Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Leif's Email to General Wesley Clark - September 10, 2003

On September 10, 2003, Leif sent this email to most if not all of his email contacts. He spoke very highly of Gen. Clark and very much wanted him to be president.

I signed the petition to get General Wesley Clark to run for President today. They provided a box to fill in a message to him so I decided to use it. Here is what I wrote. I hope you all will think about what I have said when the election comes in a year no matter which candidate you support.

In the wake of 9/11 I am greatly concerned, NOT with the physical safety of America but rather with the safety of American freedom and civil liberty. As a veteran and army brat I have had many opportunities to experience life outside the USA and appreciate what we have and what it is worth. Unfortunately many Americans do not have this insight and have been willing to put the freedom that they have taken for granted at risk to ensure the safety they have also taken for granted.

Benjamin Franklin once said that a man that trades a piece of his liberty for safety deserves neither. I agree with this statement. As a citizen and a veteran I place a high priority on the defense of America but that defense must stop when it itself becomes a danger to American freedom. Specifically the Bill of Rights must not be put in jeopardy. The current administration scares me in this regard, and in particular the so-called "Patriot Act," which I personally see as un-American and in opposition to everything this country is supposed to stand for. There are no parts of the Bill of rights that are expendable.

I have previoulsy had difficulty aligning with the Democratic Party over the issue of gun control. Still a part of the Bill of Rights, this should not be infringed upon on at the federal level. If California thinks they need strict gun bans, that is up to California. I won't live in California. But how do the problems in Los Angeles affect me here in Kansas?  This is a local issue, not a federal one.

So, General Clark, I sincerely hope that you choose to take on this burden and continue to defend American freedom in your retirement. Remember the Army oath of office both you and I swore to, "I will defend the constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign or domestic." I consider the current administration to be enemies of the constitution and they must be contested on the political battlefield just as surely as Al Qaeda must be fought on the physical battlefield.

As a veteran I salute you, sir, and hope you will rise to this challenge.

SPC Leif Garretson
US ARMY (medically retired)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Forever Changed

It is proving far harder than I thought it would be to give up writing this blog regularly. I knew I had a lot of emotion invested in it, and I thought I was ready to let it go, but now that I am at that point, I am finding it to be heart wrenching. I know I am not forgetting Leif or really letting him go, but in some deep emotional way it feels as though I am abandoning him, and that makes me terribly sad. It feels like the day of his memorial service, like when it was over and we all walked away from his niche at the cemetery leaving him behind in the place of no life or future. I know that I will never forget him, will think of him every day of my life, but who else will?

Of the 630 posts I've written in the past two years, this is one of the hardest to write, and certainly the hardest one to publish, to click that little "button" that says, "Publish," because it marks an end to an emotional journey that really has no end, and so is hard to give up. It has meant a lot to me to be able to tell Leif's story and to write about my feelings.

Memory is fleeting. Life goes on. I know that's as it should be, but it is also sad. And yet, I will be able to come back here to visit, just as I can go to the cemetery, though as Peter always points out, Leif is not there. It's not really visiting HIM. It's visiting memory and love. It's a kind of symbolic pilgrimage. Although we are often sad at cemeteries, I don't see them as frightening or sad places. They are monuments to love and memory just as this blog is.

I think of my father and I wonder who remembers him and how often they think of him. Like Leif, he lived. He had a life and contributed to the world. At least he left four children behind who, though some were too young to remember much, were a part of him that lived on. There is no blog about his life, no book, and no burial place. There is no place of pilgrimage except in my mind.

Leif had no children. What survives but memory? And how long will that survive? Not long for most people, I suspect, except if some reminder evokes a thought of him. This blog was my way to keep that memory alive, though of course I had no idea who would read it or if anyone but Peter and I would. That didn't matter so much as the preservation and the continuance, and now that I am ending it, it feels like I am again walking away and leaving him behind in that place of no life or future, which of course is what death is, and what we don't want to face.

I have always felt emotions deeply and strongly, and Leif's death has brought me torrents of tears and sadness, and I can say, like the Tin Woodman in the "Wizard of Oz," "Now I know I have a heart because it is breaking."

Yesterday I saw another reference to that saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Like many sayings and platitudes, it has a valuable message, but some lemons are beyond the possibility of lemonade. Some things life dishes out you just have to endure and survive. How does one "make lemonade" out of the suicide death of a cherished son?

When Leif died, he not only erased his future and his pain, but he changed our lives forever, not only our lives, but the lives of his family and friends, and all who knew him. For some of them, the changes were likely temporary without live-changing consequences, but for those who loved him, the changes are not only enormous and emotionally wrenching, they are quite literally life changing.

There are so many things we will not do with Leif or because of Leif now. We will never have grandchildren from him. He will not be there to help us or see us through our old age. We will not have the joy of his company. Our focus and identity is changed forever. Our emotions will never be the same, and there will always be the undercurrent of sadness, loss and grief no matter what else our future holds. This is not the retirement and old age we envisioned for ourselves, but what it now is has in part been created by Leif's act.

We must not forget, though, all the wonderful ways in which our lives were changed by having him as our son, the years we did enjoy his company, his help, his laughter, his intellect, his love.

We must not forget all the things we did with him, all the experiences of the thirty-three years of his life.

I have chosen the last images of the main blog to be all of Leif on beaches. Somehow, even though he seldom actually went to the beach once he moved to Florida (because even the beach isn't as attractive when you go alone), I will always associate Leif with beaches.

Partly this is because as our sons were growing up, we planned a beach vacation every year. Leif had wonderful times on beaches in so many places; Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, California, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Japan, Hawaii, Thailand, Italy, France, England, Texas and more places I can't think of to name right now. I remember him glorying in the waves when he was just a tiny tot, and how he loved sailing in the British Virgin Islands and SCUBA diving in Puerto Rico. Somehow for me, beaches will always be associated with Leif's happiness, the places he felt alive and free . . . beaches and motorcycles and cars.

I wish I could have a picture in my mind of Leif walking on a sunset beach with someone he truly loved who was the guardian of his heart that he so deeply desired. That would be the photo I would like to cherish for the rest of my life, but that does not exist and is a big part of the reason he is no longer here.

So, I will have to keep in my mind a picture of my tall lonely son alone on a sunset beach, as though the sun of his life was setting, and remember the beauty that once was.

The photo was taken by Peter W. Garretson in Puerto Rico in 1992. Leif was 17 years old. Who would have thought, seeing that tall, handsome young man, that half his life was already over?

At this time, the blog has 630 posts, 977 photos, and has been visited 10,127 times since May 15, 2008.

Friday, April 23, 2010

To My Readers, With Thanks

For those of you who have been with me on this two-year journey of grief and memories, thank you for coming along. I don't know who you are, but I hope it has been meaningful to you in some way. Thank you for reading and thank you for caring about my son. He didn't know how many people cared.

Tomorrow will be the closing post to this two-year journal. After that, I will write only occasionally, only when something new touches my memories of Leif or some new feeling or association arises. I have no idea how often that will be. If you are a regular reader and want to see those posts, probably the best way to achieve that would be to subscribe to the blog because otherwise you will be coming here just to see if I've written something new. There is a "subscribe" link on the right column under the slide show. If you subscribe, posts will be sent to your email address.

Don't for get Leif, and don't forget the thousands of other veterans who have and are serving our country, and the heartache and injuries many of them suffer.

And remember that while love doesn't conquer all, it is critical to our lives. Appreciate those who love you and always show your love to them.

18 Veterans Commit Suicide Each Day - Article from Navy Times

This is heartbreaking news and my son was one of them. So many do not reach out, get treatment, or call a suicide hotline. They just do it.

I Will Remember Him Always

What will I remember about my Leif? Everything.

I will remember the beautiful child that none of us realized was as vulnerable as he was. I will remember the tall, strong boy and his wonderful smile. I will remember how frustrated he could get when he wasn't able to make his hands do what his mind envisioned.

I will remember the brilliant mind and incredible memory my son had, and how we recognized it when he was so young.

I will remember the soccer player who could boot the ball three-fourths of the way down the field.

I will remember the teen who was tall and slim, a black belt in judo, a guitar player, a singer. I will remember his as Kenicke in "Grease," with all the girls screaming for him. I will remember him graduating from high school.

I will remember the handsome young man who married when he was only twenty years old and the devastated man who nearly took his life when his marriage failed.

I will remember the proud, tall soldier who graduated from infantry basic training and who was proud of his ability with a machine gun, and the broken soldier who was medically retired from the army when he was only twenty-six years old.

I will remember the recovering man who graduated from college and was proud of his new car.

I remember how happy he was when he fell in love again, and how utterly devastated he was when she left him, how I was worried he would not survive.

I remember him on his motorcycles, the three different ones he owned in his lifetime, the ones he drove far too fast, and I remember him in the hospital after the accident he had.

I remember how he loved cars and his RX-7s and RX-8, especially the RX-8, how he drove like a race car driver, what he really always wanted to be.

I remember him helping us with the house and yard, helping us move. I remember him helping my mother with her computer.

I remember him playing chess with Madeleine and being silly with Aly.

I remember him being in debt and spending money foolishly.

I remember him being in dark moods and fearing for him.

I remember his guns, his music collection, his passion for technology and science fiction.

I remember his hugs, his smiles.

I remember how desperately he needed and searched for love.

I remember how Leif wanted to be the hero, that he was the gentle giant who would fight to defend his family, his friends, his country. I remember his personal code was to never show weakness, and how he kept his deep and towering emotions inside. I remember how he wanted to be needed, to be respected and loved.

I remember bringing him into the world full of hope for him. It is hard to accept that our dreams for Leif will never be realized, that he will never find his purpose and defeat his demons, that he will never have a family, that he will never be there for a birthday or a Christmas, never be there to teach us about the latest technology and set things up for us, never again tease me about driving like an old lady.

it will always be hard to know and remember that our love was not enough to save him, that no matter what I tried, I could not help him be happy, or take away his pain.

I remember that in many ways, he lived a life rich in experience, and we tried hard to provide some of those riches of experience, but I also remember that his life was drowned in depression and loneliness.In the end, he was overwhelmed.

I remember how he wanted to be a hero, wanted to be needed, wanted to be strong. I rememberhow, through so many disappointments and crises, he held his head high and did not let others see his pain and frustration. Finally, it was too much. I will remember how he bore that burden until the end.

Most of all, I remember how much I loved him. I love him still. I will always love him.

This photo was taken of Leif on Bellows Beach on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, one of his favorite places. It was in August 1989 when he was fourteen-and-a-half. It was then he was reading Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" with such deep and avid interest.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

There Never Is a Real Farewell

For the two years I've been writing this blog it's always been spontaneous and immediate in the sense that I never wrote the posts offline and edited and polished them. I just sat down at the computer and composed them online in the Blogger window. Sometimes they were long and sometimes just a photo with a short caption or memory. A writer friend says I should call it a journal, not a blog, though the term isn't really important.

The blog evolved from something I started to remember happy times into an honest chronicle of our grief, but it also became something more. It became the story of our lives through memories of Leif. It became a memorial to him. It became a way for me to continue to show my love for him, a place to express feelings I could not say to others except through writing.

At Leif's memorial service I gave a talk I titled "Farewell to My Gentle Giant," but in the two years since then I have learned that I have not said farewell, and I probably never will. Does any mother who loses a child? How can we let them go? I thought when I reached the end of this blog I would be ready, but I am not. I am not ready to let Leif go.

What does that mean? I know he is dead. I know he is not coming back to me no matter how hard I wish for that. I know I can't live my life pining away for him or wallowing in grief. What it means to me is that I hold him in my heart. I remember him, think of him, talk about him, and yes, talk to him. That I look at his picture, my favorite one of him, and all the others, too, and remember that he LIVED. My son lived.

There will be tears. I cry less often now and the tears are less of a torrent, but they come, and I think there will always be moments of this sadness throughout my life.

But I have also learned to go on, to keep living, and to find hours of peace and even joy.

The human heart is a versatile thing, able to love and yearn, feel sadness and joy, grief, pain, and happiness all in the space of minutes, sometimes simultaneously.

I've gone over and over our photo albums, scanned and posted hundreds of pictures of Leif, thought of hundreds of memories, written about them and my feelings, but though I am running out of things to write and pictures to
post, I am not ready to let go of either Leif or the blog. The blog has become a habit, something I look forward to writing, a creative outlet for my feelings about my son and his death. It will be hard to let it go, but it is time.

A mother should not have to write such a blog. She should not have to plan her son's memorial service. She should not have to find her son's dead, cold body. She should not have to clean up his blood and brains. She should not have to look at the gun that killed him. She should not have to call the sheriff to report his death and wait outside while they investigate. She should not have to tell his brother, his grandmother, his extended family, that he is dead. She should not have to give away his clothes and sell his motorcycle. She should not have to arrange to have his car repossessed. She should not have to say goodbye forever.

All those things I did, but I will not give him up. I will not say goodbye.

I am not alone and yet grief is always solitary. There are thousands of parents who have been forced to deal with the death of a child, but even if people try to comfort them, even if they communicate their grief, it is always lonely, always set apart.

It seems as though I should say something profound at the end of this blog, but what is there to say but that I loved my son and I always will? What else really matters at the end of a chronicle like this?

Perhaps what really matters to others, to the readers, is that they remember Leif, too, and somehow deeply take in the message that when they feel they are losing hope, to must find help. Do not take your life; it is too final. It is too damaging to those you love and who love you. Your troubles will end but there will be no possibility of a new beginning. Your loved one's misery will go on for years.

So next time I write, the last few regular posts in the next few days, it will be about my son, and then I will not let HIM go, but I will stop writing here so frequently. I don't want to just repeat myself and post the same photos again, though I know the same thoughts and memories will continue to come to me. I will miss writing here. This journal has become like a friend, and although I know it doesn't really put me in contact with Leif, sometimes it feels that way. I will miss the focus on him, a time to be "with" him, even if only in my mind.

This photo of Leif was taken at Waikiki Beach wit Diamond Head in the background, in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 1980, on our stop in Hawaii during our long move from Germany to Japan. Leif was five-and-a-half years old.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Leif - Palominito Island, Puerto Rico - July 1991 - Age 16

In July 1991, we were invited to go on a day trip by private boat to the island called Palominito off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. It was a lovely yacht and we had a beautiful day swimming and picnicking. This yacht even had a hand-held shower the you could wash the salt water off with before you got back into the boat, and a nice set of steps to make it easier to get back aboard. The water was the gorgeous Caribbean turquoise, and quite warm.

Leif was at his physical best, slender, muscular, and tanned. This photo is of him using the shower before getting aboard. I wish I had better photos of that day.

We made other trips to Palominito; Peter W. and Leif went SCUBA diving there. We also went to the islands of Culebra and Vieques in the same general area off the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico.

There was one trip we took with an army captain when we rented a sailboat and sailed out to Vieques. It was a lovely day, but unfortunately, no one was a really good sailor, and coming back into port we managed to run the keel aground on a reef. How embarrassing!

Leif enjoyed being around the water, the beach, boats, and diving. That same summer when he was 16, we sent him on a teen sail adventure in the British Virgin Islands, ActionQuest, which he loved. I wrote about that some time ago.

I think it was memories of how much he had enjoyed Puerto Rico that were part of the reason Leif wanted to move to Florida so much. Unfortunately, he didn't have the companionship he needed here to make going to the beach enjoyable, and didn't have the money to go out on boats or SCUBA diving, so he made little use of the wonderful beaches here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Leif With Yabusame Equipment - Tokyo, Japan - January 10, 1982 - Age 7

We had so many fascinating experiences in Japan, went to so many unusual festivals, visited national parks, hiked in the mountains, went to the beach. Some of them I have no photos of with Leif in them, though he was there.

One of the things we enjoyed doing as a family once in awhile was taking the train to Tokyo to the Harajuku area, where we went to the pizza buffet at Shakey's Pizza. The boys stuck pretty much to pepperoni, but if you wanted to be adventurous, you could try pineapple and corn pizza, or go really exotic and have octopus pizza. It was fun walking around that bustling business area, and then to go to the huge Yoyogi Park nearby. I just posted a photo of Leif riding a bike there not long ago.

What really was fun to watch there, though, were the rock-a-billy clubs and the other young people dressed in a variety of unusual garb, there with boom boxes, dancing and hanging out. The rockers were dressed like 1950s American kids, James Dean, leather motorcycle jackets and pants, jeans, poodle skirts and the like. The guys liked to dress like a young Elvis Presley, and slick up their hair in imitation of his hair or the "ducktails" of the time.

There were also sort of "fantasy" costumes, clowns and what today would be called Punk. There was a lot of dancing going on, and it made for great photo opportunities.

The Meiji Shrine was nearby, and Shibuya wasn't far away. Harajuku had a kind of crepe you could buy that was fun, too.

On January 10, 1982, just 18 days short of Leif's seventh birthday, we went to the Meiji Shrine-Yoyogi Park area for a demonstration or festival of yabusame, a formal style of Japanese archery on horseback. Leif was quite taken with this. The archers wear medieval Japanese costumes and race down a long course, shoot at three targets as they speed by. It's a very impressive and colorful performance, not called a sport but rather a ritual because of it's formal style and prescibed movements as well as Zen religious aspects.

Leif wanted to see the bows, arrows, horses and the men in their costumes up close and he examined them carefully, as was characteristic of anything that interested him. For years after that he was interested in archery. He made toy bows and arrows, bought toy bows and arrows, and when we were in Hawaii, we had a real bow and arrows and I have a photo of him posing with them, wearing some "cool" sunglasses and his "trademark" black leather Members Only jacket. We still had that bow and arrows in Chicago, but somewhere after that they disappeared.

Life in Japan was a very broadening and important period of development for my sons and I think it in many ways influenced the rest of their lives. I know Leif was caught up in the warrior code, the fascination with weaponry, and most of all, the dreams, excitement and social commentary of science fiction.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Guns.N.Roses-Sweet Child O'Mine

This was a song Leif loved when he was in junior high and first began to play the electric guitar. He worked very hard to learn the song and I well remember him playing it. I wish I had a video of him playing it. He could have sung it, too, but I never heard him do that.

A Step Forward

Yesterday evening we had our first real social event here since Leif died. The day of his memorial service, our neighbors organized a wonderful potluck supper for us, and we held the family reunion in July 2008, a event planned long before Leif's death. We enjoyed it, but it was colored with sadness at his absence.

Since then, we have gone to parties and attended social events, sometimes when we didn't feel like going but knew we should, but hadn't felt like hosting any ourselves.

While I will always miss Leif and have a deep underlying sadness about his death, I think that crossing the two year mark has finally brought me out of the depth of grief and into a time when I can enjoy life with less of that burden. I had thought for some time about having the neighbors over for dessert and finally felt like I really WANTED to do it, looked forward to it. It was fun making the invitations and making pies (pecan and lemon meringue, which Leif would have liked). Peter made a Black Forest Cherry Cake. It was even more or less fun to clean and straighten up the house for the party.

We had a good time with our wonderful neighbors and I felt good about all of it. Leif would have enjoyed it. He always liked our social gatherings. I was glad I could think that without feeling sad that he wasn't there.

Cultures have (or did) "prescribed" periods of grief, which used to be more or less enforced. In one way, those traditions were good, in that they gave a bereaved person a period when it was not only all right but expected to be in mourning, though in another way they were straight jackets that prevented people who were ready from moving forward with their lives. In our culture, that period used to be a year. That's enough for some people, not enough for others. I don't think one ever really completely gets over the loss of a child (or another loved one), but I think things are better after two years than one. One year is too short. Grief is too fresh, the loss too close.

At two years, I can see we've come a long way and realize that we have still further to go . . . and that we will continue on this path.

Today I can be glad for good friends and neighbors, and for coming far enough to want to enjoy the evening with them.

This photo of my two beloved sons, Peter A. and Leif, was taken in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in December 1981. Peter A. would have his thirteenth birthday just days later, and Leif would be seven a month later. He has on his "tough guy" look.

Celebration & Thank You

Time to celebrate.

Today this blog has had 10,006 visits since May 15, 2008, which means considerably more than that if we had the lost statistics from April 10th to May 15th.

When I started this blog I had very modest expectations for any real readership. I was writing it mainly for myself, a way to remember my son and all he meant and will always mean to me. It is gratifying and a bit humbling to realize all of the people who have seen this blog, even if only for a moment if they followed a link from a search term in Google.

I wonder what Leif would think. Would he be amazed? Surprised? Embarrassed? Pleased? All of the above? Or be the typical laconic Leif and shrug it off?

Even though I have written it for myself, every writer appreciates a readership, and I am thankful for my almost entirely anonymous readers. May all of you find joy in your lives and may depression never darken you door.

Thank you for caring about Leif.
This photo of a joyful Leif was taken in a park in Tokyo. I think it was Yoyogi Park, where they rented bikes and had bike paths. Leif would have been 5 or 6 years old.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nearing 10,000 visits

Yes! Today the counter stands at 9,990. With ten visits today, this blog will have had 10,000 visits since May 15, 2008.

This photo was taken of Leif on a miniature sort of bumper car at the Bon Odori festival at Camp Zama, Japan on August 8, 1981. He was six years old, and boy, did he enjoy that ride! POWER under his own control, I think for the first time, even though it didn't go fast.

Leif and His Family and Friends

One of the things I'll be sad about not including in this blog is more photos and stories of Leif's relatives and friends. This blog focuses so much on him that except for the parts about a few friends and his love interests, you'd think he was a solitary man. In many way, he was. Leif was an introvert, like me. Both of us tend to keep to ourselves unless we are with people we feel comfortable with and know well enough to easily converse with. Leif could be the life of the part, the center of a discussion, the leader, but often he stayed to himself. Unfortunately in the last year of his life, he was far too solitary. He did not socialize with his fellow employees or know any of them well (in great part because they were stuck in cubicles on phones) and never made many friends in Tampa or joined any organizations that might have provided him with friendships. He was lucky that his friend Michael moved to Florida and enjoyed time with him, but Michael lived a hour's drive away.

Leif also never seemed interested in maintaining contact with people he cared about after he or they moved away. When he was in high school I asked him about that and he seemed to indicate that it was emotionally hard for him, that it was easier to let go. And besides, he was a lazy correspondent. Later, when email was prevalent and the internet made it possible to find people from one's past sometimes, he did make contact with a few, but didn't seem to keep it up.

The constants in his life were our family members, not just the immediate family, but his grandmothers, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Although he didn't see much of them for years while we were living overseas, when we moved back to Kansas he did get to see several of his cousins fairly frequently.

This photo is of him and his first cousin Rick in July 1976 in Manhattan, Kansas. Rick is one year older than Leif. The photo was taken by my sister Sherie, Leif's aunt. Leif was a year-and-a-half old in this photo.

We had many large family gatherings that we all enjoyed. Often they were at my mother's house, a dinner for all those with a birthday that month, or Christmas Eve, or Easter, for instance. It was usually 14-16 of us around the table and everyone would stay and linger at the table, talking. Leif enjoyed those dinners very much.

It was not good for him to be living alone in Tampa without a supporting network of friends. The only family he had in Florida was us, his parents, and his maternal grandmother, and we lived a half an hour away. And what thirty-three year old man wants his social life to be with his parents and grandmother?

Leif was a man who most of all needed someone to love, who lived him back and as he put it, was the "guardian of his heart," and a group of uplifting friends who could keep him in a happier mood. How sad he was so alone. I'm glad he had the friends he did, and the family he enjoyed, but unfortunately, they were far away.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Leif and Motor Trend

Leif was fascinated with all kinds of vehicles from the time he was very small. One of his first words was "truck," and he loved anything that went under its own power. Second, but also loved, were things he could MAKE go, whether Matchbox cars or a Big Wheel. By the time he was in junior high, he began a really serious interest in cars, planes and radio-controlled cars, and subscribed to several magazines about them, which he studied carefully with far more interest than he had in his school work. He could give you endless statistics about the models of cars he found most alluring, particularly sports cars and monster trucks.

We found it really strange when this thirteen-year-old kid started getting a lot of mail from credit card companies offering him credit cards. It didn't take us long to realize that most thirteen-year-olds are not subscribing to Motor Trend and Car and Driver, and that those magazines had most likely sold their subscription lists to credit card companies.

In an effort to stop the nonsense, Leif and I devised a plan. We would have him fill out one of the applications being absolutely truthful. Occupation: junior high school student. Income: whatever his small allowance was at the time. And so on. He signed it with his terrible handwriting and sent it in. We had a good laugh thinking about what whoever opened it would think. It worked, though. No more credit card offers . . . at least until he was in college, which was a good thing. Although I don't think he would have been likely to actually get a card before he was eighteen without us signing, even as an adult he could not handle credit responsibly.

He had a lifelong love affair with vehicles and speed, and he managed to indulge them (while being in debt for it) with a Mazda RX-8 and a motorcycle, both of which he drove far too fast.

The red Ferrari is a photo that Leif took when he was 12 years old and in junior high and the drawing is one he made when he was an adult, in 1998 I think when he was 23 years old.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Leif and His Home-made Matchbox Car Play Board - Sagamihara, Japan - July 1980 - Age 5

These days, kids can buy all kinds of fancy equipment for their little Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. Some of that was available when Leif was small, too, but it wasn't what he really wanted and most of it was beyond his "budget," so he creatively made his own. This was a sort of city or traffic/street board he made to play on with his little cars. He used a couple of big pieces of poster board and markers to do it, and he had many hours of fun with it. He and his friends in the sort of "court" we lived in enjoyed it together, too. He wanted me to take a picture of him with it, but he wanted to show how big it was so he lay down beside it (in his pajamas) and put a car on it, too.

Leif had a lot of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, as well as ships and airplanes, and he loved to play with them. I know his imagination was always thinking up some grand story.

This was typical of my boys. They were very creative kids, always making something or figuring out how to use something in a new way.

This "play board" also reminds me of a project he had when he was in third grade at Red Hill Elementary School in Honolulu. He was invited to be in a class of "gifted underachieving boys," taught by a wonderful young man who knew just how to get them interested and motivated. Rather than loading these smart boys down with more of the same paperwork they hated, he challenged them with projects they could really enjoy.

The first one was to write exact "recipes" (instructions) for how to make an ice cream sundae, so good that someone who didn't know what an ice cream sundae was could make one, even an alien from outer space.

He told the boys that he would bring in the ingredients, as they wrote them, and proceed to make them EXACTLY as they had written the instructions. Leif got quite a laugh out of this procedure, because the first "recipe" began, "Take ice cream," and the teacher said, "Where should I take it?"

Then it said, "Scoop out two scoops,' so the teacher plopped two scoops on the table. The boys were roaring with laughter and said, "Not on the table," but the teacher said, "Well, you didn't tell me where to put them." They said, "In the bowl," and he replied, "What bowl? You didn't say anything about a bowl."

Well, you get the picture. They finally did get the instructions right and they all got to eat their sundaes out of BOWLS, with SPOONS, and the boys had learned something valuable about writing instructions.

This played into the next assignment, which was to invent and design a board game. It had to be a real, playable game, with a real, usable "board," and they had to write out all the game instructions. These third grade boys started out thinking this would be an easy project, and their heads were filled with grandiose schemes. They soon found out it was far harder than they thought it would be. They did get to work in teams. I think Leif worked with his friend Michael, who was a very good artist. Some of the teams never did really finish the project. Leif and Michael did, and their game was some kind of outer space adventure. Unfortunately, they left it at school with the teacher and never brought it home, so I don't have any pictures of it.

Leif loved that class and it was the one time during the school day when he was thoroughly motivated, proving that school CAN motivate boys like him with the right approach, but hardly ever does.

Unfortunately, the program was so successful with these boys that the next year the school hired a "gifted teacher" to institute an official program. That was a disaster for Leif and he did not participate, because the new teacher first of all used only academic/IQ giftedness as the criteria for inclusion. The IQ part Leif surpassed, far beyond the required number, but the school grades part he did not, and he hated just doing more and more homework and paperwork. So, a program that had been wonderful for him in the third grade became a failure for him in fourth.

However, he remained creative at home, drawing, building models, thinking up stories, and so on.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Visiting the cemetery

I wanted to go Bay Pines National Cemetery where Leif is inurned yesterday on the second anniversary of the day we found his body. Peter W. Doesn't really want to go for himself because he says Leif is not there, but he is loving and supportive and goes because he wants to be with me.

I don't believe my Leif is there in that little box, either, but the trip is symbolic, a kind of pilgrimage to the place where all that is left of his physical remains are honored.

Like Peter, I don't need to go to the cemetery to remember Leif. I remember him every day, talk about him, write about him, love him, but there is still something compelling about going to what is euphemistically called his "resting place," though I also don't think "resting" has anything to do with it.

It's a kind of ritual that means something to me in a way I can't adequately explain. Peter finds it painful to see me cry and say I want him back, I think, but it is the right place to say it.

Although people are often sad in cemeteries, grieving, I don't see them as just sad places. I see them as beautiful monuments to the remembrance of loved ones, places where, unlike in the world at large, grief and remembrance is not out of place.

It was touching to see all the bouquets people had brought for Easter, and more touching still to see how many new graves there were since we were last there, most of them World War II vets. One of the most touching things we saw was this -

I will now always wonder what the story is behind that little fluffy pink-and-white teddy bear. Did some child bring it?

I brought a wallet-sized photo of Leif, my favorite one, and had Peter hold it against his cover stone. I wish there were a way to place a photo on ceramic and have Irvin the stone, as I first saw on some tombstones in Austria many years ago. It seemed so much more personal to see what the person had looked like in life. But that is not the custom here, and military cemeteries have uniform rules as well, so this is the closest we will ever come to that.

We have come a long way in two years. I cried at Leif's niche and felt the sadness and grief, but I was able to dry my tears and drive away, find a place on the beach to go out to dinner with Peter W., hold hands and be thankful for him and his love, and for Leif.

And to drink a beer (albeit a nonalcoholic one) in honor of Leif and the St. Pete's Beach he loved. And enjoy it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Two Years Ago

Two years ago at about this time we were at Leif's apartment and found him dead on his kitchen floor. We knew when we drove up to the apartment building that something must be terribly wrong because he hadn't answered repeated phone calls, emails or text messages for a day, but when we saw both his vehicles there, our hearts sank and what little hope we had was gone.

If anyone reading this is contemplating suicide, think about this. Think about what it will be like for someone who loves you to find your body, to see you dead and what you have done to yourself. Such a death is not a simple closing of the eyes like you have seen in many movies, and if you use a violent means of death, it is a grisly and terrible scene.

Think about them having to call the police and then being required to leave while the police do their investigation, being required to stand by while they remove your body, how they will not be able to be with you. They cannot touch you. They cannot disturb the scene. They will be questioned, and depending upon the circumstances, they may even be suspected of causing your death. If not them, perhaps your friends. They are only doing their job, but it will be hurtful and horrifying. Luckily we were spared that, but many suicide survivors are not.

Think about the questions your family and friends will have, how they will always wonder what made you do it, whether they could have done anything to prevent it, the eternal whys, the sadness and grief they will feel, the future that will never be.

Think about the mess you will leave behind for them to try to clean up, not only the death scene itself, but your affairs, your belongings, your taxes, your finances, your vehicles, everything you own. Think about them having to clean out your dwelling, dispose of your possessions, and how heart wrenching all of that will be for for them.

Think about how it will never be over for them. It will be over for you, though you will have destroyed your future, but for them, it will be months if not years before they have completed all the tasks that must be done when someone dies, and it will be a lifetime of sadness, regret, questions and missing you.

Think about it and get help. Don't fall for the suicidal thinking that they will somehow be better off without you. They will not.

Two years ago we faced all this when we opened the door to Leif's apartment. What we saw is burned into our brains. What happened changed our lives forever. What we had to do was hard and sad.

My brother said that Leif didn't really want to be dead, "he just wanted all the shit to stop." How many people who kill themselves really want that, not death, but don't see any other way out? What a horrible price to pay, for everyone.

Life is precious but it doesn't feel precious to someone who is in misery and torment. Taking one's life ends that torment but it blocks any future and torments others for lifetimes. Some of them may never forgive you for it.

I've been confronted with people who think that there will always be warning signs of a possible suicide, that someone contemplating it will threaten to do it, and that those who do it always leave suicide notes. Not so. Many times there are no warning signs, except perhaps depression and withdrawal, but even those are often well hidden. Sometimes it's planned, but many times it is a quick decision in desperation. And most of the time there is no explanatory note, though even if there were, it would not bring much comfort.

Depression is dangerous. Depression with a gun in your hands is even more dangerous. Depression with a gun in your hand and getting drunk is lethal. Don't do it.

My family is broken. It will never again be complete. I will miss Leif all my life.

And I will always love him.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Speaking of Grief" - Article by Jenna Baddeley in "Psychology Today"

Speaking of Grief, an article about how to share one's grief and how to respond to someone doing that, and how expressions of grief are painful for the listener.

I realize now that although I started this blog with the idea of "remembering the good times," it quickly turned into a means for me to express my love and grief without having to do so one-on-one with another person who might want to listen or be able to handle it without discomfort, and it evades embarrassment on both sides. Only those who want to read the blog will do so, and they can quit or avoid it at any time.

Peter has talked to me about the ending of it, and although he says I should make my own decision, he says he looks forward to looking for new posts. I've wanted and needed to do them, too. I wonder where our journey will take us. I do know that we are far better off emotionally than we were a year ago, but our lives are still affected by Leif's death, and in some sense, they always will be, for our future has forever changed and we will always miss him.

Yet we find pleasure in many things and although I feel sadness, especially on days like today, the anniversary of that terrible event, we have much to look forward to and much to share.

I have learned to listen to others' expressions of grief. I know what they feel. I can listen and not turn away.


My sister Lannay and her husband Doug sent this beautiful bouquet today in remembrance of Leif. They were his aunt and uncle. We were very touched and thankful. It's a hard day for us. I couldn't sleep last night. We miss him so much! I'm glad others remember him, too, with love. Thanks to those who are posting on his Facebook page today.

How can it be two years already? At almost exactly this time on this date two years ago I was calling his three phone numbers and sending him text messages and email, all afternoon and evening, trying to find him after his work supervisor called me, worried because he had not shown up for work because he was so reliable. We did not know he was dead until the next day.

Two Years Since Leif Died

I was always worried about Leif having guns, worried about some accident happening, worried about his depression. He laughed at my fears and tried to teach me about guns. He got his concealed carry license here in Florida, which scared me still further, but my concern was primarily about accidents. I worried about his fast motorcycle and car driving, too.

I had never liked my sons playing with guns and never bought toy guns for them, but like most boys, they were fascinated with them, particularly Leif. He had some Japanese air guns he loved as a kid, and his father liked posing like James Bond with those "toy" guns. Leif did, too. The image was something they both appreciated, debonair, powerful.

But Leif had always liked guns, toys or real, and this photo is of him playing with one and pretending when he was in Tokyo, Japan on October 1982. He was seven years old. Little did I know when I took this photo that someday he would shoot himself in the head, that guns would no longer be fun, but the instrument of his death.

He died in the wee hours of April 9, 2008, two years ago, alone in his kitchen, drunk, after spending the evening with his friend Michael and another fellow. He gave no hint that he was thinking of killing himself and we will never know whether he was planning it or whether it was a spur of the moment decision.

We will never know whether he might still be alive but for the terrible combination of a new pistol and too much rum and Coke.

We will never know what made him unhappy or desperate enough to do it.

We will never even know whether it could have been some terrible, stupid accident (though I doubt that).

We will never know what his life could have become had he lived.

We will miss him all our days.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Approaching Two Years Since Leif's Death

What more can I tell you about my son, Leif Ashley Garretson, his life, his death, and our love for him and mourning his loss? I began this blog the day we found him, April 10, 2008, not knowing where I was going with this other than wanting a way to remember him. Sometime in the past six months I came to the realization that near the two year mark I would have said nearly all I want to say, although some new memories may come to me, and will have posted nearly all of the good photos of Leif I have. I resolved to close the blog, or at least the frequent posting, on the second anniversary. I had hoped to reach a visitor count or 10,000 by that time. As of today, there have been 9,854 visits since May 15, 2008, which is when I first placed the ClustrMap counting visitors, so it's likely that 10,000 has been reached, though not by the counter.

I find that I still have a few photos and a few more things to say before I close the book this has become, so I will continue for a few more days. After that, I will only post once in awhile. As with any blog, frequent or daily postings bring more visitors, so I expect visits to trail off after that, and that's all right. It's been two years of intense feelings, remembrance, introspection. I don't think I will ever be free of grief and mourning, nor will I ever be ready to let Leif go, but at least the wrenching pain has lessened and I no longer feel the need to post every single day. Probably that has been helped by the impossibility of it while we were traveling to South America and Texas this spring, when I didn't always have internet access or even time to do it. Maybe it's best that I had that break in routine.

Coming home always brings home the loss of our son. Driving through Tampa on the way home from the airport we can't help but remember how he used to pick us up at the airport, where the freeway exit for his apartment was, how we met him in town for dinner at places like Thai Tani and Mr. Dunderback's and went to movies together. Even having our sprinkler system brought memories of Leif trying to find the buried sprinkler heads after we bought the house, using one of his swords to jab through the hard-packed sandy earth to find them. So much reminds us of him every day.

I loved every day of his life, from babyhood to his death, though of course any truthful mother has to admit there were trying times, times when I was mad at him, times he disappointed me . . . and he probably felt the same way about me. But that's the thing about a strong family tie; those times are forgiven. Love goes on.

These photos of Leif in one of our apple trees in Sachsen bei Ansbach in Bavaria, Germany, were taken in June 1979 when he was about four-and-a-half years old. They seemed to go with spring.

When Leif Started Playing Soccer - Sagamihara, Japan - Age 5

I've written before about Leif's soccer abilities and teams but haven't posted these photos of him in his first soccer uniform.

Leif first played soccer when he was in kindergarten, in Japan His dad was the team coach. They played all their games at Camp Zama. Leif played fullback or goalie. As the tallest kid on the team, and the one with the strongest kick, as well as having no fear of the ball, he played those positions well.

The team had a winning season and that started Leif on a 10 year soccer "career" that continued until we moved to Puerto Rico when he was 15 and beginning his sophomore year of high school.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter - Our Last Dinner Together

Two years ago on Easter Sunday Leif came to our house for dinner. It was the last time I would ever see him alive.

He had seemed reluctant to come because, as he said, his car guzzled so much gas and he was broke, "but not broke-broke." I told him I'd give him gas money ( and did). Had known how broke he was, I would have given him far more!

We had a great evening together. He seemed relaxed and happy. We had our usual lively discussions.

It was March 23, 2008.

In 17 days he would be dead and none of us knew it that night. We didn't know it would be our last time together. I didn't take any pictures. How I wish I had. I treasure the memory of that evening, but at the same time I can't help but wonder how things could go so wrong after that.

This photo of Leif, Peter W and Peter A was taken in our quarters in Sagamihara. I had been taking Japanese cooking classes and decided to make a full Japanese dinner for the family and eat it properly on our Japanese lacquer table. I think this was in about 1981 when Leif was 6 years old.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Leif in Brombach, Germany - Spring 1980 - Age 5

Peter W., Leif's father, grew up in Heidelberg, Germany and we knew that his grandmother had come from the small town of Brombach in the Odenwald (forest), but until the spring of 1980, not long before we were to move from Germany to Japan, neither of us knew much more about her family. Then I finally succeeded in persuading his Tante (Aunt) Toni to go there with us and tell us more.

Tante Toni had no children and dearly loved our boys. She used to say they had "schlechte Augen," which roughly translates to "rascally eyes." she got that right!

At any rate, we drove to Brombach, where she showed us this lovely half-timbered Gasthaus, or small hotel. She said she had lived there with her mother (Peter W's gtamdmother) as a child and that at that time it had belonged to her grandfather, which would have been Peter W's great grandfather. The family lot it; had to sell it to pay their debts because he had invested heavily in Germany' World War I bonds, and when Germany lost the war, the bonds were worthless.

What a shame. It wad a lovely place! The boys really liked it! I don't whether any of his grandchildren would have otherwise inherited it and would have wanted to run it or not, but it was surely too bad to lose it. I still wish we had taken the time that day to eat in the dining room there, even though it was fairly expensive.

Leif especially wad interested in the well and pump in the village. He was five years old.