Sunday, July 20, 2008

Where Lies Truth? Alcohol and guns are a bad combination!

I've missed writing for a couple of days, partly due to family needs that took precedence, and partly because I've been contemplating what I wanted to say rather than just another post about something in Leif's past. It's been a hard week and a half for me, first receiving Leif's autopsy and then talking to the detective who investigated his death.

The autopsy shows the cause of death as suicide by self-inflicted gunshot. The detective thinks the circumstances point to an accident. I thought I had resolved that question in my mind long ago, but that conversation brought it all up again and I've spent another six days thinking about it. I can see why the detective says that, because there is no clear evidence of any planning, no note, a new gun (when he had been a gun owner all his adult life), and the place of death, in his kitchen.

I think the detective also thinks that it may be easier on the family to think of his death as an accident rather than a suicide, but it isn't for me. The result is the same, but it is no comfort to me to think he died because of an accident mishandling a loaded gun, a man who knew guns as well as any man could, or because he chose to end his life. Either way, it was at his own hand, but somehow it's even more senseless if it was an accident and he would have wanted to go on living.

I don't think Leif planned this ahead of time. It may have been a possibility in his mind, but not something he had decided to act upon until that moment or shortly before he did it. Maybe it was an impulse brought on by depression and too much alcohol. Leif could hold a lot of alcohol and not show it, and I never saw any evidence that it impaired his judgement, but it may well have increased his depression and put him over the edge.

I've done a lot of research and reading since his death, and the most dangerous time for a gun owner is after purchasing a new gun, especially a first gun. It's not only dangerous for others, but MOST dangerous to the owner, because that is the most likely time for a suicide to occur. You could say that it's because they bought the gun for that purpose, but there is also the possibility that they bought it and then made the decision. Guns make it all to "easy" to end one's life, to easy to act on impulse.

The day before Leif died (he died in the wee hours of the morning the day following what I'm going to recount), he did things that someone who had decided to die would be very unlikely to do. He filled his gas tank. He bought an expensive pair of new shoes. He bought a new computer game. He bought a gun. (He did not need a new gun to commit suicide. He already had several.)

He contacted iTunes to request music from a German band he wanted to purchase. He talked about the future and plans for it. He was participating in an email discussion with people around the country that evening until he went out with friends. Back in his apartment, he and friends examined his unloaded guns and he was very proud of the new one he had purchased that day. None of these things correspond to a decision to end one's life.

However, alone in his apartment, sometime between 3 AM and 9 AM, he loaded the new gun and shot himself with it. Despite the detective's belief that it was an accident, I can't agree. Leif, even under the influence of alcohol, would not have been foolish enough to load that gun with the kind of ammunition he used, and place the barrel on his forehead and pull the trigger. However quickly he made that decision, I believe he made it.

Leif was an introspective man who kept his feelings and problems inside. He hid them well from all of us, to a high degree. He wanted to be the strong man who could handle anything.

He left us no message about what he did or why, left us to piece it together. He did leave two things on his laptop computer screen, a sad photo of himself, and the open file of a philosophy paper he wrote in December, at a place that talked about Socrates chosing death rather than a path of action he felt was wrong. That was the closest we will probably ever get to knowing Leif's thinking about what he was about to do, and like most things in a suicide, still leaves many unanswered questions.

What action did he think was wrong? Coming to us for a third time to solve his indebtedness? Living without hope or purpose? Or did something happen that we don't know about that triggered his decision?

Going through all this again has been a sorrowful and painful week, but although I can say, "where lies truth?" and know that I don't have, and never will have, the full measure of it, the many hours of sifting through it have brought me back to the same place.

And the same questions. Why, oh why, couldn't he be happy? Why couldn't he have had some measure of good luck and love in his adult life? Why didn't he reach out?

I do know the answer to that last one, though I wish it had not been his way. He didn't reach out because that was against his code. A man should show no weakness.

It's a terrible thing to know your child was so unhappy.

It is a terrible thing to know I will miss him every day of my life.

It is a terrible thing to know that I am not yet ready to let go, and that I am in some measure, trying to hold him here with my grief, senseless as that may be.


The photo of the contemplative Leif above was taken by his dad when we were living in Puerto Rico, in about May 1991 when he was 16. He's wearing his signature Oakley sunglasses. Always Mr. Cool.

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