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.


  1. Jerri thank you so much for this blog and all the posts and pictures. I too will think of Leif everyday as i have for 2 years and 18 days. My heart goes out to you and Peter. <3

  2. He's always going to be a part of my memory as well as probably one of the kindest and most interesting people I've had the privilege of sharing time and space with. I'm thankful also that you have shared so many memories with us all.