Monday, November 30, 2009

Bad luck and bad choices

Today Peter W. (Leif's father) told me that I make Leif out to be some kind of paragon, handsome, brilliant, and so on, and I countered that I have written blog posts about his poor choices and inability to manage his spending, his drinking, procrastination, terrible housekeeping, lousy record keeping, and fast driving, and that I'm quite clear-eyed about the real person my son was. It's true; I have a balanced view of him, but he WAS brilliant and handsome, and he had many wonderful qualities as well. What he didn't have was good luck . . . and in many cases, good judgement about relationships, job choices and spending money. He was a decent man who didn't harm others and showed remarkable restraint when dealing with people who were very difficult, even those who hurt him. And yet he could be exasperating, uncommunicative and evasive, or by turns helpful and generous or sullen and withdrawn.

But regardless of any of that, he was my son and I loved him dearly, and I appreciated his good qualities and regret all the times I had to talk to him or write to him about his finances or things he needed to get done. It makes me sad to look at the email and mail I sent to him, so often only filled with admonitions, financial figures, or in relation to some legal issue he had to deal with, such as the time he spun his car around near a car dealership and threw up some gravel that damaged some windshields or the time he was trying to get his apartment management to stop charging him for damage that was in the apartment when he rented it (and he had photos he had taken to them when he moved in to prove it). These were things I helped him with and we had to go over all that, but there is so little of our written communication that really reflects our relationship, all the great discussions we had, or the love we had for each other.

I not only miss what was, I miss what could have been. So much potential that was never realized. So much hope that was lost.

This photo of Leif when he was super slender as a senior in high school was taken in our old stone house in December 1992 when Leif was almost 18. He would have been 18 a month after this was taken. I don't really like this photo of him. He looks sad, pained and haunted, and that's not how I remember him at that time, but perhaps there was that aspect to his life as he was kind of a loner and had been moved away from his friends in Puerto Rico. He never developed that kind of circle of friends in the brief time he was at Manhattan High School.

Leif at the Soccer Award Banquet - Highland Park, Illinois - November 1989 - Age 14

Leif played fullback on the freshman soccer team at Highland Park High School in Highland Park, Illinois. He could boot the ball all the way down the field. This photo was taken at the soccer awards banquet and he was being given a certificate and award. You can see how tall he was as he towers over the man giving him the award and those around him.

In those days he loved to wear ties and had a small wardrobe of them. I think the narrow ties looked really good on him.

It's hard to believe that this was 20 years ago this very month. How does 20 years go by so fast?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Leif and Weaponry

This photo of Leif was taken in our living room in Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day 1985. We had taken the family photos I already posted. I imagine he was probably watching television when I took this photo, and he is holding a wooden gun he made. I think he made it with his dad. From the time he was very young he was fascinated with guns and all kinds of weaponry. Even as an adult he designed and made wooden guns as prototypes of guns he wanted to see and use in role gaming like Cyberpunk and Zaon. Perhaps he was born in the wrong age. Maybe at some other time he would have been a great military strategist or weapons designer. In our world, especially once his hoped-for military career didn't work out, his passion was mostly out of place and had little use except in the gaming world.

And yet I always called him my "gentle giant." He could so easily have harmed others, either with his own strong arms and legs or with all his swords and guns, yet he didn't. It's fortunate that as an older child he had gained control of his temper or things might have turned out very badly for him and others. I'm thankful he had that self control.

Who knows what kind of dreams he had of being the hero with those weapons, or whether they served to make him feel safer in a world that was not so friendly to him as an adult. They must also have been a part of that large persona he cultivated and presented to the world, the tough and capable weapons expert armed to the max. He talked a tough game and posed looking dangerous but lived a quiet life not harming others and even rescuing animals. A complex man. We will never know all the depths.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Set apart by a quick and brilliant mind?

A few days ago, Peter had a "House" program on television that was about a brilliant physicist who used drugs to dumb down his mind so that he could be happy with other less intelligent people and enjoy being with his "stupid" wife. In the end, he said it was more important to have love and companionship than to be smart. He felt that his high intelligence set him apart from others and made it impossible for him to be close to them.

It's terrible to think that someone would have to make such a choice, but the story rung a bell with me. I remember Leif saying something similar, that it was so hard to find people he could be with because they couldn't think or discuss things on his level and found him intimidating. He felt set apart and outside the normal human discourse except with certain individuals. On top of that, he was shy unless he felt comfortable with people and wasn't good at being outgoing and meeting others. He preferred to hang back and watch and try to get a good feel for others and the "lay of the land" before trying to make contact. It made him a loner much of the time.

Leif was desperate for love and companionship and spent much of his time trying to find it. It was all the harder because although he was willing to be friend or lover to someone less intelligent than he was, he did crave someone who could keep up with his mind, and too many people shied away from his brilliance. He was so lonely. I think he drank for many reasons; to drown his sorrows, to loosen him up, to dampen his mind and be more outgoing with others.

I loved that brilliance and loved to discuss things with him. I learned so much and I miss that. I also miss his knowledge of electronic things, computers, and his problem-solving abilities. A couple of days ago my mother's computer (one she bought from Leif in January 2008) wouldn't access the internet. She called me for help but I couldn't solve the problem and told her she would have to call her ISP. She did and spent hours on the phone with them without success. Then they send a technician and he spent a couple of hours at her house trying to figure out and fix the problem. When he was done, he had pulled out a powerful graphics card Leif had installed, saying it was very hot. I don't think the fan on it was working. He also pulled out the WIFI card, saying that was what was preventing her from accessing the internet, though this computer wasn't accessing it wirelessly. I still don't understand why he had to remove it, but Mom can get on the internet now. If Leif had been here, he probably would have had it figured out more quickly, and also be able to tell me whether the graphics and WIFI cards are still any good. I don't even know how to test them.

Then this afternoon, Peter W. wanted to put a wall hanging we purchased in India on the living room wall. It involved climbing about 5 feet up a ladder and putting fasteners on the wall a good 9 feet or so off the floor, while reaching over the television and stand. It was quite an ordeal and it reminded me again of all the things Leif did for us here, including putting up other things that high on the walls. He seemed to do things with ease that it's hard for us to do.

How could he ever have possibly thought he wasn't needed? He was needed in so many ways, the most important of which was just be together, just to love each other. I miss him, and I'm sorry he felt estranged from so much of the world, so lonely. I wish I could just hug him.

This photo of Leif was taken April 19, 1991 in Puerto Rico. Leif was 16 years old.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 1985 - Honolulu, Hawaii - Leif at age 10, nearly 11

Today is the second Thanksgiving since Leif died, our second one without him. Last year we went to the DC area and spent Thanksgiving surrounded by Lannay's family, Peter A's family and Rick's family, a large group of warm and loving relatives that made the holiday special and took away the sting of our loss, though it was ever on my mind. I didn't think I could bear to face Thanksgiving here without family last year and I am grateful we had the possibility of so many of us being together. I needed that and they were all so good to us.

We stayed with Rick and Mac, had such a good time with them and their daughters, enjoyed Mac's wonderful Thai food. We celebrated Marcus's eighth birthday there, spent time with Peter A. and Darlene, too, briefly, as they were engrossed in packing to move to India. We enjoyed a terrific Thanksgiving dinner with the whole gang at Lannay's and Doug's house, and I was glad we could take my mother with us to be a part of it.

This year is so different. Rick and Mac are in Germany. Peter and Darlene are in India. That kind of gathering may never be possible again, so I continue to be thankful for it, that it could happen when I needed it most.

Now we will just have three of us for Thanksgiving dinner, Peter W., my mother and me. I always conceived of Thanksgiving as a large family gathering, and for nearly all the years of my life, it was, whether my own birth family sharing our bounty with neighbors, or us having Peter W.'s relatives in Germany come to our house for our feast, or at least the four of us when we lived far away in Japan or Hawaii. Sometimes we went to the army mess hall to be with others. Back in Kansas after Peter W. retired from the army, we all went to my mother's house, where we had from 13-16 people gathered to celebrate. And then, when we moved to Florida, it was the four of us, Peter W., me, mom and Leif.

How I looked forward to Leif's arrival, waiting for his car to drive up the driveway, usually announcing itself with loud music or at least the insistent beat of the bass. I waited for that tall, strong guy to come in the door and give me a big bear hug. That will never happen again, and Thanksgiving will always be saddened by knowing that.

I wish we could have Peter A's family with us, but the expectation of their presence hasn't been there ever, as he hasn't come home for Thanksgiving since he left home and except for last year, we weren't able to travel to be where he was on Thanksgiving, either, sometimes because we needed to be home for Oma (Peter W's mother) and not leave her alone on Thanksgiving, sometimes for Leif, sometimes for my mother, or all three. But except when Leif was in the army, he was always with us on Thanksgiving, always until 2008, so a part of what we came to count on was his presence.

Last year I knew I had a lot to be thankful for but it was hard to feel it. Grief was too new and too acute, only seven months after Leif's death. It was one thing to know I had much to be grateful for; it was another thing to feel grateful when my heart was broken and I was sad and missing Leif, just trying to get through the days without ruining them for others.

This year, I am still sad at times. I still cry for him. I still miss him, but this year I can feel thankful and grateful for my wonderful, loving husband, for my son Peter A., for my grandchildren, for my mother, for my home and my country, for all the experiences I've been blessed to have, the material things I am fortunate enough to own. In so many ways, life is good. I am grateful for my family, my brother and sisters and their families, for my friends, for freedom and freedom from want and hunger. I don't ever want to forget all the good in my life and only concentrate on loss and mourning.

So today I will be thankful, even though I may have some tears in my eyes when the table is set for only three, and I will be thankful for Leif, for my brilliant and handsome son, who taught me much, who I loved, who I had for thirty-three years. I will be grateful for those years, even though they were not enough. I will be grateful for his life, even though it ended too soon.

This photo of our family was taken in our living room in Honolulu, Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day 1985. Peter A. would be 17 in a month and Leif would be 11 in two months.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dismantling a Life

We were sitting in O'Hare Airport waiting a connection on our way home from India and Peter W. wanted to call Peter A. to let him know we were safely that far and discovered that he didn't have Peter's Vonage phone number programmed into his cell phone. He hardly ever uses his cell phone or keeps the phone book on it up to date. I offered to enter the number for him and decided to look over what needed updating. I found several out of date numbers I needed to change, but then I found Leif's cell phone numbers, still there after Leif's death over 19 months ago. I could have just deleted them without comment but I asked Peter if he wanted them. He didn't, and they are now gone, but the fact that I had to ask, and that it brought the sting of tears to my eyes, made me realize yet again how hard it is, emotionally and otherwise, to delete or dismantle the things left behind after a loved one's death. Each time it feels like I am deleting a part of his life, of my contact with him, of the life he built. I remembered how hard it was to turn in Leif's military ID card to the office at MacDill Air Force Base. I remembered how hard it was to sell his motorcycle and have his car repossessed, to terminate memberships and so many other details.

I remembered again how it seemed like an invasion of his privacy to "snoop" through his papers and computer files for the information I needed to handle his affairs, how it felt wrong to dispose of his belongings, as though he would be coming back for them and be upset that they were gone. Of course I knew that wasn't going to happen, but taking someone's personal property and selling it, giving it away or throwing it away seemed so wrong, like taking apart the life he had built for himself and destroying its identity, removing it from the earth.

I think how little is left of his life, the photos, the memories, a few belongings, and yet how large the memories and the emotions are in my life.

I still have boxes of papers and possessions, like his army uniforms and boots, and wonder what will become of them, whether I will part with them or they will still be here when I die, with no one to pass them on to. It doesn't seem right.

I met a woman today who told me about a friend whose son died in a car accident over twenty years ago and they still have all of his clothes and belongings in his room, still as he left them. They even buy him birthday and Christmas presents. I cannot imagine that level of denial, but I understand their emotional need to pretend that he is in some sense still with them. I don't think it's a healthy response, but maybe it's what it takes to get them through the days. I wouldn't want that, but there are some things I want to keep, and others I don't want to see.

Leif's name is still in my phone book, on my computer and in my cell phone, not because I have an emotional need to see them there, though I confess it is hard for me to delete them, but because I still occasionally have a need to enter his address or phone number on some document and it's easy to find and access them where they are, but it still shocks me sometimes when I'm looking through the listings to see him there, as though somehow I could still magically give him a call.

How I wish I could!

I talked with a man in my neighborhood recently who grew emotional and had tears in his eyes when he said that when our parents die we realize our own mortality, that "we are up next" and that he would give anything for just one more hour with his father. I understand his feelings. I also know the feeling of losing my son, and how I'd give anything for one more hour with Leif.

Love does not go away. Sadness and grief grow softer, less acute, but they do not end. They do not go away, either. Deleting a phone number or selling a car doesn't make it any easier; it just reminds us of the loss.

This photo of Leif was taken on June 13, 1990 in Greenbelt, Maryland where we were visiting my sister, Leif's Aunt Lannay, on our way from Chicago to Puerto Rico for Peter W's new military assignment there. Leif was 15 years old.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Three Guys - Giuseppi's Dinner Restaurant - Colorado Springs, CO - May 28, 1991 - Age 16

My two sons, horsing around together; how I loved seeing that, them having fun with each other. These photos were taken the same evening as the last group, outside  Guiseppe's Depot restaurant in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before we attended the Graduation Balls on May 28, 1991. Peter A. graduated from the Air Force Academy the next day.

This is a good example of how strong Leif was, to pick up his brother like that. Below, the two of them are "putting their best feet forward." They look like they are ready to take on the world and conquer it together.

I know Leif was enormously proud of his older brother and respected him greatly for graduating from the Air Force Academy. He must have wished he could follow in his footsteps, but for many reasons, that was not to be.

It was certainly a proud moment for all of us and we were so glad to be there to share it as a family. Peter W. got to pin on Peter A.'s lieutenant's bars wearing his own uniform and attend the ball in his mess dress blues. Leif was dressed in his stylish silver-gray suit and turquoise tie. He was only sixteen but he looks so tall and grown up.

It's odd what things around me trigger sadness and a deep sense of missing Leif. Yesterday we were in O'Hare Airport in Chicago on our way back from visiting Peter A. and family in India when it hit me that this Thanksgiving we will be here with only three of us, Peter W., my mother and me. Leif will not be coming. It seemed inexpressibly sad. Last year, I convinced Peter W. to go to the Washington DC area so that we could spend Thanksgiving with Peter A. and his family, our nephew Rick and his family, and my sister Lannay and her family. It was a warm and loving crowd of people celebrating together and it kept me from feeling Leif's absence so acutely. This year, there will be no big gathering to distract me.

Then, as I glanced around the restaurant where we were having breakfast, I nearly did a double-take. Across the aisle and down a table or two sad "Leif." Of course it wasn't him, but it was a man who was about Leif's age, with a shaved head and a mustache and goatee. From the side he looked uncannily like Leif, and that's when I nearly lost it. It didn't take more than a few seconds for tears to be brimming in my eyes. I tried to keep it under control, since we were in a public place, but I didn't completely succeed. I just wanted Leif to be there, to be with us for Thanksgiving.

The holidays this year will be hard. Although last year's Thanksgiving and Christmas were the first times without him, they were cushioned by the presence of many people we love. This year, we will not have others with us to fill our hearts and minds. This year, we will face his loss.

I have much to be thankful for, and I know many, many people have suffered worse losses than I have, but we, all of us, can only feel our own pain. Intellectually we may measure it against the pain and sadness of others and know that many have experienced far more terrible losses, but although we may be sympathetic, we cannot feel their misery as we feel our own. We may have four sound limbs but if we have a pain in our back, the sound limbs do not make the back feel better. We still feel the back pain. It is still intense. We can't tell ourselves, "Well, my four good limbs negate the back pain."

So it is with Leif's death. I have much to be thankful for in my life, but even my joy and appreciation of those people I love and those things I care deeply about do not take away the hurt of losing Leif . . .  they exist side- by side, the thankfulness and the pain, the joy and the sorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Family the Night of Peter Anthony's Air Force Academy Graduation Ball - Colorado Springs, CO - May 28, 1991

I think this was the last, and perhaps the only, time that our whole family was dressed formally for a big event. Peter Anthony was graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and we had flown to Colorado Springs from Puerto Rico to share in that momentous occasion. The night before the ceremony, we were all to attend the Graduation Balls. Peter Anthony was going to the Cadet Ball and we were going to one for parents and family.

Before the dances, we went out to dinner together at Guiseppi's Depot restaurant, which was in an old railroad station which had been converted into a posh restaurant. We had a great dinner and then took these, and many other, photos both inside the restaurant and outside in the dark. My mother was with us, too.

How young we all looked then, 18 years ago. Leif was tall, slim and handsome. Peter A. looked dashing in his blues and Peter W. looked great in his mess dress blues. It's hard to believe that we are the same people as the gray-haired grandparents that now stare out at us from the mirror, but it's even harder to believe that Leif is no longer with us. It still hurts to think that, and I know it always will. One-fourth of our family, one half of our children, never to be with us again.

No matter how many times I go over it all in my mind, I can't truly fathom it, how it came to that, how my son put a bullet in his head.

I am not alone in this. Just this past week we saw the news stories about the famous 32-year-old German soccer player who was depressed and jumped in front of a train to commit suicide. Why does despair grip them so tightly that they can't see a future?

How do we endure the pain they leave behind?

I re-read Peter Anthony's science fiction story about his brother's death and I cried again. There is no way to make his death comprehensible no matter how much I know about depression or the lethal combination of depression, alcohol and guns.

I am so thankful for Peter A. and for our beautiful grandchildren. They are our ties to the future. But I still think of the grandchildren I will never have and that brings tears to my eyes, and I will always think of my son, Leif, and miss him terribly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ClockCycle - A Fictional Remembrance by Ken Katsujin

Yesterday our son Peter A. became a published science fiction author, his first story published in the online journal Kalkion under his pseudonym Ken Katsujin.

I was immensely touched and brought to tears that this story of his was a fictional remembrance of his brother Leif's life and death, and it brought me to tears, both when I read it yesterday and again tonight.

I thanked him for it, for remembering his brother, for writing about him. He seemed puzzled at my thank you, and more thrilled that he is now published and a "contender." I told him I thought he was always a contender, but he meant in the world of science fiction, of course.

I wish Leif could read this story. I wonder what he would think. I wonder what Michael will think. Leif wanted to matter. He just never knew that he did.

Read the story "ClockCycle" here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BIttersweet Memories - Leif With a Telescope in Japan - June 1982

What was he thinking? That is was a telescope? Or was he pretending it was some kind of fantastic weapon he was firing? We were in a park in Japan, in June 1982 and Leif was seven years old, so ernest, so intense.

Yesterday we were with our grandson, Marcus, for his ninth birthday party, and I remembered how I had cried when my sons each reached the age of nine, realizing that half their time in my household as children was gone. It brought tears to my eyes again, to think of it and tell Peter A. about it.

It was a joy to see Marcus having a good time with his friends, SO excited about having a party, telling his mother, Darlene, that she "nailed it" by making and decorating a cake just the way he wanted it. It was wonderful to see his enthusiasm and enjoyment of his gifts. I loved seeing it, but it also hurt. I remembered those days with my sons, days no long past and no one to remember them that way but me.

I remember making cakes for and then with the boys. Ours were never so professionally decorated as Darlene's. We were rank amateurs! Plus I let the boys help, really help, so the decorating was usually more than a little childish and garish, but we had such a good time doing it.

I've already posted photos of some of those odd-looking cakes. I suspect that most kids these days would take a look a laugh, but my boys were proud of their efforts.

Those days were so precious and they went by so fast. Look at that slim little boy. He looks so innocent and sweet, so full of imagination. I still cannot fathom, though there isn't a day I don't try, what happened to him in the wee hours of April 9, 2008. Why is he not here? I am so fortunate that Peter A. and Marcus are, and I am so glad I can be with them, but their presence still brings home with a vengeance that I am missing Leif.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veteran's Day

Happy Veteran's Day, my son. I am proud of your service to our country. You always identified yourself as a warrior and that's what you wanted to be. I am sad for you that even that career ambition was denied to you because of your asthma, and sad that in part, your military service contributed to your suicide. You deserved better treatment and recognition than you got, and I am amazed that you could persevere as long as you did, from completing basic training with a broken foot to sticking out infantry duty with asthma so severe. We will never know what caused it, but it must have been excruciating to try to carry all that gear and a machine gun on long marches or to run when you couldn't get your breath.

I am sad that you aren't here to celebrate this day with us. How I wish you were!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Leif in the Gyro Machines - May 29, 1991 - Colorado Springs, CO - Age 16

When Peter Anthony graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy at the end of May 1991, we spent several days in Colorado Springs for all the events and to do some sightseeing.

Leif was particularly interested in the aircraft the did flyover and the gyro rides. He always loved things that provided an adrenaline thrill and these certainly did.

The Saturn ride was at a local mall there and he had to pay for it, but the third one at the bottom was in a training room at the Air Force Academy and he got to tr it out there free.

Leif was able to maintain his equilibrium well and except for his nearsightedness, he would have made a fine pilot.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Peter Anthony & Leif in Merkendorf, Germany - August 1978 - Leif age 3 and a half

One of the charming towns in Bavaria near where we lived in Sachsen bei Ansbach was Merkendorf. We took a day trip there in August 1978 with the boys and my mother, who was visiting at the time. While we were photographing the quaint half-timbered architecture, they were busy finding something they could mess with. Hands-on is always more fun for a couple of boys.

What they found was this old watering trough and huge pump. The trough handily had water in it that they could get wet with, and the pump handle, while too big for them to manage much did allow manipulation. They were quite busy figuring out how it worked. I got a kick out of Leif's interest, at the age of three. Even then he was fascinated by mechanical things and able to figure them out quite well.

I think the lower picture is just precious, that beautiful little face, so intent!

We visited so many towns and cities in Germany, sometimes on Volksmarches, sometimes on day trips. Each was a special pleasure.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leif and the Sweets - Heidelberg, Germany - August 1978 - Age 3 and a half

Germany is full of wonderful pastry shops called Konditoreien, which I guess could better be translated as "confectionary" shops. They have beautiful creations in their windows, Torten (fancy cakes), Plaetzchen (cookies), candies, marzipan creations, candied fruits and more. They are different from bakeries, which have breads and cookies but not the fancy cakes.

It was always fun to look in the windows of all kinds of shops, but these were especially attractive and we loved to stop at one for a treat. In Germany it's traditional to have afternoon coffee, much as the English have tea, with some sweets. We didn't make a practice of this at home, but we always enjoyed it when visiting Peter W's relatives in Heidelberg or the Stuttgart area, and if we were out on a day trip in a city we might treat ourselves at a Konditorei, where the hardest part was choosing among all the goodies.

Here Leif is posing (with his "struteper" tongue sticking out again) in front of a Konditorei window on the Hauptstrasse (Main Street) in Heidelberg in August 1978. He was so cute in his little shorts suit.

Like most kids, he enjoyed sweets, but he never "understood" chocolate or had any interest in it unless it was a chocolate brownie. Chocolate candy wasn't a favorite of his. He loved ice cream, particularly butter pecan, and he enjoyed the German marzipan goodies.

In the village of Sachsen bei Ansbach where we lived for two years, we didn't have a Konditorei but we did have an excellent bakery. I still miss their wonderful "Schweizer Brot," which was a light rye. What my boys loved there, though, were the "Drei Augen Gebaeck" (Three Eye Cookies). These were a rich shortbread cut in two rounds about four inches in diameter. One round had three holes about the size of pennies cut out of it, the three eyes. The two were sandwiched together with red currant jelly in between. They were sumptuous! All the years of Leif's life later, and Peter A. still, they remembered those cookies.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Emotions are like being harnessed up to powerful horses

I was thinking this morning as I woke up that our emotions are kinds of like powerful horses that we are harnessed to. Sometimes we are in control of them; sometimes we are not.

Emotions are the real stuff of life. They are what makes it all worthwhile. Without love, joy, happiness, what would life be? Mechanical? Flat and boring?

We are forced to endure the other side of emotion, the sadness, pain and misery, the boredom and ennui, and the grief, because life cannot go on forever, because disasters happen, because those we care about sometimes hurt us, because illness and accidents take a toll. We have no choice but to experience them and feel them. That's when the horses get spooked an run away. We are not in control and it's frightening and miserable.

Because emotions cause chemical changes in the brain they aren't just something we can "decide" on and control completely. We are in some sense at the mercy of the runaway horses.

But we can fight to regain control. We can fight to bring our emotions back to something happier and more stable. We can sieze the reins and sometimes force our will upon them.

However that takes immense effort and a real desire to change one's feelings. One reason it is so hard is that the emotions are natural and we feel that. We feel justified in having them and giving in to them, and to some extent, it's necessary, but there comes a time when negative emotions can become like a bad habit, something we keep feeding and feeling because we don't know the way out . . . or even want to stay there because there is some other goal being met.

I've thought a lot about this in relation to grief. When we lose someone we love, it is not only their death for which we mourn, but the loss of a future together, the loss of our identity as their mother, father, brother, sister; the emptiness where they once filled our hearts. Grief is real and consuming.

But I think it could become a habit, and I think it's possible to want to hang onto it as proof of one's love. How can a good mother be happy ever again when her beloved child is dead? How can she ever get over that loss?

In one sense, she (me) never will. There will always be that sense of missing Leif, of life not being right or complete without him. But gradually, if she is healthy and willing to fight to regain happiness, it's possible to see that letting go of grief doesn't mean letting go of love, doesn't mean letting go of the bond of love and care for that child. Gradually, she will rein in the runaway horses and settle them down, make them trot along a path that leads to something better.

I really do think that it's hard to let go of grief without feeling like a bad mother. You have to come to terms with that, to decide (and yes, it is a decision) that spending the rest of your life making yourself unhappy over something you cannot change doesn't make you a better mother or even a good one; it just makes you unhappy, and that unhappiness spills over onto the others you love.

You can't rush this process. For some it takes a year. For some longer. Some will never get there. But in that initial period you have to let yourself grieve and feel it. You have to mourn, for it is a real loss, and the grieving is not just a mental thing, not even "just" emotional, but a chemical process in the brain.

At some point, though, and it's a point you have to recognize, you find that there are moments and hours when you are happy, when you feel "normal" again. At first they don't last long and you feel guilty when they happen, like somehow you shouldn't feel that way at all as the mother of a dead child. You might even talk yourself into a crying session to "make up" for the happy moments, to "prove" to yourself that you really are sad . . . and of course, you ARE sad, but you are beginning to find your way back out of the hole of misery. Now, when the sadness sets in, you find you can haul yourself up out of it like a tour-de-force. You can pull back on those reins and stop the runaway horses.

Before this point, the things you used to enjoy had lost their luster. Counting your blessings didn't help because you were still constantly reminded of what you lost. But at this point, if you are fortunate, you  begin to realize that life is still precious, that you have spent your time in mourning and it's time to emerge, groom those horses and set off down a better road, time to live the life you have.

That doesn't mean you won't have periods of sadness, times when remembering will bring some tears, or when some trigger you didn't expect will make you turn away to hide the emotions that start to run away again. But they will not be the fabric of your life, but a pattern within that fabric, and you will begin to weave a new way to live.

I sensed I had rounded some kind of corner about three weeks ago, roughly after Leif had been dead for 18 months. I no longer cried so much when I was scanning and working on photos to post on this blog. I could smile at them and feel love, more than sadness, but yes tinged with sadness. I could write posts without crying.

And I could feel enthusiasm for things I had enjoyed before, real enthusiasm, more than I have felt since his death.

Peter noticed this, too. He said the other day that it was the first time he remembers me being spontaneously happy since Leif's death. I think he is right.

Part of this is the healing of time. Part of it is Peter's love and support. Part of it is this blog. And the last piece is coming to the time when I can decide it is all right to be happy again. It is all right to feel less grief. It is all right to fight depression and sadness.

I think when we are at the point when we can tell ourselves this new story that we can slowly begin to change the chemical processes in our brains to something that allows happiness. It doesn't happen quickly and it isn't all or nothing. It's baby steps, but they are in the right direction.

We have to hold onto the reins. The horses are powerful, and they are also wonderful. Life without emotions would be empty and worthless. We need to treasure them, along with our memories, and then figure out how to guide them where we want to go.

I am fortunate that I am at this point. If I were someone like my father or Leif and suffered from severe, chronic depression, I would not be able to do this. Chronic deep depression is not something the sufferer can "decide" to get over, or more precisely, they might make that "decision" but they would not be able to change the chemical processes in the brain that cause that kind of depression. Grief could be said to be a short term "mental illness" because of it's symptoms, but it is a normal process. Clinical depression, however, is not a normal process and it doesn't clear up on it's own. It is the black hole of despair. I am sad that my father and my son went through such misery and found no way out.

I know I will have sad times when something hits me about Leif's death, but I think I am over the worst of the process of grieving. Now I look at these pictures and I smile with love and memories. It won't bring him back, but I am thankful I had him, thankful for those memories, thankful for the years we spent together.

Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? I think if you ask someone that, their answer will depend a lot upon how close they are to the loss. Even Leif, though, in his depression, answered yes. I will, too.

These two photos of Leif and me were taken by Peter W. in Heidelberg, Germany in August 1978. He was three-and-a-half years old.

In the second one he is sticking out his lower lip. When I was growing up and we kids did that, my mother called it by a Norwegian name. I don't know how to spell them properly in Norwegian, so I can only do it the way it sounds to me. For a boy it was, "struteper," and for a girl it was "struteguri." I used that with my boys, too, so in the lower photo, Leif is a "struteper." Maybe a Norwegian reader will comment and correct me.