a sign on the door with my name and those of my colleagues with whom I shared my office. Shall I take it along as a souvenir? Nah, just leave it there. I wander across the news floor like a lost child. Waiting for a new assignment. I feel as if a weight has been removed from my shoulders and at the same time that feels rather foolish.

Believing it will be easier

SATURDAY, October 2 – A lazy Saturday morning: time to go through the weekend papers at my leisure. Great piece in the Volkskrant Magazine, where columnist Hanna Bervoets takes a light-hearted look at Halloween costumes.

She depicts the excitement of choosing a costume as well as the current themes she is trying to capture in this year’s get-up. I can’t help laughing at her descriptions and I’m half way through the column when suddenly I stop. What Bervoets is describing so comically is exactly what Jennifer used to do. In September she was already getting excited about the Halloween Party, which was a tradition for us: first in the States, then London and later on in Amsterdam.

Together we put together the A list, people we definitely wanted to invite. No A list without a B list, of course. It contained the names of people we regarded as friends, but who would not be too sorely missed if they weren’t among the guests. These invitations invariably gave rise to passionate discussions lasting several weeks.

For Jenn the real fun was preparing for the big day. In our first year in Amsterdam she went as Super Girl, complete with a mini-skirt in bright red – ditto with the pumps. And a cape, of course. Last year she was planning to go as Medusa. Her friend J had gotten hold of a costume in London. The actual choice had been preceded by long deliberations and consultations with me and several other friends.

Our last party was cancelled and this year I had totally forgotten about Halloween until I read Bervoets’ newspaper article. It seems unlikely that we’ll be celebrating the day. We’re busy enough organizing the Memorial Concert on the 24th.

That day marks the fact that the first year is behind us. We’ve already experienced everything once. Halloween will be the first holiday following this milestone.  I’m willing to believe that after this month things will start getting easier, but the shock that went through me as I read Bervoet’s column bodes ill for my peace of mind. Nothing is ever truly past: I’m not so stupid as to dispute that.

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