Monday, August 17, 2009

Leif and USF - Fall 2007

All of Leif's adult life he was in financial difficulty, sometimes due to circumstances beyond his control, but often due to his spending on many things he couldn't really afford, from fancy cell phones to computers, from motorcycles to guns, or even a car that got poor mileage resulting in high gas bills. When he got money, such as a tax refund, he either had to pay bills he was behind on, or he would spend it on new gadgets. He seemed incapable of saving money.

The summer of 2007 when he broke up with Donna, he was in worse difficulty because he no longer had her contributing to the household income and he wanted a way to supplement his Humana salary. He decided that the best way to do that was to go back to school and use his remaining GI Bill benefits. I thought this a constructive and creative way to do it, but I was also concerned that he would spend the money, not save any, and get used to the extra income and have even greater difficulties when it ran out. My fears proved to be true.

Leif got admitted to USF for the fall 2007 semester, which started while he was still healing from his motorcycle accident on July 12th and his operation on July 27th. He determined to major in philosophy, a subject he had very much enjoyed as a student at KSU, and enrolled in two courses. He had to enroll in classes that met in the morning, because at the time he was working the afternoon-evening shift at Humana until 11:00 p.m. He felt he would be able to study some during the evening because while they were mandated to be open for calls, few came in during the later hours. He found this to be generally true.

He seemed to be enjoying being on campus and in his classes, and would send me text messages about them during the evening sometimes. One of the classes apparently had a profound impact on him, or at least his thinking about the subject matter did, as he sent his final paper to me and some others and it was the thing he left on his computer the night he died.

Leif was always a procrastinator and enrolling in school was no exception. I well remember that I was chatting (through Yahoo Instant Messenger) with him late one evening in January and asked him what classes he was taking second semester. He said he hadn't enrolled yet. I told him that he'd better get it done or he wouldn't even find any open classes during the hours he could attend. So, he got online right then and found out the deadline was midnight that night . . . about 15 minutes away. He chose two classes he thought would be interesting and that seemed to him to fulfill degree requirements. One feature of the GI Bill is that students must be enrolled in classes that lead to a degree.

He hadn't had an advising appointment and thought he knew what classes would be acceptable. He hadn't had one the fall semester, either, after convincing his adviser in email that after being a student at KSU he knew what to do.

He paid his tuition and got his books, and took classes for a month and then was shocked to get a notice that the classes he was taking were NOT approved for his degree program. He didn't tell us about this until after it occurred or we might have been able to help him fight the decision, since Peter W. had had a similar experience when he was taking classes at KSU and using his GI BIll benefits and had appealed the decision and won. However, Leif didn't get anywhere with the officials at USF and got mad and discouraged and withdrew from school, losing his tuition. His last GI Bill benefit was paid, I believe, on March 1st, although it's possible it was on February 1st.

If this wasn't the last straw for Leif, it was certainly close to it. He had been managing with the extra money during the fall semester, but also spending whatever he didn't need. Again, no savings. So, when they pulled the rug out from under him and he lost the monthly stipend, he had no savings to see him through and pay his bills. By that time, he had run up large credit card debts, too, which we didn't know about. He had paid his previous ones off and had no outstanding credit card debt when he moved out of our house in February 2006. In just two years he had amassed $12,000 of credit card debt, added to his car loan, and his longstanding previous debts to us for bailing him out twice before and buying the car he wrecked. He tried applying for personal loans but he didn't get them because of his terrible credit to debt ratio. He received the loan rejection letters just days before he killed himself, as they were dated March 23. He could have come to us, but that would have been a bitter pill to swallow, both because of his pride and because he knew we would be very dismayed at what he had done. He had not admitted to us that he had run up such debts, even when we had asked him how he was doing financially and whether he needed help.

I often wonder if just one thing had gone right for Leif if he would still be here; if he had continued to get the GI Bill; if he had gotten one of the promotions he was interviewed for; if he had found the right woman; if he had been able to control his spending; if he had seen an advisor about what classes to take.

We will never know, but we do know that the sudden withdrawal of the GI Bill stipend probably had a big impact on his decision to end his life. It may not have been the precipitating factor in the wee hours of April 9, 2008, but it was one of the factors that set it in motion. How sad that his quest for money and intellectual stimulation ended that way.
The photo is of Leif's USF ID card, fall 2007.

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