Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 29, 2009 - Military Honors Ceremony - Speakers

Military honors services are short. So many funerals or inurnments are scheduled that there is only a half hour allotted. The family is invited to bring photos, music to play, to get up and speak, bring a minister to speak if they like. We invited Leif's family and friends to speak at both the military service and the church service later that afternoon.

Four of us spoke at the military service, Leif's father, Nikko, Donna, and I. I don't have a photo of Donna speaking but I was able to take one out of the small video of the ceremony. I don't have the complete text of everyone's remarks, but we were all crying as we spoke. It was very hard to get through, and hard to see each other trying. I kept my remarks short, as I planned my main message for the church service, my "Farewell to My Gentle Giant."

Here is my short farewell:

Leif loved his country, was passionate about our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and took seriously his oath to defend it. Whether in or out of uniform, being a soldier was an integral part of his identity, and now it will remain so, even in death. We honor his service and his patriotism, but we mourn his death with all our hearts.

This place not only memorializes his military service, but it lies close to his beloved sea coast.

Sara Teasdale wrote the poem, "If Death is Kind." To me it seems to fit his being laid to rest in this place.

Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.
~Sara Teasdale

I would like to think that Leif is free. I don't know whether anything remains after death but our memories, and those, I treasure. His 33 years were not long enough, but perhaps they were too long for him.

Leif loved the sea ever since he sailed the Caribbean when he was 16, and this is his favorite poem, Sea Fever by John Masefield.

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Sweet dreams, my son.


Leif's father read some poignant poems and expressed his love and grief.


Donna wrote and read this:

Leif Garretson
Named after a viking need i say more. :)
He was strong,funny brilliant and kind.
Stubborn as a bull.
A true friend.
He held a fire for life and was passionate in love.
He fought for what he belived in even if it was something small.
A Knight. A soldier.
He would help you when you needed a good swift kick and teach you what you wanted to learn.
He held his friends close to his heart.
When he loved it was unconditional.
This man has warmed all of our hearts and changed all of our lives.
A powerful presence that will not be forgotten.
I love you Leif. Thank you for everything.


Nikko read this, which she had originally posted on her MySpace page:

On 14 April at 0500 hours Central European Time, I found out from my sister in Las Vegas that I lost one of the best friends I've had in my entire life. I never thought I would lose Leif, my ex-husband and eternal confidant and friend.

We'd met when I was 18, in Manhattan, KS, through the SCA - Society for Creative Anachronism. If you go to the rememberance page his mother Jerri set up for him at, and you see the picture of him when he was a Senior in H.S., then you'll see the man I met. He was charming, funny, cynical with a dark sense of humor. He was arrogant, and hansome, and knew he was handsome.

When we married on 20 October, 1995, our friends thought I'd be the one to "take the wind out of his sails", and that I'd bring him & his ego down to earth with the rest of us mortals. I did a little, but he did so much more for me. He taught me how to laugh. He showed me that life wasn't as serious as I believed. He encouraged me, a H.S. drop-out, with the help of his wonderful mother, to get my G.E.D. He always believed in me, and even, over the years, when we were at the darkest hours of our marriage, we still loved each other.

Our marriage lasted only 7 legal years, but we ended it to save our friendship. We left behind the status of "man & wife" to retain our status of "long-time friend". He taught me how to see the big picture, and gave me a step towards becoming wise.

When I joined the Army in March 2003, I could feel his pride in me. He'd been Infantry, himself, and loved the Army and his Country the same way I do. I'll never forget the last time I saw him in December 2003 after Basic Training & AIT. It was the last time I got to hug him, to sit across from him and joke and drink and enjoy his physical company. The last moment I saw him, he was on his front porch, saying goodbye, and as I got into my car, he saluted me. I never felt prouder for what I had accomplished, and for what the future was going to bring. And I'd never had greater joy in my heart than I did when he showed me he felt the same. He continued to show me that support and pride through my career, and as I got promoted to Sergeant E-5, one rank higher than he'd retired out of the Army as. As life carried on over the years, we kept in touch over the phone, email & chat. He continued to share his humor, wisdom, and love with me and mine.

He never stopped being big brother to my 3 younger sisters, son to my mother, and confidant to me and our friends.

The world has lost someone truly great, in heart, soul and spirit.

The world has lost a Patriot, someone who couldn't possibly love his Country more.

The world has lost a lover of life, beauty, justice and everything the world had to offer.

Alex, I have a hole in my heart and life that will never be filled, no matter how hard I try with tears and memories.

I'm going to miss you for the rest of my life.

Love, your ex-wife and eternal friend. See you in the Summerland.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Year Has Passed Since Leif's Memorial Services on April 29, 2009

It's so hard to believe that a year ago today we gathered at Bay Pines National Cemetery for Leif's military honors ceremony and inurnment. It was a beautiful spring day, just like today, the kind of day he would have been out riding his cycle if he were alive and free.

We were a small gathering of family and friends, just 29 of us, a fraction of those who were with us in spirit that day, whether on the vigil of the ZAON forums or around the country and the world, who could not join us. We were immensely grateful for those who were with us on that sad, hard day.

Leif identified himself as a warrior. Being a soldier was a major part of his identity, and it was fitting and right that he was honored as a veteran and inurned with his brothers in arms. Bay Pines is a beautiful place, but it is also an infinitely sad place for me.

In the coming days I will post more about this ceremony and the church ceremony that followed it. These photos were taken before ceremony started. The first one shows Leif's father, Peter W., carrying the "urn," the wooden box that he decorated with Leif's military insignia. It holds all the earthly remains of our son, a box that wouldn't have begun to contain him even as a newborn baby.

We had to deliver the urn to the cemetery office so that the honor guard could take it and have it in place at the place of remembrance before we all gathered there.

The second photo is of us, Leif's parents, walking from the cemetery office to greet those who had come for the ceremony.

The third photo is one of the entire group of us, except for Dave Keesey, who took the group photo for us.

The fourth photo is Leif's three best friends from the early 1990s, Michael, Nikko (who was also the only wife Leif had), and Jason. Leif met Jason his senior year in high school, 1992-1993. Jason came from Manhattan, Kansas to be with us for the services. Nikko came all the way from Germany where she was serving in the U.S. Army. She and Leif met the summer of 1994 (I think it was 1994 and not 1993). MIchael met Leif in 1993 at Kansas State University. Michael came from central Florida to be with us. He had helped us to clear out Leif's apartment and much more. Leif would have been very touched to know they cared enough to be there.

From our gathering outside the cemetery office, we went to the small place of remembrance where there were benches under a covered area open on the sides to begin the ceremony.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Leif - School Photo Circa Fall 1989 - Highland Park, Illinois - Age 14

In this school photo we cross over into a new kind of portrait. Those taken before this were all the standard "head shots," but this time, there's more of a sense of the rest of him, his posture, his slim stance. This was when he first started to let his hair grow out. I liked this style. I liked his long hair, too.

This was the time when he was starting to outgrow his junior high shyness and stride with confidence. He was getting a sense of himself as someone more mature, not just the kid who had outgrown everyone else in height and was teased with comments like, "How's the weather up there?"

I think this was taken the fall of his freshman year at Highland Park High School. He was fourteen.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Peter W., Peter A & Leif - Fort Sheridan, Illinois - July 1988

We must have over 2000 photos of Leif, maybe 3000, though some of them are "repeats," part of a series taken at the same time. Yet with all these photos, I still don't have some of the ones I want, and in looking for them, i'm running across photos I didn't know I had, like this one.

This must have been the only point in their lives when the three of them were the same size, all the same height. What's amusing is that they all have the same stance and posture, too. That wasn't intentional or posed. That's just the way the three of them each chose to stand. I never thought of that as a genetic predisposition before, but they are so alike here.

Peter W., in his army uniform, was 45 years old. Peter Anthony, in his Air Force Academy uniform, was 19 years old. Leif, in his black suit, was only 13. By the next year, Peter A. would be taller than his dad and Leif would tower over both of them.

Peter A. would be starting his second year at USAFA a month after this was taken, and Leif would start eighth grade.

My three guys, how I loved them! How I love the still.


This photo was taken in July 1988 in front of our townhouse quarters on Nicholson Road at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leif at Judo - Fort Shafter, Hawaii - June 30, 1984 - Age 9

Leif first started judo at Fort Shafter, Hawaii when we were living in Honolulu. He loved it! His sensei, Curtis, was terrific with the boys. Leif stayed with judo from the summer of 1984 to the summer of 1990, in Hawaii and Illinois, until we moved to Puerto Rico where he didn't have the same opportunities. He earned his black belt in Illinois at the age of 14.

This photo was taken in a tent at Fort Shafter when they were having a competition. I have a lot of photos of Leif in action but I don't know whether the other boys in the photos would want them posted. I don't even know their names.

Part of this competition that really impressed Leif (and me) was the demonstration put on by some visiting senseis. One was a woman, not a very big one, who managed to lift Curtis (who was hefty) over her head and carry him around.

I always felt bad that Leif didn't continue with judo. He was very good at it and he enjoyed it. When we moved from Puerto Rico to Manhattan, Kansas, there was an active judo group at the university that Leif could have worked with. However, after two years without any practice, he felt self conscious about showing up with a black belt, thinking his skills were not at that level any longer. He could have gone and started back at a lower rank, but he didn't feel quite right about that, either. Ironically, the sensei at Kansas State University was the same one that I took judo from when I was thirteen and fourteen years old, but I never had the guts to compete and earn any rank.

Leif really needed to have some physical activity but he hadn't cultivated anything he enjoyed that he could do throughout his life, except judo, and that he had given up. I think he would have progressed in rank and been a fine teacher if he had gone back to it in 1992 or later.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Remembering a Year Ago

Last year at this time, I was frantically trying to scan all the photos for a slide show of Leif's life to be shown in the evening after his memorial services. Those photos and many more are finding their way into this blog.

I was racing to have all the details ready for the two memorial services, the house in order for family and friends. Peter Anthony, Darlene and Marcus were already here. I was dealing with Leif's financial mess, still notifying people and companies about his death, trying to sell his belongings and clean out his apartment. It was a whirlwind of activity overlaid on alternating waves of sadness and numbness.

I was glad I had found the two places I wanted for the memorial services, Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg for the military service and inurnment, and the St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church for the celebration of life ceremony. I wanted both of them to be right, to be real remembrances of Leif and his life.

I didn't want some sterile religious ceremony that relied on scriptures that would have been meaningless to him. I knew it would be almost unbearably hard to do, but I asked family members and friends if they wanted to be a part of the services, and they responded. I wrote a short piece including "Sea Fever," the Masefield poem Leif loved, for the military service, and "Farewell to My Gentle Giant" for the church service. I posted those last year. Peter W. wrote something short for each of them, including poems he found meaningful. Neither of us was sure we could control our emotions enough to get through them, but we resolved to try.

Peter Anthony wrote an insightful and poignant talk for the church service, "Who Was My Brother?" Leif's friend Jason agreed to read what he had written on Leif's MySpace page when he found out about his death. Darlene offered to read the Twenty Third Psalm, and Marcus prepared a reading and candle-lighting, with the candle he and Darlene made.

All the activity and planning gave me focus, something that had to be done, and that kept me from collapsing into depression. Work is great therapy, even if the effects aren't lasting.

It seems incomprehensible to me that it has already been a year since his death. It still feels as though he should be walking through my door. And yet, the forwarding order for his mail is about to run out and little comes. Email no longer comes to his email accounts. Fewer and fewer people visit his Facebook and MySpace pages.

There is a fairly consistent number coming to this blog every day. I don't know if they are all readers or whether many are chance hits on keywords, but I am glad people are finding it. So far, though, no one has sent me any memories to include. I'm on my own here. Melissa said she wants me to continue writing it. I want to, but how long can I find something new and different to say? How many more photos can I find that aren't essentially part of a series that are similar? I want to keep it meaningful. Leif deserves that.

I didn't expect that the anniversary of the memorial services would also be as meaningful and sad to me as the day Leif died and the day we found him. I suppose I should have known that the day we gathered to commemorate his death would be that significant for me. The first anniversary of it is in days, and that will be another milestone passed, another sign of how long he has been gone from us.

Every photo I post is a reminder of the life that meant so much to me. Every photo makes me want him back. Every photo makes me thankful I had him.

Why couldn't life have been kind to him?

The photo above was taken in front of our quarters at the Sagamihara Family Housing Area in Japan, as he was coming home from school. He had his gym bag of stuff and instead of carrying it the usual way, he hung it on his head like that. It was taken in May 1983 when he was 8 years old.Sea

Friday, April 24, 2009

An Emotional Rollercoaster

Until last Saturday, there hadn't been a single day since Leif died that I didn't cry at least once. Even on days when there were good things happening, when I was smiling and sometimes reasonably happy, busy enough to forget for short periods that Leif was dead, even on those days, there were times of tears.

I thought I would never wear my "Find Joy" t-shirt again. I hadn't worn it since before Leif died, but a couple of weeks ago, I did. I thought it was time to start looking for joy again. There were flashes of happiness, times when I wasn't thinking about Leif and his death.

Last weekend Peter and I went to St. Augustine. The weather was perfect. We talked of Leif as we drove through central Florida, questioning, as we always do, why he died, what we could have done, what we would have wanted to do, to help him survive, if only we had known how desperate he must have been.

Then we found the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Pulitzer prize-winning author of "The Yearling," a historical site several miles off the route we were traveling to Jacksonville. We visited it and it was a lovely, peaceful interlude learning about the remarkable woman before heading to Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where we stayed for three nights, driving to St. Augustine on Saturday and Sunday.

We badly needed the time to focus on each other, and it was wonderful. The old city was fascinating and we took the trolley, walked the pedestrian street, had lovely lunches and dinners, explored the old fort. It was sweet and romantic and beautiful. Peter said he thought it was the first time he had seen me really happy since Leif died, and he was right. I was happy, and it was the first time - at least the first time it was for longer than a couple of hours. I am immensely thankful for those days, and even the drive home on Monday, where the magic lingered and Peter and I enjoyed each other so much. It was good to be close.

I knew that coming home would mean getting back to the daily grind, that I wouldn't be able to keep up the relaxed pace and feeling, but what surprised me was that coming home I was hit with Leif's absence, by thinking that he had lived here, worked here, put up our pictures, mowed our lawn, done his wash, eaten at this table. His absence was everywhere. And the anniversary of his memorial services is coming up next week on the 29th.

So, today I found myself sad again, with tears again, feeling loss again.

Peter is so sweet and caring. He hugs me, and I know how fortunate I am to have him. I don't want him to see me cry, but there are times like today that I can't help it. He wants to badly for me to be happy, and I want to be happy for him, like I was in St. Augustine. At least we had those days.

He asked me whether I need to "see someone." I told him that my feelings are normal grief, not pathological or dangerous. I will manage, and if I could find three days of happiness and not cry, there will be more. I don't want to be medicated out of my feelings. Leif is worth grieving for.
This sweet photo of Leif was taken in Japan in the fall of 1980, shortly after we moved there. He was about 5 and a half years old.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Invitation to Remembering Leif Readers

I have been writing this blog for over a year now. At the beginning, some of you shared memories or made comments, but only one or two, and they tricked off to nothing. I wished they had been main entries and not in the "Comments," and that more of you had been able to participate by sharing your memories of Leif.

Although I still have many photos of Leif and much to write about, I don't know how long I will continue the blog, though I think I will continue at least until the end of May; perhaps a lot longer; I just don't know right now. I don't want the time to go on until some of you no longer visit this site, or forget your own memories of Leif. I would like to be able to post some of your memories, and photos if you have some to share. If you would like to do this, please email your post and/or photos to me at

I reserve the right to edit them, and to decide whether or not to post them. I have to put in this note because I know there are people who visit this blog who did not know Leif and may choose to email inappropriate things to me.

If you are searching your memory for what to write about, think about his interests, things you did together, what you thought of him, his sense of humor, work, military service, school, vehicles, etc., anything you would like to share about any period in his life.

If you send photos, please be sure that you are willing to give permission for them to be posted and that that permission was given by anyone in the photos; also, if you mention anyone by full name, that they give permission to be mentioned. Otherwise, please use first names only.

If any of you have stories you would like to share with Leif's family but not on the blog, if you send them to me, I will be grateful to read them and will honor your wishes.

I want to thank all of you that come back again and again to read what I've posted and see Leif's photos. I can't see who visits, only how many visit. I know that many visitors get here by "accident" through a search that somehow includes one of my keywords. For those who come to RememberingLeif that way, I hope you realized that my son, Leif Garretson, is not Leif Garrett, and perhaps found something else interesting, touching or profound.

I want to know that others are remembering Leif, too.

These photos are self-portraits of Leif in his "new armor" for SCA, August 2, 2003, late the same summer he graduated from Kansas State University. They were taken in the living room of the house at 710 N. 9th Street in Manhattan, Kansas, and show the odd juxtaposition of his medieval armor and his computer screens. He was 28 years old. He would only live another five years.

Leif in Uniform - Bosnia - Early 2000 - Age 25

How does that precious little boy I posted last become this soldier? How do 25 years go past so fast? I think that you can see the resemblance between the two of them.

This is a photo I found on Leif's computer, one had hadn't seen before. I don't know who took it, but it was when he was in Bosnia. He looks lonesome to me. We have some video that Leif shot in Bosnia of the areas where he served, with him narrating. It's hard to hear his voice, his laugh, sounding like he is right here with us, and yet know he never will be again.

Leif liked serving in Bosnia because he had a mission. He was fond of saying that the infantry has no mission in peacetime, other than to train for war, and that means there is a lot of "make work" to keep the soldier busy (according to him). In Bosnia he appreciated the mission and the camaraderie, though he missed Nikko and was saddened by the condition of a country torn apart by war.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leif - Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia - June 1977 - Age 2 and a half

The year we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia was a good one for all of us. We got to see a lot of Virginia and Washington, DC, my sister, Lannay, and had a lot of great family time. One of the things we got to do was to take a hike with the boys on a short section of the Appalachian Trail. It was a beautiful spring day and we could see forever. Leif always loved hiking in the woods and hills when he was a kid. This was one of the first hikes when he could walk a lot of it himself.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Leif & Holly - Fort Sheridan, Illinois - July 1987 - Age 12

Our sons grew up without the frequent closeness of our extended families except for some brief periods.

Peter A. got to spend quite a bit of time with his dad's aunts, uncles and cousins in Germany starting when he was 6 months old until he was 4 and a half years old.

Then there was a short time when we were back in Manhattan, Kansas that he was around my mother and my brother, Donovan and his family (cousins Rick and Holly; Tim wasn't born yet), but we left when he was only seven and Leif was just a year and half.

We were close to Lannay for a year when the boys were 2 and 8, but her daughters weren't born yet.

We also had the four years at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, when we were a few hours away from my sister, Sherie, and her family in Michigan, with cousins Shane, Brenda and Derek. Peter A. was only there for his senior year of high school and then back for Christmases, but Leif had time with his cousins the whole four years.

Then Leif spent more time with my mother and my brother Donovan's family when he was a senior in high school and a couple of years of college back in Manhattan, Kansas. By that time, Rick had left for service in the navy, but he saw quite a bit of Holly and Tim.

Otherwise, were were far, far away from our extended families, so our sons didn't grow up with a continuous sense of larger family and we traded that experience for the travel and life in Germany, Japan, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

However, Leif always enjoyed his cousins, and I think he if he'd had the chance, he would have spent a lot more time with them. They had a lot of interests and ideas in common.

He did have a chance to spend more time with his cousin Holly during two of the summers we lived at Fort Sheridan. Donovan sent her to stay with us for a few weeks each time and we had a good time together. We visited all the museums, downtown Chicago, and lots more.

You can see how Leif was starting to shoot up in height like a beanpole here. That year he was a gangly kid at the age of 12 and by the time he was 13, he was 6' 1" tall and shaving! It must have been an incredible transformation for him, but he took it in stride.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Silly Leif in a Kitchen Cupboard - Fort Sheridan, Illinois - September 1986 - Age 11

We moved from Honolulu, Hawaii to Fort Sheridan, Illinois in August 1986. Peter W. was working at Great Lakes Naval Training Station at MEPCOM (the Military Entrance Processing Command) as their legal advisor. We checked out all the area communities to find the best schools for the boys and decided living at Fort Sheridan, about a 20 minute drive south of Great Lakes, would be best as the guys could go to the excellent schools in Highland Park.

We lived in a townhouse and although it had 4 bedrooms and a basement, the rooms were small and we were pretty cramped. Now as cramped as Leif was in this cupboard, though! He climbed into it before we were all moved in and filled it up with food or pots and pans. He wouldn't have been able to get into it by the next year. At 11, he was tall for his age, but hadn't yet experienced the incredible growth spurt that shot him up to 6' 1" by the time he was 13.

Leif always had a whacky sense of humor and got a kick out of doing silly things. And I was a whacky mother who enjoyed taking photos of the boys antics. I treasure those photos.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Leif - Fort Sheridan, Illinois - May 1989 - Age 14

Leif was dressed up for his graduation from Northwood Junior High School and we took a bunch of photos of him horsing around and with our computer setup. He's acting silly, pretending to eat one of the hanging capiz shells on the lamp like a cookie.

The computer setup was a focal point for me, Peter A. and Leif. On the right was our Atari 1040 STf computer and on the left was an Apple IIg. We used them both heavily, though we weren't getting new software for the Apple, just using what we had accumulated in Japan and Hawaii. The Atari we bought in Hawaii when Peter A. convinced me that it was the "poor man's Mac." At that time, Mac was not in color and the Atari 1040 was. There was a lot of good software for it, and we had a great time doing to Northbrook to the store that sold it. The three of us used a word processor, a database program, and a lot of great games.

I especially remember Leif loving the car racing games he played with a joystick, but he also liked a Star Trek game we had, a flight simulator, and one that was really silly called "Death Sword." That was a sword fighting game that was so gruesome it was actually funny. If you were good enough, you could whack off the opponent's head and an ugly little troll would come out and kick it off screen trailing blood that looked like red snakes.

My favorite game was similar to the arcade game Qix (which I loved and would love to have on my Mac) but I don't remember the name of it.

We also had a lot of simpler games that came along with my magazines like STart magazine. Some were a great deal of fun.

I enjoyed having the computers in common with the boys. They gave us something to share and talk about (not that we ever lacked that). I wrote my first novel on the Atari. That was Imagicat. The main character, Jeff, was in some ways an amalgam of my brother, Donovan, and my two sons, Peter A. and Leif. Leif was thirteen when I was finishing the first draft of it at Fort Sheridan in 1988 (though it didn't get published until 2000). He and his friend Robert would come by after school to see what was happening in the story and then they'd get their turn on the computers.

Leif was only 6 or 7 when we got our first computer in Japan and he loved them all his life. He always wanted the best, something powerful for gaming, and he was a heavy user of the internet. Back in Fort Sheridan, there wasn't any internet as we now know it, but there were "bulletin boards" and online services that were nearly exclusively text, such as the one I subscrived to, GEnie. Leif had a taste of that, then, too.

I particularly remember the day I was talking to him about the group of children's writers that had their own "category" on GENie and some were talking about what happened when you put various weird things into the microwave. Leif was fascinated that supposedly responsible adults were doing such things as putting marshmallows and Ivory soap into the microwave just to see what happened. He decided to use my account to ask them something to this effect, "What are responsible adults like you doing putting things into the microwave and blowing them up?" I was thrilled to get an answer from well-known author Bruce Coville, who told him, "I refuse to join the adult conspiracy," and went on to the effect that he might be "grown up" but he wasn't an "adult." Leif got quite a kick out of that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thank you for friends and family

We are touched and pleased that so many of our friends and family remembered the first anniversary of Leif's death and sent cards, called, or emailed. My sweet sister, Lannay, and her husband, Doug, sent flowers. We really appreciated the love and support.

In November 2004 we made the last of our "research" trips to Florida and stayed part of the time at a model home in Sun City Center, which is where I took this photo of Leif. He was relaxed and enjoying being in Florida on vacation, and he was amused at something on television. It was on that trip we found our house and made an offer on it. The following March (2005), Leif moved to Florida to stay with his dad while I still had to be in Kansas for a time.

More of Leif's Childhood Art

Leif was far more interested in drawing weapons and space ships than people or animals as a child, and I can't recall that he ever drew or painted anything that one might have called a landscape or a still like. He didn't photograph them, either.

However, in his Kindergarten Art Portfolio, he did have three "animal" drawings. The top one here is a spotted dog, and it is much more like what other children his age might have drawn, with little idea of anatomy or real shape. However, the second one of the Dachshund is quite sophisticated and impressed the art teacher. His ability to define the dog's shape with the vertical lines and make it look as though it weren't stiff like the first one but active was remarkable for his age. I don't think he ever did anything like it again, though.

The third crayon drawing is an owl with a graduation cap. I believe he got the idea for this drawing from the "Little Professor" math teaching electronic "game" he had. He never drew anything remotely like this again, either.

I don't think I have any drawings or art creations of Leif's between kindergarten and junior high. The top photo is of a soft sculpture he made in one of his junior high art classes. It is Zaphod Beeblebrox from Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," a science fiction book he read on his brother's recommendation. He loved it, did a book report about it, and read the rest of the "trilogy" that had four books (absurd, as the books also were). I think his sculpture of Zaphod was quite good and I still have it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leif's Kindergarten Art - Spring 1981 - Age 6

Leif had a lot of art talent, but he didn't pursue it. As I've written before, as a child he was immensely frustrated when he couldn't make his drawings look like they did in his head, or build models perfectly. He did a lot of drawing in elementary school, but less and less of it as he got into the later years of elementary school and junior high school. He started drawing again when he was in college and after the army while working on developing cyberpunk games with his friend Jason but other than that, he didn't spend time sketching or drawing.

When he was in kindergarten, his teacher and the art teacher thought he had a great deal of ability in art. Not only could he draw much better than most kindergarteners, he could portray motion and action, something extremely rare in young children's art, which is generally quite static. His kindergarten teacher at Sagamihara Elementary School, Mrs. Snell, collected about a dozen of his drawings for a portfolio which was displayed at a school open house. I kept it all these years until we were moving to Florida. It was done on large sheets of coarse manila paper which had begun to oxidize badly. Leif seemed to have no interest in it. I had thought I'd save it for him and for his children, but it wasn't going to last a lot longer and there wasn't anyone to give it to, so I scanned the drawings and very reluctantly discarded them. I'm so glad I have the scans.

In one of my posts in June 2008 I posted one of the drawings, of the Spaceship Enterprise from Star Trek. If you want to see it, look for the "drawings" keyword in the list at the bottom right.

These drawings had captions on them which Leif dictated to Mrs. Snell. I think they are too small to read here, but I'll put a list of them in order below. They are quite sophisticated for a six-year-old.

1. A secret gun I designed. You can click on a part and make it a laser. The view finder is really a finder, but push a button under the trigger and the finder shoots. The locking button is another trigger to shoot. The gun is now being charged with lasers!
2. Colonial Vipers (green) are exploding Cylons (black). Ion cannon shooting.
3. My own designs after the USA Enterprise space shuttles.
4. Some ships are disintegrated. Red lines are explosions.
5. A space cruiser and armed scout ships. The cruiser has a magnetic field.
6. Space cruiser (blue) exploding another space cruiser (red/black) and two asteroids.
7. Space shuttle -- my own ship. Smaller than the Enterprise. The cockpit holds nine people. It has three rockets but the big storage tank for fuel is smaller.
8. UFO

Leif and Guns

Leif did not grow up with guns, except for toy guns and some realistic-looking air pistols that he and his dad and brother liked to pose with, pretending to be James Bond. However, he developed a keen interest in all kinds of weapons at an early age.

He loved being a machine gunner in the army and missed his gun when he left the army. I think it was after he got out of the service that he started buying guns. The assault rifle in the photo above was stolen from him when his apartment was burglarized in Tampa in July 2007. I hope it has not been used in crimes, but I fear that stolen guns are in the hands of criminals.

Leif felt very strongly about the Second Amendment and gun ownership. He did not join a lot of organizations, but he did belong to Gun Owners of America.

Leif also rarely sent long emails. If he did, it was because the subject was one of his passions. The long one below was part of a family email discussion about guns It was written one year before he used a gun to take his life. Leif would have argued that that, too, was the right of a gun owner.

Leif on Guns, April 2007

"That data is hard to come by. At least reliable accurate data. Let me explain why. Democrats love to cite statistics showing how rarely guns are 'used' to prevent crime or in self defense. The problem with these studies is that they define 'Used' as discharged. Therefore the data only includes police statistics relating to a gun being FIRED are included. The important fact they omit is the incalculable number of incidents in which a gun is brandished in self defense or to prevent a crime. These incidents are most often not reported to police and in the few cases that they are no relevant statistical data is collected.

"Let me give you an example of this from my personal experience as I was involved in just such an incident, in Manhattan at Peter and Jerri's house at 710 Nth 9th St. A neighbor knocked on my door saying some suspicious looking guys were wandering about trying to open car doors and stuff. They had tried to open my girlfriend's car and looked into my car windows. I immediately pulled my car into the garage and hers into the driveway and we called RCPD. I watched them go up and down the alley snooping around. It was obvious they were up to no good.

"So, as one passed by the house I stepped out onto my back porch casually holding a stainless steel .45 cal pistol in my right hand and a MagLite in my left. Pointed the beam of the flashlight at one of them and asked if I could help him. Then as I let the beam of the light fall to my waist illuminating the Pistol he says, "Nah, man I am cool," and quickly departs towards the street. I go back inside and watch out the window as he whistles to call his friends over, waving at them and making the cut throat motion as to suggest they stop what they are doing. He motioned towards my house and made a gesture with his hand like it was a Gun. Then they all got in a car and fled. Apparently a few car stereos were not worth getting shot over.

"Likewise they are not worth shooting someone over but that was not necessary. The mere threat was adequate deterrent. The cops showed up. We told them about it but the fact that I had a gun was not of importance to them since I never left my property and thus was not carrying it illegally and it was not fired. There are countless incidents like this where a gun is used successfully to defend life or property which are never reported to the authorities or tracked even if they are. The greatest thing about gun is that like a nuke the mere threat of certain doom is enough of a deterrent to convince one that a confrontation is best avoided.

"Incidentally, since you brought it up I DO believe, philosophically at least, that Iran has every right to have nuclear weapons just like everyone else. We do not have the right to tell them they can't have the same weapons that we do. We do not have the right to oppress any one's freedom or right to defend themselves. Now does that mean I think we should not try to prevent them from getting them no. I strongly support any effort to prevent them from getting nukes. Does Iran have the moral right to develop military assets to defend themselves against more powerful nations? YES, they do. Should we allow them to exercise those right? HELL NO. That is because Our government exists to preserve OUR rights. Not Iran's. Iran and the rest of the world and their rights can go to hell for all I care if their rights endanger our safety. If I were Iranian I would of course take a different view.

"You mentioned the burglars and D.C. There was a very interesting special on 20/20 or 60 Minutes or Nightline, I forget which, about debunking myths. Among the myths they attacked was Gun Control. They cited the examples of gun control measure that have failed and also noted that many of the states and counties with the least gun control also have the least crime. D.C. was the prime example of how it does not work as it has the most draconian gun ban in the country and yet many criminals have guns as criminals by definition do not obey the law. Part of the segment involved interviews with convicted felons from the D.C. area who openly discussed and confirmed their delight at the gun ban. As one said he can break into a house and have virtually no fear at all of being hurt. He knew that he could intimidate people with his firepower and have no fear or physical harm as no one was armed but him and the police.

"The interviewer then asked if they would be as brazen in their methods if they were living in a City like Miami where citizens can own and carry weapons legally almost anywhere. They answered that they would have to be a lot more careful as they would be afraid of being confronted by a armed citizen in a house they thought was unoccupied. This was echoed even by the inmates that did not use guns in their crimes such as unarmed burglars. One of which, who had moved there from Georgia, put it as such, "You ain't gotta worry about getting 'gauged' in the back by some redneck like down south. Worst thing they come at you with here is a bat" (gauged of course being slang for shot with a 12 gauge shotgun if that wasn't obvious).

"Anyway if you want more info about this check out Gun Owners of America. I think at they are a bit less radical than the NRA and support some sensible legislation. They have done some studies regarding the use of weapons to threaten harm. This concept is even embraced by Police as any police officer will tell you that the goal is NOT to shoot someone and that firing their weapon is a last resort. Yet the fact that our police are armed and trained to kill in addition to serving as peace officers gives a lot of weight to the intimidation of law enforcement and the threat of death can be a great deterrent to a dangerous criminal. Much more than a British Bobbie's night stick.

"As to what should be done, I am not saying there should be no restrictions. But those restrictions should make sense. I personally don't see a problem with a license being required to own a Gun or at least to carry one. Ownership licenses are a bit tricky as unlicensed people will have access to it. There should be more restrictions on who can get weapons or certain types of weapons. Kinda like driver's licenses which require additional training for a semi or motorcycle. I believe that in the the coming years as hi tech frangible bullets become more available that they should be the only types available to civilians as they do not over-penetrate and go through people and walls to kill others. I think that like a motor vehicle, one should be required to demonstrate competence with the device they will be using and be aware of all laws and safety guidelines that are relevant.

"I believe that like drivers' licenses they should have a policy of 'will Issue,' meaning that barring some disqualifying factor the state WILL issue you a license if you apply and pass testing. I believe that gun safety should be taught in middle school. I believe that like a driver's license you should be entitled to that privilege until you abuse it at which point it is forfeited.

"A Buddy of mine and I have been developing a Sci Fi role playing game that is very complex and has different governments with very different cultures and policies about weapons. While most allow weapons, even military grade weapons, to be possessed and used in space where there is a threat of piracy, planetside laws vary greatly. We created two very different philosophies for gun laws for two different nations and reflects focus on the two different aspects of the right to bear arms.

"Country A is a liberal democracy with a strong military culture. They have a draft and all able bodied men and women must serve in either the military or police forces. Upon their discharge they keep their service weapons (equivalent to a modern fully automatic infantry assault rifle) permanently as they remain part of the reserves and militia for life. This means that every citizen has a state of the art war grade rifle in the interest of defending the state against enemies, corruption and tyranny. The people are one army deactivated. They all have assault rifles yet handguns are illegal and so is carrying a concealed weapon. They do not allow handguns or other such short range weapons as they see them as a crime threat and have no legitimate military or security use. Thus most citizens on the street are not armed but have access to weapons of war if needed. These people can openly question their government and could easily rise against it if it were corrupt.

"Country B is a Fascist Neo Conservative empire with state controlled everything. They have ultra-sophisticated war machines but only the military, and to a lesser extent the police, have access to them. While space travelers and frontiersmen may have hardware to protect against pirates, etc., possessing a rifle or other long range weapon of any kind on a premier planet is a serious, often capital, offense. However, there are virtually no restrictions on handguns and shotgun so long as they are carried concealed and no one knows about them. These people have the freedom to arm themselves and defend themselves with short range defensive weapons, even fully automatic ones, so long as they have less than a six inch barrel and or an effective accurate range of less than 50 meters. Basically you can't use pistols and shotguns to fight a war against rifle toting soldiers and over throw the government. The range limitations alone prevent people from becoming a serious threat.

"Neither of these are meant to be the right solution but an example of how different the philosophies can be."

A text message sent to me on February 14, 2008, almost two months before he died was this:

"Is this like the Chinese year of the crazed gunman? How many school shootings are we up to now? This is why I object to law preventing me from carrying on campus. Some GI Bill student with a pistol could save lives. I wanna see that story: gunman shot dead before he could do any damage by armed ex soldier."


The photo with this post was one of a series Leif took of himself with his guns on March 23, 2003 when he was living at 710 N. 9th Street in Manhattan, Kansas.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What no one tells you about a death in the family.

We've all been to funerals. We've all seen them in the movies and on television. We've all seen death on the screen and some of us have seen it in person, but what none of those things show us is reality. None of them prepares you for the depth of emotion when a beloved child, or any age, dies. None of them tells you that you will be plunged into a whirlwind of activity to try to plan a funeral or memorial service, arrange for cremation, find a place for burial or inurnment, notify relatives and friends, figure out what to do about the deceased person's mail, accounts, and belongings.

Sometimes, if someone is anticipating a death or is old, there might have been some preparations made, such as a planned funeral or the purchase of a cemetery plot, but in the case of an unexpected death of a young person, in addition of the shock of their death comes the shock of everything you have to do and all the paperwork that comes with it. I found myself dealing with Leif's workplace, his insurance, his apartment complex, several government offices concerning his veteran's benefits and retired military pay, the national cemetery. I tried to find out how to let his friends know, since I didn't know all of them or how to contact them. I needed to contact his bank, credit card and loan accounts. I had to find a location to hold his memorial services and pick a date.

Because of the manner of Leif's death, I also found myself dealing with law enforcement, the medical examiner's office, the investigating detective, the sheriff's records department.

I had to keep records and account for everything so that I would know what was happening and could follow the myriad conversations with so many people I never even met.

I wanted to create a digital slide show of Leif's life so I started scanning photos by the dozens, finally coming up with the completed show the night before the memorial services, comprised of over 400 slides.

How does one create a meaningful memorial service for a man who professed to be at least an agnostic, if not an atheist? How does one create a service that honors who we really was and how we felt about him?

How does one go about cleaning out his apartment, selling his furniture, giving away his clothing, taking his carefully constructed life apart piece by piece?

That is what you have to do. This is a part of death, and that is what I found to be all-consuming. I moved forward alternating between businesslike numbness and periods when I would break down in tears.

Somehow the things that had to get done within the month after he died got done. Somehow we were fortunate and found the St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church and Bay Pines National Cemetery.

Somehow we managed to clean out Leif's apartment in time to avoid paying another month's rent. Going back there was a sad reminder of the day we found him there, but eventually, it was just a place with walls; nothing of his remained.

I did what I had to do, and then other family needs intervened. I still have belongings of Leif's here that I need to sell or give away. I still get mail for him. On rare occasions, I even see someone who knew him "friend" him on Facebook or MySpace without reading his profile, not knowing he is dead, and I try to let them know.

Today is Peter W's birthday. Last year, his 65th birthday started out to be a totally unhappy and depressive day, just three days after we found Leif. Leif had always been there for his dad's birthdays, except for the three years he was in the army. We always looked forward to his being with us and now he would not be there ever again.

We were both sobbing and crying. The day was saved by my sister, Lannay, my nephew, Rick, and his wife Mac, and their two sweet daughters Kimberly and Christina. They drove all night from Washington DC to be with us, just for that one day. The girls climbed up in Peter's lap and cheered him up. He read to them. Mac cooked a great Thai dinner and I made a Black Forest Cherry cake. We managed to celebrate his birthday. I will always be grateful that they came, for their love, for the girls' charm and sweetness. They came back later in the month for the memorial services and stayed for a week to help out.

This year Peter's birthday will be less tragic, less sad. This year we can try to focus on each other. We will enjoy our time together. Leif will be in our thoughts, always, but the pain is lessened after a year. This birthday will be better than last year.

This time the photo is of me, because I'm the one who had to take hold and do all those things after Leif died, and I'm the one remembering. The photo was taken April 11, 2009 using PhotoBooth and the Colored Pencil effect.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Was He Thinking on April 9, 2008?

One of the hardest things about being a family member or friend of someone who commits suicide is the endless question, "Why?" No matter how well I can outline all the misery Leif went through, the previous suicidal feelings, and the current problems he had, I still can't really fathom it. I keep feeling there is something missing, something we don't know.

When his brother read the philosophy paper, he said he didn't understand what Leif could feel so guilty about that he would take his life, since the passage he had open on his laptop dealt with guilt. That is a particularly hard question to answer because Leif claimed he never felt guilty and that guilt did not motivate him. However, perhaps he meant that to cover guilt that others tried to induce, not something he felt from inside himself. And perhaps there was something at the end that we didn't know about that he did feel guilty about, whether it was the debts or something else.

Leif also insisted he had no regrets about decisions he had made and the way he led his life. That was hard for me to accept, too. I think he probably convinced himself that was true, but it's unimaginable to me that he wouldn't regret some of the things he chose that turned out badly, even if they were the simple ones like eating and drinking too much. More likely, he chose to define regret differently than I do.

We saw him 17 days before he died and he was animated and happy, seemed full of hope and enthusiasm, and in love. What happened in those short days to bring him to suicide? Was it just the final collapse of his finances caused by the loan rejections after he lost his GI Bill stipend? Was he so ashamed that he had messed up his finances and credit rating again that he didn't want to come to us? Was his pride so high that he couldn't face a lesser lifestyle? He could have sold his cycle to help with his debts, though it would not have covered them, but that would have meant giving up something he truly loved. Was it easier for him to give up his life than it was to face the problems and give up things he didn't want to live without?

Or was there something more?

Was the trigger pulled because he had "rationally" made up his mind to put an end to his problems and his life? Or was it pulled because he was in a depressive funk that he might have pulled out of? Or, did he have a good evening with Michael and decide to end it while he was happy, not wanting to face the problems again?

Or, was he so drunk that he was careless and stupid with a new gun, played a dangerous game of "what if" with the gun against his forehead, lurched or had a momentary blackout from alcohol and lack of sleep and more or less accidentally pulled the trigger?

We will never know. What makes more sense to me, though I cannot know if it is the "truth," is that after Michael and Jaime left at 3:00 a.m., he went out to the kitchen and got those carrots and the dip, taking the gun and bullets with him. He loaded the gun and was sighting with it, checking it out, as he did with all his guns, and probably still drinking either a beer or rum and Coke. A beer bottle was on the floor near him and a bottle of spiced rum was on the counter. Standing there, drunk, exhausted, thinking about how he had to be at work at 8:00 a.m. and how crappy that was, thinking about how he worked and worked and all his money at this point was going to pay for his car loan, car insurance, credit cards, and apartment, with precious little left for anything else including gasoline and food, and he'd just blown nearly $500 on another gun. I could see him thinking that life wasn't worth it, that he had no love, no companionship, and worked just to support his debts at that point, and he didn't want to ask anyone else for money. I could see him thinking that since he hadn't heard from D. in several days, that his new love wasn't going to work out for him either. I could see him in a dark mood just making a snap decision to just get it over with and end the pain, a decision he might not have made it he weren't drunk, discouraged and exhausted. I can see him setting out the loan rejection letters, his tax return, and setting up the photo and philosophy paper on his laptop, and going out to the kitchen for another drink. I can almost hear him saying, "Oh, what the shit," and pulling the trigger.

However it happened, the result is the same. Leif is gone from us and we are left with endless questions and grief, and I don't think they will ever completely go away. We are changed and our lives are changed. We will recover. We are recovering, but life will never be the same.

But that is not all we are left with. We are left with memories of his sense of humor, his intelligence, his smile, his rascally brown eyes, his towering presence, thirty-three years of a boy and a man we loved. I am grateful for those years. We were changed by them, too.

The photo of Leif was another one of his PhotoBooth self portraits made on November 22, 2007. He used a feature of the program to produce the striated effect called Colored

Friday, April 10, 2009

Finding Leif - April 10, 2008

The morning of April 10, 2008, I woke with a sense of dread. We still had not heard anything from Leif. Michael called about 7:30 a.m. to say that no one from Tally Ho Pub had gone to check on Leif and had he tried again to call him without success. Peter W. and I got dressed and ate breakfast with a sense of foreboding.

I chose to wear my "Worrier's Manifesto" t-shirt that I had designed for CafePress, the one I've written about here before that was created half as a joke, half as reality because I did worry about Leif. I thought if we found him alive and reasonably well, I would "give him a hard time" about making me worry like that and if we didn't find him okay, my worries would be confirmed. I also took a second set of clothes in a tote bag, thinking that I might encounter some kind of mess that I would have to conten with. Little did I know what I would find.

We drove to Leif's apartment complex in Tampa with fear in our hearts. I was so hoping that when we got to his building, we would find one of this vehicles gone and that would mean he had gone off somewhere for whatever reason, maybe with this phones turned off, but that was not to be. As we pulled into the parking lot, we could see both his car and his motorcycle parked there and that's when I got really scared.

Leif lived on the second floor. All the buildings in the complex were two-story. We went up the stairwell and knocked on the door, then banged on it and shouted for him to open. There was no response and the door was bolt-locked from the inside, so we drove over to the manager's office and explained the situation to her. She handled it well and was willing to let us into the apartment. She came over with a man from their maintenance department and stayed respectfully down on the walkway outdoors. It was a beautiful sunny morning.

The apartment was cool, the AC turned fairly low. The way the apartment was laid out, we came in to an area that branched off to the bedroom, bathroom and dining area. Beyond the dining area was the living room and to the right of the dining area was the door and pass-through to the kitchen. I looked in the bedroom and he wasn't there, nor was he in the bathroom. I went into the dining area, which he used for his computer desks, and saw that he wasn't there, either. His desk was neat, cleaned off, and his pistols were laid on one side of it along with a couple of letters. On the left were his wallet and keys, and, oddly, his income tax return, as though he wanted us to know he had filed it. His iPhone was in it's cradle. Seeing that his wallet and keys were there put a stab through my heart.

I could see from there that he was not in the living room, though his laptop was open on a wooden tv table, asleep.

Then I looked into the kitchen and my heart stopped. All I could cry was, "No, Leif, No! Oh, no, no, no, Leif" over and over again.

He was on the floor in a pool of blood, his head and shoulders propped up by the corner made by the wall and the refrigerator, his feet toward me as I stood in the doorway. I thought he had shot himself in the eye because his eye looked damaged. Thank goodness his eyes were shut.

A gun was on the corner of the countertop with the barrel pointing toward the doorway and the handle toward him. He was cold and still and there were no signs of a struggle, or even as though he had moved once he hit the floor. Along with some unspent bullets, the countertop also had a bag of baby carrots and some ranch dressing dip. It looked as though he had been standing at the countertop eating carrots and playing with the gun.

Peter W, could not take the sight. I had to keep him away. I wanted to get down on the floor with Leif and hold him. i wanted so badly to hold him, but I knew I couldn't, because I had to leave everything untouched and call the police.

I used his house phone to call 911. I reported his death by gunshot and said i thought it was a suicide. The 911 dispatcher said not to come to that conclusion yet, that there had to be an investigation, that we shouldn't touch anything and wait for the unit to arrive.

I went to tell the apartment manager that we had found him and called the police and then came back into the apartment.

I kept Peter out of the kitchen and we just stood there in the computer area and waited. When the sheriff's deputy arrived, she was kind but said we had to leave the premises until the investigation was finished. I guess I should have known that we couldn't stay while they did their work but it hadn't occurred to me that I would have to leave Leif there and wait. We went outside to our car. Soon the homicide team arrived. The detective told us we could go somewhere else to wait, but where else would we go? We stayed in our car. We were questioned at length about Leif and what we knew, but all we could tell them was that we couldn't contact him the day before and we had come to find him and the apartment manager had let us in.

They interviewed others in the complex but no one had heard or seen anything. One of the deputies called Michael in Atlanta and asked him what he knew. it seemed like we waited forever but it was probably about two hours. Then the body detail arrived. Two young guys went up the stairs with a gurney. I couldn't even imagine how hard it would be to get a dead weight of nearly 300 pounds lifted into a body bag and onto a gurney and take it down the stairs. When they showed up I knew I would not have the time I wanted with my son's body, that it was going to be taken away to the morgue for an autopsy and I wouldn't get to really say goodbye.

When they brought him out in the blue zippered body bag, I asked them to open it so I could hug him. They all refused. They thought it would be too traumatic. They didn't want me to see him, but he was my son. I wanted to see him. I wanted to touch him. I tried to convince them, and I know they all thought they were doing what was best but it wasn't best for me. I came to understand that I had to spare them the sight of him and of me hugging him goodbye, so I settled for just putting my hand on his head, on top of the body bag, and silently said goodbye to my son, tears running down my cheeks. I have regretted every day since then that I didn't get to hold him. Peter says it was just a shell, that Leif was no longer there. I know that, but it doesn't change my feelings. He was my son. A mother should be able to hold her son and say goodbye, and I didn't get to do that.

Someone said I could have gone to the medical examiner's office and seen his body, but that was not the same. I didn't want to go there, in that place, after they did an autopsy, and look at him then. I know what an autopsy entails, and I didn't want to say goodbye to my son's body in a morgue.

So, they took him away, and the detective told me she thought it had all the signs of an accident. She did not think it was a suicide. The questions began and they have never ended. She said she had investigated many gunshot deaths and that even people who were expert gun handlers had terrible accidents. I told her that Leif was a certified military armorer and knew gun safety. I could not imagine him accidentally shooting himself in the head . . . except that I could. I could see him playing some stupid drunken game, toying with the idea, putting the gun to his head, and maybe pulling the trigger just a little too hard. It was a new gun, unfamiliar to him, after all. He might not have known just how much pressure it took to fire it.

The sheriff's personnel who were there told us that they would either have to impound all of Leif's guns or we would have to remove them from the apartment, so we asked them to make sure they were not loaded and we would remove them. They also told us to make sure we got the motorcycle out of there and any valuables taken out of the apartment because a lot of people had seen him being taken out and would know the apartment was empty. It would be a theft target.

They told us they had not found a suicide note.

Once they were gone, I started scouring his apartment looking for some message from him. I looked at the call logs on his cell phones, the text messages. I checked his email. I looked for handwritten notes. I checked recent files on his computer. The only thing I found was what was on the "desktop" of his laptop computer, left open on that television tray table by his chair in the living room. There were two files open side by side. One was the sepia toned self portrait he had made with PhotoBooth on February 28, 2008. He looked inexpressibly sad. Beside it was the file of his final philosophy paper that he had written for the class he took in the fall of 2007. He had recently emailed the paper to me and we had discussed it. He had written it back in December 2007, so it was four months old. It was not like Leif to even be remotely interested in an old school assignment, so the fact that he positioned the paper right next to the picture seemed to me to be Leif's way of saying, "Look at me. This is how I feel. Read this. This is my explanation."

The paper was showing a specific passage on the screen. I assumed that meant he wanted me to read it, that it was the message he wanted us to get. However, no one but Peter W. and me can see what he meant. I will post the paper at the end of this entry so you can read it for yourselves. I will italicize the part he had on the screen.

We had no way of getting the motorcycle or his car to our house because I never learned to drive a manual transmission and Peter hadn't driven one for 28 years. He was in no emotional shape to try. I got on the phone in the apartment and started notifying Leif's insurance and finding out how we could get the cycle towed to our house. We had no idea how we were going to get the other things that needed to be removed immediately out of there so we called our neighbors, Bill and LaRae, and asked if they could bring their pickup truck and help us. To this day, I don't know what they had planned to do that afternoon, but they dropped it and came to help us. I know it wasn't easy for them to come there under the circumstances.

The sheriff personnel had tacked a sheet up over the kitchen doorway so that you couldn't see in there unless you pulled it aside. That was a good thing because we didn't have to look at the blood while we worked to pack things up. We only took the guns, electronics (like his computer and television), phones, and his mountain bike that was standing in the stairwell. We couldn't take any furnishings or clothing.

The towing company came and loaded up the cycle, and Bill drove Leif's car to our house for us.

On our way home, I used my cell phone to call my mother and tell her about Leif's death.

We were alternating among crying in wracking sobs, talking and trying to fathom how this could have happened, and trying to figure out what to do next.

At home we unloaded our car and Bill's truck, and put Leif's two vehicles into our garage. That evening, I had to start calling family members to tell them the tragic news. The hardest one to tell was Peter Anthony. We didn't know he was in Texas visiting his daughters, and calling his cell phone to tell him put a terrible pall over his visit with them.

There was so much ahead of us; planning Leif's memorial services and finding a place to have them, figuring out how to arrange for inurnment in a national cemetery, getting the rest of his belongings out of the apartment and selling his furniture, cleaning the apartment, notifying friends and family, and so much more. We were in shock and terrible grief.

It was three days before Peter W's 65th birthday and he had lost his son.

It was the most terrible day of my life.

Later, at home, I went through every file of his computers, every message and call on his phones, all the papers we found in the apartment, but we never found another clue about why he did it. We were left with our speculations, the philosophy paper, and two letters turning him down for personal loans, which he had received not long before he shot himself.

Tonight I lighted the two special candles made for Leif's memory, the one from Darlene and Marcus that has pictures of Leif and things he loved around it, and the beautiful one with the poem on it that Peter W's cousin Wolfgang and his family sent from Germany. I think to myself that the soul must be a little like the flame of a candle. You know it is there. You can see it and feel its warmth, but it has not substance. You can pass your finger quickly through it and not even feel it. You see its light, and the light pushes away the darkness, but it has no solid form. Leif's soul was a bright light, but it has gone out, at least in its earthly form, and I will never feel its warmth again.
Leif Garretson
Final Examination

In addressing the questions presented for this final examination it seems to me necessary to touch at least briefly on each, as with such general examinations of philosophy no single inquiry exists isolated from others.I shall focus on the the first and last questions relating to metaphysics and morality and the relationship between goodness and happiness. However, in order to address these questions, particularly metaphysics, we must examine what we can truly know. When considering morality as it relates to metaphysics there is one underlying question which is of paramount importance. That question is the existence and nature of God. The reason that this is of paramount importance is that the existence or absence of God, as well as the nature of God, can have great bearing on what one considers to be moral.

For the faithful, for whom God's existence is generally self evident, morality is often defined within the confines of sacred doctrine or scripture. A Christian, for example, who accepts the existence of God and believes that his nature or will can be known via the scriptures will have a moral code that might very well differ from an atheist, and agnostic, or even a non Christian believer. There are many acts which are considered sinful according to doctrine but which might be considered perfectly moral in their absence. Contrarily there may be action which would seem immoral in the abstract, such as killing a non believer, which can be justified under some religions.

If we are to consider Descartes and the skepticism of all that we perceive there is little that can be known. While Descartes himself seeks to rationalize the existence of God, as do Anselm and Aquinas, all such attempts to know such things are merely illusory and even if successful might suggest the existence of a God yet fail to provide evidence of his specific nature. To further explain this statement, while it might be possible to convince one's self, rationally, of the existence of God, such existence still does not further prove a specific divine will. Thus even if the aforementioned examinations of God's existence were not so lacking in their strength one could only conclude that God exists and not that his will is congruous with any particular sacred doctrine. The result of this realization is that one still cannot, even if he acknowledges the existence of God, accept the teaching of religion unless the moral codes contained therein are consistent with one's own rational determination of what is just and good. Thus ultimately the existence of God is irrelevant to morality as we cannot place any credence in the varied and often contradictory teaching of the myriad religions. God's existence can only be thought to matter if we assume without cause that he is concerned with our actions or intentions. If we do make this leap of faith and conclude that God is concerned with our action and intentions then we must decide how best to act and intend. Given that the notions of religion as stated above are often disparate and contradictory as to what God favors as good, we must logically discount them as flawed and unreliable and therefore must seek our own council on what is good or just.

There is the primary significance of Metaphysics as it relates to morality. First if God exists, which can hardly be convincingly demonstrated, and second what is God's will or expectation of us? The latter of which has yet to be demonstrated in any rational fashion which is not refuted by an alternate religious hypothesis. Given that neither Christianity, nor Judaism, nor Islam, nor Buddhism, nor Hinduism, nor any other doctrine of faith can be demonstrated with credibility to be more right or correct than another we must conclude either, that such an absence of clear guidance means that God is unconcerned with out actions or intentions, or that he has placed within us a moral compass which is innate and which surpasses and supersedes the religious doctrines of men. Thus our own conscience and the degree to which we follow it is the true measure of human virtue. Those who subscribe to religious doctrine would have us alter our action contrary to our own reason or conscience based on fear or punishment or damnation. I would argue that this is flawed, for if such things were evil in the eyes of God their corruption would be self evident as well and thus such threats of damnation would not be necessary. In fact, true virtue is doing what you believe is right regardless of the repercussions in this life or the next. As Socrates said in Plato's Apology: “You are wrong sir, if you think that a man who is any good at all should take into account the risk of life or death; he should look only to his actions, whether what he is doing is right or wrong, whether he is acting like a good or bad man.” (Cahn p.34)
Now before moving to the Fourth question I wish to focus on, it is relevant to make a note as to the third. Namely, if after millennia of enquiry Philosophy has failed to produce any definitive answers to the big questions, what is the point of further philosophizing? The simple answer is that that action of doing so develops the conscience. It causes us to examine our own actions and intentions and decide for ourselves what is truly just and right.

Given the above, the final question of: what, if anything, is the connection between being happy and being good? is relevant. Does goodness result in happiness? Such a question is difficult to answer as one cannot know the mind of another. Is a wicked man happy? A good and just man might speculate that because it would damage his soul to do evil thus the evil man must also suffer such damage. But one cannot know this. Similarly, as we cannot know if God exists, nor if he cares as to our natures, whether there is any penalty for those who are purely predatory and self serving. Ultimately, much if not most of Philosophy, is based on assumption. Epistemology fails to tell us what we truly know: without such knowledge Metaphysics is pure speculation; without a metaphysical framework Ethics is based purely in convention and the assumption that others are like us. While this is surely assumption it is utilitarian in purpose and must be assumed if are we to gain anything from our conjecture. Therefore, assuming that others are like beings, that they are thinking creatures capable of empathy and compassion, it is reasonable to assume they are also possessed of conscience.

In the context of conscience intentions are far more important than actions. As Immanuel Kant stated: “There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, even out of it, which can be regarded as good with without qualification, except, a good will.” and further “A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i.e.,it is good in itself.” (Cahn p.984)
Ultimately, if we are to examine the relationship of happiness to goodness we must admit that these judgements are subjective as what one considers good is not universal. Actions which we might consider to be evil might be considered to serve a greater good when viewed from another perspective. Thus the subjective question of whether the will of the actor was good is paramount to its objective result. If that other acted in good conscience then regardless of the objective appearance of an act we must acknowledge that the actor may be of clear conscience and therefore free of the torments of guilt. Relating to good will and action I refer to Socrates' assertion in Plato's Crito “Do we say that one must never in any way do wrong willingly, or must one do wrong in one way and not in another? Is to do wrong never good or admirable?” To which Crito agrees it is never acceptable. Socrates in particular is a portrait of such conscience and virtue as he is happier to accept execution than to suffer the torments of guilt were he to act against his conscience in interest of self preservation.

What we must conclude of this is that barring some defect of consciousness which might leave the conscience impaired, such as the afflictions our legal system might accept as incompetence to judge right from wrong, that a person possessed of a conscience will be tormented if they have acted in such a manner that is unconscionable. That it should be impossible to be truly happy if you have achieved pleasures in the absence of good will. While said pleasures are undeniably a source of great enjoyment the weight upon the soul at the guilt in attaining them may preclude true happiness.

Again this is assumption. We cannot know the conscience of others nor be sure that they could be tormented by guilt such as we. Nor can we know if they have a conscience or are afflicted with some defect that destroys it. Similarly we cannot know if that defect has a bearing on their souls. Further, returning to metaphysics, we cannot know if that weight of guilt, nor conformity to conscience will sway our interests in the eyes of God or if God even exists or cares. Ultimately, all that we can do is be true to our own conscience and seek our own happiness in our own goodness and if we believe that there is a God and that he cares how we act, that we have acted in a way that is consistent with the only moral compass on which we can rely.


The top photo of Leif was taken on April 10, 2004, exactly four years before he died. I think my mother took it at an Easter dinner at her house in Manhattan, Kansas, the year before Leif and Peter W. moved to Florida in March 2005. How sadly he changed in those four years.

The photo of Leif's kitchen was taken after I cleaned it. I was surprised at Leif's apartment. Leif was no housekeeper, no homemaker. Periodically he would decide to clean the place up, but generally it was a mess, except for his computer desk, which he usually kept reasonably neat. That area was his pride and joy. When we got to his apartment on April 10, 2008, I was surprised that it was, for him, relatively neat and clean (not neat and clean by my standards). There were not dirty plates, cups and glasses standing around, no beer bottles except for one on the kitchen floor, from which he may have been drinking. He had loaded and run the dishwasher and taken out the trash. I suppose he did most of this during his day off. That, again, doesn't seem like a man planning on suicide. Why would he care of the dishes were washed and the trash removed? I think he died when he made a sudden decision, or perhaps there was a horrible accident.

The sepia toned photos was taken by Leif with his iMac's PhotoBooth program. He took a lot of shots at the same time and used a variety of effects on them. the photo was taken on February 28, 2008, not long after he had been notified that he would not get his GI Bill benefits and dropped out of school.