Sunday, May 31, 2009

He's a part of so many conversations . . .

Leif is so much a part of us. Almost anywhere we go, we think of him. If we are at a restaurant, we comment on what he would have ordered (lobster, if it was on the menu!). If movies come out, we know what he would have been eagerly waiting to see and how he would have talked about them from every angle, acting, story, special effects. He would have been anxious to see the new Star Trek movie, Terminator: Salvation, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He would have been vitally interested in what's transpiring with our American auto manufacturers, the political scene, the appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. We would have had stimulating conversations on every one of them, and when we talk about them now, we include his ideas, "Leif would have said," or "Leif would have been so interested in that."

Yesterday we went over to Disney World and visited the Hollywood Studios park. Leif would have loved the Endor Space Shuttle simulator and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. That one he saw in 1990 when we took him to Disney World on our through Florida when we were moving to Puerto Rico, but it's been updated since then and the stadium covered. We remember being there in beastly heat. But even more than that, he would have loved the Disney Extreme Stunt Show "Lights, Motors, Action!™" That was quintessentially Leif . . . fast cars being driven to their limits, spinning around, burning rubber, jumping ramps, racing in and out of tight turns, crotch rocket motorcycles doing the same . . . with the drivers and riders shooting at each other. Fast cars, fast cycles and guns. As Peter A. said, the only thing missing was a gorgeous redhead. While Peter W. and I were watching the show, I said, "Leif not only would have loved this, he would have been asking how to apply for a job." Getting paid to drive like that and shoot a gun would have had enormous appeal to him, at least for awhile.

We see the world through a different filter now. We always would have thought about how Leif would have enjoyed something, or what he would have thought and contributed to the conversation, but now we know it's only our minds that will bring those things, that he won't be there, and as Peter A. said, "it is a tremendous loss." It is. That kind of loss changes you. You realize emotionally what you only knew intellectually before . . . how fragile life is, how easily you can lose someone you love, and how hard that is to bear. You miss not only the person and their company, but their intellectual and humorous contributions to your life, and your opportunity to contribute to theirs. You miss their affection and giving it to them. There isn't a situation in which they aren't considered just as much as when they were alive, but it's all tinged with sadness that they are not longer there. Something vital and important is missing.

That will never change, but despite that, remembering is good. I cannot be one of those people who shuts off the memories and doesn't talk about their lost loved one because of the pain. I would rather have the pain and have the memories.

I love this photo of Leif because he looks so joyful, like he is really enjoying himself. I wish I had seen that in the last years of his life. This was taken at our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas on July 29, 2004. We were all sitting around our dining room table having a great conversation and drinking Leif's favorite beverage, beer, out of his dad's German mugs. He was animated and full of fun. It was a great group for that. In addition to Peter W. and me, Peter A., Darlene and Marcus were there, and Leif's friend Michael. What I wouldn't give for another evening like that!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Leif's CyberPunk Space Ship Drawings - Group Two

Here are three more of Leif's CyberPunk space ships. The top one has three decks and features top, side and rear views. It is labeled with functions and crews quarters.

The middle one is called the "Stiletto" corvette blockade runner.

The bottom one is the "Painkiller" MedEvac ship.

Leif was meticulous about details and scale. He wanted his ships to be "playable" in the scenarios he created as gamemaster, and he carried those kinds of specifications over into his later association with ZAON and his desires for the development of that game.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Leif's CyberPunk Space Ship Drawings - Group One

I found nine drawings Leif made of space ships for his CyberPunk games. Each was designated with a name and attributes. He drew them in pencil on notebook paper and they are quite precisely drawn. It's interesting to me to compare them to drawings he made when he was in kindergarten. I think these are quite elegant designs.

The top one is designated as a "Raven Class Long Range Heavy Bomber." There is a small figure of a man at the bottom with the legend "= 6 feet" in order to indicate size.

The middle drawing is the "Night Hawk Heavy Fighter," and the lower one is a "Sparrow Class Fighter." I am amused by that name, as it makes me think that it is a small, light, and not very deadly "bird."

I think he did these drawings in 1998 but I can't be sure of that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Leif and the Popsicle Stick Western Town - Sachsen bei Ansbach, Germany - February 1980 - Age 5

In an earlier post I said I wished I had a photo of the Western town that Leif and I built out of popsicle sticks when he was small, and I found one. It was a kit that he got for his fifth birthday on January 28, 1980. It was a hard project for a boy only five years old and he couldn't have done it alone, but we had a great time constructing it together. The kit consisted of thin cardboard frames for the buildings. We had to cut them out and fold and glue them into shape, then cut the popsicle sticks and other wood pieces to fit in place and glue them on. It turned out pretty nice. He had fun playing with it. We moved it around with us for years, boxed up with other toys he had outgrown but wanted to keep. At some point, we decided to let it go but the memories of the fun we had with it linger on.

Leif and his brother always liked to make things, from plastic models of airplanes, ships, tanks and cars to things they thought up and constructed from things they found or scrounged up around the house and neighborhood. They were creative boys with a lot of ideas. Often, their ideas were more complex and difficult to create than their abilities would allow and they would get frustrated, particularly Leif. They both learned to live with that, though, and Leif had quite a collection of plastic models he had made from as far back as about third grade, maybe earlier, that were still packed up with his toys when he was thirty years old. We had (or at least I had) ideas of passing them on to his kids someday, so I kept them long after he had left home.

When we moved to Florida in 2005, none of us had a place to store them any more and Leif parted with the old models and gave his GI Joes and Japanese robot toys to his nephew, Marcus.

I will always remember the fun I had making things with my boys.

This photos was taken in our kitchen in the village of Sachsen bei Ansbach in Germany, in February 1980. Leif was five years old.

Humbling Experiences

In the past few weeks, I have been humbled by comments sent to me about this blog, people I will never know telling me that they "stumbled upon" this blog and found it meaningful, possibly even life-saving. I am gratified that this has touched their lives, that my son has touched their lives, that his life has resonance for them. I thank them for telling me. That means a lot.

I am also humbled by those who suffer the same loss that we have, who mourn a someone close, especially a beloved child, and for those dealing with depression and bipolar disorder, or PTSD, struggling to survive or help a loved one do so.

My heart goes out to you, to your families. May you find hope, love and peace.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Touch of Granite - Bay Pines National Cemetery, Memorial Day, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day we drove to St. Petersburg to spend some time at the Bay Pines National Cemetery, to touch Leif's memorial stone, to be with him. You can never really be with a deceased loved one but the cemetery offers a symbolic place, a tangible physical place to go with one's emotions.

When I was growing up, I understood the purpose of Memorial Day, but not the real force and truth of it. Now, with my husband, brother, two sons, and two nephews, having served in the armed forces, and after losing Leif, I do.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day meant the opening of the swimming pool, a parade, picnics, speeches. Older guys in uniforms, VFW or American Legion hats, a day off of school, but it hadn't pierced my heart yet that so many young men ha died and so many others been wounded in body and soul. My mind, yes, my heart no. Now, I can't even listen to the "Honor Roll" of those servicemembers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan without crying. I think not only of them, but of all the others, military or civilian, dying in wars. What a sad and terrible blemish on humanity that we still wage war, that we are still compelled to expend the lives of our young on defending us.

On Memorial Day, each in-ground stone is remembered with an American flag, and those in the columbaria have flags at the foot of each column. The beautiful green grounds are full of flags, each a reminder that here lies a man or woman who served our country. So many, many flags in so many national cemeteries throughout our nation. We should be awed and grateful, but also saddened that so many had to die.

When I was growing up, I understood the purpose of cemeteries but not why people derived some kind of comfort or emotional release from visiting them, because I had no experience with it, no one so close to me that had died and was buried where I could go to visit their graves. Now, after losing Leif, I do.

Bay Pines National Cemetery is a beautiful place. I'm glad of that for all of us whose loved ones are there, though those whose remains are placed there do not know of the stately live oak promenades, the wide green lawns, the granite-faced columbaria. I wonder whether I will ever go there and experience a feeling of peace. Just looking at the grounds, i appreciate the beauty.

I am thankful for all the many, many men and women who served our country, and saddened at all those who died or whose lives were forever mutilated in that service. I am glad to see their loved ones coming to pay respect and remember. But I do not feel peace. I hold my hands over Leif's niche, lean my head against the granite slab above his, and cry and cry. It's a release, but it doesn't last. The feelings, the pain, the questions, do not go away.

But I have done what I came for, to be there, to touch his resting place, to make that trip to be as close to him as I can be and show my love and respect.

Thoughts in the Wee Hours of Memorial Day 2009

Last night we watched the poignant, touching, and sad Memorial Day Concert on the Mall in Washington DC. It was a beautiful tribute to our fallen and wounded military men and women, and we all shed a lot of tears. I cried for all those who lost their lives in the service of our country, all those whose lives were changed forever by terrible injuries, and all of their families who have to bear the losses.

And, I realized that Leif was one of the wounded and fallen, too. In a very real sense, he never recovered from the damage his service in the army did to him, losing his health, his marriage and his career. He lost a lot, too, though it wasn't a flesh wound. He was and is not alone. There are so many who are wounded in their souls. So many, too many suicides.

I was asking yet again, for perhaps the ten thousandth time, why? Why, why, why? And although I will never stop asking it, I know there will never be an answer. Even if there were one, it wouldn't be satisfactory. It wouldn't bring him back, wouldn't lay all the questions to rest.

How could he have been carrying on a lively email and text conversation with several of us, then go out with friends and have a good time, seeming to be making plans for future events, seeming normal, and then, in the wee hours of the morning when he was alone, use his new gun to take his own life?

I know there is no logic in it. I know that suicidal people come to believe that their family and friends will be "better off without them." They believe it is a solution. In some cases, like in terminal illnesses, it is, and perhaps in others that we can't fathom, the pain of living is too great to bear, but if they knew what heartache and loss they left behind, the years of misery and longing they create, would they do it? Would they go through with it? Do they think they are expendable, that their families and friends will just get over it and go on? They are wrong. The pain, the loss, the questions, permeate our lives. They don't go away. Missing them doesn't go away.

Later today I will go to the cemetery. My Leif is not there, just the last of his earthly remains. His dad tells me that, and I know it is true. I tell him I go there because it is symbolic, a way to honor him, even if he doesn't know it. I do it for me.

Leif was loved. He will always be loved. I hope he knew that.

This photo was on one of those strips of four photos taken in a photo booth. I don't remember taking them. Luckily, I had written on the back of the photo that it was taken in Ansbach, Germany in the fall of 1979. Leif would have been four-and-a-half years old. I loved the expression on his face. He was so expressive.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Second Birthday and Memorial Day Without Leif

I would be fooling myself (I tried) if I didn't admit to myself that another reason for a wave of sadness right now is that today is my 62nd birthday, the second one without Leif, the second one he won't be coming through my door. And tomorrow is Memorial Day, another sad day of remembrance. I've had so many lovely birthday wishes from family and friends, and many, many from Peter W., and they are all wonderful and appreciated. They do warm my heart. But unfortunately, they can't take away the sadness, the finality of Leif's death and absence. I cried when I went to sleep in the wee hours this morning, and I cried again when I got up. It's a hard thing to admit that, especially publicly online, but I promised myself I would be honest about grief.

I have discovered that I, like everyone else I've met who has lost a loved one, particularly a child, feel compelled to try to hide or minimize those feelings in front of others. People have moved on. Their lives were not so inextricably intertwined with Leif's as mine was. Their loss is not so great. It's not just that I don't want to inflict my feelings on others and make them uncomfortable, it's also because they don't understand, don't know how to handle it, may even think it's pathological, worry about me. I know it's not abnormal. I've read enough about the process and lengthiness of grief to know this is normal for a parent who has lost a child and that only those who have experienced this can truly understand it for they, too, have gone through years before there was any real healing, and even then, the wound is only healed, not gone.

But I will "buck up." I will go on our bike ride, swim, go out to dinner and I will enjoy it and try not to think of Leif not being there.

At the post office on Friday, one of the clerks that knows I'm a writer asked me what I was writing now that would make me a million dollars and famous -- as if that would ever happen. I laughed, but then I told the truth, that the only thing I was writing was this blog about my son. He asked me why. I said, "Because that's all I can write right now. It's all that matters to me about writing." Tears came into my eyes.

He said he understood. And he does. Last year when Leif died he knew about it because of things I had to mail and told me that he and his wife lost 3 babies in 9 months, including twin boys. It's been many years for him, but he still feels the loss. He said it is "compartmentalized" now, that he escapes thinking about it at work, but it's in the quiet spaces that it haunts him. I know what he means. Work is the best therapy, being busy, but there are always those moments when the mind isn't busy or something reminds us of our losses. There are always the special days, the holidays, birthdays, that we shared or would have shared.

He said something else that I have thought of a lot, that I have memories, 33 years of them, but he had only hopes, dreams and expectations, no memories of time with his sons. He wonders what it would have been like to have sons. He will never know. Which would be worse? Like Darren said, I did have the gift of Leif for 33 years. But do I feel the loss even more because of all those memories? I think so, but if I'd lost him to a miscarriage or in infancy, would I have grieved any less? Differently perhaps.

I wrote some time ago about the silent sisterhood. It is a brotherhood, too.

The photo above is of my two precious sons by one of the giant stones at the Avebury Circle in England, a circle of stones somewhat like Stonehenge but not preserved as well. It was taken on our June 1980 trip to England, a trip sandwiched into our move from Germany to Japan.

The Tides of Emotion Keep Coming

I've been avoiding dealing with this all week. I didn't want to interrupt a series on graduation or Leif's drawings, but I think the real reason was that I wasn't ready to write about it. We've had a sad week. I don't know what started it for Peter, but for me it was a news report about a toddler who stopped breathing after an allergic reaction to a medication. The parents were frantically rushing the child to a hospital when the saw a police officer and stopped to ask for help. The officer used CPR to save the child.

Normally a story like that would be heartwarming, but I was flooded with emotion, sadness. Why couldn't someone save my Leif, or the thousands of other people that are dying from anything but old age? Why couldn't *I* save my son?

I know that is a foolish thing to think, but I think it. I wanted to save him. I worried about him for years, prayed for him for years, not asking for anything unreasonable, just "give him a good life, give him something good to hang onto." My prayers were never answered. The worst loss happened.

People who are spared from some tragedy, or saved from death, talk about how their prayers were answered. Or is it just luck and coincidence? Why are some prayers worth answering and not others? There doesn't seem to be an discernible pattern to me. Just imagine people in a war, how many of them must be praying for their safety and that of their loved ones, but people still die, prayers or not.

One of my friends who lost a son to suicide with a gun four years ago says that he never knows what will suddenly set off a flood of emotions and bring tears to his eyes, that something as simple as seeing young people perform at church will make him remember his son performing and bring it on. I've found he's right. Just watching the news and seeing the report about that toddler made me sad. I should have been happy for the family, but no, I was just unhappy that my son wasn't here.

The week dragged on. I had been a lot better the week before and I didn't see why the toddler story was still affecting me like that. I should have been happy anticipating seeing Peter Anthony next week. Peter was feeling down, too, but it wasn't the toddler story affecting him. I couldn't figure out what was eating away at us.

Then last night it struck me. I knew I had found the reason when I really cried hard. It was precisely because Peter A. is coming, because it brings home the fact that Leif ISN'T coming, that he will never be coming.

It was a sad night, but I seem to have gotten past it now and can look forward to seeing Peter A., be thankful for my wonderful son without feeling the loss of his brother so sharply.

Before this, I never really understood why women who have lost children have a hard time being around children, but now I understand.

Before this, I always thought counting my blessings would keep me on an even keel and help me to realize, not just intellectually, but emotionally, how fortunate I am in so many ways. However, in this past week and past year, I have come to realize that no matter how many times I count my blessings, and realize them and am grateful for them, they don't take away the loss and hurt that comes back in waves from time to time. It's like someone who has everything else they always had but loses their sight. They can be immensely grateful for all they have, but those things don't take away the tremendous loss.

I thought that after a year things would get easier, a lot easier than they have.

And yet, there are days when the sadness subsides.

And we have our Peter Anthony to see. How we look forward to that.

This photo of Leif was taken in Japan in the fall of 1982, featuring his brand new front teeth.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Leif's CyberPunk Drawings of People - 1998 - Age 23

This is the only adult drawing of Leif's I ever found that was in color. This one was done lightly in colored pencil and obviously illustrates a scene in a story or some part of the game play story. I wish I knew what that story was. Two men appear to be out on a long, deserted highway in a desert with mountains in the background. There is what looks like a downed motorcycle and one man is standing over another who he is holding up by the collar of his jacket as though he is limp. The limp man has blood trickling down from the left side of his head. The standing man has a gun in his hand but it isn't pointed at anything. I don't know whether the standing man is supposed to have shot the man he is holding up or whether the man had an accident on his cycle. I think a gunshot is more likely. There is a yellowish brown smudge on top of the cycle. At the top of the drawing Leif has written "Kaine #1." He liked shooter games and his CyberPunk games featured plots with plenty of action and violence.

Leif clearly understood one point perspective and a pretty good sense of human proportions and anatomy. I wish he had done more drawings of people, but these are all I have.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Leif's CyberPunk Drawings of People - 1998 - Age 23

The musclebound male character in the top drawing is rather like an superhero (and four-armed) version of Leif, carrying a keg of Corona Extra beer (he labeled it, but I don't know if you can read it with the drawing reduced to this size) and a boom box labeled Mr. Sony Mega Bass. Of course he's wearing cool sunglasses and a chain and has an earring, which Leif did also when he was making these drawings. I think he did them in 1998 when he had hair, so it's a bit ironic that he drew this colossus (the 8-foot tall one) bald, as he would be when he started to shave his receding hair off. The woman also has a lot of his "ideal woman" characteristics, super slim and big busted. Looks like they were heading for the beach.

GIven that Leif so rarely drew anything living, and we have so few of his drawings of people, it seems that he still had quite a talent for drawing. I think if he had really pursued it, he could have become quite good. However, like many of Leif's talents, it wasn't one he had the "fire in the belly" to pursue. He was much more interested in the gaming, and the drawings were primarily to get his concepts across.

Leif's CyberPunk Drawings of People - 1998 - Age 23

Leif loved playing CyberPunk. It was like living inside a movie or novel he was creating with his friends. He spent hours preparing for games, loved being a game master and thinking up wild scenarios. He was totally engrossed and could not only spend many hours preparing and playing, he loved to talk about the games. He talked to me about them and tried to get me to play. I probably would have enjoyed it but I had no time for such pursuits. I was working overtime and couldn't keep up with everything.

Here are two more of the drawings he made of characters in the game. You can see the same four-armed giant. On the second one he has put height markers on the left. The big guy is eight feet tall. The top drawing I found a little hard to "get" at first, until I realized that he had used some of that talent he showed in kindergarten. The middle man's hand holding a gun is thrust straight out at the viewer and you are looking at the end of the gun barrel.

In the games Leif played, he liked to develop both male and female characters and would play one or the other, perhaps both, in any particular game.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thoughts from a Friend - Melissa's Memories - A CyberPunk Drawing From Leif

In April, I invited Leif's friends and relatives to contribute to this blog, thoughts, memories, photos, whatever they wished. I was disappointed that only Melissa Palenske replied. I know everyone who knew and cared about Leif has memories, but I also know that most are not writers like me. Writing something like that requires some introspection, some effort, and perhaps, since Leif is dead, some pain. I know that for me, memories of Leif can bring a smile or they can bring tears. My request and the response reminds me of when I was doing family history research and asked my uncle and older cousins if they had any information. They would invariably say they didn't, unless I asked specific questions, and then the memories would begin to flow. Perhaps if I had the change to "interview" those who knew Leif and I was the one writing the memories down, they would flow. And perhaps, some of those memories are cherished private ones people don't want to share.

Here are Melissa's comments:

My best memories are when Alex and I were just talking one on one. I always thought you never saw the real Alex unless you were one on one with him. He was so much different to talk to, he would show his vulnerable and sensitive side. There was always such a gentle tenderness to him. I loved those talks and that time with him. He did give great hugs and was a wonderful shoulder to cry on. I wish things had been different and we could have been there for him more.

My other memories are silly little things spanning back from the first time Jason took me to the apartment on Stag Hill to meet Alex and Nikko. The very first time I played an RPG was Cyberpunk with Alex, Nikko and Jason. I left honestly thinking they were all insane and needed to get a grip on reality. LOL It took Jason a while to convince me to try and play again, I didn't play with Alex again until he came back from the Army. By that time I had been playing for a few years and had a clue. I know at times I would frustrate the boys because I wasn't as serious about it as they were but I also made them laugh at the crap I would come up with. We had alot of fun gaming sessions.

Those gaming sessions meant a great deal to Leif. They were a challenging creative outlet for him. He appreciated Melissa's friendship, too.

As far as I know, Leif had done little if any drawing after he lived in Hawaii, until he was eleven years old. His interests turned to radio controlled model cars, computers, other things. He started drawing again when he was playing CyberPunk and wanted to show his ideas. I think he found it hard as when he was younger, he never drew people, always things like space ships, guns, and other objects that didn't require faces and anatomy. Even with CyberPunk he primarily drew space ships and weaponry, but he did attempt a few humanoid characters. I remember him talking to me about this one an the anatomy it would require. He showed me this drawing. What I can't remember was whether he drew this during his first stint in college, in which case this probably was done around 1998, or after he came back from the army, in which case it would have been between 2001 and 2005. I tend to think it was the latter, or he might not have still had it among his possessions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leif - Graduation from Kansas State University - May 17, 2003 - age 28

On May 17, 2003, just about exactly six years ago, Leif graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas with a B.A. degree in general social sciences. He had started classes at KSU while still a high school senior at Manhattan High School, taking psychology and sociology in the spring of 1993. He never did manage to make up his mind which of the social science disciplines he favored most, so he created a program that included courses in psychology, sociology, history and political science.

Leif had an incredible memory. He remembered nearly everything he heard and saw. As a result, most of school, including college, was ridiculously easy for him. He didn't have to expend much effort and if he had, he could easily have earned all As, but he hated studying and wasn't particularly interested in academics. He did like to learn, and what he could learn by sitting in a classroom listening, he learned. He didn't take notes and didn't do homework, except for graded assignments that counted a lot toward a grade such a a theme paper or report. Some of his teachers thought he wasn't "getting it" just as his preschool Montessori teacher thought, but he demonstrated that he was. He once admitted to me that he probably got a college degree with less effort than anyone else he met.

This watch and listen method didn't work for him when it came to foreign languages and math. He could understand what was being shown on the board or spoken in class, but since he didn't want to do homework, when it came time to work college algebra problems on a test or pass a Spanish or German test, he was in trouble. He not only wasn't used to studying, he didn't want to do it. He flunked college algebra (a graduation requirement) twice before he quit school and enlisted in the army.

He quit school in the fall of 1997 because he couldn't keep it all together. He was married, to Nikko, since October 20, 1995, and had been trying to work and go do school (with our help for the school expenses and and $600 a month toward living expenses), but he couldn't make ends meet, in part due to his spending and his motorcycle payments. He worked longer and longer hours at Aggieville Pizza, not getting home until 3 a.m., too tired to get up and go to class, too tired to keep up. He enlisted in January 1998 and spent the next three-and-a-half years as an infantry machine gunner. I've already written about those years.

He came back to Manhattan, Kansas in May 2001 a depressed and broken man in a dark funk, having lost his health, his career and his wife, but he pulled himself together and went back to school using his GI Bill, supplemented with a small income from working as a school crossing guard. And I offered to play the same role I played when he was in high school and tutor him in Spanish, German and algebra. He accepted and tolerated my tutoring pretty well. At least he got through the courses all right.

Leif loved his philosophy classes, too, and the talked a lot about them, his political science classes, and history classes.

He had a brilliant mind for science, and admitted when he was older that he probably should have majored in science, but the stumbling block was math. He didn't want to take more of it, and he didn't get the kind of career counseling that might have shown him that there were careers in science other than being a "lab rat," which he wasn't interested in.

From the way he felt and looked in May 2001 to the vibrant, handsome, mischievous man who graduated in May 2003 was a world of difference. He looked great. He was a rascal. He had achieved his goal.

Leif didn't want to go through the graduation ceremony, like a lot of college students. I told him he "had to," because I wanted to go. I told him that while he didn't think it was important at that time, in the future he would be glad he had "walked" to get his diploma, and that since his dad and I had paid for his education, that was the price. He laughed and said something like, "Silly mommy," and did it to please us. I'm so glad we have these pictures. I particularly like the silly one of him blowing the tassle.

It was a gorgeous and very warm spring day and the graduation ceremony was held at Bramlage Coliseum at KSU.

I think Leif must have had the idea that getting a college degree would automatically mean a better job and a more lucrative career, but just as he wasn't interested in burning up the academic charts, he also wasn't interested in working hard to find a good job. Partly that was due to his lack of focus, not knowing what he really WANTED to do for a career, because if he had, I am sure there would have been no stopping him. However, there wasn't anything he wanted badly enough to spend a lot of time to pursue it. We were disappointed that the summer after graduation, instead of looking for a job, he went to summer school. He enjoyed the classes, but since they weren't aiming toward a graduate degree, from our point of view, it was just running up more tuition to pay, more loans, and postponing a job hunt.

At the end of the summer school classes, he got a job in Manhattan working in a Sykes call center doing telephone customer service about DSL internet service. He was there only about two-and-a-half months before finding a better job in the next building working at a call center for Western Wireless, which was eventually purchased by Alltel. Even when we moved to Florida, Leif continued to find similar jobs, which didn't require a college degree. He always hoped he would move up the ladder through promotions, but it never worked out for him. It must have been very discouraging.

But that day, May 17, 2003, he was on top of the world and so were we. We were so happy to see him graduate, so happy to see him looking healthy and full of mischief and fun, so hopeful for his future.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Leif - Graduation from Manhattan High School 1993 - Age 18

It was a beautiful late spring day when Leif graduated from Manhattan High School in the Class of 1993. He was happy, exuberant, looking forward to his future. He was tall, slim and good-looking, and was excited that he was getting a trip back to Puerto Rico to see his friends there and be at the Antilles High School graduation, where he had spent his sophomore and junior years of high school. He had a great trip, and in August of that year, we took him with us on a cruise in the Western Caribbean on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship. He was excited about continuing college in the fall.

Leif only attended Manhattan HIgh School during his senior year, and he wasn't really there for a full senior year. Although his fall semester was a "regular" semester of high school classes, Leif had fulfilled nearly all his graduation requirements by December, so he started taking classes at Kansas State University during the spring semester of his senior year. He did well taking classes in psychology and sociology.

Because of his shyness and reserve, and his coming to the school as a senior, Leif didn't have a lot of friends at MHS, and he didn't participate in activities as I wished he had. He tried out for a part in the school musical and didn't get a part, which was hard for anyone in our family to fathom since he had done such a terrific job of playing Kenicke in "Grease" at Antilles High School the year before. Leif felt it was because he was new and hadn't "earned" his place with the director. We will never know, but I know that hurt him. He didn't go out for sports, either, after being out of soccer for two years in Puerto Rico. Instead, he got his first job at Idelman Telemarketing. We certainly learned a lot about what telemarketing was all about from the inside. Luckily for Leif, the accounts he was on involved contacting customers who had a particular credit card already and offering them new goodies, not some kind of hard sell to people without a relationship to the company.

We wee so happy for Leif on the day he graduated, so full of hope and expectations for him. It was a wonderful day, as I know it is for most parents.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Leif in Heidelberg, Germany - May 1988 - Age 13

We lived in Germany twice (Peter lived there also as a boy). The second time was when Leif was two-and-a-half years old until he was five-and-a-half-years old. During those three years, we lived in Furth (by Nurnberg) and Sachsen bei Ansbach. I don't know whether Leif had many memories of those years, he was so young, but he had a terrific memory.

In May 1988, when he was thirteen, we took a military "space available" flight from the military side of O'Hare airport to Germany for a whirlwind five day trip, flying into Bitburg and then driving to Heidelberg to see Peter's family. It was always magical to be in Heidelberg, Peter's home town, the place of his birth. It's a romantic city on the Neckar River. While we were there, we hiked up the Schlangenweg (Snake Path) to the Philosophenweg (Philosopher's Path) on the side of the river opposite the castle and the old heart of the city. Peter W. took this photo of us with the Alt Stadt behind us. It was a good trip with Leif and I was glad we all got to see Peter's Germany relatives again.

We haven't been back to Germany since then. We planned to go last April, after 20 years, but we canceled the trip due to Leif's death. I hope we will be able to find another time to go. I will enjoy being back there again, but I will remember that young boy with the Walkman who was there with us last time and will never be there again.

He was already a lot taller than me at the age of thirteen. Peter W. took this photo on May 19, 1988.

ClustrMap Archived

If you're one of the visitors who clicks on the ClustrMap on this blog to see how many people visited it the previous day, or the running total of the number of visits from various countries, don't be alarmed that all the dots on the map and totals seem to have disappeared. So that the map won't become, as they put it, a giant red smear, they archive the map after a year. I started writing RememberingLeif on April 10, 2008, the day we discovered his body, but I didn't add a ClustrMap until May 15, 2008. The annual archiving thus took place on May 15, 2009. I took a screen shot of it before it was zeroed out to start over, and it posted here and I may add it as an element on the page. You can also click on the link at the top of the page (after you click on the current ClustrMap) to find the archive.

I am thankful and humbled that there have been over 5,000 visitors to RememberingLeif in that year. I know that probably a fifth of those are from Peter and me. If a person visits more than once a day from the same computer, it only counts as one visit, but separate computers are separate visits, and sometimes I check it from a couple of computers during the day.

That still leaves over 4,000 visits from others. I know some of those visits are "accidental," not someone coming because they looked up Leif, or have been following the blog, but someone who "arrived" because of a key word they looked up, or because they were trying to find Leif Garrett. Some of them may not have stayed; some found the blog meaningful. I wish all of you well. I wish all of you happiness, companionship, and love. May none of you ever have to deal with the despair Leif experienced or the grief we have felt. Come back to follow his life and ours.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thankful for Comfort, Thankful for Love

Going back over Leif's memorial services brought back so many sad memories but also brought a chance to look at the ceremonies again and really hear all the words and ponder them, think again about why we said them, about a more distilled view of who Leif was. Each day when I watched a video, I cried . . . and I smiled. I cried for our loss, for Leif's loss, for all the unhappy days of missing him. I smiled at the memories of his life, the people who cared about him, the years we shared together.

Last night Peter and I went to the German American Club May Dance. Peter was beaming, smiling and happy, the happiest I've seen him since before Leif died. It was so wonderful to see him like that, enjoying life, really having a great time, for the first time in 399 days. We've had moments, even hours, of happiness here and there since Leif died, but not this kind of joy, and I was happy basking in his smiles.

I know it's only a start, and that there will still be many hours and days of sadness. There is still much to face about Leif's life and death, and still a lifetime to miss him, but it's good to know that I can look forward to joy on Peter's face again, too.

It was so different than the New Year's dance we went to, the one at which this photo was taken. We were feeling so fragile, so vulnerable, so unready to face a new year without Leif and yet still wishing we could face it with hope. We danced, but there were tears in my eyes several times. We went outside into the night to look at the stars and talk about Leif. We closed our eyes and danced, holding our grief between us in our arms.

It's so important that we have each other for comfort. I can't even imagine how much harder it would be to live through this without Peter and the comfort of his love. The importance of our relationship to us makes me realize all the more how hard Leif's loneliness and need for the comfort of love was for him. I am thankful I have not had to live my life alone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Leif's Memorial Service at St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church - April 29, 2008 -Memories of Alex by his Father, Peter W. Garretson(Video)

When we planned Leif's memorial services, his father wasn't sure he wanted to stand up in front of those attending and express his feelings. It is a very daunting thing to do as a bereaved parent. So, I didn't put him on the format program for the Celebration of Life ceremony at the St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church. Everyone who attended was invited to speak during the candle lighting part of the ceremony, if they wished, and two people who weren't scheduled to speak did so, Peter W., Leif's father, and Leif's best friend, Michael Mauldin. The camera was on a tripod and pointed at the pulpit, so it caught Peter W.'s speech, but Michael spoke down in front of the pews and although his voice was picked up by the camera, he was not. Both had very personal and touching things to say. I posted a photo of Michael speaking when I was doing all the still photos of the ceremonies, but I won't post the video, which shows and empty pulpit with Michael's voice off to the side. I wish we had video of him, too.

The speakers were Rev. Misha, who gave a homily about Leif's life, and Darlene, who read the Twenty-Third Psalm. Unfortunately, the video ran out in the middle of Rev. Mishra's homily and so we have lost that portion as well as Darlene's reading. I have posted photos of them.

Rev. Mishra never met Leif, but he met with us for several hours to learn about his life and wrote and delivered a very honest and open account of his life and death. That was what we wanted, truthfulness, not eulogies, and we were glad for his forthrightness and his kindness to us.

I had never had to plan a memorial service before and I learned a lot planning and carrying these out. I had been to many funerals that seemed to have so little to do with the deceased and so much to do with Christian dogma, and they left me feeling as though the person we were there to remember and honor was almost left out. There was one funeral of a very dear friend who planned her own service that was wonderful, uplifting, truthful and beautiful, and it featured friends and family talking about her and her life. It was so wonderfully true to Betty that although we were all sad to have lost her, we were enriched by that service. The circumstances of Leif's death were tragic and terrible, and his adult life had much less that was happy and uplifting in it, but I wanted the memorials for him to be just as truthful about who he was and why and how he died. I wanted music that represented him and our feelings. I wanted readings that did the same. I think we were successful.

A memorial service is for those left behind. It is supposed to help them achieve some closure and say goodbye. I can't speak for the others who came, though I did hear from them that they felt the services were right for Leif, but although I am glad we had them, glad for every spoken word, glad for the flag, glad he received military honors, none of that represented closure to me, and I still cannot really say goodbye. I some sense, I am trying to keep him alive with this blog. I know in reality that isnt possible, but I am not ready to let him go.

The church ceremony concluded with a unison reading of the Christina Rosseti poem, "Remember," the benediction and extinguishing of the flaming chalice, and the piano music of "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera" by Andrew Lloyd Webber, played by Dorothy Byrne.

"Remember" by Christina Rosseti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.


Thank you for celebrating Leif's life with us
May we all walk in the light
And find joy in the life we live.
For his sake, for our sakes,
May we all find friendship, purpose,
And above all, love.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Leif's Memorial Service at St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church - April 29, 2008 -Marcus Lights a Candle for His Uncle (Video)

Marcus was Leif's only nephew. He participated in the Celebration of Life ceremony at the St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church in his Cub Scout uniform, honoring his Uncle. He and his mother, Darlene, made a very special candle for Leif, with all his favorite things depicted on it, and photos of him, too. I've already posted photos of the candle. Marcus also wrote his own farewell to his uncle and did a reading before he lit the candle.

Following Marcus's candle lighting, the rest of those in attendance were invited to come forward and light smaller, white candles of remembrance.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Leif's Memorial Service at St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church - April 29, 2008 - "My Friend, My Brother, Is Gone" - Jason Palenske (Video))

One of Leif's long-time best friends was Jason Palenske who came from Manhattan, Kansas to be with us for Leif's memorial services. Leif and Jason met in their senior year of high school. They shared many interests, Cyberpunk gaming, role-playing game development, Society for Creative Anachronism, motorcycles, and more. Jason refers to growing apart. It happens to so many of our friendships. Jason was married and had children, while Leif was divorced and alone. A married man has so many responsibilities and so little time. But there was always friendship and affection there. We were very touched that Jason came to be with us and gave his son Brayden, born March 4th, the middle name Leif.

Jason wrote a part of the remarks he read at the memorial service on his MySpace page on April 14. I found them meaningfl and touching and I asked him to read them at Leif's service. Jason did that for me, for us, and added to them. I have been profoundly grateful for the continuing contact with Jason and his wife, Melissa, who gave us the beautiful flag case for Leif's military honors flag.

"My Friend, My Brother, Is Gone" by Jason Palenske

I was trying to make it through the day...

Not understanding why, not knowing what I could have done to make things better, not knowing how I could have helped...

Then for a moment I saw you again, saw you riding the wheels of a stranger, but then your hand reached out...

I wanted to follow, I wanted to turn around and ride, ride until there was no where else to go. I can't follow you this time, you're riding somewhere I can't go yet...not yet.

My dad once said a person is lucky to have 5 true friends in their life, and as you drove me to his funeral I told you you were one of mine. I made mistakes though, I made one of the worst mistakes a friend can make. I went down the wrong road and didn't make sure you were there. I didn't make sure that we didn't drift farther and farther apart.

I took the wrong road and now I can never get back...

I want to be able to call, I want to say "Why aren't you here?", I want to here the surprise and then that mocking tone "I am here, but where are you, I'll be there in a minute."

I am here my friend, I am'll be awhile before I get there though. I've got things to finish here first, then, then I can be there. So be patient my friend, my brother, be patient. I'll be there soon enough, it just may take awhile.

My brother is gone and I can't fill the void that he left...not yet, not yet.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Leif and His Mother on May 13, 2007, Mother's Day - Sun City Center, Florida - Age 32

On Mother's Day I am thankful for my two sons and my husband, without whom I wouldn't be a mother. I am thankful for forty years of rewarding and enchanting motherhood. I will always be glad for those relationships, those experiences, and I embrace the totality of them. The problems we had when they were young seem to small now, so relatively easy to endure and improve.

I'm grateful for the relationships we have had with our adult sons, for the opportunity to see them grow and become men, for all the things they have brought into our lives.

Many mothers of grown children are far from their children on Mother's Day but can look forward to a call, a card, perhaps a gift. I was fortunate for so many years of Leif's life that he was with us on Mother's Day. Of his 33 years, he was with me on Mother's Day for 30 of them. How fortunate I was!

The last Mother's Day when I saw Leif, the last one he was alive, was 2007. As he was leaving that evening after dinner (a delicious one made by Peter W., his dad) and visiting, I asked Peter to take a picture of us together. I never dreamed it would be the last time I saw him on Mother's Day. How glad I am to have this photo.

Even so, I look at this photo and I can see that Leif was not well. I don't know what physical problems he may have had other than the asthma, but he had gained a lot of weight, which worried me, and he was not happy. Eleven months later, after a long series of problems and misery, he was dead. I will miss his smile, hugs and lively conversation, but I will remain grateful for those 30 Mother's Days we spent together.

And I am so thankful for my family, and that I can spend this Mother's Day with my own wonderful mother, still with me at 90.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Leif's Memorial Service at St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church - April 29, 2008 - "Farewell to My Gentle Giant"

It was hard to write a speech that captured my thoughts and feelings about Leif, and even harder to give it without completely breaking down. When I planned Leif's memorial services, I knew I wanted to be a part of them, to honor his memory and my love for him by talking about him and his life, but I wasn't sure I could keep enough composure to get through it. In the end, I decided it didn't matter, that what mattered was that I wanted to do it and wanted to try.

People at funerals and memorial services expect tears and grief, not polished performances, and saying goodbye to my son and honoring him in this way was far more important to me than sitting quietly in a pew and trying to be composed while someone else spoke words that were not mine. I wanted to tell those who were there with me about my son, to bring some measure of understanding to his life and who he was. His death is such a huge and terrible loss. It deserves the depth of emotion and thoughtful observations about him and his life.

I posted the text of my speech last spring, not long after the memorial service. At that time, my grief and the blog were so new that I wasn't sure what I was going to do with either of them, how I would go on. When I started the blog, I thought I would just "remember the good times." I posted my "Farewell to My Gentle Giant" text thinking I was saying goodbye to the sad parts and would focus on the happy parts of his life, leaving behind the memorial services and sadness.

As I've said before, it didn't take long before I realized that was not going to work. It wasn't real. If I was going to write about Leif and his life, I had to admit his death and bare my grief. I would have to write about it. I have done that now for over a year. When the anniversaries of his death and memorial services arrived in April, I knew I had to tell the truth about the events of his death and post text and videos of the memorial services. It's time.

(For consistency about the memorial services, I am posting my speech text again below.)

Farewell to my Gentle Giant

I can't listen to that sad, poignant song [Who Wants to Live Forever] without crying. It is so quintessentially Leif. He loved the movie, The Highlander, and there was a time people said he looked like Adrian Paul. He loved swords, was a romantic at heart, and was devastated when loved died. He wanted to be a hero, wanted to be needed, wanted to be strong. Through so many disappointments and crises, he held his head high and did not let others see his pain and frustration. Finally, it was too much.

From the day he was born, Leif was, in a sense, larger than life. He was such a large newborn that the nurses at the hospital where he was born joked that I was supposed to raise my kids after I had them, and teased me about what college he was going to.

He dwarfed the other babies there. I thought it was a fluke, that he would slow down to the family average size, but Leif was always the tallest in his class, even taller than his first grade teacher, and was 6' 1" by the time he was only in 7th grade.

He also had a piercingly smart mind. His teacher at the Montessori school he attended in Nurnberg, Germany when he was two years old told me at a conference that initially she thought Leif paid no attention to anything, didn't join the circle time, and wasn't getting anything out of it because he was puttering around by himself. Then, when they did their learning assessments, she was amazed to discover that Leif knew everything that had been taught to the class while he was silently working on his own.

Leif had a nearly photographic memory, and an amazing auditory memory that allowed him to quote movie lines, not bother with note-taking in school, and recall even how people spoke, not just what they said.

He was a beautiful child, so beautiful that people would literally stop us on the street and tell us that, but I don't think he ever sensed and would have been embarrassed it he had. By the time he was an adolescent, reaching puberty long before the other boys in his class, and spent years with a bad case of acne that he was teased about, he didn't believe he was attractive.

I don't know what kind of perspective a child growing up like that gains on the world, how it feels to be the giant, both physically and mentally, but I know he felt a kind of distance from others and an inner conflict that probably lasted all his life. He was only partly at home in the world of his peers, whether as a child, an adolescent, or an adult.

I called him my gentle giant, for with his size and enormous strength, it would have been all to easy for Leif to be a bully or use his body and mind to dominate or torment others, but he never did, not after the day in kindergarten when he lost his temper, threw toys at other children, and then was so mortified and ashamed of himself that he crawled under a table and would not come out. It was clear he had made a decision that would not happen again, that he would not hurt anyone.

Leif became in some ways a very traditional man From babyhood he loved vehicles of all kinds, and became an expert on cars and motorcycles, driving either as though he were in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. He could never have enough gadgets and even built his own computer. He loved guns and was a certified armorer and a passionate believer in the Second Amendment. He practiced martial arts and earned a black belt in judo, and loved fighting in medieval armor in the SCA, even wearing a 50 pound chain mail shirt he made himself. He loved movies about superheroes, men who saved the planet, the universe. He joined the infantry to fight for his country, to defend his beloved Constitution. Leif needed a focus for his intellect and his emotions, a defining purpose and a lofty goal, but unfortunately, he never really found them. He yearned achingly for someone to love, but a lasting relationship was not meant to be. He was deeply hurt, but he always forgave.

Yes, Leif wanted to be the hero, the gentle giant who would fight to defend his family, his friends, his country. His personal code was to never show weakness, and he kept his deep and towering emotions inside. He wanted to be needed, to be respected and loved.

Leif made many mistakes and he often lived life on the edge. He seemed to need and crave strong sensations, speed, danger, everything larger than life, as if life had to be over the top to be worthwhile, and yet he could patiently explain and teach almost any concept in a way the listener could understand, to an adult or a child.

I have been touched by the comments posted on my Remembering Leif blog, and I've asked one of Leif's friends for permission to quote her post because it captures some of how people saw him. Lorelei Siddall wrote:

“I met Leif in 2001 at the KSU Computer store where we were both employed. The computer store was a dim and humorless place at first, but then came Leif, a bright spot. I was intimidated at first since he was such a rambunctious person... full of ideas and interesting facts, philosophies, and an overwhelming presence that was almost bigger than the tiny alcove the store was tucked into.

“He quickly became the most interesting person in the store to talk to and work with, and soon my boyfriend at the time was coming up to the store specifically to talk to him as well. He spawned a sort of viral effect... whereas one person could meet him, then tell other people about this guy 'you just have to meet', and a sort of legend develops.

“I cherish the time I (had). You and your husband raised an amazing person, a person who has had a profound and global impact on the lives he had touched. He was a natural teacher, although this last lesson is the hardest one I think.”

It is indeed a hard one, one I don't want to learn. I don't want to learn to live without Leif, but I know I must. I don't want to miss his presence, his intellect, his humor, his dimpled smile, and most of all, his love.

As parents, we brought our sons into the world full of hope for them, and it is hard to accept that our dreams for Leif will never be realized, that he will never find his purpose and defeat his demons, that he will never have a family, that he will never be there for a birthday or a Christmas, never be there to teach us about the latest technology and set things up for us, never tease me about driving like an old lady.

It is hardest of all to know that our love was not enough to save him, that no matter what I tried, I could not help him be happy, or take away his pain. I knew it was there, but he would not admit to me how bad it was.

In many ways, he lived a life rich in experience, though it was also drowned in depression and loneliness. In many ways he engaged the world and wanted much from life, but he was also bitterly disappointed. In the end, he was overwhelmed.

I can't really talk to you about my feelings about Leif, or I would be overwhelmed. I brought him into with world with hope and love, how I wish he would have had the hope I had for him. He was and always will be larger than life, my gentle giant, a tragic would-be hero, and I will be grateful for the 33 years of memories I have of him, the things he taught me, the bear hugs he gave me. I will miss him every day of my life.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Leif's Memorial Service at St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church - April 29, 2008 - "Who Was My Brother? (Second Half of Video)

This is the second half of Peter Anthony Garretson's "Who Was My Brother?" speech about his deceased brother, Leif, delivered at the St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church on April 29, 2008.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Leif's Memorial Service at St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church - April 29, 2008 - "Who Was My Brother? (First Half of video & entire text)

Peter Anthony did a lot of research about his brother, Leif, on the internet, from posts that Leif made on the ZAON forums to posts about him both during his life and after he died, to comments on this blog and on Leif's MySpace and Faceabook pages. He tried to formulate a picture of Leif as others saw him and integrate it with his own. Peter Anthony was six years older than Leif and left home to go the the Air Force Academy when Leif was still a twelve-year-old junior high school student. From that day on, he only saw Leif during his visits home, as he never lived under the same roof again. Leif went through his teen and adult years from from his older brother. Though they were family, though they were a part of each other's identity, and though they had been close as children, they had too little contact after Peter Anthony left home to keep the relationship close. In the year before Leif died, it seemed to me that they were contacting each other a bit more, that maybe there would be a closer relationship developing as they headed into middle age, but it was not to be. It was prematurely ended with Leif's death.

We found Peter Anthony's detailed analysis fair and penetrating, interesting and challenging, revealing and thought-provoking, touching and well-delivered, and we were very glad and grateful that he was willing to share it with us and with those at the memorial service.

The first half of the video of his speech is in this post. The second half will be posted tomorrow. The entire text is below.

Who Was My Brother? by Peter A. Garretson, April 2008

Who was my brother?
People describe my brother as brash, unabashed, unappologetic, uncompromising, inconsiderate, incautious, arrogant, selfish, lazy (unless a project caught his interest), creative, talented, tolerant, accepting, enthusiastic, crass, deeply caring, forgiving, committed to his friends, practical.

He went by many names: Leif, Ashley, Lance, Alexander, first moving away from his given names (when unusual names weren’t cool) and then moving back to his given names.

He was a patriot, a man who loved and served his country, endured hardships for, and put his life on the line for his country, and he cared deeply about its future.

I think he would have been surprised at the breadth and depth of the lives he touched, and the positive effect he had on them. He had a kind of charisma, rawness and authenticity, inclusiveness, tolerance, and welcomingness that made people instantly like him. He was not the kind of guy who was going to get offended by anything you were likely to say or do (unless you were repealing constitutional liberties or mis-spending the lives of citizen soldiers).

A friend captured him perfectly, saying “He challenged us, provoked us, and never ever held back his opinion. This forum will never again be the same to me without him.” Another said: “He challenged me to be better and to think. He will be missed.”
Enthusiastic about the things that mattered to him, passionate about his chosen endeavors, unapologetic about his opinions and desires, Leif called people to look at the bigger picture and take life with a sense of humor.

Those who knew him said things like “He was an incredible man. A bright spot. The most interesting person in the store to talk to and work with. A rambunctious person... full of ideas and interesting facts, philosophies. He was an overwhelming presence that was almost bigger than the tiny alcove the store was tucked into. Words truly can not describe him. So full of infinite knowledge, a compassionate heart, and internal drive that will live on in the hearts of those he touched. Seemingly brash, once you got to know him you quickly realized just how caring and good a person he really was…He was definitely a good guy inside.”

On any subject, whether life itself, psychology, philosophy, politics, religion, or the latest videogames, Leif was never without some valuable perspective to contribute to the rest of us. And from my perspective, he was just now getting more sublime and interesting.

His associates saw him as a support, a champion of their cause, a loyal and committed teammate and ally, as someone who gave good advice, was encouraging, who helped them to see the big picture, and who challenged, pushed and encouraged them to be better and to think more deeply. Through that encouragement, those he touched grew, and tried things that otherwise they never would have. His friendship was transformative.

Leif was not one to hide his opinion, and so I will honor him, and a favorite book of his, “Speaker for the Dead” by telling the truth about my brother as best I knew him.

None of us knows or probably can ever know whether Leif departed us through design or accident, but if he thought he was not needed by his friends and family, he was deeply mistaken. While no explanation is satisfying to have lost one so young, full of potential, and such a contribution to our lives, it is my hope that his final moments were not of concealed quiet desparation and despair, but rather incautious enjoyment, and so I am personally happy that his last few hours were spent in joy with friends.

I loved my brother, and had always wanted the best for him. Leif very much needed a partner, a complement. I had hoped he would get marreid, have kids, find his calling, moderate his excesses with age. But it was not to be. He had hard luck, both in love and work. He had many, many breaks, but not the ones that matter to a man’s soul.

As a kid, he wanted to be a fighter pilot, and would have been an excellent one (particularly in the era of Boyd and Yaeger when pushing a machine to its limit was a virtue), had poor eyesight not closed that door to him. Denied his first calling, never found another. Denied his first love, he never found his way to a safe harbor. He had great affection for children, and would forever be a child at heart, but never had his own.

While his rational morality understood Earthly virtues and had a place for wisdom, fortitude, justice, truth (and to a lesser extent temperance), he never had access to faith, hope, and charity which see so many through despairing times, and might have aided him as well. Leif cared deeply about truth and morality, but never found God, never found a faith in which he could trust, and so was denied the nurturing discipline, community, and security which it provides. He never found that higher purpose, and without it rejected protective constraints on his liberty.

When no path will get us to where we need to go, we tend to be more haphazard about our next steps since none of them matter to the goal. Perhaps that explains why, for one of the smartest people I knew, his life seemed to me an almost unbroken string of poor decisions and poor judgment.

Starved of higher purpose, he was a fountain of unchanneled energies, forever driving him to excess, whether it be drinking, guns, gadgets, cars, alchohol, and a lifestyle far beyond his means.

In one sense he knew how to enjoy himself, and drank more fully of life than most of us do. But in another sense he was unfortunate, for having drunk so deeply, he was still unsatisfied, and ever thirsty.

He seemed afflicted with that pathology that afflicts males with no children: No one to whom to devote resources but on one's self. No compelling reason NOT to take chances. A constant dissipation of frustrated libido, and a fascination with this thing called violence, not yet understanding what it is for.

My first memories of my brother go back to dramatic goofing around on the back terrace of a wonderful house on a hill in Germany, and later to our time in Japan watching Japanese robot anime, Ultra-man, and Kamen Rider, and endless hours of watching, and re-watching the first generation of real sci-fi movies: Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, the Black Hole.

Later, I remember coming home and finding my little brother transformed. He had gone from a mop-haired, cute little kid, to this incredibly tall, long-haired guitar hero dude with his own fashion sense, with a room decorated with a gigantic stereo (when that was cool), a shrine to Cyndi Crawford, guitars, and having transformed my parents old station wagon into something that was not quite boring, but not quite cool yet either…but on its way. My brother, was a “cool dude.”

His death came at an unfortunate time in our relationship, when we were talking and connecting more. I was re-discovering a love of anime and video games, having just seen Final Fantasy, Macross Zero and Appleseed, and when he was developing not just his Bacchan side but had just taken philosophy, and I was looking forward to exploring his Apollonian side. I was looking forward to getting together this summer.

In the oddest and most perverse way, I can’t help but think he would have had interesting insights and observations on his own death and our reactions and its meaning to us. I find that more than anyone else, I’d like to get his take, his detached perspective on things. I’m greatly annoyed that he isn’t around to represent himself. No doubt he would have had a good bit of dark humor about his own death, and he certainly would council us to take nothing as sacred, and enjoy this opportunity to get together. He would certainly not encourage us to follow his last example.

In one of his favorite games, when things clearly aren’t going your way, when you know you aren’t going to win, you can just blow yourself up and re-spawn to try again. Perhaps, if the Hindus and Buddhists are right about reincarnation, that is exactly what he did.

He was fond of saying that there is no problem that a proper application of explosives cannot solve. And perhaps it solved the problem for him…but not for us. Leif jealously guarded of the liberty of human decisions, and had it been one of us, he would likely have rejected any notion of impaired decisionmaking, and would likey have been both accepting and disparaging if it had been our choice. If he were here, he’d probably say something shocking and callous, pretending to great selfishness like: “Why are you so upset over me? I woundn’t be so upset over you.” But I wonder how well he knew himself or how much he cared for others.

My brother had a deep reservoir of talent, creativity, and virtue. I suspect he was like many of the world’s greatest citizens that were ne'r-do-wells until fate placed them in places of responsibility in a time of need. I say this because those who were touched by him found him to be full of wisdom, insight, encouragement, and his pride had a meaningful effect. They looked to him as a confidant, mentor, teacher. They felt improved, enobled, an uplifted by their association with him.

As far as I could tell, his highest values were liberty, coolness, and loyalty to friends.

My brother valued coolness very highly. He sought it in all things, and wished to surround, accessorize himself, and project it. Whether it was computers, phones, guns, guitars, he seemed to have done a tremendous amount of research, knew exactly what the best and worst features were (and would gladly tell you), and of course, whether he could afford it or not, he most likely had the best and latest gadget. But he was not a materialist. He did not acquire them because he valued the things themselves, but rather the experiences they conveyed.

And the experiences he sought were not the quiet experiences of the soul. He was not one to sequester himself at a mediation retreat, or the solitude of a Walden Pond. Rather, he sought loud, stimulating experiences that would challenge his “coolness” and turn him on—and he had a much higher excitement threshold than most. He loved games, and spent tremendous amounts of time on games like Cyberpunk, Planetside, Mass Effect, and pouring his creative juices into ZAON, and he organized his social life around them.

He enjoyed many a pleasure to excess, took full advantage of the pleasures of this world, and was willing to risk life and limb to experience them. Nothing was muted.

And among the coolest and most compelling experiences for my brother was speed. He valued this very highly and was willing to take tremendous risks to experience it. I remember him taking me on a ride in his RX-7, and being utterly scared for my life. Never, in all my life had I been in a vehicle where the wheels did not turn at the same speed as the road, or where the experience was closer to a roller coaster than to a car ride. And he claimed that no car could compare to a motorcycle. He had numerous accidents, and continued to feed his thirst for speed. He seemed to me to be always cheating death, riding without a helmet, taking turns at the edge of performance, and living on borrowed time, and like some of you, I thought he would most likely die on a motorcycle, chasing the experience he valued so highly. Like one of his online friends, I too thought: “Never would have I thought something like this would ever happen to him. Perhaps out in a blaze of glory at mach 10 with his ass on fire on one of his toys, but not like this.“

As I said, he jealously valued human liberty, and rejected all claims of others to moderate his joys for their own benefit, safety or security. He took life lightly with a wry and often dark sense of humor, and he was quick with penetrating, humorous, and darkly humorous insights.

His “coolness” even permeated his person. He seemd to cultivate a Zen-like inperturbability, and gravitas. That gravity of personality seemed to attract, and he seemed to welcome, people who were much more volatile, emotive, and expressive and needed that kind of gravity to stabilize and hold the space for them.

And as far as I could tell, despite his outer coolness and brashness, he seems to have been a caring, reliable, forgiving individual who always sought the best for those close to him. Even through rocky circumstances and separations, I’m not sure anyone, once entering Leif’s circle, was ever outside it.

Certainly I had relied upon him to be there for my family should I be in trouble, or should something happen to me. I had relied upon him to be close to my parents and take care of them. And I had relied upon him to hold a certain position in life as a measuring stick for my own decisions and accomplishments. That rug has been pulled out from beneath me. His passing has made each meal simultaneously more flavorful and tasteless. In every bite, in every experience, I taste my own mortality, for we were made of the same basic cloth--both thrilled that I am still alive, and saddened that he is not.

Brothers are also competitive and run a good race to bring home to each other and their parents the fruits of their labors. Now I find every successful accomplishment is bittersweet, sweet because death causes us to appreciate life, and bitter because his passing deprives me of a meaningful victory because it is like winning not by virtue but by forfeit. In this life, at least, he should have stayed in the race. With his talents, frankly, he should have won it.

Had things worked out just slightly differently for Leif, he might have become a pilot and married that high school sweetheart, and perhaps he’d have a couple of lovely daughters. Doing something he loved and was good at, he might have been promoted below the zone, perhaps he’d even been selected as initial cadre on the F-22 Raptor and applying for this year’s astronaut class. I’d like to think that he’d have been motivated to continue his Judo, to stay in shape, and might be playing guitar or bass in a band. I’d like to think he’d have reason to come through DC where I’d take him to train with my local jujitsu group and amidst a likely argument about Col. John Boyd’s philosophy of winning and losing, I’d try to talk him into requesting an assignment to Air Force Future concepts where he could put his wargamer design skills to use for his country. Later, perhaps we’d be getting together, letting our kids play and our spouses talk as we enjoyed a good bottle of wine and and made plans for a family trip to Palau where we could dive and ride, two things we both enjoyed.

As one of his friends wrote, “I wanted so much for him to find the love and happiness, he deserved it more than anyone I knew.” Regrettably, the bright future or past we would author of Leif is not to come in this incarnation, and I hope Leif’s best guess about our Creator was not on target, and his spirit will persist, and he will get a second chance to realize the destiny he was meant for.

I would like to end with a something that one of his online creative collaborators, Rush Wingate wrote about Leif that both captures him and his dreams, and our best intentions for him:

"Leif was a free spirit in life. He loved speed, he loved adventure. Like us, he held on tightly to the child's dream and fantasy of rocketing among the stars. Well, through tragedy, Leif will the first among us realize that dream. In the summers to come, I will lie along rivers and beaches, or in fine pastures on my many camping trips, and I shall look at the stars. In winters I will continue to haul myself out into frosty fields with my thermos of coffee and many telescopes to gaze at the cosmos. When I do, I shall think of that "brawlin' SOB". I'll think of how that spirit is now free to roam and explore those very stars we all fantasized about. I know that our resident Speed Demon will have strapped himself to a blazing comet, rocketing in the cosmos, a permanent smile on his face."

Leif's Memorial Service at St. Petersburg Unitarian Universalist Church - April 29, 2008 - Homily, Psalm, Poem

The conclusions of our memorial "celebration of life" service for Leif included Beethovan's Moonlight Sonata, played by Ms. Byrne and then the homily delivered by Rev. Manish Mishra. We met for several hours with Rev. Mishra, telling him Leif's life story and his difficulties, depression and loneliness. He gave us a view of Leif's life which was moving and sad, and truthful, which was what we wanted. Following the homily, Ms. Byrne played Unitarian Hymn #123, "Spirit of Life."

Then Leif's sister-in-law, Darlene, read the Twenty-Third Psalm.

Then we all recited Christina Rosseti's poem, "Remember," in unison.

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

The Rev. Mishra gave the Benediction and Extinguished the Chalice. The last piece of music played by Ms. Byrne was, "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera" by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The photos of Leif's parents beside the memorial table, and Leif's older brother, Peter and his grandmother, Marion Kundiger with them, shows his photograph, the unlighted chalice, and the composite photo of Leif's life that Darlene made for us. On the last photo of the table, you can also see his folded memorial American flag from the military honors ceremony and the lei-draped photo of life, as well as the small infantry statue with the plaque Leif's father made to honor him when the army denied him his medals due to his asthma, and maile lei and green ti leaves from Hawaii. The beautiful leis and ti leaves were sent to us by friends in Hawaii, Bud and Barbara Kagan. The lei has dried and still hangs like that on the same portrait of Leif.

Beginning tomorrow I will post some video of parts of the service.
Thank you to those who gave permission to post their photos, and to those who took them.