Tuesday, December 29, 2009

565 Posts

Does a mother ever run out of things to say about her child? Does she ever forget? Does she ever run out of photos to show?

I suspect that at some point, the photos do run out, and I am finding it harder and harder to find ones of Leif as an adult that are enough different than what I've posted before and good enough quality, and that I still have baby and little boy photos. I'm finding that I have told so many of the stories . . . are there still new ones to tell, new things to say?

With this post I have written 565 posts on this blog out of 628 days since he died. Some of them have been short little memories. Some have been long stories. Some have been delineations of grief and sadness.

With this post I have posted 934 photos, mostly of Leif, some of family members, some of places he lived or things that belonged to him, but all with significance for his life or my feelings about it.

It would fill a long book.

And yet I still long to see photos of him, to remember him, still long to see him. He will always live in my heart.


This photo was taken April 19, 1991 at our house in Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. Leif was 16 years old.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Leif the Young Photographer - North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii - January 5, 1985 - Almost 10 years old

Leif began to be interested in photography when he was quite small, even back in Japan before he was 8 years old. By the time we lived in Hawaii, he had a Pentax pocket camera of his own, as I recall, but liked to borrow my Minolta SLR to try fancier lenses and shots.

It's on Oahu's North Shore that some winters the giant waves up to forty feet high come rolling in, those incredible waves you see in surfing films that no one else in their right mind would try to go out in. One winter when we lived there, the waves were up, in January 1985. I've already written about Leif scaring the daylights out of my when he skipped out into the bay on the coral rocks after one of the huge waves receded. He could have been washed away when the next one came in.

But he was also having a great time taking pictures, and I caught this photo of him when he positioned himself in an alcove and was snapping away. He loved those immense forces of nature.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Helping Daddy - Manhattan, Kansas - July 1976

I think this is such a cute photo. How small Leif looks! He was a year-and-a-half old. They were loading or unloading the car and they had also been washing it. That was our old blue 1973 Pinto station wagon. We sold our Mustang V-8 when we left Germany that summer and ordered the Pinto to be delivered in the USA when we arrived. We were used to the power of the Mustang and just about killed ourselves going through an intersection when we needed some quick power and didn't have it with the four cylinder Pinto. By the time Leif was born we were well adjusted to the anemic motor. Leif loved to go outdoors and washing the car was lots of fun.

Over the years, the little boy grew older and there were many times he helped his dad, whether it was ripping the staples out of the upstairs floor in the old stone house, digging holes for fence posts, disassembling the Schrank and putting it back together again, or hanging paintings on the high walls of our Florida house. By that time, instead of being the little tiny guy, he was towering over his dad.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reading to Leif - July 1976 - Manhattan, Kansas - Age 1.5 years

I loved to read to my sons. Ever since I learned to read in the first grade it has been one of the joys of my life. I read passionately and voraciously as a child. I grew up without television, so my stories came from books. I've always treasured reading time, and most especially, all the years I read to my sons.

Of course I read to them at bed time, but not just then. We also shared books just about any old time. And not just when they were little fellows. I read to them until they were in junior high, and only quit when homework, sports and other things intervened and made it impossible, though even then I continued to read things aloud at the dinner table or in the car. I remember reading Judy Blume's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" to the boys in the airport in Hawaii, or at least that's where we started it.

Reading together was always a special time, a teaching time, and learning time, a fun time. We read all kinds of books, fiction and nonfiction, picture books and novels.

My sister Sherie took this photo of me reading to Leif in July 1976 when she and her husband DeWayne drove down from Michigan to Kansas to see us just before we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Leif's happiest Christmas - Manhattan, Kansas - December 20, 2003 - Age, almost 29

Well, I don't know whether it was the happiest Christmas in his entire life, but certainly the happiest one in the last five years of his life. It was when he was with J. and she and her daughter were with us, too. We were actually celebrating early, on December 20, 2003, because Peter W. and I were going out to Monterey, California to be with his mother, Ellen (Oma), and we had the whole extended Kansas family there in our old stone house. He was just glowing and enjoyed acting silly.

This is the way I'd like to remember him on Christmas, this and the way he was when he was a little boy and was ecstatic over some Christmas gift he really liked.

Although he is not here with us today, I'm enjoying looking at the photos of him on Christmases past.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Our family has always exchanged presents on Christmas Eve after a family feast which of course included our Norwegian Christmas bread (that the boys didn't eat because of the raisins) and Christmas cookies. It won't seem right tonight without either of our sons here, but we will be able to talk with and email Peter Anthony at least.

It's our second Christmas Eve without Leif in our lives, since 1975. We will miss him.

This photo was taken on Christmas Eve when we were living in Hawaii. Leif got his first "boom box," and he was delighted. Although it wasn't more than a few years later that he had a large component system, this boom box remained among his things for many years, long into adulthood, though I don't know if he ever used it at that point. He had passed beyond the technology of cassette tapes. But at the time, it was pretty cool, and he had quite a collection of music even then. Leif always loved music and I wish he had continued to play his guitars and sing throughout his life.

Tonight I will remember the good times of him opening his presents and finding something to delight him, eat a cookie in his memory and try not to focus on the fact that he is not there.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Leif's Favorite Christmas Cookies

All my life we've had the tradition of baking Norwegian cookies and Norwegian Christmas Bread for Christmas. I don't think I've ever had a Christmas my whole life when I haven't at least had our favorite Berliner Kranser cookies, which, though they are Norwegian and a very old family recipe, are oddly enough named "Berlin Wreaths." The Christmas bread is called "Julekage" which translated would mean Yule Cake, I think.

My son's never took to Julekage because it has raisins in it, but all three of my guys loved Berliner Kranser, the butter cookies with the melted sugar topping and the odd recipe with the 4 hard boiled egg yolks mashed through a sieve. They used to help e make them, and snitch as much of the raw dough as they could get away with. I remember Leif with his mischief eyes coming in and swiping some when he was older and not helping make them any more.

I loved making those cookies for them and loved seeing them enjoy them. I never made them before December 23rd or 24th because they would have been long gone before Christmas. I used to find joy in sending some home with Leif, knowing he'd probably eat them all with a big glass of milk in the middle of the night while he was messing around on the computer or watching television in his apartment.

Last year, Aly made them, with my help, and Peter A. was here to eat them with his dad. The year before that, all three of my guys were still there waiting for them to come out of the oven. This year, with Peter A. far away in India and Leif dead, it's just Peter W. who gets to eat them without competition.

For some reason, these cookies didn't seem to catch on with the grandchildren. When we made several batches of cookies last year, they were more interested in the frosted, decorated cookies or ice cream than our old favorites. But no matter, what will always bring the joy to my heart is that I could bring joy to Peter W., Peter A. and Leif with these glorious old cookies. I just wish Leif were here to enjoy them now.

The photo of Leif was taken on Christmas Eve 1987 when we were living at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, north of Chicago. He was one month shy of his 13th birthday and was in the seventh grade. By that time he was already six feet tall.

The cookie photo is a handful of Berliner Kranser made here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What a day of ups and downs is like

This morning when I woke up Peter W. said he had been awake for a long time, thinking about Leif and his car, his beloved Mazda RX-8 and how it had been a kind of validation for him, something he had achieved, and that it had probably become a burden, a millstone of debt for the car payments and insurance.

How true that was! Leif struggled to pay his car payments, insurance and rent, credit bills, and still have money to eat or do anything else. Of course, those were poor choices he made, spending too much for too many cool things he couldn't afford, but by the time he died and was in over his head and didn't want to tell anyone, he must have felt as though he was working just to pay debts and nothing more.

So, I was thinking about that and walked out of the bedroom to the kitchen and the first thing that caught my eye was a set of mugs he and Nikko had given us for Christmas around 2000. For some reason, the combination made me very sad. I looked at the front door and it hit me hard that he wouldn't be coming for Christmas. Of course I have known that all along, but knowing it and having it hit me like that are not the same. No sending home his favorite cookies with him. No giving him presents. No hugs. No teasing from him. Never again. I started crying and went to my office.

I thought how I wished I could just cry my heart out on someone's shoulder and tell them how much I miss him, and then I thought about Peter Anthony's admonition not to "wallow in grief,' and his statement that he didn't want to "inflict" his grief on anyone else, and realized that I basically feel that, too, so I got control of myself as I always do and got to work.

Work has immense value. I got busy sending out Christmas letters, answering email, and later, working with Peter W. to translate our annual newletter into German and was so absorbed I was feeling entirely normal and reasonably happy. My feelings about Leif's absence were pushed to the background.

In the afternoon, I went to the Macintosh computer club meeting and was completely absorbed in the program and reading stuff on my laptop on the side. I walked out talking to a genealogist who belongs to the club and telling her about how genealogists could use Google Translate and then drove home.

Halfway there "Leif's" car drove right past me and I burst into tears. Silver Mazda RX-8s are not common, and even less so in our small community. It isn't often we see one here, and basically, the only one I ever did see right in town was his. It was as if things had come full circle from this morning, with Peter W. talking about that car (which was repossessed after he died) and now I was seeing it.

Of course I know it probably wasn't the same car, and even if it was, it was no longer Leif's, but it's those unexpected occurrences that surprise us and start the chain of emotions flowing.

I was five minutes from home and by the time I got there, I was fine again, ready to enjoy dinner with Peter W. and spend the rest of the evening finishing up sending out the newsletters . . . until I saw the photos of Leif with Peter A. on his first Christmas Eve.

That's how the days go, ups and downs, happy and sad, some happier than others. Work is the best distraction, having something constructive to do, being with other people and involved.

I hope I don't see that car tomorrow.


This is a photo Leif took of his car not so long before he died.

Leif's First Christmas - December 24, 1975 - Age 11 months

Christmas for a baby is both exciting and bewildering. All of those new things to see. Lights and pretty shiny things on a tree, fascinating packages under it. People taking pictures. Different music. Leif was taking it all in, looking rather serious and contemplative a lot of the time. Lots of kids are scared of Santa. Leif wasn't that year or the next but when we lived in Nurnberg and he was almost three he was!

These photos were taken in our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas on Christmas Eve 1975 when Leif was eleven months old. Peter A. got a Hot Wheels set with cars and a track and he was having a great time with it. Leif was mesmerized and trying to figure it out. I got a kick out of them together, Peter having a great time showing Leif how fast the cars could go.

Those were beautiful Christmases, when the boys were young. Sometimes I think parents get so wrapped up in all the time and preparation needed for the holidays that they don't realize how magical they are. It's easy to take our children's wonderment and all it adds to Christmas for granted. Don't. It goes by all too fast and you'll wish those days were back again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Leif in Nurnberg, Germany - December 1977 - Age almost three

Two of our very favorite things in Germany are the Konditoreien (pastry shops that are also coffee shops) and the marzipan creations some of them feature, especially at this time of year. Marzipan is almond paste and it can be sculpted and formed into just about anything and then colored with food colorings, decorated or frosted. It's made into the most interesting and delicate things and also the most mundane.

The boys were fascinated with the marzipan in this Nurnberg Konditorei window as it featured a lot of little elves with wild red hair, pigs (a traditional New Years sign of good luck), and even potatoes. We all liked to eat marzipan, and our favorite Stollen (German Christmas bread) had marzipan inside it.

This was taken on one of our walking-shopping trips through the Altstadt (the old city inside the walls), where we could revel in the quaint shops, enjoy the toy stores, and have something yummy to eat in one of these Konditoreien.

Leif was two years old, a month shy of his third birthday in this photo. He was a pretty cute little elf himself.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And another thing on happiness . . .

Just because it's all right to be happy, just because one wants to be, doesn't mean one will be.

It's All Right to be Happy

I was driving along a couple of days ago, thinking of Leif. For some reason, I always think of him when I'm driving alone, and usually it makes me sad. I often talk to him then, though I have no illusion that he is there listening.

It was a gorgeous day, and I realized I was actually feeling happy, even though I was still missing him and thinking of him. The thought came into my head, as though someone had said it, "It's all right to be happy."

That made me think. I realized that a few days earlier, I had been happy on a bike ride, the same kind of happiness I used to feel before Leif died, a real appreciation of the beautiful day. Its not that there hasn't been any happiness since he died. There has, but it hasn't been the same. It's been in some sense subdued, or tinged with the knowledge of Leif's death and the sadness and regret that brings, the feeling of a hole in my heart that is never going to be filled.

These two instances of a real happiness, not weighed down by grief, were a window into what was and what I expect will be. The thought or voice telling me it was all right to be happy was something (me? Leif?) giving me permission to feel it without guilt. I asked myself the question, "What kind of a mother can be happy when her child is dead, particularly the kind of sad death Leif died?"

I think the answer is not simple. It depends on time. It depends upon the mother. It depends upon those around her. It depends upon being able to live through grief and mourning long enough to understand that it will in some sense always be with me, but it doesn't have to overwhelm everything else forever, that time and coming to terms (not peace, terms) with it will allow happiness to shine through, even while understanding that the sadness will still come back at times, and so will the tears. It depends upon the slow appreciation of something I knew all along; all of the good people and things I still have in my life.

I think some people carry grief like a badge, like a new identity, and don't know how to give it up, thinking there is something wrong with them if they do. I remember feeling that I would somehow be a bad mother if I could be happy again after Leif's death, even though I knew that was wrong. Feelings and ways of doing things can become a habit, too. Grieving is emotionally all-consuming at first. It wears off only slowly and slightly at a time, and it is right for the loss one has been dealt. The transition from that encompassing misery to the kind of sadness that comes over one occasionally when one thinks of certain things or is reminded of the loss is neither easy nor a straight path. It twists and turns. It doubles back. It ebbs and then crashes in full force. It was in the same week that I was driving home one night and was overcome by sadness, thinking that Leif would not be here for Christmas, the second one since he died.

I think it will be like this for a long time.

But it is all right to be happy, and I will be glad for the days and hours when happiness comes.

How I wish Leif had been happy, as happy as he was in this picture.


This photo of Leif was taken in our old stone house in July 2003, when we were all sitting around the dining room table having a great conversation and beer (which Leif brought) in Peter W's German beer steins. His brother, Peter A. was there, and so was Darlene, and Marcus, and Leif's friend Michael. It was a happy evening.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Leif in Dartmouth, England - June 1980 - Age 5

Quite some time ago I wrote about our adventure in Dartmouth England in June 1980 and posted a photo of Leif rowing our rowboat at the age of five. I recounted the crazy story of him running away from me and me chasing him down with a wooden spoon. There are no photos of that, which is probably a good thing, but this photo of him in the city shows a lot better than the rowboat just how small he was and how easily it would have been for him to disappear and be lost. I'm glad that didn't happen. At that age, Leif was good at disappearing, as he had done in the Akihabara district in Tokyo and tried to do in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. He was unconcerned, as kids usually are, unaware what being lost and without mommy really means. He came close in Akihabara, when he did realize he was alone in a sea of strangers he couldn't talk to and was smart enough to stand in one place until we found him.

Five was a pivotal age for Leif in several ways. It was during that year that he stopped running off from me when we were going places and got control of his temper.

It was a year of extraordinary travel and experiences. We moved from Germany to Japan, visiting England, family in mainland USA, and Hawaii on the way.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Leif with His Aunt Sherie - November 1975 - Manhattan, Kansas - Age 10 months

Because Peter W. was in the army and we spent so many years of our children's childhoods overseas, they didn't always have a chance to get to know their extended family. When Leif was born we were living in Manhattan, Kansas, which was still pretty far away from most of them, but we did get a chance to see each other. In November 1975 and again in July 1976, my sister Sherie came to visit from Michigan. This photo of her with Leif in November 1975 when he was ten months old was taken with her camera. I think I took it. It's beautiful of Sherie and Leif looks like such a jolly little guy, playful and huggable.

We got to see Sherie and DeWayne the following year when we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, but then not for three years while we were in Germany. Then another five years while we were in Japan and Hawaii, but when we moved to Fort Sheridan, Illinois north of Chicago, we were only about two-and-a-half hours drive away from Sherie for four years and we were able to visit back and forth. Leif got to know his aunt and uncle and his first cousins, Shane, Brenda and Derek, and really enjoyed them. He was older than they were, but he was always great with younger kids and they had a lot of fun together.

When we moved from Chicago to Puerto Rico, we were separated again for two years, and once we were back in Kansas with 700 miles between us, didn't see each other as often as we would have liked, but Brenda came to visit us on her own by then, too.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Mounting Suicide Rate Prompts an Army Response

A Mounting Suicide Rate Prompts an Army Response
Click on this title to go to the Time magazine article.

This will be a tough problem to treat. Men don't want to reveal their mental problems, for reasons Leif wrote about and I've posted here. They often confide, if they do at all, only in their wives, girlfriends or their best friends, to a lesser extent. They don't want to be seen as weak or "broken." Asking for help is anathema to many.

A contributing factor to some of these suicides, not mentioned in this article, is the breakup of relationships, the end of marriages, or the inability to relate to their wives as they did before. Both husbands and wives are changed by deployment, separation and war. Leif came home from service in Bosnia to find that his marriage was over. He nearly committed suicide then but somehow pulled himself together. He didn't tell us about his planned suicide until years later, although we could tell he was severely depressed, and when he did talk about it, he blamed it on the army, not on his marriage breakup. He never asked for help. He also drank too much after his marriage ended, and I will always believe that had he not been drinking heavily the night he died, he might still be here. Guns, alcohol and depression are a bad combination.

This is sad, tragic way to end service to one's country, a service these soldiers embarked upon with hope and a desire to serve, not realizing or believing what it could do to them.

Please, if you are suffering from PTSD, depression from a failed relationship, or substance abuse, get help, and don't minimize or pass off your depression or symptoms. You life is worth fighting for, even if you don't feel like it right now.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Visitors to this blog from 86 countries.

It's amazing that since May 15, 2008 when I first put the map counter on this blog, there have been 8017 visits to it from 86 countries. I know that many are repeat visitors, like me and Peter W., and that probably most arrive on the page because of a search they did that turned up one of the keywords on the blog, not because they looked up Leif, but it's still amazing to me that so many people from so many places have at least touched on this blog. To see the stats and where the visitors are from, click on the top world map in the right column.

My Two Beautiful Boys - Manhattan, Kansas - November 1975 - Leif age 10 months

This photo makes me smile, my two beautiful sons looking happy together on our old gold velvet couch. That couch served us many a year, from 1973 (gosh, it was nearly "new" in this photo) until around 2004, I think. It was retired to the Salvation Army.

This photo was probably taken near Thanksgiving in November 1975. Leif was 10 months old and Peter Anthony would have a birthday a month later and celebrate being 7 years old. Peter W. had been in Germany that fall on Reforger maneuvers with the Army, and I was taking graduate school classes at Kansas State University.

I am grateful for every photo, and the memories that go with them.

Yesterday I sang with the German American Chorus in a Christmas concert and remembered that two years ago, Leif was there to see the concert, enjoyed the party with us afterward, and got a particular laugh out of John H. singing a funny version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee," that goes something like this;

My Country tis of thee
i come from Germany
My name is Fritz.
Give me some sauerkraut.
Don't leave the bratwurst out,
Give me a stein of beer
And i'll stay here.

Maybe I'll remember the missing lines later.

Last year I had a very hard time singing some of the Christmas songs and got choked up, espcially on "I'll Be Home For Christmas," realizing that Leif would never again be home for Christmas. This year I had a couple of moments when I almost got choked up and felt a brief sting of tears, but it was so much better than last year. I am grateful for that, too.

Several years ago a friend of ours lost her little daughter, not even two years old, when a babysitter threw her and injured her. He was convicted after a long and heartbreaking trial. Little Jordan's birthday was the 11th, and her family still remembers and misses her so. I reflected on how we both lost children and were devastated by that loss, but I had Leif for 33 years, at least. They lost all of their daughter's future and all but a tiny part of her childhood. I have the photos and the memories and they can only think what might have been. Losing a child is terrible at any time, but I can be grateful for Leif's whole childhood and fifteen years of adulthood, all that time I got to experience with him, love him, and learn from him.

Today, the Compassionate Friends organization, for parents who have lost children the world over, has a ceremonial candle lighting at 7:00 p.m. local time to remember their beloved children. I hope you will, too. I will remember Leif, as I do every day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jerri and Leif - Manhattan, Kansas - November 1975 - Age 10 months

My sister Sherie came to visit us in Manhattan, Kansas in November 1975 and took this photo of us out in our backyard, behind our old stone house. The weather was still pretty warm even in November that year, or I wouldn't have had Leif out there barefooted! That was one of the periods when I had shorter hair . . . like Leif, I guess, who hadn't yet grown his full head of hair. He was ten months old then. I was so happy to have my two boys!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not Always a Happy Child

Peter W. remarked to me yesterday that when he looks at this blog, he sees that Leif had such a good life as a child, was such a happy child. I answered that one reason it looks that way is that we are usually likely to photograph people when they are smiling and happy, so that's not always an accurate picture of the rest of their lives.

Leif did have a good childhood, but he wasn't always smiling and happy. Like any child he had his ups and downs, disappointments and frustrations. I photographed some of those moments, too, and I have pictures of him looking serious, contemplative, bewildered, pouting, and a variety of other expressions, especially when he wasn't really aware of the camera with someone telling him to smile. When you think about it, why do people have to tell us to smile in photographs? Because we want photos of people smiling. They are more pleasing, generally. However, if it was natural to smile for the camera, or we felt like doing it, no one would have to tell us to.

Leif had the usual assortment of childhood tantrums, upsets, and hurt feelings, though as he grew, he was more and more self-contained and unlikely to reveal much about them. When he became a man, he had almost completely erased showing much emotion or allowing his hurt or misery, or even anger, to show, though he felt them deeply.

As an adult, he took many self portrait shots and usually was not smiling in them. I've posted some of them here. Although I like posting the childhood photos of Leif that show him happy, even joyous, perhaps in the interests of a more well-rounded view of him, I should post some others, like the one above.

This shot was taken of Leif in the backyard of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, in July 1976, shortly before we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. He was one-and-a-half years old. He's climbing onto the glider on our swingset. Little mister adventurous, barefoot and all. He looks so serious!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No More Christmas Presents for My Leif

This January 1976 photo of Leif playing with the rocking horse he got for Christmas 1975, his first Christmas when he was eleven months old, and so many other Christmas photos of him opening presents or joking around with the family through the years, bring it home to me so forcefully that he won't be here to open any gifts this year, or any year from now to the end of our lives. I don't look for presents for him any more, though I can't help but notice and remark upon things I know he would like, things I wish I could give him.

The holidays and his birthday are particularly hard, as are the monthly reminders, each 9th and 10th, of his death and the day we found him. Tomorrow it will be 20 months since we found him in his apartment. Today it is 20 months since he died. Sometimes I wonder how long I will mark the months that have passed since his death, wonder if I will ever pass those days of the month without remembering. How can the months fly by so fast, taking the time we were with him ever farther into our past, yet the memories seem like yesterday, like he could still just walk through our door.

At a party a couple of nights ago, I hugged a neighbor who lost two children. She asked me how I was doing and I truthfully answered that I was all right most of the time, but not all of it. She said, "It never really gets any easier. You just learn to cope with it. The holidays are the hardest. Even though I have my living son and grandchildren, I will always miss the others. You just have to put on a smile and go on."

Sometimes the smile is real. Sometimes it's a good act.

I'm grateful to have a lot to do, to be busy with real work. It doesn't take away all the sadness but it does keep it at arm's length a good part of the time. It does make me feel useful.

But, it doesn't stop me from thinking, in the interstices, of the eternal question, why? of what we might have done to save him, of what he might have done to save himself, of what we are missing, of what he is missing, of what might have been.

Sadness Amidst the Pretty Colored Lights

I'm very sad tonight. I don't know why it hit me so hard all of a sudden. I think it was driving home from my mother's house at night and seeing all the Christmas lights. I started by telling myself that I could pretend that Leif was still alive, that I could send him a text message or an email, post on his Facebook page. I could pretend he was still living in Tampa and he'd be coming for Christmas. The thought made me smile for a moment or two, even though I knew it was foolishness. Then I started thinking about how denial was one of the stages of grief and wondering whether I had hit that one. I decided I hadn't. I haven't been able to deny Leif's death, no matter how much I might wish to. i haven't done any bargaining with God, either. What good would it do? And I haven't been angry. Why? At whom?

No, I'm just sad. I knew it might hit me sometime during this holiday season. I knew I'd find it hard to deal with Leif not being here, especially without the distraction of grandchildren being here, and without seeing Peter A. and Darlene.

I was talking with Peter W. the other day and saying that since Peter A. was born, I don't think there has been a Christmas that we didn't have more family with us, whether my extended family, or Peter's (when we lived in Germany), or at least one of our sons. The only Christmas that Leif missed (until he died) was the year he was in Bosnia, 1999, and Peter A. wasn't with us, either, but we did have a large family gathering around us in Kansas. So, it's just that one year that we missed seeing both of our sons for Christmas, until now. Peter A. and his family were here last year. This will be the second without either of our sons, but it's vastly different. In 1999, we knew that Leif was alive and serving his country in uniform. He could send email, and we knew we'd get to see him again.

This year, there's no hope of seeing him again, no way to fool myself, no way to make Christmas seem right.

Peter put up a beautiful tree on Sunday, and today he put up the outside lights. They are very pretty, and I do love seeing all the lovely little colored and white lights. Christmas should be a time of happiness, love and hope, but it's hard to feel the same way I used to, hard to realize Leif will not be coming.

This photo of Peter W. and Leif in front of a toy store in Nurnberg, Germany was taken 32 years ago in December 1977. Leif would be three years old in a month. It was during the holiday season of the one year we lived in Nurnberg, and it was so much fun to walk through the walls of the old city into the heart of town, see the Christkindlmarkt (The Christmas Market) near the Frauenkirche (the cathedral) in the square, have a piece of cake at a bakery, and visit the toy stores. The German toy stores were new to the boys then and they were magical. They loved them! There's nothing like children to make Christmas special. They are still so excited about it, so full of wonder.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Leif in Pacific Grove, California - July 1980 - Age 5

In his 33 years, Leif traveled many places as an army brat and many he saw only once, but a place he visited more times was the Monterey-Pacific Grove area of California during the years his Oma (paternal grandmother, Ellen Garretson) lived there. These photos were taken on one of those trips, in July 1980 when he was five years old and Peter Anthony was eleven.

The boys liked to go walk on the beach and play in the sand. There wasn't much for them to do at Oma's house except watch television, so we tried to get out of the house and go places together. Oma liked the beach, too, especially at sunset. We also took a lot of walks along the seashore path where there was no beach, only rocks, like these at Lovers Point. That was a great place for the boys (and Peter W.) to climb around like mountain goats.

Sometimes we went to visit Ellen at Christmas time and then we would drive or walk around looking at all the Christmas lights. There were some beautiful and elaborate displays we all enjoyed.

We visited Ellen before we moved to Japan, which was when these photos were taken. We were on our way, moving from Germany to Japan, and wouldn't see her again until we lived in Hawaii and she came to visit us about four years later. We weren't back in Pacific Grove with Leif until the summer of 1985, but we visited her every year at least once, sometimes twice, between 1986-1990 and then 1992-1997 when we moved her to the 710 N. 9th Street house in Manhattan, Kansas. Leif knew his Oma much better than Peter Anthony did, because Peter didn't see her on the trips we took after he left for the Air Force Academy. He did see her when he came to visit us in Kansas with his family after 1997.

Leif was a good traveler, adapted easily, or at least it seemed so, and enjoyed seeing new places and things. Looking back, though, I think he felt in some sense cut off from the world except for his dad and me, because we were the constants, always with him, and everything else kept changing. Because of our moves, he had to leave friends behind and those connections were broken. I wonder if it made it hard for him to make friends and commit himself to friendships because of the sense of loss when leaving them.

The sweater Leif is wearing in the photo where he's climbing on the rocks is the one that Peter W's Aunt Käthe made for him.

Oma died in Kansas in September 2002.

Leif Playing Volleyball in Puerto Rico - Fort Buchanan - April 19, 1991 - Age 16

As I mentioned in my addition to yesterday's post, though I don't remember Leif playing football, I do remember him playing volleyball a few times, most notably this time in our back yard in Puerto Rico. He looks like a young Tarzan (that's him from the back in the rolled-up jeans), doesn't he? In the group photo, you can see the ball at the top middle of the picture.

If my memory is correct, this photo was taken when he and some of his buddies decided to throw a birthday party for his friend Lennie T. There was a great group of friends that came and they had a terrific time. In addition to the volleyball, they also had a silly string and shaving cream fight, and I think the object of the latter was to get Lenny as full of shaving cream as possible.

I think that the two years Leif was in high school in Puerto Rico were when he was the most outgoing and social in his whole life, after the first rough month he had there. I know it was when he felt most accepted and had the largest group of friends.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Leif and Football

During this fall season of football madness I'm reminded how little interest either of my sons had in the game. Even their dad didn't show much interest in it until we moved back to Manhattan, Kansas in 1992 and the Wildcats had a winning team. It seems that we always had a football, and periodically their dad would suggest that they go throw it around to each other, but that was about the extent of football at our house. We didn't watch games much, either.

Thus this is kind of a rare photo of Leif, with the green Nerf football. There were about three shots taken during that same afternoon, and I can only think of one other picture of him with a football in his hands. This picture was taken in our yard at Am Römer 9 in Sachsen bei Ansbach, Germany. You can tell it was already pretty chilly that October as Leif was wearing a warm jacket. He was four-and-a-half years old.

Even as a high school student and as an adult, Leif showed practically zero interest in football, and although he knew who some of the well-known players were, he couldn't really discuss the games, players or the season with any real background or enthusiasm.

I've often wondered why this was so. He was enthusiastic about soccer, but never showed any interest in playing football, basketball (despite his height), or baseball, or any other games involving a ball. Aside from soccer, about the only sports he participated in were discus and javelin throwing in junior high school, swimming (primarily because we taught him and took him to the pools and beaches). The two giant exceptions to this were judo, in which he earned his first degree black belt at the age of fourteen, and the sport of fighting in the SCA.

As an adult, it would have been good for him to have some physical sport outlet to help keep him in shape and raise his endorphins, but he preferred riding a motorcycle and playing computer and online video games. He did have a set of weights but I have no idea whether he used them.


Peter W. tells me that Leif used to play touch football in the yard across the street from us with some of the neighborhood kids when he was in junior high, but I have no memory of this whatsoever. I know he never went to games or talked about it. I know he played volleyball at times, but that and soccer are the only ball games I remember him playing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

He Dreamed a Dream

Leif was a dreamer who dreamed of being a hero, a warrior. Someone who discovered him on Facebook or in this blog and asked to befriend him after death wrote to me that Leif would have liked this blog, that Vikings wanted the songs of their deeds and lives to be sung, to be remembered.

Leif's persona in the Society for Creative Anachronism, SCA, was a Viking pirate. For years SCA was an important part of his life, and he reveled in dressing in his garb, improving his armor and weaponry over the years. He made rattan weapons to fight with and fought many a Sunday battle in the Manhattan City Park (in Manhattan, Kansas), wearing an incredible amount of weight, especially toward this end of the time he lived there when he had the fifty-pound chain mail shirt he made. Several times I went to watch him and take pictures.

He dreamed of being the kind of hero he could perhaps have been in an earlier age, and surrounded himself with both ancient and thoroughly modern weaponry.

I was looking online for information about the Viking songs and sagas and was surprised to discover that they have fragments of ancient Viking songs written in a kind of musical notation using runes, and one site showed both the old runic notation and a modern translation of it. The title of the songs was so completely appropriate, "I Dreamed a Dream," so I decided to try to record it with GarageBand. I wish I had the time and talent to add accompaniment to it, though I have no idea what the Viking sound would have been, beyond the tune. I wonder, too, what the rest of the words were, and whether they, too, would have fit Leif.

The photos I put with the song are ones Leif took of himself on August 7, 2003 when he had just purchased his new armor. He was posing in the living room of the house at 710 N. Ninth Street in Manhattan, Kansas, where he was living at the time. It was a good time for him. I think he had at least somewhat recovered from the breakup of his marriage, he had graduated from Kansas State University that May, and was looking forward to a brighter future. He has just gotten a job at Sykes, which no longer has a call center in Manhattan. Little did he know how his life was about to change, first for the better, as he was so ecstatically in love beginning a couple of months later, and then dashed to pieces when the she left him. I think the period from about May 2003 to February 2004 was one of the happiest of his life, and it shows in his looks. He was so handsome then.

So, my Viking son, although I do not sing your exploits, I do write them and give them to the world.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How could his life end like that?

There are hours when I don't think of it, don't think about him, when I'm absorbed in the moment and the sadness over his death and depression is pushed aside or covered over and I think I'm doing better, much better, that it's time to focus on life and my living family. That feels right and good.

And then, out of the blue, something will remind me of Leif and his death and it floods back and I find myself asking again, with tears in my eye, "how could his life end like that?" I will never know. No matter how many times I think over all that happened to him, all the heartache and disappointment, all the debts he created and all the hopes that were dashed, I will not really fathom it. I look at these photos of that beautiful little boy, so innocent and sweet . . . most of the time; he could have quite a temper . . . and it's not even comprehensible how he could go from that sweet little fellow to the man I saw lying on the floor of his kitchen.

Memories are so bittersweet. I am glad for every one of them, even the bad ones, no matter how much I wish they hadn't happened. Life cannot be without hurt, it seems. Many of my memories are sweet, but thinking of them also makes me feel so acutely that I will never have more, that he is gone forever.

I remember the day we took this trip to Lichtenau, a village not far from where we lived in Sachsen bei Ansbach, about a mile and a half. We could see Lichtenau from our house, especially from the second floor balcony. It's a picturesque place with old half-timbered buildings and a small castle that we explored. I think the boys were as fascinated with these goats as they were with the castle, though. I caught Leif just as he was heading off to explore something else.

Both boys are wearing sweaters that were hand-knit by Peter W's Aunt Kathe, who lived in Stuttgart. This photo was taken in August 1978. Leif was three-and-a-half and Peter Anthony was nine going on ten. August in Germany can be chilly. It was a brisk day but a lovely one for a family outing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Interesting Study Says Loneliness Can Be Transmitted

This is an interesting article in the Washington Post about a study of loneliness by Christakis and Cacioppo that purports to show that loneliness can be spread from person to person. They theorize that a lonely person interacts with others in negative ways due to their emotions and that affects those they interact with. Lonely people tend to become isolated and loneliness increases. The particularly mention loss of a spouse or a divorce as being a trigger for loneliness and say that loneliness has far-reaching consequences for mental and physical health, bringing with it depression, sleep problems and ill health.

I certainly saw the consequences of loneliness in Leif, and he did become increasingly isolated, except for a very small group of acquaintances. He perked up and seemed a lot happier in a big family grouping, but rarely had that opportunity. He tried hard to find someone to love but did little to cultivate any other kinds of new friendships.

His physical health suffered; his asthma was worse; he gained weight, had insomnia. Feeling worn out and having trouble breathing would feel awful and make it hard to function or be happy and sociable.

It's sad that the breakdown of relationships, even those that are destructive and unhealthy, can cut someone off from the kind of intimate human contact that can prevent loneliness and all that goes with it.

This reminds me of the studies we learned about in psychology of infants who fail to thrive, eat and grow properly because of a lack of touch and human stimulation. I think something similar happens in adults who lack loving touch and human contact and warmth. Something just shrivels up and dies in them.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bad luck and bad choices

Today Peter W. (Leif's father) told me that I make Leif out to be some kind of paragon, handsome, brilliant, and so on, and I countered that I have written blog posts about his poor choices and inability to manage his spending, his drinking, procrastination, terrible housekeeping, lousy record keeping, and fast driving, and that I'm quite clear-eyed about the real person my son was. It's true; I have a balanced view of him, but he WAS brilliant and handsome, and he had many wonderful qualities as well. What he didn't have was good luck . . . and in many cases, good judgement about relationships, job choices and spending money. He was a decent man who didn't harm others and showed remarkable restraint when dealing with people who were very difficult, even those who hurt him. And yet he could be exasperating, uncommunicative and evasive, or by turns helpful and generous or sullen and withdrawn.

But regardless of any of that, he was my son and I loved him dearly, and I appreciated his good qualities and regret all the times I had to talk to him or write to him about his finances or things he needed to get done. It makes me sad to look at the email and mail I sent to him, so often only filled with admonitions, financial figures, or in relation to some legal issue he had to deal with, such as the time he spun his car around near a car dealership and threw up some gravel that damaged some windshields or the time he was trying to get his apartment management to stop charging him for damage that was in the apartment when he rented it (and he had photos he had taken to them when he moved in to prove it). These were things I helped him with and we had to go over all that, but there is so little of our written communication that really reflects our relationship, all the great discussions we had, or the love we had for each other.

I not only miss what was, I miss what could have been. So much potential that was never realized. So much hope that was lost.

This photo of Leif when he was super slender as a senior in high school was taken in our old stone house in December 1992 when Leif was almost 18. He would have been 18 a month after this was taken. I don't really like this photo of him. He looks sad, pained and haunted, and that's not how I remember him at that time, but perhaps there was that aspect to his life as he was kind of a loner and had been moved away from his friends in Puerto Rico. He never developed that kind of circle of friends in the brief time he was at Manhattan High School.

Leif at the Soccer Award Banquet - Highland Park, Illinois - November 1989 - Age 14

Leif played fullback on the freshman soccer team at Highland Park High School in Highland Park, Illinois. He could boot the ball all the way down the field. This photo was taken at the soccer awards banquet and he was being given a certificate and award. You can see how tall he was as he towers over the man giving him the award and those around him.

In those days he loved to wear ties and had a small wardrobe of them. I think the narrow ties looked really good on him.

It's hard to believe that this was 20 years ago this very month. How does 20 years go by so fast?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Leif and Weaponry

This photo of Leif was taken in our living room in Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day 1985. We had taken the family photos I already posted. I imagine he was probably watching television when I took this photo, and he is holding a wooden gun he made. I think he made it with his dad. From the time he was very young he was fascinated with guns and all kinds of weaponry. Even as an adult he designed and made wooden guns as prototypes of guns he wanted to see and use in role gaming like Cyberpunk and Zaon. Perhaps he was born in the wrong age. Maybe at some other time he would have been a great military strategist or weapons designer. In our world, especially once his hoped-for military career didn't work out, his passion was mostly out of place and had little use except in the gaming world.

And yet I always called him my "gentle giant." He could so easily have harmed others, either with his own strong arms and legs or with all his swords and guns, yet he didn't. It's fortunate that as an older child he had gained control of his temper or things might have turned out very badly for him and others. I'm thankful he had that self control.

Who knows what kind of dreams he had of being the hero with those weapons, or whether they served to make him feel safer in a world that was not so friendly to him as an adult. They must also have been a part of that large persona he cultivated and presented to the world, the tough and capable weapons expert armed to the max. He talked a tough game and posed looking dangerous but lived a quiet life not harming others and even rescuing animals. A complex man. We will never know all the depths.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Set apart by a quick and brilliant mind?

A few days ago, Peter had a "House" program on television that was about a brilliant physicist who used drugs to dumb down his mind so that he could be happy with other less intelligent people and enjoy being with his "stupid" wife. In the end, he said it was more important to have love and companionship than to be smart. He felt that his high intelligence set him apart from others and made it impossible for him to be close to them.

It's terrible to think that someone would have to make such a choice, but the story rung a bell with me. I remember Leif saying something similar, that it was so hard to find people he could be with because they couldn't think or discuss things on his level and found him intimidating. He felt set apart and outside the normal human discourse except with certain individuals. On top of that, he was shy unless he felt comfortable with people and wasn't good at being outgoing and meeting others. He preferred to hang back and watch and try to get a good feel for others and the "lay of the land" before trying to make contact. It made him a loner much of the time.

Leif was desperate for love and companionship and spent much of his time trying to find it. It was all the harder because although he was willing to be friend or lover to someone less intelligent than he was, he did crave someone who could keep up with his mind, and too many people shied away from his brilliance. He was so lonely. I think he drank for many reasons; to drown his sorrows, to loosen him up, to dampen his mind and be more outgoing with others.

I loved that brilliance and loved to discuss things with him. I learned so much and I miss that. I also miss his knowledge of electronic things, computers, and his problem-solving abilities. A couple of days ago my mother's computer (one she bought from Leif in January 2008) wouldn't access the internet. She called me for help but I couldn't solve the problem and told her she would have to call her ISP. She did and spent hours on the phone with them without success. Then they send a technician and he spent a couple of hours at her house trying to figure out and fix the problem. When he was done, he had pulled out a powerful graphics card Leif had installed, saying it was very hot. I don't think the fan on it was working. He also pulled out the WIFI card, saying that was what was preventing her from accessing the internet, though this computer wasn't accessing it wirelessly. I still don't understand why he had to remove it, but Mom can get on the internet now. If Leif had been here, he probably would have had it figured out more quickly, and also be able to tell me whether the graphics and WIFI cards are still any good. I don't even know how to test them.

Then this afternoon, Peter W. wanted to put a wall hanging we purchased in India on the living room wall. It involved climbing about 5 feet up a ladder and putting fasteners on the wall a good 9 feet or so off the floor, while reaching over the television and stand. It was quite an ordeal and it reminded me again of all the things Leif did for us here, including putting up other things that high on the walls. He seemed to do things with ease that it's hard for us to do.

How could he ever have possibly thought he wasn't needed? He was needed in so many ways, the most important of which was just be together, just to love each other. I miss him, and I'm sorry he felt estranged from so much of the world, so lonely. I wish I could just hug him.

This photo of Leif was taken April 19, 1991 in Puerto Rico. Leif was 16 years old.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 1985 - Honolulu, Hawaii - Leif at age 10, nearly 11

Today is the second Thanksgiving since Leif died, our second one without him. Last year we went to the DC area and spent Thanksgiving surrounded by Lannay's family, Peter A's family and Rick's family, a large group of warm and loving relatives that made the holiday special and took away the sting of our loss, though it was ever on my mind. I didn't think I could bear to face Thanksgiving here without family last year and I am grateful we had the possibility of so many of us being together. I needed that and they were all so good to us.

We stayed with Rick and Mac, had such a good time with them and their daughters, enjoyed Mac's wonderful Thai food. We celebrated Marcus's eighth birthday there, spent time with Peter A. and Darlene, too, briefly, as they were engrossed in packing to move to India. We enjoyed a terrific Thanksgiving dinner with the whole gang at Lannay's and Doug's house, and I was glad we could take my mother with us to be a part of it.

This year is so different. Rick and Mac are in Germany. Peter and Darlene are in India. That kind of gathering may never be possible again, so I continue to be thankful for it, that it could happen when I needed it most.

Now we will just have three of us for Thanksgiving dinner, Peter W., my mother and me. I always conceived of Thanksgiving as a large family gathering, and for nearly all the years of my life, it was, whether my own birth family sharing our bounty with neighbors, or us having Peter W.'s relatives in Germany come to our house for our feast, or at least the four of us when we lived far away in Japan or Hawaii. Sometimes we went to the army mess hall to be with others. Back in Kansas after Peter W. retired from the army, we all went to my mother's house, where we had from 13-16 people gathered to celebrate. And then, when we moved to Florida, it was the four of us, Peter W., me, mom and Leif.

How I looked forward to Leif's arrival, waiting for his car to drive up the driveway, usually announcing itself with loud music or at least the insistent beat of the bass. I waited for that tall, strong guy to come in the door and give me a big bear hug. That will never happen again, and Thanksgiving will always be saddened by knowing that.

I wish we could have Peter A's family with us, but the expectation of their presence hasn't been there ever, as he hasn't come home for Thanksgiving since he left home and except for last year, we weren't able to travel to be where he was on Thanksgiving, either, sometimes because we needed to be home for Oma (Peter W's mother) and not leave her alone on Thanksgiving, sometimes for Leif, sometimes for my mother, or all three. But except when Leif was in the army, he was always with us on Thanksgiving, always until 2008, so a part of what we came to count on was his presence.

Last year I knew I had a lot to be thankful for but it was hard to feel it. Grief was too new and too acute, only seven months after Leif's death. It was one thing to know I had much to be grateful for; it was another thing to feel grateful when my heart was broken and I was sad and missing Leif, just trying to get through the days without ruining them for others.

This year, I am still sad at times. I still cry for him. I still miss him, but this year I can feel thankful and grateful for my wonderful, loving husband, for my son Peter A., for my grandchildren, for my mother, for my home and my country, for all the experiences I've been blessed to have, the material things I am fortunate enough to own. In so many ways, life is good. I am grateful for my family, my brother and sisters and their families, for my friends, for freedom and freedom from want and hunger. I don't ever want to forget all the good in my life and only concentrate on loss and mourning.

So today I will be thankful, even though I may have some tears in my eyes when the table is set for only three, and I will be thankful for Leif, for my brilliant and handsome son, who taught me much, who I loved, who I had for thirty-three years. I will be grateful for those years, even though they were not enough. I will be grateful for his life, even though it ended too soon.

This photo of our family was taken in our living room in Honolulu, Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day 1985. Peter A. would be 17 in a month and Leif would be 11 in two months.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dismantling a Life

We were sitting in O'Hare Airport waiting a connection on our way home from India and Peter W. wanted to call Peter A. to let him know we were safely that far and discovered that he didn't have Peter's Vonage phone number programmed into his cell phone. He hardly ever uses his cell phone or keeps the phone book on it up to date. I offered to enter the number for him and decided to look over what needed updating. I found several out of date numbers I needed to change, but then I found Leif's cell phone numbers, still there after Leif's death over 19 months ago. I could have just deleted them without comment but I asked Peter if he wanted them. He didn't, and they are now gone, but the fact that I had to ask, and that it brought the sting of tears to my eyes, made me realize yet again how hard it is, emotionally and otherwise, to delete or dismantle the things left behind after a loved one's death. Each time it feels like I am deleting a part of his life, of my contact with him, of the life he built. I remembered how hard it was to turn in Leif's military ID card to the office at MacDill Air Force Base. I remembered how hard it was to sell his motorcycle and have his car repossessed, to terminate memberships and so many other details.

I remembered again how it seemed like an invasion of his privacy to "snoop" through his papers and computer files for the information I needed to handle his affairs, how it felt wrong to dispose of his belongings, as though he would be coming back for them and be upset that they were gone. Of course I knew that wasn't going to happen, but taking someone's personal property and selling it, giving it away or throwing it away seemed so wrong, like taking apart the life he had built for himself and destroying its identity, removing it from the earth.

I think how little is left of his life, the photos, the memories, a few belongings, and yet how large the memories and the emotions are in my life.

I still have boxes of papers and possessions, like his army uniforms and boots, and wonder what will become of them, whether I will part with them or they will still be here when I die, with no one to pass them on to. It doesn't seem right.

I met a woman today who told me about a friend whose son died in a car accident over twenty years ago and they still have all of his clothes and belongings in his room, still as he left them. They even buy him birthday and Christmas presents. I cannot imagine that level of denial, but I understand their emotional need to pretend that he is in some sense still with them. I don't think it's a healthy response, but maybe it's what it takes to get them through the days. I wouldn't want that, but there are some things I want to keep, and others I don't want to see.

Leif's name is still in my phone book, on my computer and in my cell phone, not because I have an emotional need to see them there, though I confess it is hard for me to delete them, but because I still occasionally have a need to enter his address or phone number on some document and it's easy to find and access them where they are, but it still shocks me sometimes when I'm looking through the listings to see him there, as though somehow I could still magically give him a call.

How I wish I could!

I talked with a man in my neighborhood recently who grew emotional and had tears in his eyes when he said that when our parents die we realize our own mortality, that "we are up next" and that he would give anything for just one more hour with his father. I understand his feelings. I also know the feeling of losing my son, and how I'd give anything for one more hour with Leif.

Love does not go away. Sadness and grief grow softer, less acute, but they do not end. They do not go away, either. Deleting a phone number or selling a car doesn't make it any easier; it just reminds us of the loss.

This photo of Leif was taken on June 13, 1990 in Greenbelt, Maryland where we were visiting my sister, Leif's Aunt Lannay, on our way from Chicago to Puerto Rico for Peter W's new military assignment there. Leif was 15 years old.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Three Guys - Giuseppi's Dinner Restaurant - Colorado Springs, CO - May 28, 1991 - Age 16

My two sons, horsing around together; how I loved seeing that, them having fun with each other. These photos were taken the same evening as the last group, outside  Guiseppe's Depot restaurant in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before we attended the Graduation Balls on May 28, 1991. Peter A. graduated from the Air Force Academy the next day.

This is a good example of how strong Leif was, to pick up his brother like that. Below, the two of them are "putting their best feet forward." They look like they are ready to take on the world and conquer it together.

I know Leif was enormously proud of his older brother and respected him greatly for graduating from the Air Force Academy. He must have wished he could follow in his footsteps, but for many reasons, that was not to be.

It was certainly a proud moment for all of us and we were so glad to be there to share it as a family. Peter W. got to pin on Peter A.'s lieutenant's bars wearing his own uniform and attend the ball in his mess dress blues. Leif was dressed in his stylish silver-gray suit and turquoise tie. He was only sixteen but he looks so tall and grown up.

It's odd what things around me trigger sadness and a deep sense of missing Leif. Yesterday we were in O'Hare Airport in Chicago on our way back from visiting Peter A. and family in India when it hit me that this Thanksgiving we will be here with only three of us, Peter W., my mother and me. Leif will not be coming. It seemed inexpressibly sad. Last year, I convinced Peter W. to go to the Washington DC area so that we could spend Thanksgiving with Peter A. and his family, our nephew Rick and his family, and my sister Lannay and her family. It was a warm and loving crowd of people celebrating together and it kept me from feeling Leif's absence so acutely. This year, there will be no big gathering to distract me.

Then, as I glanced around the restaurant where we were having breakfast, I nearly did a double-take. Across the aisle and down a table or two sad "Leif." Of course it wasn't him, but it was a man who was about Leif's age, with a shaved head and a mustache and goatee. From the side he looked uncannily like Leif, and that's when I nearly lost it. It didn't take more than a few seconds for tears to be brimming in my eyes. I tried to keep it under control, since we were in a public place, but I didn't completely succeed. I just wanted Leif to be there, to be with us for Thanksgiving.

The holidays this year will be hard. Although last year's Thanksgiving and Christmas were the first times without him, they were cushioned by the presence of many people we love. This year, we will not have others with us to fill our hearts and minds. This year, we will face his loss.

I have much to be thankful for, and I know many, many people have suffered worse losses than I have, but we, all of us, can only feel our own pain. Intellectually we may measure it against the pain and sadness of others and know that many have experienced far more terrible losses, but although we may be sympathetic, we cannot feel their misery as we feel our own. We may have four sound limbs but if we have a pain in our back, the sound limbs do not make the back feel better. We still feel the back pain. It is still intense. We can't tell ourselves, "Well, my four good limbs negate the back pain."

So it is with Leif's death. I have much to be thankful for in my life, but even my joy and appreciation of those people I love and those things I care deeply about do not take away the hurt of losing Leif . . .  they exist side- by side, the thankfulness and the pain, the joy and the sorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Family the Night of Peter Anthony's Air Force Academy Graduation Ball - Colorado Springs, CO - May 28, 1991

I think this was the last, and perhaps the only, time that our whole family was dressed formally for a big event. Peter Anthony was graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and we had flown to Colorado Springs from Puerto Rico to share in that momentous occasion. The night before the ceremony, we were all to attend the Graduation Balls. Peter Anthony was going to the Cadet Ball and we were going to one for parents and family.

Before the dances, we went out to dinner together at Guiseppi's Depot restaurant, which was in an old railroad station which had been converted into a posh restaurant. We had a great dinner and then took these, and many other, photos both inside the restaurant and outside in the dark. My mother was with us, too.

How young we all looked then, 18 years ago. Leif was tall, slim and handsome. Peter A. looked dashing in his blues and Peter W. looked great in his mess dress blues. It's hard to believe that we are the same people as the gray-haired grandparents that now stare out at us from the mirror, but it's even harder to believe that Leif is no longer with us. It still hurts to think that, and I know it always will. One-fourth of our family, one half of our children, never to be with us again.

No matter how many times I go over it all in my mind, I can't truly fathom it, how it came to that, how my son put a bullet in his head.

I am not alone in this. Just this past week we saw the news stories about the famous 32-year-old German soccer player who was depressed and jumped in front of a train to commit suicide. Why does despair grip them so tightly that they can't see a future?

How do we endure the pain they leave behind?

I re-read Peter Anthony's science fiction story about his brother's death and I cried again. There is no way to make his death comprehensible no matter how much I know about depression or the lethal combination of depression, alcohol and guns.

I am so thankful for Peter A. and for our beautiful grandchildren. They are our ties to the future. But I still think of the grandchildren I will never have and that brings tears to my eyes, and I will always think of my son, Leif, and miss him terribly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ClockCycle - A Fictional Remembrance by Ken Katsujin

Yesterday our son Peter A. became a published science fiction author, his first story published in the online journal Kalkion under his pseudonym Ken Katsujin.

I was immensely touched and brought to tears that this story of his was a fictional remembrance of his brother Leif's life and death, and it brought me to tears, both when I read it yesterday and again tonight.

I thanked him for it, for remembering his brother, for writing about him. He seemed puzzled at my thank you, and more thrilled that he is now published and a "contender." I told him I thought he was always a contender, but he meant in the world of science fiction, of course.

I wish Leif could read this story. I wonder what he would think. I wonder what Michael will think. Leif wanted to matter. He just never knew that he did.

Read the story "ClockCycle" here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BIttersweet Memories - Leif With a Telescope in Japan - June 1982

What was he thinking? That is was a telescope? Or was he pretending it was some kind of fantastic weapon he was firing? We were in a park in Japan, in June 1982 and Leif was seven years old, so ernest, so intense.

Yesterday we were with our grandson, Marcus, for his ninth birthday party, and I remembered how I had cried when my sons each reached the age of nine, realizing that half their time in my household as children was gone. It brought tears to my eyes again, to think of it and tell Peter A. about it.

It was a joy to see Marcus having a good time with his friends, SO excited about having a party, telling his mother, Darlene, that she "nailed it" by making and decorating a cake just the way he wanted it. It was wonderful to see his enthusiasm and enjoyment of his gifts. I loved seeing it, but it also hurt. I remembered those days with my sons, days no long past and no one to remember them that way but me.

I remember making cakes for and then with the boys. Ours were never so professionally decorated as Darlene's. We were rank amateurs! Plus I let the boys help, really help, so the decorating was usually more than a little childish and garish, but we had such a good time doing it.

I've already posted photos of some of those odd-looking cakes. I suspect that most kids these days would take a look a laugh, but my boys were proud of their efforts.

Those days were so precious and they went by so fast. Look at that slim little boy. He looks so innocent and sweet, so full of imagination. I still cannot fathom, though there isn't a day I don't try, what happened to him in the wee hours of April 9, 2008. Why is he not here? I am so fortunate that Peter A. and Marcus are, and I am so glad I can be with them, but their presence still brings home with a vengeance that I am missing Leif.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veteran's Day

Happy Veteran's Day, my son. I am proud of your service to our country. You always identified yourself as a warrior and that's what you wanted to be. I am sad for you that even that career ambition was denied to you because of your asthma, and sad that in part, your military service contributed to your suicide. You deserved better treatment and recognition than you got, and I am amazed that you could persevere as long as you did, from completing basic training with a broken foot to sticking out infantry duty with asthma so severe. We will never know what caused it, but it must have been excruciating to try to carry all that gear and a machine gun on long marches or to run when you couldn't get your breath.

I am sad that you aren't here to celebrate this day with us. How I wish you were!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Leif in the Gyro Machines - May 29, 1991 - Colorado Springs, CO - Age 16

When Peter Anthony graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy at the end of May 1991, we spent several days in Colorado Springs for all the events and to do some sightseeing.

Leif was particularly interested in the aircraft the did flyover and the gyro rides. He always loved things that provided an adrenaline thrill and these certainly did.

The Saturn ride was at a local mall there and he had to pay for it, but the third one at the bottom was in a training room at the Air Force Academy and he got to tr it out there free.

Leif was able to maintain his equilibrium well and except for his nearsightedness, he would have made a fine pilot.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Peter Anthony & Leif in Merkendorf, Germany - August 1978 - Leif age 3 and a half

One of the charming towns in Bavaria near where we lived in Sachsen bei Ansbach was Merkendorf. We took a day trip there in August 1978 with the boys and my mother, who was visiting at the time. While we were photographing the quaint half-timbered architecture, they were busy finding something they could mess with. Hands-on is always more fun for a couple of boys.

What they found was this old watering trough and huge pump. The trough handily had water in it that they could get wet with, and the pump handle, while too big for them to manage much did allow manipulation. They were quite busy figuring out how it worked. I got a kick out of Leif's interest, at the age of three. Even then he was fascinated by mechanical things and able to figure them out quite well.

I think the lower picture is just precious, that beautiful little face, so intent!

We visited so many towns and cities in Germany, sometimes on Volksmarches, sometimes on day trips. Each was a special pleasure.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leif and the Sweets - Heidelberg, Germany - August 1978 - Age 3 and a half

Germany is full of wonderful pastry shops called Konditoreien, which I guess could better be translated as "confectionary" shops. They have beautiful creations in their windows, Torten (fancy cakes), Plaetzchen (cookies), candies, marzipan creations, candied fruits and more. They are different from bakeries, which have breads and cookies but not the fancy cakes.

It was always fun to look in the windows of all kinds of shops, but these were especially attractive and we loved to stop at one for a treat. In Germany it's traditional to have afternoon coffee, much as the English have tea, with some sweets. We didn't make a practice of this at home, but we always enjoyed it when visiting Peter W's relatives in Heidelberg or the Stuttgart area, and if we were out on a day trip in a city we might treat ourselves at a Konditorei, where the hardest part was choosing among all the goodies.

Here Leif is posing (with his "struteper" tongue sticking out again) in front of a Konditorei window on the Hauptstrasse (Main Street) in Heidelberg in August 1978. He was so cute in his little shorts suit.

Like most kids, he enjoyed sweets, but he never "understood" chocolate or had any interest in it unless it was a chocolate brownie. Chocolate candy wasn't a favorite of his. He loved ice cream, particularly butter pecan, and he enjoyed the German marzipan goodies.

In the village of Sachsen bei Ansbach where we lived for two years, we didn't have a Konditorei but we did have an excellent bakery. I still miss their wonderful "Schweizer Brot," which was a light rye. What my boys loved there, though, were the "Drei Augen Gebaeck" (Three Eye Cookies). These were a rich shortbread cut in two rounds about four inches in diameter. One round had three holes about the size of pennies cut out of it, the three eyes. The two were sandwiched together with red currant jelly in between. They were sumptuous! All the years of Leif's life later, and Peter A. still, they remembered those cookies.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Emotions are like being harnessed up to powerful horses

I was thinking this morning as I woke up that our emotions are kinds of like powerful horses that we are harnessed to. Sometimes we are in control of them; sometimes we are not.

Emotions are the real stuff of life. They are what makes it all worthwhile. Without love, joy, happiness, what would life be? Mechanical? Flat and boring?

We are forced to endure the other side of emotion, the sadness, pain and misery, the boredom and ennui, and the grief, because life cannot go on forever, because disasters happen, because those we care about sometimes hurt us, because illness and accidents take a toll. We have no choice but to experience them and feel them. That's when the horses get spooked an run away. We are not in control and it's frightening and miserable.

Because emotions cause chemical changes in the brain they aren't just something we can "decide" on and control completely. We are in some sense at the mercy of the runaway horses.

But we can fight to regain control. We can fight to bring our emotions back to something happier and more stable. We can sieze the reins and sometimes force our will upon them.

However that takes immense effort and a real desire to change one's feelings. One reason it is so hard is that the emotions are natural and we feel that. We feel justified in having them and giving in to them, and to some extent, it's necessary, but there comes a time when negative emotions can become like a bad habit, something we keep feeding and feeling because we don't know the way out . . . or even want to stay there because there is some other goal being met.

I've thought a lot about this in relation to grief. When we lose someone we love, it is not only their death for which we mourn, but the loss of a future together, the loss of our identity as their mother, father, brother, sister; the emptiness where they once filled our hearts. Grief is real and consuming.

But I think it could become a habit, and I think it's possible to want to hang onto it as proof of one's love. How can a good mother be happy ever again when her beloved child is dead? How can she ever get over that loss?

In one sense, she (me) never will. There will always be that sense of missing Leif, of life not being right or complete without him. But gradually, if she is healthy and willing to fight to regain happiness, it's possible to see that letting go of grief doesn't mean letting go of love, doesn't mean letting go of the bond of love and care for that child. Gradually, she will rein in the runaway horses and settle them down, make them trot along a path that leads to something better.

I really do think that it's hard to let go of grief without feeling like a bad mother. You have to come to terms with that, to decide (and yes, it is a decision) that spending the rest of your life making yourself unhappy over something you cannot change doesn't make you a better mother or even a good one; it just makes you unhappy, and that unhappiness spills over onto the others you love.

You can't rush this process. For some it takes a year. For some longer. Some will never get there. But in that initial period you have to let yourself grieve and feel it. You have to mourn, for it is a real loss, and the grieving is not just a mental thing, not even "just" emotional, but a chemical process in the brain.

At some point, though, and it's a point you have to recognize, you find that there are moments and hours when you are happy, when you feel "normal" again. At first they don't last long and you feel guilty when they happen, like somehow you shouldn't feel that way at all as the mother of a dead child. You might even talk yourself into a crying session to "make up" for the happy moments, to "prove" to yourself that you really are sad . . . and of course, you ARE sad, but you are beginning to find your way back out of the hole of misery. Now, when the sadness sets in, you find you can haul yourself up out of it like a tour-de-force. You can pull back on those reins and stop the runaway horses.

Before this point, the things you used to enjoy had lost their luster. Counting your blessings didn't help because you were still constantly reminded of what you lost. But at this point, if you are fortunate, you  begin to realize that life is still precious, that you have spent your time in mourning and it's time to emerge, groom those horses and set off down a better road, time to live the life you have.

That doesn't mean you won't have periods of sadness, times when remembering will bring some tears, or when some trigger you didn't expect will make you turn away to hide the emotions that start to run away again. But they will not be the fabric of your life, but a pattern within that fabric, and you will begin to weave a new way to live.

I sensed I had rounded some kind of corner about three weeks ago, roughly after Leif had been dead for 18 months. I no longer cried so much when I was scanning and working on photos to post on this blog. I could smile at them and feel love, more than sadness, but yes tinged with sadness. I could write posts without crying.

And I could feel enthusiasm for things I had enjoyed before, real enthusiasm, more than I have felt since his death.

Peter noticed this, too. He said the other day that it was the first time he remembers me being spontaneously happy since Leif's death. I think he is right.

Part of this is the healing of time. Part of it is Peter's love and support. Part of it is this blog. And the last piece is coming to the time when I can decide it is all right to be happy again. It is all right to feel less grief. It is all right to fight depression and sadness.

I think when we are at the point when we can tell ourselves this new story that we can slowly begin to change the chemical processes in our brains to something that allows happiness. It doesn't happen quickly and it isn't all or nothing. It's baby steps, but they are in the right direction.

We have to hold onto the reins. The horses are powerful, and they are also wonderful. Life without emotions would be empty and worthless. We need to treasure them, along with our memories, and then figure out how to guide them where we want to go.

I am fortunate that I am at this point. If I were someone like my father or Leif and suffered from severe, chronic depression, I would not be able to do this. Chronic deep depression is not something the sufferer can "decide" to get over, or more precisely, they might make that "decision" but they would not be able to change the chemical processes in the brain that cause that kind of depression. Grief could be said to be a short term "mental illness" because of it's symptoms, but it is a normal process. Clinical depression, however, is not a normal process and it doesn't clear up on it's own. It is the black hole of despair. I am sad that my father and my son went through such misery and found no way out.

I know I will have sad times when something hits me about Leif's death, but I think I am over the worst of the process of grieving. Now I look at these pictures and I smile with love and memories. It won't bring him back, but I am thankful I had him, thankful for those memories, thankful for the years we spent together.

Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? I think if you ask someone that, their answer will depend a lot upon how close they are to the loss. Even Leif, though, in his depression, answered yes. I will, too.

These two photos of Leif and me were taken by Peter W. in Heidelberg, Germany in August 1978. He was three-and-a-half years old.

In the second one he is sticking out his lower lip. When I was growing up and we kids did that, my mother called it by a Norwegian name. I don't know how to spell them properly in Norwegian, so I can only do it the way it sounds to me. For a boy it was, "struteper," and for a girl it was "struteguri." I used that with my boys, too, so in the lower photo, Leif is a "struteper." Maybe a Norwegian reader will comment and correct me.