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.

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