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

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