Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Shadow of Death - Grief Etched Upon the Soul - Eight Months

Today it is eight months since we found Leif's lifeless body. We are no nearer to answers than we were eight months ago. We are less anguished in our grief, but it lies no less near the surface. Every morning when I get up, I face anew the knowledge that Leif is dead, and every night when I go to bed, I know that tomorrow he still will not be there.

Every starlit night I still wish upon a star for him, though he will never come back.

Every day I check my cell phone, though I know there will be no more messages from him.

Some days bring only a tear or two. Some bring torrents. I think that grief is like a flood that builds up behind the dam of our everyday activities and politeness, hidden, until it spills over into a more obvious and debilitating depression or a flood of tears that just leave the reservoir empty until it builds up again.

Yesterday was my day to let the torrent go. Of the two days, the day I know he died (the 9th) and the day we found him (the 10th), each has it's psychological significance. Some months one stabs more than the other. This month, for me, it was yesterday, the 9th. I go over and over in my mind what I know of his last hours, wonder how he came to decide to shoot himself, how and why he did it. The answers never come.

What could we have done to help? Would he have let us? We will never know.

Every day is hard, but holidays are harder. We spend them with family, and our family is now incomplete. There will always be a hole in every celebration, someone missing from every family picture.

Leif was such a presence, such a large man, with a hearty laugh, a good conversationalist, gregarious, that his absence from our family gatherings is terribly obvious.

I was glad to spend Thanksgiving far from here, with a lot of family. I am glad that Peter Anthony and his family will be with us for Christmas. We will need them to bring us out of the shadows, to make us celebrate with them. Grandchildren are wonderful for that. Yet I will be seeing in my mind that Leif is not there playing chess with Madeleine, or being silly with Aly.

Last Christmas, he was still here.

Peter W. has always loved Christmas, always wanted to put up decorations, loved the season, the decor, the lights. He said to me, "For sixty-five years I've always had the Christmas spirit, but now I don't." That, too, is part of the sad fact of grief. It robs you of the things you have always loved because someone you love is gone, and they are infinitely more important.

We will put up the tree late this year, and wait for the grandchildren to help us decorate it. With them, it will be more than just going through the motions. It will be fun, even though the sadness will hide underneath.

Does grief really ebb, or do we just get too tired and worn to express it any more? And when grief ebbs, do we really let go? I still do not want to let go. Ever.

Does the day come with things we should really enjoy will be truly enjoyable? I hope so.

But Christmas is coming, and we had 32 of them with Leif in our lives, and all but one of them, he was with us, that year he was in Bosnia, when he apparently took no photos of the celebrations the troops had. At least I haven't found any.

So, beginning tomorrow, I will post some of the photos of him at those Christmases. Of course we weren't taking photos with anything like this in mind. They often aren't the shots I wish I had, and I won't post a photo of him at Christmas for every year of his life, but many, because I need to remember that he had happy times, that his life was not all bleak, that Christmas was magical for him as a child, that we enjoyed being together and celebrating when he was a teen and an adult, that he loved our traditional Norwegian cookies, and delighted in snitching the raw cookie dough. When I make them this year, I need to take a photo and post that, too.

We will light candles for him this Christmas, and hope that if his spirit is here, he will know he is a part of us and of our celebration, whether we can see him or not.

The photo of Leif was taken in Japan in April 1982. He was seven years old. Leif was often pensive and thoughtful. In later years, he said that ever since he was a small child, he had been an observer of life and worked to understand things and figure them out. I am trying to understand and figure things out, too.

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