Saturday, May 31, 2008

Leif - The Purple Suit & The Sculptor - 1992

In high school, Leif became a snappy dresser with his own sense of distinctive style. When he wasn't wearing the the in-style ragged jeans and combat boots, he liked unusual styles, particularly two suites, one a sort of silver/gray the other purple, and he looked terrific in them.

This photo was taken in our back yard in Puerto Rico. Note the Oakley sunglasses, one of several pairs he owned over the years. I found one in his belongings after he died.

That yard was surrounded by a ring of 29 coconut palms and was very hard to mow. Leif got that job, and he didn't like it. However, I wish I had a photo of him out there, bare to the waist, long hair streaming, with his machete stuck into a coconut he had just lopped the end off of, holding it in the air with the machete and drinking the juice by pouring it down his throat. He looked like a very well-built Tarzan.

I chose this photo because of an analogy Peter made today. He said it's as though we had what we thought was a perfect piece of marble and spent 33 years sculpting it, and then found it had a fatal flaw that would cause it to disintegrate.

I thought a lot about that today, but the analogy isn't quite right. It's more as though we had about 20 years to sculpt the beautiful statue, and then had to put it out into the public garden, where vandals worked for years to destroy it and finally managed to do so.

I say that because Leif suffered greatly. He was betrayed by people he loved. He was treated with terrible unfairness and cruelty in the army because of his asthma. He suffered heartbreaking loneliness and depression.

Although the rest of Shakepeare's speech doesn't fit, the line "he loved not wisely but too well" certainly fits Leif. He had great love to give, but he chose unwisely and those he loved broke his heart.

Leif had flaws. They contributed to his loneliness and depression, but as I learn about depression, I see that many of those flaws were symptoms of it.

Yet in so many ways, he WAS the beautiful statue, the beautiful mind. He was brilliant, though he never found a focus and sense of purpose for that mind. He was handsome. He was kind. He was funny. He had a social conscience. He cared deeply about his country.

When this photo was taken, he could have been a model, posed for the cover of romance novels, but although he dressed the part, he never had the artifice to be the ladies' man . . . and indeed, what he really wanted most of all in life was a loyal, loving soulmate, the protector of his heart.

How I wish he had found her!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Surprises of Grief

Peter's cousin Wofgang Schneider in Heidelberg, Germany, and his family, sent this beautiful candle in remembrance of Leif. The poem on it says:

I'm not there
where I've been
but I'm everywhere
you are
In the night
I'm the stars sparkling light
On every day
I'm the sunlight's ray
on you.

It's such a beautiful thought, and I wish it to be true. But Oh, how I miss my son!

There are things no one ever tells you about grief, not just missing the person, or wondering why this had to happen, and all that goes with those feelings. Other things sneak up on you unawares.

We got our wills redone yesterday. It's true that it's a formality, because it won't change anything about our heirs, but it seemed so sad and so lonely to put down just one son's name, as though I only had one son. I know that's not the reality of it, just that only one is still here to inherit whatever I have to leave behind when I die, but it's the meaning of writing down that there's only one now. In 33 years, I've never put down just one name.

How grateful I am that I have Peter Anthony, that he is my son.

Yet how hard it is to see Leif being erased from one document after another.

In choosing the photos to put on this blog, I find there are few of me with my sons. I was the one taking so many of the photos. I wish now I had more showing us together.

I also see how fast I am racing through the 33 years of Leif's life. Of the photos I scanned for the "slide show" I made of his life I'm nearly through the first year of his life. There are so many, many more I didn't scan and can't go back and do now. It's going to seem odd to post Christmas photos in June, but that's what I will do since I want a little continuity about his childhood in the blog.

My mother-in-law, who died in 2002, used to ask why we took so many pictures. I am so glad we did. They aren't enough.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leif - The Joy of Crawling - 7 months old - August 1975

Our family loves cameras. All of us have them and take loads of pictures. We'd probably be shocked if we found out just how many we actually have. But unless you take a lot of them and have your camera ready most of the time, you probably don't get shots like this. I loved photographing my boys and tried hard to document their childhoods.

Among all the photos, some stand out and I remember them with particular fondness, and this shot is one of them. Leif was seven months old and was pretty fast on his knees. This is taken of him in the doorway of the upstairs bathroom of our hundred-year-old stone house in Kansas (since demolished), and he has managed to crumple up the rug and was enjoying the "action" with the bathroom scales. What a bright smile!

His whole life, happiness was often involved in exploring new "gadgets."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Leif - Happy Baby in the Bathtub - 7 months old

As long has he had something to DO, something to SEE, Leif was a happy baby. Look at the joy on this little face when he was taking a bath. He loved it. Loved to splash and make a big mess.

On the other hand, he got bored and plenty upset if he was stuck where he couldn't get around, either on his own or on someone's back or in someone's arms, or couldn't see something interesting to keep his mind occupied.

This photo was taken in August 1975 in the upstairs bathroom of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leif and His Brother, Peter Anthony - Summer 1975

Leif's older brother, Peter Anthony, was five when I got pregnant with Leif. He was fascinated by the whole idea. He turned six a month before Leif was born, and Leif was like some interesting new, self-activated "toy" to Peter. He was very interested in his development and very affectionate to his baby brother.

I thought we had the so-called sibling rivalry battle completely licked. We did . . . until Leif began to walk and talk. Then he started unwittingly competing with Peter for attention and time, and Peter was a little less enthralled . . . and upset if Leif came into his room without permission and touched his things. Other than that, though, the two of them liked being together and spent a lot of time together.

One day in the summer of 1975, when Leif was about 6 months old, I found the scene i this picture. Peter had climbed into the crib with Leif and was having a great time entertaining him. Peter was six-and-a-half years old.

Leif Garretson - Military Honors Flag Case

This beautiful flag case was sent to us by Leif's friend, Melissa Palenske. It holds the full size casket flag that was folded by the Honor Guard at Leif's inurnment service at Bay Pines National Cemetery on April 29th, and his military insignia. Melissa is an engraver and she personally made the engraved plate on the middle of the bottom of the case. The inscription reads:

In Memory of
Leif A. Garretson
1975 - 2008
Served His Country With Honor
1998 - 2001

The flag was presented to me at the ceremony by Leif's brother, LTC Peter A. Garretson, U.S. Air Force.

His father, LTC Peter W. Garretson, U.S. Army, Retired, put together the insignia in the lower shadowbox part of the case.

It is a beautiful memorial for Leif, and we are glad to have it at home with us.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Leif - Memorial Day Visit to the Cemetery

I have always felt sad on Memorial Day, for all those who died for our country, and all their families, and I feel the same each time I hear and see the "Honor Roll" for those who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq on television. Leif felt very strongly about the deaths of his fellow soldiers in Iraq. He felt out country valued the lives of its soldiers far less than the lives of those who died on 9/11, and he blamed President Bush for their deaths.

I have never visited a national cemetery on Memorial Day before. We went today (it will show up as yesterday on the blog post date because it's after midnight) to honor Leif, and because they set his stone marker on Friday and we wanted to see it. It wasn't so much about visiting Leif, because the Leif we love isn't there. It's hard to know that all he was, that towering figure in so many ways, is now just our memories and photos, and all that's in that niche is ashes.

When we were there for the inurnment service, there was hardly anyone else there. It was a place of quiet peace. Today, there were many families visiting the graves of loved ones, some placing flowers, one man down on his hands and knees carefully scraping dust and dirt out of the incised letters of the marker stone. There were small American flags by each in-ground burial (all burials at Bay Pines National Cemetery are cremations), and that made it so much more obvious how many are buried here. The stones are flat to the ground, so it looks more like beautiful grass fields unless you walk over them and see the stones as you look down.

The campanile was playing the songs of each military service as we got there. That started the tears flowing. It always does, whether I'm at a sad occasion or not, just as the National Anthem makes me cry. I'm a hopelessly emotional person, I guess.

Peter had been worried about how I would handle seeing Leif's niche with the stone in place, and yes, I cried, but it wasn't as bad as either of us feared. I think it was because I had tried hard to prepare myself, and because I realized that it isn't really Leif that is there.

I decided to put a series of photos on this post beginning with one of him in Uzbekistan. He is in the center with two UN soldiers from other countries on either side of him. The other photos are his marker, the columbarium that his niche is in (his is exactly in the middle on the second row from the top), one of the fields of flags, and the column monument at the entrance to the cemetery.

If you haven't been to a national cemetery and you have the chance to go, please do. You will find it very moving, and all those who paid for our liberty with their lives deserve our thanks. Arlington National Cemetery is particularly worth a visit.

Leif did not die in the service of his country, at least not directly, though I think that service played a part in his death. He was a disabled veteran who began having asthma attacks in cold weather after the military exercises he was a part of in Uzbekistan in the fall of 1998. Although I have no way of proving it, I believe the experienced some substance or "trigger" there which caused his asthma. He had never had it before.

It was asthma that ruined his military career and put a stop to his hopes of a career in law enforcement, and was part of a chain of disappointments that added to his depression.

But no matter what, Leif served his country proudly and took very seriously his oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. And we are proud of him for his service.

Leif - Infantry Machine Gunner - Uzbekistan 1998

Leif was a machine gunner in the infantry, and he was outstanding at it. He received several awards as the best in his units, earned sharpshooter badges, and loved that gun. This photo was taken in a tent in Uzbekistan, when his unit from the Tenth Mountain Division, was there for UN exercises in the fall of 1998. It was actually taken in a tent and there were other guys from his unit in the background. I took them out with PhotoShop because I don't know who they were and can't ask their permission to post their photos on the blog.

Leif had a strong bond with his assistant gunner, James Mayo. They lost contact after they both got out of the service, and Leif tried to find Jim online but never succeeded.

When Leif was carrying his entire infantry pack and the gun, the weight was about the same as his body weight.

Leif was also a certified armorer. He loved guns and knew more about them than anyone I ever met.

It's the wee hours of the morning on Monday, May 26th, Memorial Day, the day we honor those who died for their country. Leif was not killed in a war, or die from combat wounds, but he served his country well and was disabled by his service. We will visit the cemetery later today and see the marker stone set in his niche for the first time. Later I'll post a photo of that.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Leif Garretson - Farewell to My Gentle Giant

Today is my birthday. This is the first birthday in my life that Leif will not be there, in 33 years. He only missed the three while he was in the army, far away. Today he will not be driving up in his Mazda RX-8, the car he loved. Instead, today I will witness the repossession of that beautiful car, and realize anew that I will never see him in it again.

Today I decided to post the reading I wrote and read for Leif's Memorial Service on April 29th, and add a photo that is probably the closest one I have of him looking like Adrian Paul in The Highlander. It was taken in 1992 or 1993, when we lived in Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. He was a junior in high school then.

Note the pierced ear and earring. He had his ear pierced by a neighbor, and wore an earring most of the time until he enlisted in the army in January 1998.

I mention the song, "Who Wants to Live Forever?" by Queen because that it is a song that held a lot of meaning for Leif. We had talked about it at length, and it was played as a part of his memorial service.


Farewell to my Gentle Giant - My Reading at Leif’s Memorial Service

“Who Wants to Live Forever?” by Queen.

I can't listen to that sad, poignant song without crying. It is so quintessentially Leif. He loved the movie, “The Highlander,” and there was a time people said he looked like Adrian Paul. He loved swords, was a romantic at heart, and was devastated when loved died. He wanted to be a hero, wanted to be needed, wanted to be strong. Through so many disappointments and crises, he held his head high and did not let others see his pain and frustration. Finally, it was too much.

From the day he was born, Leif was, in a sense, larger than life. He was such a large newborn that the nurses at the hospital where he was born joked that I was supposed to raise my kids after I had them, and teased me about what college he was going to.

He dwarfed the other babies there. I thought it was a fluke, that he would slow down to the family average size, but Leif was always the tallest in his class, even taller than his first grade teacher, and was 6' 1" by the time he was only in 7th grade.

He also had a piercingly smart mind. His teacher at the Montessori school he attended in Nurnberg, Germany when he was two years old told me at a conference that initially she thought Leif paid no attention to anything, didn't join the circle time, and wasn't getting anything out of it because he was puttering around by himself. Then, when they did their learning assessments, she was amazed to discover that Leif knew everything that had been taught to the class while he was silently working on his own.

Leif had a nearly photographic memory, and an amazing auditory memory that allowed him to quote movie lines, not bother with note-taking in school, and recall even how people spoke, not just what they said.

He was a beautiful child, so beautiful that people would literally stop us on the street and tell us that, but I don't think he ever that sensed and would have been embarrassed it he had. By the time he was an adolescent, reaching puberty long before the other boys in his class, and spent years with a bad case of acne that he was teased about, he didn't believe he was attractive.

I don't know what kind of perspective a child growing up like that gains on the world, how it feels to be the giant, both physically and mentally, but I know he felt a kind of distance from others and an inner conflict that probably lasted all his life. He was only partly at home in the world of his peers, whether as a child, an adolescent, or an adult.

I called him my gentle giant, for with his size and enormous strength, it would have been all to easy for Leif to be a bully or use his body and mind to dominate or torment others, but he never did, not after the day in kindergarten when he lost his temper, threw toys at other children, and then was so mortified and ashamed of himself that he crawled under a table and would not come out. It was clear he had made a decision that would not happen again, that he would not hurt anyone.

Leif became in some ways a very traditional man From babyhood he loved vehicles of all kinds, and became an expert on cars and motorcycles, driving either as though he were in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. He could never have enough gadgets and even built his own computer. He loved guns and was a certified armorer and a passionate believer in the Second Amendment.

He practiced martial arts and earned a black belt in judo, and loved fighting in medieval armor in the SCA, even wearing a 50 pound chain mail shirt he made himself. He loved movies about superheroes, men who saved the planet, the universe.
He joined the infantry to fight for his country, to defend his beloved Constitution.

Leif needed a focus for his intellect and his emotions, a defining purpose and a lofty goal, but unfortunately, he never really found them. He yearned achingly for someone to love, but a lasting relationship was not meant to be. He was deeply hurt, but he always forgave.

Yes, Leif wanted to be the hero, the gentle giant who would fight to defend his family, his friends, his country. His personal code was to never show weakness, and he kept his deep and towering emotions inside. He wanted to be needed, to be respected and loved.

Leif made many mistakes and he often lived life on the edge. He seemed to need and crave strong sensations, speed, danger, everything larger than life, as if life had to be over the top to be worthwhile, and yet he could patiently explain and teach almost any concept in a way the listener could understand, to an adult or a child.

I have been touched by the comments posted on my Remembering Leif blog, and I've asked one of Leif's friends for permission to quote her post because it captures some of how people saw him. Lorelei Siddall wrote:

“I met Leif in 2001 at the KSU Computer store where we were both employed. The computer store was a dim and humorless place at first, but then came Leif, a bright spot. I was intimidated at first since he was such a rambunctious person... full of ideas and interesting facts, philosophies, and an overwhelming presence that was almost bigger than the tiny alcove the store was tucked into.

“He quickly became the most interesting person in the store to talk to and work with, and soon my boyfriend at the time was coming up to the store specifically to talk to him as well. He spawned a sort of viral effect... whereas one person could meet him, then tell other people about this guy 'you just have to meet', and a sort of legend develops.

“I cherish the time I (had). You and your husband raised an amazing person, a person who has had a profound and global impact on the lives he had touched. He was a natural teacher, although this last lesson is the hardest one I think.”

It is indeed a hard one, one I don't want to learn. I don't want to learn to live without Leif, but I know I must. I don't want to miss his presence, his intellect, his humor, his dimpled smile, and most of all, his love.

As parents, we brought our sons into the world full of hope for them, and it is hard to accept that our dreams for Leif will never be realized, that he will never find his purpose and defeat his demons, that he will never have a family, that he will never be there for a birthday or a Christmas, never be there to teach us about the latest technology and set things up for us, never tease me about driving like an old lady.

It is hardest of all to know that our love was not enough to save him, that no matter what I tried, I could not help him be happy, or take away his pain. I knew it was there, but he would not admit to me how bad it was.

In many ways, he lived a life rich in experience, though it was also drowned in depression and loneliness. In many ways he engaged the world and wanted much from life, but he was also bitterly disappointed. In the end, he was overwhelmed.

I can't really talk to you about my deepest feelings about Leif, or I would be overwhelmed. I brought him into with world with hope and love; how I wish he would have had the hope I had for him. He was and always will be larger than life, my gentle giant, a tragic would-be hero, and I will be grateful for the 33 years of memories I have of him, the things he taught me, the bear hugs he gave me. I will miss him every day of my life.

Leif - Little Explorer - 6 months old - July 1975

As soon as Leif managed to get around on his own, he became a little explorer. He was scooting around at six months, managing to get just about everywhere but up and down the stairs, and he would have tried that if he'd been allowed to, if it weren't so dangerous at that age.

He loved to be on the go, to, in any way, shape or form, as long is he was heading someplace with something new to look at, pick up, manipulate, or taste.

This photo was taken in our dining room in the old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, when he was six months old, under the buffet, July 1975.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Leif - "Flying" With Dad - 6 months old - July 1975

From the beginning, Leif loved motion. He loved being "zoomed" through the air, going in the car, riding in a stroller, and "flying" on his dad or mom's feet. Look at the joy on his face. I think if must have been when he first felt the kind of exhilaration he loved when riding his motorcycles.

He was lucky to have a Daddy who played with him and was always there for him.

This photo was taken in the living room of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas in July 1975.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leif With His Dad - nearly 3 months old - April 1975

Leif was a strong baby. He was strong all his life. He did nearly everything early, whether holding up his head, crawling, walking, talking, but often others didn't think it was at an early age for those milestones because he was so big that he looked older.

This photo was taken in April 1975 in our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas. He loved to be perched on his dad's chest where he could enjoy some special attention.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Leif With His Dad - 2 days old

Leif was born January 28, 1975 at the Irwin Army Community Hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas, where his father, Peter W. Garretson, was serving as a JAG officer (lawyer) in the Army. His dad was present at his birth, and had brought some amusement to the labor process by reading "I Lost Everything in the Postnatal Depression" by Irma Bombeck aloud to Jerri, Leif's mother, in the labor suite.

This photo was taken when Leif was two days old, January 30, 1975. You can see that even then, his gaze, whether firmly focused or not, was definitely looking his dad in the eye. Leif had in immensely curious and questing mind from the beginning.

Leif was big from birth. None of the rest of his family are tall people, and we thought he was going to slow down and be more or less average size like the rest of us, but it didn't happen.

Leif weighed 9 lbs. 15 oz. at birth, and was nearly 24 inches long. He dwarfed all the other babies in the hospital nursery, and everyone was teasing me about how I was supposed to raise them AFTER they were born, not before, and asking what college he was going to.

However, Leif never did "slow down" and was never average size. He was always off the growth charts, and by the time he was in junior high, he was already his 6 foot 1 inch adult height.

From the beginning, he showed an avid demand for visual and auditory stimuli and craved new things to see and hear. He did not like being put down where he couldn't see everything that was going on.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Leif - Graduation from Junior High School

It's that time of the year for graduations. Since I've been writing about Leif's junior high years, here are two photos of him posing in his bright red NJHS gown. His playful spirit was going strong. It was a milestone he looked forward to, and the day we took these photos, we also took a lot of other funny ones horsing around. NJHS in Highland Park, Illinois, was good for him. It was one of the few places that not only stretched his mind but offered students a selection of assignments that they could choose from, allowing him to find something that really engaged him.

I do remember one language arts class that didn't provide as much choice, and he was required to read books he didn't care for at all, one being the award winning, "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," and he hated having to speculate about characters' motivations. He just wanted to enjoy a good story.

It's a shame he didn't like math, because he had a truly outstanding scientific mind, and if he had been motivated to overcome the math aversion, he would probably have been a lot happier if he had gone into science.

Leif's junior high years weren't all happy, though. He suffered from a bad case of acne and some nasty kids called him "pizza face." I didn't learn that until many years later when he was an adult and told me that he was still hesitant to try to meet women because that had so damaged his self image.

He had friends in junior high, particularly Chris and Robert, but wasn't a popular kid. It's often hard for highly intelligent kids to find friends. Other kids are often intimidated, jealous, or think they are weird. Luckily Leif did have two good friends and they lived close to us on our street, so that unlike some kids who don't get to see their friends often outside of school, Leif found it easy to get together with Robert and Chris. They participated in Leif's radio-controlled car adventures.

It was in junior high that Leif also tried skate boarding, though he never became adept at it and I have no photos of him on the board.

He liked computer games, back in those days of simpler games and no internet. We had two computers, an Apple II+ and an Atari 1040STf. We had a large number of games on floppy disks, and he loved playing car racing games, sci-fi games, maze games, some role-playing games, and some fighting games. One was a very silly sword play game in which the objective was to lop off the head of the opponent. It sounds violent, but it was so silly that it was funny. Leif never lost his love of computer games and became more and more interested in them and role-playing games.

All told, Leif's junior high years at NJHS were good ones. He blossomed there, and set the stage for success and good looks in high school.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Leif's First Visit to Tampa - The White Mustang

Our first visit to Tampa was in March 2002, during Spring Break. Leif was in college at Kansas State University at that time, and we took him with us to explore Florida and where we might like to live.

Leif was so happy to escape the gray skies and cold weather in Kansas, and he rented a white Mustang convertible for a day to drive around without us (nice to be a young man in a hot car without parents along). He and his father were anxious to move to Florida and gave me many talks about how we should do it as soon as possible, but we didn't make it until the spring of 2005 for Leif. March 2005, three years later he was here, but only lasted another three years before his death.

We remember how thrilled he was at the city, the views, the sunshine, the beaches, and how he thought the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was "awesome."

How we wish he had been able to keep that joy and find the new life we had hoped for, and that we had hoped for for him.

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.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Leif Garretson - Discus Thrower

Leif was very active in junior high and high school, athletically, in extracurricular activities, and with his own hobbies, and he did well in school. I think in many ways these were the best years of his life. He was still full of hopes and dreams, possibilities.

This photo is of him in the junior high field day when he astonished everyone with how far he could lob the discus and shot put. Leif was always extremely strong.

He played soccer, where he could boot a ball far down the field, and earned his black belt in judo in junior high. In high school, he continued to play soccer through his freshman year.

And,he took up guitar playing. More on that later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Leif's Junior High School Science Fair Projects

Leif found a way to combine his fascination with radio-controlled model cars with science experiments in seventh and eighth grades. He first designed an ingenious way to test the effect of different tire treads on battery life and the distance the car would travel on a charge. He had several different types of tires with vastly different tread patterns. It would be interesting to see how this kind of research would translate into today's world with real cars and find out how a variety to tread patterns would affect gas mileage.

In eighth grade, he got even more sophisticated, designing an experiment to measure the effect of gear ratios on speed and battery life. The RC-10 was a versatile car that could be modified in many ways, and there were many parts available to do that with. One was the gear system that tranferred the motion from the drive shaft to the wheel axle. By changing gear sizes, a different torque would be created.

Leif was a student who always insisted on doing his own work, and although there were times he did the minimal amount to get by, when he had an interesting assignment that challenged his incredible mind, he got deeply involve and produced outstanding work. Unfortunately, he was not a lover of academics and always maintained that he hated school. Actually, it wasn't school so much that he hated. It was mindless assignments and homework. Learning in class he often enjoyed, and assignments that caught his interest led to terrific work. He was fortunate at Northwood Junior High in Highland Park, Illinois, to have science and language arts teachers that really engaged his mind and he did some of his best work there.

The gear ratio experiment was selected to go on to the state science fair in Illinois, where it received a very high rating.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My First Mother's Day with Leif

Thirty-three years ago I first celebrated Mother's Day with Leif in my arms. Today is the first Mother's Day since then he will not be alive in my life. There is a hole in my heart, but I am grateful for those 33 years. I only wish his adult life had been a happy one, that he were still here.

Today I will remember the happy times.

And today I will remember that I have another wonderful son, Leif's brother Peter Anthony, who is six years older than Leif, and who has been the light of my life for 39 years. I have been blessed.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Preludes to the RC-10

Yesterday I started out with the "king" of RC cars, Leif's RC-10, but that's not what he started with. These are the first and second cars he got, fun, but nowhere near as fast and sophisticated as the RC-10. These pictures were taken in late fall 1987, near our house at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

That's the black leather Members Only jacket he wore so much.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Leif's "First Car" - the RC-10

When Leif was in junior high school in Highland Park, Illinois, he was too young to have either a car or a driver's license, but too old for the Matchbox cars. That's when he discovered radio-controlled cars. He save his allowance and gift money to spend on them. The first kit he bought was made in China and in those days (about 1986) the "English" instructions were nearly unreadable. With his mechanical skills, he figured out how to put it together and soon had it racing up and down the street.

Of course, typical of Leif, he had to have a better one . . . and a better one. The top of the line in those days was the RC-10. It was expensive and it took him awhile to save up the money, but boy, was it fast and sleek! Not content with the "out of the box" version, he spent what seemed to be an endless amount of money on different gears, wheels, bodies, and then modified the body. You can see in this photo that he drilled numerous holes in the aluminum chassis to make it lighter and therefore faster.

The RC-10 proved to be his ticket to two outstanding science fair projects. First, in seventh grade, he designed and carried out an experiment on how different tire treads affected battery life and the length the car could go on a single charge. In 8th grade, he went all the way to the Illinois State Science Fair with his intricate and excellent experiment on how different gear ratios affected speed and distance. Perhaps in the next couple of days I'll post photos of him with his science fair displays.

The obsession with radio-controlled cars had an added benefit. Leif had always maintained he didn't like to read, and getting him to read school assignments and books for book reports usually was an unpleasant chore. However, he loved reading about model cars, sports cars and radio-controlled cars and subscribed to several magazines about them, which he read avidly.

Actually, it wasn't that Leif didn't like to read, just that he didn't like the kind of reading he was required to do. Hand him the "right" book, like Orson Scott Card's Ender series, beginning with Ender's Game, and he couldn't put it down.

One amusing thing about his subscriptions was the other mail he got because of them. Evidently the profile for someone subscribing to Car and Driver magazine, for instance, must have been for a yuppy, or at least a young man with some cash, and of age. Leif got frequent credit card offers at the age of 13 or 14. We had no success in stopping the flood of them until one night he sat down and filled out one of the applications . . . truthfully, stating his occupation as "junior high school student," and his income as his meager allowance, etc. To bad we couldn't have seen the face of whoever opened it.

I don't know what happened to his RC-10. I think he had it at least until he went into the Army in 1998, maybe even after that.

Among his things when he died was a radio-controlled car. Still having fun. Now his nephew will enjoy playing with it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Leif and Knight Rider

From earliest childhood, Leif loved cool, fast cars. He had a huge collection of fancy Matchbox cars which he loved to play with. When we lived in Hawaii, one of his favorite television shows was Knight Rider. To his delight, he got to meet David Hasselhof in Hawaii, in November 1985, when he was 10 years old. This is the photo he and Hasselhof posed for.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Sad Month - Leif's Ashes Urn

It's been a month since Leif died, though his death certificate says Thursday, April 10, 2008 (found) and doesn't give the actual date of death. It's been a very sad month. We have been grateful for the love and support of family and friends, and today the last family visitors departed, Leif's brother and his family. Now we must try to make some sense out of life again, carry on taking care of Leif's affairs, and take care of each other.

This is probably the last photo I will post of Leif's memorial services until we see the engraved plaque on his niche at the cemetery, and that won't be ready for another month. I am going to try to focus on his life now, not his death.

Leif's father decorated this wooden box with Leif's military insignia. It seems odd to me that even when the container for the "cremains" as they call them now, though they are still ashes to me, is a box, they call it an "urn." It's hard to believe that a man as large as Leif was can be reduced to such a small amount of matter.

We will always love Leif. He cannot know what grief he has left behind.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Last Touch - The Last Goodbye

I don't think there is ever really a last goodbye. We all keep Leif in our memories, and there will never be a goodbye that is final, but this photo was the last time I could touch his urn. I know he wasn't there, just his ashes, but it's all we had left of the physical presence of our son.

I don't want to post photos of the military honors service or the memorial service because I don't post photos of other people without their permission, and grief is very personal. I also don't want this blog to be just about Leif's death and last services, but about the life he had and our memories of him, but it's impossible not to acknowledge that there was a day of services to honor his passing.

On April 29, 2008, Leif was inurned at the Bay Pines National Cemetery with full military honors, and a memorial service was held at the St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church.

One photo is of me touching his urn before they sealed the niche at the cemetery.

The other is the table at the front of the church where his memorial service was held. The beautiful leis and ti leaves were sent by dear friends in Hawaii. The composite of photos of his life was made by Leif's sister-in-law, Darlene. The stand to hold the photo was made by his friend, Michael. The infantryman plaque was made by his father, and the triangle-folded flag is the one given to me at the military ceremony. We have it in a beautiful flag case sent to us by his friend Melissa, and we will add his military insignia and awards to it. The wooden box used as his urn was decorated with military insignia by his father. If he has a photo of it that doesn't include any person, I will post it later.

The circle stand on the table is the Unitarian Universalist flaming chalice, which is lighted at the beginning of services and extinguished at the end.

We are grateful to our family and friends, Leif's friends, and our wonderful neighbors for their help, love and support through these hard times.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Sad Week

I haven't posted anything for a whole week. It's been too busy with Leif's inurnment, memorial service, a lot of company and family staying at our home and in town, and there hasn't been time, but many of us have been remembering him, at each event and gathering.

Yesterday we finished cleaning out his apartment and today I turned in his keys. That was hard for me. Even though he hasn't been there since April 10th, and I know there is no reason for us to go back there, there is something sad and final about leaving it behind and turning over the keys.

I made a slide slow of his life for the evening gathering after the memorial service, 439 photos from birth to his last birthday, and it turned out very nice. It was good to see all the photos of the good times, and not just think of the last sad day.

Now, it's time to turn a lot of my attention to settling his affairs and figuring out what to do with all his things. It's a sad task, dismantling someone's life possessions, things that meant something to him, though there is also a lot of it he just threw in a box.