Thursday, November 23, 2017

Our Ninth Thanksgiving Without Leif

Today is a day to give thanks, and we have much to be thankful for. I will always be thankful for our son, Leif, but I will also always miss him, always wonder how this beautiful, curious child could end his life at 33.

This photo was taken on Thanksgiving 1976 in Virginia, by my sister, Leif's Aunt Lannay. He was fascinated with the old pump organ, the same one I, and my siblings, used to love to play at Mabel and Becca's house when we were children. Look at the little guy, hanging on by his fingertips, and still managing to finger some keys and pump with his little feet. He was determined to "play" that organ, and the only way he could reach both the keys and the foot pumps was like this.

That kind of tenaciousness was typical of Leif, at least when he was interested in pursuing something. He had intense concentration and determination. The corollary, however, was that if he was not interested in something, he could resist or ignore it equally well.

Leif had musical talent, which he pursued by playing the electric guitar when he was much older. He loved music, shown by his enormous collection of CDs and the expensive music systems he bought for his apartment and car. Music brought a lot of joy to his life. I believe that sometimes music and video games were about the only joys he experienced. So, I say thank you to all the composers and performers that brought him joy, and all the game designers and players he played with online who not only gave him good times playing but also supported him emotionally in gaming social networks.

And I will be thankful for all the days I shared with that bright, beautiful, curious little boy.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

He talked with his hands, too.

How fast the days, months and years pass. It's been nine and a half years since Leif died, and over four months since I posted anything on this blog. I think about it often, just as I think of him, but I don't want to post the same things again, and I want new photos, new to me, at least. Photos I either haven't seen before, or that I haven't seen is so long i can't remember them. Today I found one. This photo of him in his classy purple suit was taken at a wedding in January 1993. He was explaining something to someone, talking with his hands like I do.

He was a senior in high school then, with long dark hair which he usually wore in a ponytail. He wore earrings in those days. His ears had been pierced, at his request, by Jennifer, our neighbor in Puerto Rico. He was tall, slim, and had his first job with a call center in Manhattan, Kansas, a rotten sort of job that seemed to keep coming back to him in other iterations wherever he went. He was good at it, but it was mind-numbing and, to use his word, "sucked."

Leif was a natural teacher, not necessarily the academic kind, though I think he would have been good at that if he had the inclination, but at explaining almost anything in such a way that whoever was his listener would get what he was conmunicating. He had an incredible memory and remembered practically verbatim just about everything he heard and saw, even when he didn't appear to be paying attention. He absorbed information and ideas like a sponge absorbs water, and he was able to figure things out and provide solutions to problems. He loved to "hold forth" on topics that interested him, and would amaze any listeners with the depth of his knowledge and understanding on a wide variety of topics, particularly because he never seems to make any effort to acquire the knowledge.

He was passionate about the U.S. Constitution, politics, beer, and guns, hated cruelty to animals, and liked to play pool and computer games.

I wonder what he was talking about in this photo. I will just have to imagine it. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Which Leif Garretson Should I Remember on Memorial Day?

When I remember Leif on Memorial Day, which Leif should I remember? The boy who wanted to grow up to be an Air Force pilot but couldn't because his eyes wouldn't pass the flight physical? The college student who joined Air Force ROTC to become an Air Force officer, scoring at the top his class at summer camp, only to be sent home when his body failed him again with a pulled muscle in his groin?

The man who enlisted in the infantry, the toughest physical challenge, to try to find a way into the military, hoping to qualify for Green to Gold to become an officer? The man who went through Infantry Basic Training on a broken foot after a fellow soldier fell on it during first aid training?

The man who breathed and ate sand and dust in Uzbekistan during UN maneuvers and developed severe asthma so that his body betrayed him yet again? The man who served his country with distinction in Bosnia as a peacekeeper? The man who was the best machine gunner in his battalion?

The proud soldier who became a broken man, the one who, with PTSD, finally ended his life like far too many of our veterans? He didn't die in a combat battle, but he died in his own private war, one brought on at least partly by his military service.

So, on this Memorial Day, I remember Leif Garretson, my son, who served his country, and is no longer with us. I will always be proud of him and his service.

This photo was taken around 1999.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Whole KVCC Veterans Memorial Mural Wall


This is the whole mural or mosaic with Leif's stone near the top right.

Nine Years



Today it has been nine years since we found Leif's lifeless body. I can still remember the details and overwhelming grief of that day, just as I can remember the last time we saw him alive and so much of the 33 years of his life.

Even halfway around the world at sea, a song from "Les Miserables" brings tears to my eyes when I hear the lyrics, "Bring him home, let him live." How dearly and desperately I wish he could come home, and live.

Last Christmas my sister Sherie, Leif's aunt, brought me photos of a veterans memorial wall mural at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where she works. She purchased a memorial stone for him. I was so touched I cried. He lived. He served. He deserves to be remembered. Many thanks to her for this gift of remembrance. He will always be in our hearts.

This is a very small part of the wall. I'll post a photo of the entire wall separately.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy Birthday, another year missing you

Today (January 28th) would have been Leif's 42nd birthday, if he  had lived. I spent the day doing something he would have enjoyed, going to the Tampa Gasparilla pirate festival, Tampa's pirate version of Mardi Gras.

It was just his kind of day, boats, a pirate ship, wenches in sexy pirate costumes, a parade, cannons firing, plenty of beer being consumed. His kind of party.

I don't know whether he ever went to Gasparilla during the few years he lived in this area. If so, I didn't find any photos of it on his camera or computer. It he didn't, it's a shame. Too bad he didn't belong to a krewe. He would have been a good member and could have lobbed beads at the crowds with phenomenal strength and aim.

His first persona in the Society for Creative Anachronism was a "Viking pirate," and because he was stylish and debonair, he was known as the "GQ pirate."

I wish that GQ pirate had been there with us today. I would have loved to see him swashbuckling around.

This photo was taken in Manhattan, Kansas in 1993 when he was 18 years old.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Could a cat have saved him?

 We will never stop wondering. Wondering why he made the decision to pull the trigger. Wondering why at that time. Wondering what could have prevented it. Wondering what could have saved him.

I was thinking and reading about the importance of human connections, of love, of being valued, of feeling needed, and reflecting upon how alone Leif was, how he expressed that no one (or so he thought) but his parents would care if he lived or died. How he felt his life had no purpose.

He worked in a cubicle answering phone questions about Medicare supplemental or replacement insurance. He didn't make any friends at work, or see anyone from work outside the workplace. He didn't socialize with anyone from his work.

Here in Florida, he had concentrated on dating, looking for love, and didn't get involved in any activities like SCA where he might have made friends and connections. Love, female companionship, and being the protective man, was what he searched so hard to find, and even harder to find someone who provided a nurturing, nondestructive relationship.

He had friends, but he saw them seldom, and some of those he did see were acquaintances primarily of his women.

Once he severed the live-in relationship with D., he was alone and without purpose, alone without anyone who needed him.

But what if he'd had a cat? Leif loved cats. All is life he was drawn to them. Cats provided cuddling, needed to be taken care of (at least minimally), fed, cared when he came home, played with him. Cats provided a living being to which he could be affectionate and playful. What a terrible pity that he was allergic to them and they gave him asthma attacks. Where he lived in Tampa, he wasn't allowed to have one, anyway.

But what if he had? Would it have made the difference? We will never know, but I think it might have. I knew a man who was, like Leif, totally heartbroken over the breakup of a relationship and decided to commit suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage. He was actually in the process of carrying out this plan when he saw his cat in the garage and thought, the cat doesn't deserve this, doesn't deserve to die, or to be deserted. He shut off the car and lived. Later he found another love and was happily married until the natural end of his life.

I don't know whether this could have happened to Leif, but I can conceive of it. I can conceive of having that living being in his home being enough to keep him going until maybe things could get better, of him finding just enough companionship, love and affection, just enough of a being who needed him, to keep him alive.

Maybe not. I wish he'd had the chance.
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The first photo above was taken in Thailand in 1981 when Leif was not quite seven years old. The cat was at a small temple we visited. The second photo was taken when Leif was in the army at Fort Drum, New York in 1999 before he went to Bosnia. That cat was his and Nikko's, and he loved it so.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Our Ninth Christmas Without Leif

It doesn't seem as though it could possibly be our ninth Christmas without Leif. It seems like only yesterday he was sitting here in our living room with little Aly on his lap, taking silly videos of her saying, dramatically, "I like pie." Only yesterday he was enjoying Christmas Eve dinner with us and making jokes.

The photos, the memories, and in some cases, the gifts we gave him ending back in our possession, are all we have of those Christmases now, but they are precious. Most precious, the memories and photos.

This picture was taken in Charlottesville, Virginia on Christmas Even 1976, just a month before Leif's second birthday. He was a precocious little rascal, so curious.

What we wouldn't give for another chance to see him. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Memories of our years in Hawaii

After 14 years, Peter and I went back to Hawaii earlier this month and stayed for four days in a cabin at Bellows Beach. It brought back so many happy memories of our three years in Hawaii with our boys. Days at Bellows Beach were some of our favorite things to do. I remembered the boys jumping the waves, riding their boogie boards, building sand castles, drawing in the sand, and once, burying their dad in it.

We remembered taking them to get their ice cream treats at Dave's Ice Cream Parlor in Waimanalo near Bellows Beach, and the ritual stop at Bueno Nalo, a little Mexican restaurant on the beach in Waimanalo. It no longer exists, or we would have gone there. We did treat ourselves to Dave's Ice Cream.

There wasn't anything we did while we were there that didn't remind me of those days, of our sons, and most especially of Leif, who was last there when he was in middle school, sometime in the late 1980s. Sometimes they made me smile and be grateful for every one of those days. Sometimes they made me sad that he is gone and will never be with us again.

This photo was taken the day we arrived in Honolulu in July 1983. We flew in from Japan and were greeted by members of Peter's new office at Camp Smith, who brought us the traditional leis. We were exhausted after the long trip and basically being up all night and dressed for the chilly plane ride, not the summer heat of Hawaii. Peter A. was 14 and Leif was 8 years old. We were fortunate to live there for three years, until the summer of 1986.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Leif 40 Years Ago Today

Yesterday I was looking for something on my computer and happened across a video clip of Leif's first two years. The quality was pretty lousy, because it had been taped onto VHS tape years ago, already degrading the resolution, and then digitized from that in 2008, but even with the fuzzy focus it was so precious to see that beautiful little boy, so young, so tiny (even though a "giant"for his age) and so vulnerable. I watched it with a mixture of happy nostalgia and sadness. I want to go back and try to digitize it again from the original 8mm movies and see whether I could get a better version.

This photo was taken during that period, and almost exactly 40 years ago, September 1976, in Charlottesville, Virginia. The reason for the odd position of my arm around him was that we were playing wrestling games on the floor, and "dump truck," a game he loved, where I'd lie on the floor and have him on my lower legs, then lift him up and "dump" him on my chest.

What a beautiful child he was. I miss that little boy. I miss the man he became. It's nearly eight-and-a-half years since his death, and it still affects us every day of our lives, and it always will.