Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Always Chasing Rainbows?

Another song we sang at the concert on Sunday was "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows."

This one wasn't one we rehearsed to perform, but a sing-along with the audience. I didn't even know we were going to sing it until three days before because I'd been gone to South America for three weeks. Here again, the words tripped me up.

I'm always chasing rainbows,
Watching clouds drifting by,
My dreams are just like all my schemes,
Ending in the sky.

Some fellows look and find the sunshine,
I always look and find the rain.
Some fellows make a winning sometime,
I never even make a gain, believe me,
I'm always chasing rainbows,
I'm watching for a little bluebird in vain.

Was Leif always chasing rainbows? In a way, I guess you could say that. He was chasing love and I know he had other dreams, at least until the end. He had schemes, and the always hoped things would work out, until the end. When did he stop hoping? I'll never know. When did he believe that "I never even make a gain"? It must have seemed that way to him the way his adult life seemed to go.

The photo was his kindergarten school portrait. To me he looks kind of scared and sad in this picture. It was never one I liked. Now I see the vulnerability there, the uncertainty. He may have always had it and learned to hide it well with his bravado and size.

Tonight there was a beautiful full moon. I thought of him again, about his love of the stars and science fiction, and his love of technology and gadgets, of his need for real love . . .

of the rainbows he chased, of the gains that never came his way.

Why does fortune favor some and not others?

Photo of Leif was taken in the fall of 1980 at Camp Zama, Japan when he was 5 years old.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Matter How Your Heart Is Grieving

Sunday I sang in the Women's Chorus Spring Concert. I had been rehearsing the songs since January and although I had thought about the lyrics of some of them with a bit of sadness, I didn't expect any emotional reactions during the concert even though I often have strong emotional reactions to music. I was unprepared.

The first song we sang was a medley of "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and "Once Upon a Dream" from Disney's "Sleeping Beauty." I knew the second one would make me think of Peter A. when he was in middle school and chose that as the solo he would sing in their chorus's spring concert, and I knew that would make me nostalgic. I also knew that these words from the first song would be sad ones for me:

"No matter how your heart is grieving,
if you keep on believing
the dream that you wish will come true."

It's a pretty song and a beautiful thought, but hardly true.

We started singing and I immediately got choked up with tears in my eyes and had all I could do to keep from crying. In that setting, with the sound so good and the responsive audience, the words hit me as they had not during rehearsals. I realized what they meant and how my wish would never come true no matter how I wished, and the even believing would not help or bring Leif back to me.

It's like that with grief. You never know when it's going to crawl out of whatever hole you have managed to corner it in. You never know when it's going to take over your emotions and you have to fight to keep it down.

There I was, in front of several hundred people, trying to keep the tears from falling and look like I was singing. I did manage to get control of myself, even though the "Once Upon a Dream" sequence turned out to be far more nostalgic than I had expected, and I found myself sad that I could never get Peter A's childhood back, either, though that, at least, is a normal part of life . . . to have one's son grow up.

Sometimes I think of playing music, but I rarely do. So much of the music I like evokes too much emotion.

In just 12 days it will be two years since we found Leif dead. How can it be? How can that time have passed? It's like yesterday that he was here having dinner with us, two years ago on Easter Sunday.

The photo of Leif was taken at Kodomo no Kuni, a woods and playground near Camp Zama, Japan, in February 1981. He was six years old.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Leif and Mt. Fuji - Hakone National Park, Japan - January 1981 - Age 6

We were so fortunate to be able to travel so much with our boys. Japan has beautiful national parks and one we visited in January 1981 when Leif was six years old was Hakone. This park is in a volcanic area, and I remember Leif being fascinated with a place where you could hard-boil and egg in a sulfur spring. The practice was so popular that the area was completely littered with peeled-off eggshells. We didn't know about this before we got there and didn't bring any eggs to cook, but Leif enjoyed stepping on the shells and smashing them. :)

We also got this beautiful, clear view of Mt. Fuji, which is often shrouded in clouds, fog, or, if you are trying to see it from Tokyo, smog. It was a lovely but very chilly day in Hakone. We also ate some wonderful hot noodles at a local restaurant. Leif liked Japanese food, especially tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet, much like Wiener Schnitzel) and the noodle soup dishes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Leif Throwing a Fit at Minka-En, Japan - September 6, 1981 - Age 6

Peter W. remarked at one time that Leif looks so happy in his pictures, especially as a child, and I said that it deceptive because most of the time when people take photos, they insist that the people in the picture smile and will do everything they can to get them to smile. I also liked to take photos of my boys when they were thoughtful, pensive, or acting silly, and I've posted some of those of Leif. However, we rarely take photos of our children when they are mad or crying. This photo is one of those few.

I no longer remember why Leif was so upset and "threw a fit," but I certainly do remember him doing it. We had taken Peter W.'s new boss and his wife to the Minka-En, which is an open air folk museum of old style Japanese houses. It's a very interesting place. For some reason, Leif got upset and started arguing and crying. It was very embarrassing, and I had to hold him and try to calm him down. Peter W. took this photo while I was trying to do that. Look how big he is at 6 years. It was not easy to hold him!

Leif did not throw that kind of a fit very often, but when he did, it was a big challenge to know how to handle it as a parent. It usually stemmed from some kind of frustration he was feeling. As he grew older, he learned to keep his emotions more under control and stopped this kind of behavior.

I doubt that he would remember either Minka-En or the incident if he were still alive, but he might. He had a terrific memory and amazed me at times with what he could recall, even being able to practically recite movie scripts or describe a car trip turn by turn when he was only six.

If you'd like to see what Minka-En is, click the name and visit the website.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leif and Peter A. at at Temple in Thailand - December 1981 - Age 6

I don't remember the name of the temple where these photos were taken, but it was on the trip to Chiang Mai that we took with Ben during our trip to Thailand in December 1981. We saw so many beautiful and fascinating things. The boys enjoyed the trip as much as we did. So much variety, from the beach at Pattaya to the elephants near Chiang Mai, from the lake and dam near the Burmese border to the bridge on the River Kwai, from staying with my Thai sister, Lek, and her family to the Ancient City, from Bangkok and riding in a tuk-tuk to seeing a beauty contest in Chiang Mai. It was a wonderful trip.

Our family was so fortunate to be able to live and travel in so many interesting places. I wonder how it felt to Leif as an adult to be so circumscribed in his ability to travel, due to his financial circumstances (largely of his own making), and in many years, the lack of someone to travel with. So many things are less attractive and interesting when you have no one to share them with. He traveled so much with us as a child and some as an adult. Some people have no real interest in travel but it's hard for me to believe that Leif wouldn't have wanted to do it after all he experienced as a child, despite the fact that he told me that he'd rather spend money on things that would last like computers, other tech gadgets, a car and motorcycle and guns.
The photos: Leif and Peter A. in Thailand at a temple site, December 1981. Leif was a month shy of his seventh birthday.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leif in a Life Jacket - Thailand - December 1981 - Age 6

When Leif was a month shy of his seventh birthday, we were in Thailand and traveling with our friend Ben, who took us to one of the lakes created by one of the dams he built as a hydroelectric engineer. The boys were fascinated with the dam and loved going for a ride on the lake. These photos are of Leif enjoying the ride. He always loved vehicles of all kinds and speed was what he craved. I love the photo of him with his hair flying in the wind. He looks so small and vulnerable, hard for me to realize it, since he always seems so big, strong and tough for his age. How different I see things now. This was in December 1981.
I don't think the blog is going to make it to 10,000 visits by the second anniversary of Leif's death. There would have to be a little over 22 visits per day between now and April 10th for that to happen.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Falsehoods We Are Taught About Emotions

Stories are wonderful. They entertain us. They teach us. Sometimes they inspire us. And in the aggregate, they seem to program our minds to believe things that we somehow don't manage to learn are not true. Take the "happily ever after" ending, which isn't just attached to fairy tales, but to most stories in some form or another. Things get resolved. The characters go on with their lives, often without feeling the trauma of all they have gone through. It creates unrealistic expectations for all of us. What's wrong with us that WE can't live happily ever after, get past the hurt and trauma. Why doesn't love conquer all for us? Why doesn't something new and wonderful cancel and blot out the sadness or agony of the past? Sometimes it does, for a time, but not forever.

I've learned it's possible to be happy and sad at the same time, to go on with a good life and still feel grief at loss, to love my family and friends and still miss my dead son, to enjoy a beautiful day and still find myself with tears in my eyes when something reminds me of him.

We just returned home from a 23 day trip to South America. It was a fascinating trip, full of new places and things to see, time to relax, time to sightsee, entertainment, learning. We enjoyed it but even there we talked about Leif at least once a day and I found myself with tears in my eyes a few times, but usually not the deep sadness I felt so often before we left. I've learned that the best ways to keep that at bay are work and travel, being involved in something that engages the mind. Travel also takes me away from where Leif lived and all his things that remind me of him, and in South America I didn't see guys driving silver RX-8s, either.

We were ready to come home after such a long trip and looking forward to being here with our home, our own bed, Peter's cooking, and more exercise, seeing my sister and mother, and I was glad to be back. But, I was unprepared for the flood of emotion that hit me the second day. I was terribly sad for most of the day. I came home, driving into the garage, to see Leif's bike hanging up. In the house, all the things he helped put on the walls and into place, his photo on my desk, the memories of him driving up the driveway to come for dinner, the memory of the sound of him playing PlanetSide in his room or his music, the memory of him sitting at my dining room and kitchen tables, the letter from the IRS answering my inquiry about what to do with his economic stimulus check, the knowledge that in just a few days, he will have been dead for two years. How could it go by so fast? I still miss him with all my heart.

The worst of the sadness passed that day, and yesterday was a happy one, full of activities, beautiful Florida sunshine, and fun with Peter W. Today it's raining and something of a mixture.

We go on. We have to. We find some happiness and joy, but they sit side-by-side in our hearts with the sadness at his loss. Peter said on the trip that he thought I might never get over it.

He was right.
This photo of Leif was taken at a small temple in Thailand in December 1982. He was almost 8 years old. All his life he loved cats. What a terrible irony that as an adult his asthma was worsened by them.

Ten Thousand Visits

The second anniversary of Leif's death will be on April 9th. I began the blog the day we found his body, April 10, 2008, but I didn't start keeping statistics until May 15th. If I had, there might already be 10,000 visits, but as of today, there were just over 9,500 counted visits. I'm hoping to reach 10,000 by April 9th, so if you are a reader, please come back daily and help. Believe it or not, it only takes an average of 13 visits a day to reach 5,000 in a year, but the way the counters work, they only count you once a day on each computer.

I think Leif would be amazed that this blog has had so many visitors. If only he had realized when he was alive how people cared about him.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Treasure What You love

Treasure all those you love and be sure they know and feel your love, for you never know how long you will have them. Life can change in an instant and there is no going back to do it over.
This photo of Leif was taken in Jaoan when he was six years old in 1981.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Small Accomplishments and Thinking of Leif 23 Months After His Death

I was watching Fabio Zini perform on the guitar, a song he composed for a trio of guitar, sax and piano called "Feel Good," and although the mood of it may have been intended to be happy, it made me sad. It seemed more melancholy than happy to me perhaps because of the soft, rather mournful sax and the gentleness of the guitar and piano.

I wondered why I would feel sad for a moment and then it came to me. I thought about Leif's belief that no one but his parents would care if he died (though there were so many more people who cared about him than he knew) and it made me sad that he felt his life was of so lttle value to the world. His life was of inestimable value to me.

I thought that there are not so many who would care about my death, either. So few people in the world really matter to many others; so few of us have any real impact upon the world. I never expected that I would. As I've written before, I never had big dreams, never wanted or expected fame, never sought popularity or felt I could have it, but I would like to feel that I succeeded in the small goals I had.

But what have I achieved that I did seek, those things that mattered to me? Have I even managed those dreams and goals I set for myself? The ones that ultimately mattered, at least to me?

When I was in high school, I wanted to earn a college scholarship so I could afford to go away to school and I did that. I wanted to graduate Phi Beta Kappa, and I did that. At that age, such things are important, but in the great scheme of things they don't matter much, especially since I never pursued a real carer with my education. And during that time my dreams changed.

I had wanted to be 28 and have a PhD before I got married, but life has a way of changing goals. I met Peter when I was only 17 and a freshman in college, fell in love and married when I was only 18. Although I finished college and went to graduate school, what became most important to me was my marriage and having a family. It came as a surprise to me how badly I wanted children, as I had been focused on education and career.

I did have interesting and rewarding jobs that also fulfilled modest goals, whether working as a librarian or writing books, and I am thankful for those opportunities and the memories I have of those times, but they are not the measure of a life, nor was I well known in either field.

I have been lucky to enjoy an interesting life, living and traveling around the world, certainly rewarding to our whole family and for that we have to thank Peter and his career for making it possible.

I have been blessed with my birth family and a close relationship with my mother, especially, and my sisters, brother, and their families. I treasure my friends, though they are not numerous.

But the greatest meaning and value of my life is my family. I was (and am) so fortunate to have Peter, to have found such a loving and devoted soulmate and friend. I loved being a mother, loved my two sons, and tried my best to raise them well.

That is the real test of my life. Did I succeed? What is the criteria? Their childhood lives? Their adulthood? (How much influence did I have over that?) Is it their material success, their happiness?

If the measure of my success is my family, and if one thinks that the adult lives of one's children are in some way influenced by their childhoods, then I have failed sadly in some ways. Although I think my sons childhoods were good, either I failed I'm some terrible way or I wasn't able to influence their adulthoods in the way I wish I had. What greater failure can mother have than to have her son find life so painful that he takes his own life? I could not keep Leif alive no matter how hard I tried. Was it that I didn't know what I needed to do, or that it couldn't be done? Was it that I didn't provide him with what would have armed him against detachment and depression when he was a child, or that there was nothing I could have done?

I know thar Leif's death is not my "fault," not something I caused, but even so, it will always feel like a great and terrible failure.

I know I cannot measure the value of my life by Leif's death, but what IS the real value? It is still my family, and perhaps my accomplishments, small though they are in the vastness of the world and it's history, are at least meaningful to them. I know Leif knew I loved him, even if my love could not keep him alive. I know Peter Anthony, whose academic and work life have encompassed many milestones, knows I love him and admire his accomplishments, and would and will love him always, no matter what.

I have three beautiful grandchildren I enjoy who like being with me. And most of all I have my soulmate of 45 years whose love makes every day worthwhile.

So, as I thought all this, during the song, "Feel Good," I came around to that feeling after all. My life is meaningless in the great scheme of life, but it is meaningful to me. Ever since Leif died I have been telling myself to keep perspective, not to lose track of all I have in my grief over Leif's loss. I knew I should focus on all the good in my life but I was unable to really do it. My grief was still too strong and fresh until now to feel the appreciation I should.

Maybe it takes two years. Is two years of mourning enough? On March 9th Leif has been dead for 23 months. Thinking of it still makes me inexpressably sad. I still miss him every day. We talk about him every day. I don't think that will ever end, just like the eternal questions about why his life ended so abruptly and violently.

But I think now, for the first time since his death I can truly and deeply feel the overwhelming sense of gratitude for my Peter and my son Peter Anthony, for all of my family, to be thankful that unlike Leif at the end of his life, I have people who need me and a sense of purpose.

And I will be thankful for Leif's life and the purpose it gave me, even though his loss brings so much sadness and sorrow.
This photo of my two beautiful sons was taken in Thailand in December 1981. They were fascinated by the giant leaves and the cute little puppy they are petting. Leif was a month shy of his seventh birthday and Peter Anthony was just days away from his thirteenth birthday.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Leif at the "Ancient City" in Bangkok, Thailand - December 1981 - Age, almost 7 years old

In December 1981 we traveled from Japan to Thailand to visit my Thai sister, Lek, and her family, and see the country. One of the places we visited in the Bangkok area was "Ancient City," a historical park that recreated earlier ways of life and showed historical events in sculpture and much more. It was a beautiful and fascinating place we all enjoyed. Leif seemed to be especially interested in the sculpture. He was just a month shy of his seventh birthday.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Is Leif Free?

Tuesday, March 2nd, as I was resting in the afternoon on board the NCL ship Norwegian Sun, I was thinking how we had hoped to take Leif on another cruise, and how our first NCL cruise with him when he was 18 was such a special experience for him. I was thinking that this particular cruise would not have been a good one to take him on because there are so few people under 60 on board, except for the cadt snd crew, and then thinking how hard it is to realize that the handsome young man who was on that Caribbean cruise was so far from the unhappy, overweight man I found dead on his kitchen floor nearly 15 years later. How could his life, so promising, go so horribly wrong?

At that moment it was as if I thought from Leif was in my head and he was saying, "Mom, don't you know I'm free now? The pain is over. Be glad for me."

In one sense, that was like the lifting of a burden, but my answering thought was that his pain might be over, but mine was not, and I will always be asking why he had such a painful life and found no way out of that pain but death.

How am I to understand these "messages"? Are they from him (though I have never felt his presence after death) or are they the inventions of my own mind, conjured up from all I know of him and what I need to "hear"?

How I wish he had found his soulmate, his purpose, his health in body and soul, and lived to enjoy the kind of life Peter and I have together.
This photo is of Leif at a woods playground near Camp Zama, Japan called Kodomo no Kuni (Children's Pkayground). It was in 1981, I think, when he was 6 years old.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Brilliant Thoughts on the Sexes #2"

This was the second installment of Leif's discourse on sex roles. I think when he talks about learning these things as a child, he was talking about his experiences in high school in particular. That was in the macho culture of Puerto Rico. He certainly didn't learn these lessons in our household.

More Brilliant Thoughts
by Leif Garretson
June 29, 2001

Ok. Now for the men talking to women thing. First a crash course in what it is like to be a man.

Lessons learned as a child:

1. Men don't cry. (exceptions for deaths of family members or women dumping them)
2. Men don't talk about their feelings (at least not to other men with above exceptions)
3. Men aren't supposed to be sensitive.
4. All men are potential enemies.
5. All men will look for weakness in other men for later exploitation (even friends).
6. You can never trust another man.
7. Competition between men, even friends will never cease.
8. You can never relax around other men for they will be watching for you to fuck up.
9. At best a man may be your comrade but never truly a friend.
10. A man may be your ally, but never forget that like with separate countries, treaties can be broken and war can always be declared.

Ok, now you know the basics of what it means to be a man. Now, how does it relate to you as a woman? Well, none of those rules apply to women.

First off, #1 crying. You can't imagine how much I envy women the ability to cry without shame. Even when we are alone we are so conditioned not to that it is difficult for us to release emotional pain. We feel so ashamed that we can't even do in front of ourselves. But a woman changes things. The ideal mate is part lover, part daughter, and part mother. In this case it is the mother that we need. The one person that never judged us or told us we were wimps when we were hurting. If a man can find a woman that he loves, trusts and is comfortable enough with that he can cry in her lap, then he has found something priceless, because that woman will not judge him harshly for it. She will be able to comfort him not only for his pain but for his shame at showing such weakness.

This weekend before the wedding S and L were fighting and the first thing I saw of her she came right to me without saying a word, put her arms around me, her head on my shoulder and started to cry. Two thoughts went though my head, other than concern. First, I was very flattered that she chose my shoulder to cry on, and while I hated to see her sad, it felt really good to know that after a year apart and after me and N splitting up S still loves and trusts me enough to come to me like that. And second, I envied her the ability to show pain and admit being hurt, not only to me but the the others that were witnesses.

#2 Believe it or not, we do have feelings. We just aren't very good at expressing them since we aren't supposed to talk about them. We often don't have the vocabulary, don't know the language. But if a man finds a woman that he can talk to and can learn to communicate then she will be the one irreplaceable outlet for his feelings.

#3 Sensitivity: men can be sensitive and they can be hurt but they will never admit that to another man. Women take for granted all the things that you can do with each other or with men. You can be yourselves a lot more than we can. You can cry. You can be hurt. You can be easily upset. We are only allowed to have one emotion and that is anger. It is ok for us to be pissed off but we can't be sad or hurt or weak, so we bottle that all up and store it. The only release we have for any of that is our mate.

#4,5,6,7,8,9, & 10 Men do not consider women to be a threat. The game, if you will, the battlefield, is populated by men. Women are not included in the rules. Unfortunately, the main reason for this is that men feel superior to women. We are all a little sexist. We look at men as being on equal ground, a level playing field. But we do not see them as equals. We are always working to establish the pecking order, to determine hierarchy, to see who is the alpha male -- which is why we can never truly be friends or truly trust and open up. Cuz, if we are the beta and we soften to the alpha, then that reinforces our subjugation to him as a superior. If we are the alpha, the softening in front of the beta will give him encouragement to assert his position over us and vie for the alpha spot. It is basic animal psychology and no matter how advanced, we are still animals. We still do what all mammals do. But a woman does not fall into this game because while I see women as symbiotic equals to men that exist in combination for common benefit, each using their different abilities to compliment the others' shortcomings, but in this sense men judge their worth in terms of strength.

And in those terms, women are simply inferior. Pay attention to what I said! By the standard of strength, women are inferior, and that is the standard men use to judge ourselves. By that standard, women are not threats because we can kick your ass. A woman is not going to oust me for the alpha spot because she neither can't nor would care to do so if she could. So what do I have to worry about showing weakness to her? And to further that point, women show weakness constantly, so even if we became blubbering idiots we would still be stronger (by the male standard) than the women.

Now please make sure that you are not reading more into this than I have written. I think that in an emotional sense women may be stronger and better equipped to handle emotional pain. In addition, women may lean on each other and draw strength from each other in times of need. Men do not. May not. You may have heard the saying "no man is an island." Well, actually we are. We are just islands that are close enough to trade, but ultimately we are alone.

Women are like seas in the same ocean. They flow together and draw strength from each other’s waves. We men, we islands, can have a love affair with the ocean but the other islands will never caress our beaches with their waves. (wow that is a cool analogy. I am proud of myself :-) So when a relationship ends, whether it is a breakup, or worst of all, death, I think it is harder on the man (unless he did the leaving). A woman can lean on her friends. She can grieve with them. She can cry on their shoulders. But if the man is left alone he is truly alone. The woman he lost was likely the only person he could talk to, the only person he could trust, the only shoulder he could cry on.

To continue my analogy, if an island sinks into the ocean the seas will still have currents between them; they will not be alone. But if
the water recedes from the land the islands are left behind and can only stare at the other lonely peaks. Ever notice that you hear a lot more stories about old men dying of a broken heart after losing their wives than the reverse? Now you know why.

This concludes my brilliant thoughts for the night. :-x Leif

Starting when he was first old enough to notice then, Leif loved vehicules of all kinds, but especially beautifully designed machines that went extremely fast. Here he is posing by a very fancy speed boat at a lake in Japan when he was about 5 years old.