Saturday, January 10, 2009

Missing Leif for Nine Months

Today it is nine months since we found Leif's lifeless body in his apartment and we are no closer to answers about why it happened or how. We miss him terribly and never know what will trigger tears. People say to live in the memories and hope only good ones will be left, but how could the memory of his death be wiped out? It invades the good memories, colors our lives with sadness. There is so much lost, and none of it fades away. No matter how many times I go over all the difficulties and problems he had, all the disappointments, even knowing he had been suicidal in 2001, I still can't really fathom it.

People say there must have been some indication, but men don't show it. They hide it. They put up a good front. My father did. Others who have had a male member of the family say those men did, too, gave no indication of what they were planning. Did things like telling their wives they were going to work and instead went into the basement and hung themselves. Do they become in some way detached? Do they look at it like some kind of ledger sheet, deciding this is the solution to the unbalanced rewards and punishments of life? A rational solution? I can imagine Leif doing that.

And yet, looking back over his life as I write this blog, looking at the photos of a lifetime in chronological order, remembering the things he said, I see a pattern of denial of much of the hurt and pain he felt, because the evidence is there in other ways. I see a vulnerability he denied and hid. I see a deep need for love and companionship that was always thwarted and left him in despair. I see a strange combination of cynicism and almost unreasoning optimism that next time things would turn out right . . . until the end.

I see a moodiness, even as a child, that didn't seem pathological, but may have been deeper even then than he showed. I see highs and lows that deepened as an adult and now I wonder whether he either suffered from bipolar syndrome or PTSD. He certainly had experiences that could have caused PTSD, and I found an information pamphlet about it in his apartment after he died. And, months after his death, had a surprise correspondence with someone he never actually met but spoke with and corresponded with who said he speculated to her that he had PTSD. Did he take a dive into the deep low of bipolar disorder in the early hours of April 9th?

In researching bipolar disorder to find out more, I discovered that it seems to have a genetic component, like chronic depression, and is a physical disease caused by chemical imbalances in the brain that distort thinking and that those suffering from it are at high risk for suicide. The onset of the disease seems to be caused by trauma and once set in motion is very difficult to treat. Did Leif get that genetic component through my father, for either chronic depression or bipolar disorder? It seems heartbreakingly likely.

Leif, the student of psychology, the observer of life, who tried so hard to help others who were suffering from bipolar disorder, depression and sadness, and made sure they got professional help and medication, never (as far as we know) revealed his own depression to a professional or took medication for it. Instead, he tried to "treat" or self-medicate his depression with alcohol and shopping. His "show no weakness" code probably prevented him from seeking help. I wish he had.

I asked him many times about depression, sent him online self-evaluations for it, but until November 2007 he denied it completely. He new enough about psychology and testing that he could easily fool those tests, and would report to me that he was fine. I think he wanted to believe that.

Whenever a loved one dies, we try to think whether there was anything we could have done to prevent it, to help, but it's far worse with a suicide. Even if you know it's not your fault, you ache to think of their pain and agonize over whether you missed the signs or didn't do what you should have to help.

Leif is gone and the days pass. Most things are normal, but he's never far from our thoughts and the sadness is always just under the surface, waiting to express itself.

This photo was taken the fall of 1992 during his senior year in high school by Blaker's Studio Royal in Manhattan, Kansas. He was 17 years old.

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