Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Reality of Grief

Honesty about grief is hard. I want to remember the good times of our life with Leif. I want to focus on the handsome young man, the brilliant mind, the power and presence he projected, the beautiful child he was, the talents he had, but no matter how we try to do this, for now, at least, it is overshadowed by the terrible reality of his death.

The death of someone we love is always hard, harder when the death is by the loved one's own hand and choice. Leif left us no explanation, though he did leave us clues. Those of us who loved him have figured out in our own minds what went wrong and why he did what he did, but to us, there is no reason great enough to warrant his death. We can never feel what he felt.

Although I can explain it, it's like explaining why a flower grows. We can describe it, in botanical detail, but we still can't really explain the why of it. What makes it happen? The growth of a flower is something beautiful. Choosing death is not.

People ask how we are doing. They are concerned, and rightly so. This is a terrible process to go through, and it will be a long time before it is any easier and life becomes at all normal or happy. Others seem to think we should be over it. It's been over five weeks now. How long can we mourn? I pray they never have to deal with such a loss and find out.

There are so many reasons for such grief. Everyone understands the obvious, that we are grieving because we have lost our son and miss him. But there is so much more. We grieve because it is hard to know how unhappy he must have been. Hard to know we could not help him, though we tried. Hard to know he did not come to us with his misery and problems so that we could help him more. Hard to know he never found the love he needed. Hard to know he will never have children.

Hard to know he will never see the sun, the moon, the stars. Will never ride his beloved motorcycle or drive his car. Hard to know he never found a career that provided satisfaction. Hard to know he felt he had not lived up to his potential. Hard to know he was so alone, despite the friends and family who cared deeply for him. Hard to know how much misery he dealt with in the past few years, whether disappointment in love or accidents with car and motorcycle, whether robberies or not getting promotions or new jobs he applied for, whether financial difficulties or health problems. He had too much for his broad shoulders to bear.

For us, there is more. There is a loss of identity. It is as though a limb were cut off and a piece of us is missing. It hurts not just emotionally, but physically. There is the loss of his future, the loss of the time we would spend with him. He died just days before his father's 65th birthday, and he was always there for birthdays. He will never be there for birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving. None of those days will ever be the same.

There is the sadness of taking his life apart piece by piece. Two of the hardest days for us were this past week. Simple things that surprised us with their emotional impact. On Monday, we turned in his military ID card at MacDill AFB. On Friday, we finally picked up a box of his belongings from his workplace. So simple, but so hard. It feels as though we are erasing his identity piece by piece.

In our hearts, we know that his identity from now on will be our memories, the photos, the few personal possessions we have of his, but all the rest will be gone from us. Although his military identity will be preserved in his resting place, and in photos, and in the beautiful flag case given to us by his friend Melissa, there was still something expressibly sad about turning in his ID card. It's the finality of it.

I was surprised how hard it was to get his belongings from work. He worked in a secure environment and we never saw the phone center cubicle where he worked. His supervisor brought his belongings out to our car in a box. I had a hard time opening it to see what was there. Nothing really surprising, not much at all, but again, it was like erasing one more piece of his life. Apparently, he had a puzzle on his desk that he was working on, and it is still there. His team members didn't want it disturbed.

Yesterday was also hard because we were talking to his bank about the loan on his Mazda RX-8 sports car, a gorgeous car he loved. It's hard to see it in our garage because it reminds me so of him, and how happy I always was to see him drive up in that car, but it will probably be even harder to see it taken away, and yet another important piece of the identity he built for himself gone.

For the gathering at our house the evening of his memorial services, I made a slide show of over 400 photos of his life from birth to his 33rd birthday. Seeing all of them at once made me realize that because Leif was always so big for his age, and a big man, and because he had always kept his emotions inside, even as a child, none of us had really seen his vulnerability. He carefully cultivated his code of "never show weakness," and he was very successful at it. Only by seeing all of these photos together did we see the vulnerability in the child and the man.

We knew that the problems and disappointments in his adult life had led to some very bad times for him, times when he was deeply depressed and fought with suicidal thoughts, but until this time, he had gotten past them and gone on with his life. It's hard to know that this time, he let no one in. I was worried about him, very worried, beginning last fall. He first denied depression, but at the end of November, he admitted to me in an email message that life was "very dark" and he was searching for a reason to exist. I was so alarmed that I tried to keep in close contact, tried to suggest he get help, but he brushed me off.

I felt better when he showed a keen interest in the Obama campaign, politics, a new computer, the game Mass Effect, and most of all, a new love interest. But apparently, his hopes came crashing down when he was unable to solve his financial problems and didn't want to turn to anyone else and admit he was in trouble. It's hard for his family and friends to forgive him for that. For me, I think it was the last straw in a chain of unbearable experiences that made him feel life would never be better for him. And that's the hardest thing of all, to know he had no hope.

We bring our children into the world with such hope for them, and Leif came into the world with so much good fortune, a family who loved him and could provide not only a good material life, but experiences around the world, good looks, a soaring, intelligent mind. We had such hopes for him. But he lacked a sense of purpose, and he needed someone to love. He never was able to handle finances and the paperwork details of life, and he had no direction for a real career. We will never know why. He may have inherited depressive tendencies. He certainly cultivated the identity he chose, the cool guy with the cool "toys," computers, fancy cell phones, motorcycle, guns, the infantry soldier, the gamer, and much more.

But in the end, none of that could bring him happiness or a purpose in life. We mourn for all that could have been, all we have lost, our own loss of identity as his parents, the hole in our lives where Leif always lived large. Most of all, we mourn for his unhappiness, for the sadness of his adult life and the end he felt he must make of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment