Sunday, June 27, 2010


The mind is a strange thing. It has it's own logic and memory in dreams and creates stories and realities all it's own. And it apparently does not accept death. I say that, because although my father died in 1960, I still occasionally dream about him, and it is never in the past. It's always in the present, and he is an old man. He's been lost, and I've found him.

I don't often remember my dreams, but I woke and remembered I had dreamed about Leif a few days ago. It was a vivid dream, though the details quickly grew misty. In my dream, Leif was a young adult, maybe in his mid-twenties. He had gone on a trip with us somewhere (as he often did) and for some reason he didn't what to go wherever I was going, in a strange city. Like so many dream locations, it was not someplace real, not someplace I have ever actually been.

So he took off on his own, so like him. I was wandering around a business area looking for something, met some friends, and we went to dinner. Leif called me on our cell phones and he sounded lost. Not physically lost. He knew where he was, but he didn't know where I was and what I was doing, and he was suddenly lonesome and sad. He asked, "Why does everything have to turn out wrong?"

I remember feeling bad for him in this dream, and telling him how to come join us for dinner.

That's all I remember of the dream, except for a few details about how the location looked, but the dream seems significant and telling to me. Leif wandering around alone, asking why things turned out badly. And alive.

Perhaps I have dreamed of his death. Perhaps I have dreamed of my dad's death. If so, I have not remembered those dreams. So far, in the only ones I ever remember they are alive. Not happy. Not well, but alive. And so real.

I find myself now thinking of Leif more and more as a child and not as the man he was when he died. Why is that? Is that because he was "mine" then? Is it because those were happier days? It is because in those days I could solve the problems and keep our family whole? Is it because he was such a beautiful child?

I don't know. He was a man nearly as long as he was a child, in his years on this earth, and when I picture him and am not looking at photos, I picture his tall frame coming through my front door.

So many memories, good ones, bad ones, happy and sad ones, but he lives only in my dreams.


This photo of Leif and me was taken in Hawaii in 1983, he was eight-and-a-half years old.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day

Another women who lost a son to suicide was talking to me a few days before Father's Day and she said, "Why is it that these days like Mother's Day or Easter are so much harder? They're just another day."

The trouble is, they aren't just another day. They are days with significance, a significance we have been taught all our lives. They matter because humans measure time, and they designate certain days as having some kind of importance.

She said they only get "two months off," meaning that every other month has either a holiday or a family date like a birthday in it, so they are always anticipating those occasions when their son won't be with them.

I know how that feels now. We are into our third set of birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day without Leif, and soon it will be the Fourth of July (one holiday he really liked), then in the fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each one of them is another day we will realize he won't be coming, something we had an expectation of over the years, because except for such rare instances, he always WAS there. He was an integral part of our joy and celebration of those holidays, and now having to experience them without him seems saddened and partly empty. We have other family members but they haven't been with us for these times over the years, so their absence is not so keenly felt. The expectation isn't there.

I find that my subconscious starts anticipating the holiday without Leif and I become sad. It happens to Peter W., too. We both feel that Mother's Day and Father's Day are diminished, that we have only half our children (for we had only two sons) still there. Does that mean we are half the parents we once were? It's hard to be happy on those days.

It's impossible not to think about Leif's death on those days set aside specifically for mothers and fathers, for that's what we were to him, and those were days he shared with us.

I found myself fighting tears.

I made a card for Peter W. and had a hard time deciding what photo to put on it. It doesn't seem right to put a photo of our family without Leif, though he is no longer here, and that's what I did on the card last year. I chose a photo of our boys in Germany when they were small, beautiful little boys! Those days are gone now, are just fond memories now made all the sweeter because we know they not only will never come again but Leif will never be with us. I had tears in my eyes when I made the card, but I didn't expect Peter to have them in his eyes when he looked at it. He was affected, too, saddened again at the loss, asking why Leif shot himself, how he could do it.

And we will never know.

The thoughts and the feelings go beyond that. I rarely turn on the car radio but I did a day or so ago and there was some sweet and slightly melancholy love song playing, and the words just made me sad, both because, as I've written before, love songs can be interpreted as other than romantic love, and because I was sad that Leif never had the romantic love he so desperately sought and hoped for.

Coming home from a wedding on Friday, we crossed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and I think we will never cross it without thinking and talking of Leif. And at the wedding, which was beautiful, I thought why couldn't Leif have found a love like this?

The memories are everywhere. The feelings are still so strong and deep. The sadness comes back in waves. It has burrowed into my heart.

This photo of Leif, Peter W. and Peter A. was taken in April 1987 in the area of Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Leif was 12 years old, and acting goofy because he didn't really want to be posing for a photo. There were others taken at the same time that were better than this one, but these are my three guys, the ones that mean the world to me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Words of Sympathy?

Yesterday I was trying to choose a sympathy card for the family of a cousin who died and I found that the cards were so inadequate and full of platitudes that really don't help. Before Leif died, I used to write my own messages about how people could take comfort in their memories. Now, I know that such comfort doesn't come. While one may be grateful for many of the memories, thinking of them doesn't bring peace or comfort, it brings the sense of loss, of knowing those times are gone and there won't be any more.

The idea that someone lives on because of our memories seems empty and foolish to me now. The memories live on in our hearts and minds, but the person lives no more. It may be a nice thought that they "live" in some sense because they are remembered, but it isn't so. The memories "live."

The one thing that the cards say that might actually be true is that the love and care of family and friends helps. It helps one get through the grief, but it doesn't take it away. It helps one realize there are others to care about, reasons to go on, people to love, but it doesn't take away the pain or the sorrow.

So what could one, or should one say to a grieving family. I am brought back to what Jason Palenske said at Leif's memorial service, something he learned by asking his grandmother, "I'm sorry for your pain." That, and recounting one's own memories of the deceased, are, to me, what is of value, and real, not some pretty but meaningless platitudes.

A few days ago, while I was in bed, a very short poem came to me, and I think it says what I feel.


Sorrow digs deep
into the heart
and burrows down
to make its nest.

Maybe someday I will add to it. Maybe there's more after the nest is made.


Peter W. found this photo of Leif out in the garage. It is an unused Army dependent ID card photo and was probably taken when Leif was about nine or ten when we were living in Hawaii, but it could be as young as seven or eight. In any case, that would put it between 1982-1985. He looks so sweet.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

26 Months Without Leif

Today it's been 26 months since Leif's death and it is still a shock. The mind still plays tricks, wanting us to think of him as alive, not wanting to let him go. He looks so alive and vital in his photos, looking out at me with those warm brown eyes.

This is another photo I had never seen before my cousin Marji sent it to me. It was taken almost exactly 19 years ago, on June 7, 1991, in Oregon when we were visiting Multnomah Falls with my Uncle Jerry. Seems amazing the weather was so cool, as we experience baking heat in Florida at the same time of year. Leif, Peter W. and I look so much younger and happier . . . and we were.

How I wish I could take Leif on one more trip . . . or many more trips. I'm glad we had the opportunities we did to be with him.

Someone commented on my last blog post, asking whether I believed in an afterlife. I've written about that on the blog before. I can conceive of the possibility, but find it improbable. However, there are so many incredible things about life and this universe I cannot say it's not possible, though even if there is an afterlife, I doubt very much that it is much like our conceptions of it.

The idea of an afterlife is immensely comforting to many people, but for me, the idea that I might see Leif again someday doesn't remove the fact that I miss him now, that I ache for the misery he went through, that I am sad for his loss and ours.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Another Anniversary

Sunday, June 6th was our 45th anniversary. We've had a wonderful marriage, one which Leif envied and would like to have emulated. I am thankful for all those years of happiness with Peter, and grateful that our love was strong enough to last through the grief of losing our son.

In May, I got a card from my cousin, Marji, with two photos she found in her father's things, photos that were taken when Peter W., Leif and I visited her and my Uncle Jerry in June 1991. I had never seen these photos before and I am so glad to have them. This photo was taken on June 6, 1991, our 26th anniversary, when we were with them in Oregon. We had a wonderful trip and it was so good seeing them after so many years. It was the second time that Leif met his Great Uncle Jerry, my father's only sibling, and the last time as well, and the first and only time he met Marji .

He was 16 years old and just starting to grow his hair long. He's wearing those trademark Oakley sunglasses, and his stylish Hypercolor T-shirt and those weight-lifter pants that showed off his figure so well. He's already towering over his handsome father.

He enjoyed the trip as much as we did. We flew to Oregon after attending Peter Anthony's graduation from the Air Force Academy. Uncle Jerry took us to see Mt. St. Helens and Multnomah Falls.

That summer, Leif was tall, slim and handsome, and felt like he was coming into his own. I love to think of him that way.

We went on a short cruise for this 45th anniversary and it was great, but coming home as always brings back memories and missing Leif, especially when we pass the turn-off that would go to where he lived, especially when we see all the things he brought into our house or that we ended up with when he died. For some reason, I've had a hard time with it today. Sadness comes back, no matter how much we try to escape it.