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 I found several out of date numbers I needed to change, but then I found Leif's cell phone numbers, still there after Leif's death over 19 months ago.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.

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