Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Leif with his family - Japan 1982

Our family reunion is over, and it makes me think of all the family times we shared with Leif and how our family was complete with him in it. This photo was taken in Japan in 1982 when Leif was seven years old and his brother, Peter Anthony, was 13. We had taken a hike in the mountains.

Japan had so many beautiful places to explore, such an interesting culture. We were fortunate to live there three years when the dollar was still strong and we could afford to travel and enjoy our time there.

Leif's favorite things about Japan were robot toys, Japanese children's television shows, hiking in the parks and mountains, and electronic gadgets.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Leif -1993 - Missed at 2008 family reunion

This photo was taken of Leif around the time of our 1993 family reunion in Manhattan, Kansas. He had just graduated from high school and looked like someone who should be on the cover of a romance novel. We had a good time at that reunion, and at the one in 2003.

We held a reunion this past weekend (July 25-27) in honor of the upcoming 90th birthday of my mother, Leif's grandmother, Marion Kundiger, with descendants and spouses coming from as far away as Thailand. It was the first time that ALL of her descendants were there -- except Leif. There were 33 of us in our home, with lots of hubbub and fun, but underneath it all, I couldn't help but be sad that Leif wasn't there. He was such a large presence, both in actual physical size and in personality, and even with a house full of people, his absence was papable.

When we took the family group photos, I had to face yet again that my family was no longer the same, that Leif was not there.

It was a good reunion, with a lot of presentations and activities, and Leif would have enjoyed it. Today we went to the beach and St. Armand's Circle, and I broke down later, remembering that the last time we were there, he had ridden his motorcycle down from Tampa to join us, and I remembered him sitting there talking with his brother.

Tonight when I put my granddaughters to bed and cuddled up with them, I thought again how much he had enjoyed his nieces and nephews, though he rarely saw them.

Where is that joyous-looking young man of 1993? Why is my son gone?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Leif & His Dad in Puerto Rico 1991

While Leif was a sophomore and junior in high school, there were several clothing fads in which he avidly participated. One was ragged jeans. If one didn't have a ragged pair, teens helped them along by cutting slashes in them (and in their t-shirts, too). The jeans and pants (weight-lifter pants were popular in wild patterns) had narrower pantlegs at the ankle. The guys would roll them up, showing off part of their hairy calves. They would also shove their socks down. Although it was a rather silly set of fads, Leif actually looked good in them.

He went for the HyperColor shirts and sweatshirts, items that were tie-dyed something like in the 1970s but with a dye that changed color in the sun.

And oh, yes, combat boots! Those were "in," too. Seven years later he was wearing combat boots for real during his years in the army.

All this went along with his cool guy persona, but in his later years, he wasn't any longer the faddish or snappy dresser.

This photo was taken at a coffee plantation in Puerto Rico, where we had gone on a day trip.

Leif & Peter Anthony in 1980

Leif, your brother arrived yesterday, and how we wish you were here to be with us, to have our family complete. Here's another photo of the two of you in 1980 when you were 5 years old and we were living in Germany. You could look so absolutely joyful at times. Where did that joy go? Adulthood seems to have robbed it from you.

You had your pensive and sad, and yes, angry, moments as all children do, but many, many happy ones, too.

I'll be thinking of you every moment during Peter's visit, and seeing how you were with your nieces and nephews on their visits. Remembering your smiles, your laughter with them. I hope you are here in spirit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Leif with his Brother, Peter, April 1980 in Austria

Oh, Leif, if I could only talk to you, tell you how hard this is! I do. I talk, out loud, as though you could hear me, but only silence replies.

Tomorrow your brother and his family are arriving. I love them so, just as I love you. I should be happy and excited that they are coming, my beloved and accomplished first son and grandchildren, but instead I am crying because you will not be with us. Not be there to play chess with Madeleine. Not be there to take silly videos of Aly. Not be there to see Marcus try to play one of your guitars. Not be there to talk technology with your brother and argue politics with all of us. Not be there to hug me, leaning down from your six foot two height. Not be there.

Oh, how I miss you, Leif.

This is one of the most beautiful photos I have of you and your brother. Look at you, snuggled up together. This was taken in Scheffau, Austria, in April 1980 when you were 5 years old, probably on that trip where you threw the fit about wanting the James Bond Lotus car toy. We stayed in the Pension Wilder Kaiser and had a wonderful vacation. I wish I could take you there now.

You and Peter Anthony were close once, and I think you both forgot that once he went away to the Air Force Academy. Somehow, you both forgot all you shared, the affection, the fun, the play. You grew apart.

You were always someone who needed physical closeness to keep a relationship going. Long distance communication wasn't enough. Peter, six years older, left you behind and went out into the world. We thought you were glad, because when he was at home, you were quiet and he was talkative . . . but when he left, it was as though the floodgates had opened. You talked and talked and talked, as though all the thoughts you had were pent up over the years, now that the dominant older brother was gone, you could finally let them out.

But I wonder now, whether you felt deserted, as though a treasured companion had left you, and pushed him away as I had seen you push others away when they were geographically far from you. Did you fell the loss? Did you worry about how you could keep up with him, soaring off at the Air Force Academy, while you were finding out that your eyes wouldn't pass the flight physical, you, who desperately wanted to fly?

Oh, Leif, what a beautiful and brilliant child you were. Why couldn't you find your place to shine?

Just one year ago, before you had your motorcycle accident, you still had hope. You still had dreams. You were still looking forward to a promotion at work. You were searching for love.

And then it all fell apart. I can see the progression, beginning with the accident and injury, the pain and disillusionment.

How I wish I could have made your life happier, luckier. How I wish I could have helped you LIVE!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Leif in the wading pool at 16 months

Leif loved to splash in water, the bigger the mess he could make, the better. As a child, he enjoyed swimming, especially going to the beach, and we had a beach vacation every year. When we lived in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, the beaches were attractions we visited often.

As an adult, Leif didn't continue swimming, and although he wanted to move to Florida because of the warm weather and beaches, he seldom went to them. I wish he had. I believe sunlight is a wonderful mood enhancer.

I'd love to be able to go back and see him splashing around again. This photo was taken in May 1976 in the back yard of the old stone house we lived in in Manhattan, Kansas.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Leif - a Happy Two Year Old

As a child, Leif was active, loved to climb on things, test his strength, explore. This photo was taken a couple of months after his second birthday in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was happiest on the go, the more new places, the better.

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.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Leif's Guitars

These are two of Leif's four guitars. The blue bass guitar was in the photo of him playing it in 1992 that I posted earlier today. He also had a blue standard guitar, the one he gave to his nephew, Marcus.

The green guitar was originally his pride and joy. It is a signed Kramer Floyd Rose that he bought in about 1988. The brown one is the one he designed and made in about the fall of 1991 when we were living at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. The body is made of mahogany and is his original design. Note how deep the curve is by the horn where your hand would need to get to the strings for the top notes. It was tricky to attach the neck of the guitar to this and make it strong enough to hold and last.

When Leif first made it, he had a purple stain on it, but he later removed it because he had envisioned a high-gloss finish like the green one on the Kramer, but that wasn't something he could achieve at his high school shop. He talked on and off for years about putting another finish on the body but never did.

He put a lot of labor, hours, and expense into that guitar, and enjoyed playing it. He researched good components, pickups, etc. for it, and purchased them in various places from a huge music store in San Juan to ordering from the Musician's Friend catalog.

Like any project of Leif's, once he got started, there was no stopping him, and he would work for hours without a break. Sanding the wood on the body was a particularly long and tedious task, but he kept at it for 5 hours at a stretch. The other students at Antilles High School could not believe he was making his own guitar, and his shop teacher initially didn't approve the project, feeling it was too complex, but as usual, Leif proved he could do it and do it well.

At the time, he did the wood finishing on a mahogany body for a second guitar he wanted to make, but he never did it. That design is very different from the one in the photo. He still had that guitar body among his possessions when he died, and we have it now. I wish he had completed it.

When Leif lived in Puerto Rico, he took guitar lessons from Edwin Santiago and very much enjoyed that association. We lost contact with Edwin some time after we moved away from Puerto Rico, but if someone who reads this blog knows him, I hope they will let him know about Leif and how much he learned from Ed.

Leif the music lover and his guitars

Leif loved music from the time he was very young and had extremely eclectics tastes. He played electric guitar beginning in junior high when we lived at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and played bass briefly in a band when he was a junior in high school at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. The photo of him above is from the one and only performance of that band at Antilles High School, in the spring of 1992.

That year, he also designed and made his own electric guitar with an unusual neck and fingerboard connection the came up with to make fingering high notes easier. I'll have to post a photo of it one of these days. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of him playing it.

During those years, he practiced and learned to play some of his favorite guitar solos from rock albums. He had huge music collection and those albums from the 1980s were still among his songs on iTunes.

I wish he had continued to play throughout the years. His guitars always meant a lot to him, and he displayed them with the amp in his living room wherever he lived, even if he didn't play. I know the "language" of the guitar solo spoke to him . . . though many other kinds of music did, too. He listened to everything from Bach to heavy metal, from punk rock to some techno genres, from Kitaro to Mariah Carey. Listening to his music now makes me cry. Most of what he loved is full of emotion.

Leif gave his first guitar to his nephew, Marcus. We hope he will learn to play it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leif With Blue Hair - Junior High

Here's a version of Leif I'll bet few of you have seen or would have thought of. I wish I remember why he did this. It was never a "look" he wore for any time at all, just something he did for some occasion at school, some "special day" when they dressed up for some reason. It certainly made him look different!

By this time he was tall, and hadn't yet started wearing his hair long, but he always liked kind of unusual, stylish clothes. However, these were a bit far out even for him.

He is posing in our living room where we lived at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. I think he was about 13 when it was taken, and was attending Northwood Junior High School.

It's another example of his sense of humor and fun, and how he liked to surprise people.

Leif being silly

It' time to lighten things up a bit. Leif had a great sense of humor and he liked to act silly and make people laugh. This photo was taken at a family gathering in 1995 where he found a giant white plastic paper clip and decided to wear it on his nose. I'm glad I caught that with a camera.

Leif was always a good person to have at a family event because he was full of interesting discussion ideas, up on the latest technology, passionate about our country and Constitution, and well-versed in politics. I'm missing all that, and the funny ways he liked to make me laugh.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why it's so hard to lose a child

I've experienced death before. I've been with four people when they died. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and closest of all before this, my father, who died when I was twelve. Each was a loss I felt, and I missed all of them, but nothing prepared me for the grief of losing Leif.

I've thought a lot about that in the past three months, and I know why. The death of a child is different because as a loving parent, I invested so much of myself in Leif's life. I was closer to him, spent more time with him, worried more about him, contributed more to his life. In a very real sense, he was a part of me, not just figuratively, but physically.

One of Leif's friends commented to me that Leif was like a phantom limb, that missing limb the "owner" can still feel is there. Yes, that describes it well, and recovering from the loss has some similarities. I even wonder whether there is some kind of deeper connection we don't know how to find or measure, on the level of DNA, something that makes us cry out when those cells that came from us are in pain, or cease to live.

Leif was an integral part of my life for 33 years. For 18 of those years he was my responsibility, but like most caring parents, I maintained that responsibility in many ways for all of his life, even when he lived independently as an adult.

There are 33 years of memories, mostly good, some bad, that cement that relationship. I look around me and there are so many reminders of him everywhere. I will always want to be reminded.

But oh, how I wish I could just hold him.

The photo above was taken at Christmas 1981 in Japan. I treasured his hugs.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

We all face choices

Yesterday I wrote about Leif's choice to end his life. That fatal choice has affected all of our lives. But we all face choices every day, and we rarely know what the consequences of those choices will ultimately be, no matter how hard we try to predict or consider them.

Even small and simple choices are capable of leading to momentous consequences and changes, a phenomenon well illustrated in the children's rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Foretelling consequences is, of course, the attempt to foresee the future that our actions will bring, something we are usually notoriously unable to do.

In the aftermath of Leif's death, I think of all the choices I made, that we made, that had some part in his life and his death, beginning with the choice we made to have a second child. Leif was a very much planned, wanted and beloved child. When I see the sad end of his life, I find myself wondering whether he would have wanted to be born, if he'd had that choice. I hope that he would. Despite the sadness and the loneliness, there were happy times in his life, and I think his childhood was a good one. Aside from the kinds of normal childhood hurts, Leif's childhood was a very good one.

We gave him all we knew how, and much beyond the given necessities of love, affection, food and shelter. He had friends. He had intellectual stimulation, education, amazing travels, possessions. We fostered his creative ideas. There are so many photos of him showing obvious joy in what he was doing.

That's not to say that he didn't have disappointments, that moving and leaving his friends wasn't hard (though he never complained and seemed to adjust well), but he seemed normal, happy and stable.

Looking back over the photos of his life in one long sequence, though, I now can see a certain fragility that wasn't easy to detect at any one time in boy so tall and strong, and I think he made sure that was so, just as he did in his adult life.

That was another choice he made, that traditional male choice of holding emotions inside, not showing weakness, making sure he looked strong and invincible even while he was desperate for love and a reason for living.

I look at my choices, the ones I made in relation to Leif, and how often I chose either to try to intervene to help him, or chose to leave him alone in the hopes that he was taking care of his problems and his affairs himself. Did I make the right ones? How can I ever know? Could I have helped him save himself if I had seen how bad he felt and insisted he get some psychololgical help? I will never know . . . or even know whether he would have listened. I doubt it.

I have often told both my sons that it is far harder to be the parent of an adult child than a minor child. When a parent has a minor child, she may make many mistakes (and undoubtedly will) but at least she knows what her role is, that she is supposed to be in charge, teach the child about life and morality and love, to be sure the child behaves well and gets an education, to be sure that child has a future, and she doesn't question that role. It's a role with legal, moral, social and even religious backing.

But in our culture, once a child grows up, parents who try to continue in that role are "meddling" and overstepping their bounds. Adults rightly want to live their own lives . . . most of the time. But how should a parent handle it when they see their adult children going down the wrong path? It's very difficult to handle that.

I tried by asking Leif whether he needed or wanted help, and if he said yes, I gave it, and if he said no, I respected that, while letting him know the offer still was there.

But, how much of the "no" was just the strong, self-contained man speaking, not the man inside who needed help? Should I have pushed more? I will never know.

I tried to find ways to give him at least temporary pleasures, take him out to dinner, for instance.

After a disastrous love affair that left Leif deeply depressed, he wanted badly to move away from Kansas, partly to escape the place where it happened, partly to live in a place with more job opportunity and more people his own age among whom he hoped to find friends and a wife, and partly to escape the cold weather that caused his asthma. He wanted to move to Florida, and we did, too, but he was ready to go and we weren't. He didn't have the money to go alone, so we moved up our plans and made it happen sooner. We all hoped that it would offer him a better life and more happiness.

It's the ultimate irony that the move may have indirectly led to Leif's death, or at least a sooner one. His hopes were not realized here. He faced one disappointment and disaster after another in the three years he lived in Florida, from being robbed to having his motorcycle accident. He faced both physical and emotional pain, financial ruin, and the ultimate hurt, the continued loneliness. He never made the connections he hoped to find. He must have despaired that his life seemed in some way jinxed, frowned upon by fate, though he told me once he hadn't committed any terrible sins in his life to warrant bad karma. He must have wondered why.

Could we have known it would turn out this way? No. It's nothing like the hopes any of us had for him. Is part of it because of choices he made? Yes. But much of what he faced was terrible luck, those consequences of choice we cannot see.

I have been blessed with astonishingly good luck in my life, with a few very sad exceptions, and the two saddest ones of all are the suicide deaths of my father and my son.

I know that at some point I will focus less on all the questions, choices, the sadness I feel that Leif was so unhappy. At some point I will have to learn to let him go. I will have to make a choice, when I am ready, to remember him every day and still be able to move on.

When will that be? Will I ever accept Leif's choice? Do I accept mine? Do I have a choice about that?


The photo with this post was taken in July 2004. I love seeing him look so happy. How I wish there had been happy years ahead for him.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Tyranny of Choice

It's past midnight now, so it is April 11, and I didn't write this yesterday on the day when I was thinking it through. Yesterday, it was exactly 3 months since Thursday, April 10th, the day we found Leif dead and cold on his kitchen floor. And yesterday we received his autopsy in the mail, pages of medical detail that only told us what we already knew. I didn't really think we'd find new answers there, but there was a faint hope.

I'd had a really bad day on Tuesday the 8th. I don't know whether it was anticipation of this day, because somehow, three months seems significant, a quarter of a year already since he died, or because I was thinking that three months ago was the last day he was alive and communicated with me, but I was overcome with grief. I must have gotten past it, because today wasn't as hard as Tuesday.

But, in those three days, I kept thinking about the tyranny of choice. Choices we make that affect not only our own lives, but many others, choices we make that change the future, not only for us, but for our family and friends.

Leif made a choice on April 9th. We can makes some pretty good guesses about why he made it, but we can't be certain. The choice he made, though, is clear. He put a loaded handgun to his forehead and pulled the trigger. In doing that, he erased his future. He may have only considered erasing his own pain, his debts, his other problems. He may not have considered that he was also erasing the possibilty of any future happiness, love, children, but maybe he thought they were always going to be out of reach for him, that loneliness and unhappiness and debt was all he faced. We will never know.

I do know that in making his choice, he also chose for us. Many suicides think that their loved ones will be better off without them. This is certainly not so in our case. We miss Leif unbearably. What he chose for us, is the death of our beloved son, a future without him in it, a future without seeing him, with no grandchildren from him, missing all the things we used to do together or talk about.

The tyranny of choice is that once this choice is made, there is no going back, no reversing it. It's final. And we all are left to live with it. His parents. His brother. His friends. We all suffer from his choice.

Did he consider that? Maybe at some point he did, but at the point of decision with the gun in his hand, was he rational? Did he decide this was best? Or was it a sudden spur-of-the-moment decision, to get all the pain overwith?

We try to find a way out of our depression and sorrow that our son is gone. It's not working. Someday it will, but not yet. It's too soon, too raw. Too many reminders, his belongings, the memories and wishing he'd be coming through the door. For now, the tyranny of choice that chose for us as well, chose to change our future, is hanging over us like a pall.

We have a future, but it is changed. Changed by the tyranny of choice.

This photo is one Leif took of himself, in his cycle gear, in the parking lot where he worked. It was taken in November 2007, not long after he he sent me an email that he life seemed dark and purposeless and he was searching for a reason to exist. I found the photo, with others, on his iPhone, one of his beloved techo gadgets. It's that sardonic look he often had, that looking down on life look.

In going over his computers, I found that the only times he took photos of people in the past several years, other than himself was when he was in a relationship with a woman, and then he photographed her. Otherwise, he only took photos of himself or his belongings. It's an odd sign of his lack of connection to others and his desperate need for a relationship.

He did take a lot of photos of himself and his things, but he never looked happy in them. The only photos of him looking happy in the past couple of years were ones we took when he was with us and his brother's family, his nieces and nephew. There must have been other times, when he wasn't with us, but there is no record of them.

Sad, so sad, that he was so lonely.

Sad, so sad, that he made that tyrannical choice from which there is no return. For him, or for us.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Leif - His First Bicycle in Japan - April 1982

This is Leif in April 1982 with the bicycle that you saw in the typhoon photo. We bought it used in Japan and it was quite the "decorated" piece. Leif tore around on that bike like a little demon. He loved riding it. Here he is with his school backpack. He rode around with his friends, too, not only on the sidewalks and the traffic-less street in front of our house, but the small wooded area, where they rode as if they had dirt bikes.

Leif's mountain bike is hanging in my garage, with no rider. I don't know how recently he rode it, because once he had a motorcycle, with much more speed, he definitely preferred that. His cycle is also in my garage, riderless. I miss him, miss seeing him even on the cycle where I worried so much about him.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Leif - Japan Typhoon Aftermath (Funny)

We had a very heavy thunderstorm here this afternoon and the torrents of rain, the wind, lightning and thunder, reminded me of the typhoon we experienced in Japan. I think it was 1982.

We were living near Camp Zama, about an hour's train ride from Tokyo, in the Sagamihara Family Housing Area, way at the back near a gate that was always locked. The street went through, but we couldn't.

The typhoon wasn't dangerous in our area, just dumped incredible quantities of water, and when the rain had mostly passed, our sons headed outside to check out the situation.

The street in front of our house was completely flooded. Leif, who was about 7 years old, was out in his yellow rain slicker. He tried to ride his bike, but that obviously wasn't going to work in that deep water.

Then he and his brother, Peter Anthony, decided to blow up an inflatable boat they had and try that out. That was a lot more successful, but it looked so funny to see Leif out there in the rain (it had slowed, but now stopped) in a raincoat with and umbrella that we took pictures. The base newspaper printed them.

Our other adventure with a typhoon in Japan came when our household goods were being packed for our move from Japan to Hawaii. The moving truck drove right up to our door to try to get packed boxes into it without them getting soaked, but that was unsuccessful. We had a lot of things ruined by mold and mildew when we unpacked them on the other end, especially anything wool or leather, and some photo albums were all stuck together.

The moving truck got stuck in the mud in front of the house and they had to get nother truck to pull it out.

All in all, though, we were fortunate not to have any real damage from typhoons. I hope we will be as lucky in Florida with the hurricanes!

Leif - Little Boy in the Woods

This photo was taken on the same hike in the woods as the last one when he was on his dad's back in the backpack. He was ready for some exploring and was quite happy to have found this stick. There's something about kids and sticks. They maker attractive tools, and playthings.

Leif was 21 months old in this photo, taken in Charlottesville, Virginia in October 1976.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Who Are We?

Who are We?

In the grand, infinite sweep of the universe
We are nothing,
Not so much as a grain of sand.

But in the constellation of our shared lives
We are everything that matters;
Love, identity, meaning, memory.

In the end, that is all we have.
It is who we are.

- Geraldine A. Garretson ©2008

I am reading Stephen King's DUMA KEY, which I highly recommend. He deals with these themes as well, and I found the passage I'm quoting below (from page 442) significant and profound.

"...a person's memory is everything, really. Memory is identity. It's YOU."

I remember Leif. Part of my identity is destroyed with his death, but not all. Not all because of memory.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Leif - With Dad in the Backpack

This is one of my all-time favorite photos of Leif and his dad. It was taken in the woods near where we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Woodlake Drive. We spent many happy hours hiking in those woods, and brought home a 3 legged box turtle that Leif's brother, Peter Anthony, found. The turtle spent the winter with us, munching on lettuce and having the run of the house.

While there, we also had Slithers, the ring-necked snake and Mousey, a small white mouse, and "raised" frogs from tadpoles we brought from the pond back of our house. It was a good year.

Leif loved to go exploring in the woods and by the pond. I no longer remember what caused this wonderful expression of surprise or excitement, but I've loved the photo for over 30 years.

It was taken in October 1976, when Leif wasn't yet 2 years old, about 21 months.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Leif - My Comet Without An Orbit

Leif loved fireworks. Two years ago he was enjoying the beautiful fireworks over Tampa Bay.

Leif was like a beautiful, brilliant comet streaking across the sky, a comet without an orbit, that ultimately fell into the sun and burned out.

Leif - Hopping Up and Down in the Backpack

From the day he was born, Leif wanted to see everything. He closely observed and analyzed everything even as a baby.

I think he liked being held as much or more because he was in a position to see better as because of the closeness and affection. He would make his wishes known vociferously if he was put down and wanted to see something.

When he was old enough to sit up and they started coming up with the infant backpacks, I got this one. It was a godsend for both him and me, because he loved being up high there where he could see well and wasn't crying and clamoring for me to pick him up. However, Leif was always a big, heavy, muscular baby, and having him on my back for hours was quite a load.

He made it harder to manage by using the lower hip bar to hook his toes on so he could jump or jog up and down in the seat. Try that with a 20 pound load on your back. :)

I made many a meal with him there. Peter Anthony, and later both he and Leif, liked to help out in the kitchen occasionally, especially when I made homemade (from scratch) pancakes on Sundays. In this photo, Peter A. is helping with the pancakes and Leif is in the backpack. It was taken in May 1976 in the kitchen of the old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas.

Leif - Model Builder

Leif was always a hands-on guy. He was extraordinarily bright, but he liked things and projects that made him use his mind to build or modify something. Leif was extremely bright, brilliant, in fact, but never liked academics. He liked the application of knowledge, and the discussion of ideas.

Starting when he was only about five years old, Leif wanted to build models, the plastic kind you put together to form an airplane (his favorite), ship, or other vehicle. This photo shows him working on a model.

As a young child, Leif often used his meager allowance money to buy a model and then was frustrated at the difficulty of putting it together so that it looked perfect in his eyes. He built many models over the years, but by middle school, he was more interested in building radio-controlled cars.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Leif - Computer builder

Today's kids probably can't remember a time without computers, but Leif was about 6 years old when we first got one, and both he and his brother, Peter, were captivated. We had a blast playing games like Frogger, Snack Attack, and PacMan. I'm sure the space shooter games reinforced his interest in science fiction and space, and as those kinds of games became more sophisticated, he avidly played them. He also loved car racing games.

At some point after he came back from the army in 2001, he decided to build his own computer. Leif could do just about anything he put his mind to as long as he had the finances to get the parts. He built this computer for gaming, and of course, he had to maximize the cool factor with a snazzy case and neon lighting.

After he built this one, he had a series of other computers, which he traded, sold, and in some cases, even gave away, and a couple of which were stolen, but not one of the mass produced models looked like the individual cool blue neon model he built so long ago.