Friday, December 16, 2011

Remembering Never Ends

Memories are triggered by almost anything, at any time, even when least expected, and they bring with them so much emotion. Not only the emotion of the time they happened, but all the emotions that are associated since that time, including happiness, love, wonder, nostalgia, longing, and grief.

For us, like so many others who have grieved for loved ones, especially those who have lost a child, the holidays will always hold those memories of the happy days gone by, all we shared, and bring to the fore all we will miss this holiday season. I am trying to keep focused on gratitude that we HAD those wonderful days, those years we enjoyed so much with our sons during the holidays.

Today I was doing some straightening up in my home office and came across something I don't remember even seeing or noticing at the time I received it. It's a pamphlet for parents about the death of a child called, "The Saddest Loss," written by Jane Woods Shoemaker. It was sent to us in a packet by USAA, the company that Leif dealt with for his car loan, vehicle insurance and a checking account, after I notified them of his death.

It's probably just as well that I didn't read it then. I don't know whether I would have been in any condition to really appreciate its message. It won't change anything, but reading it now is like an acknowledgement of all we have been through. I haven't read it fully, but these phrases stood out:

"The death of one's own child is so devastating you may not feel like reading this booklet right away."

Perhaps that's why I didn't. Perhaps that's why I don't even remember seeing it before.

"When a child dies, parents grieve harder and longer than with any other loss."

I can't know whether that is true, as I haven't experienced every other loss, but I do know it is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to us.

"The ties of love and hope that bind parent and child are the most powerful in human relationships."

I've written about the role of our hopes for our children, and the bond between me and Leif, and how I wonder if deep in us somewhere, even our DNA knows of the loss; certainly our bodies and brains respond to the loss in deep and profound ways.

"The suicide of a child leaves parents with so many unanswered questions. It is the most difficult loss to accept."

The questions will always haunt us, as long as we live and are capable of thinking.

The booklet deals forthrightly with the emotions surrounding what to do with your child's possessions, and how parents hold onto their child by keeping possessions. How well I know that feeling . . . and also the sadness that comes from disposing of them, which feels somehow disloyal.

"Memories are the worst and the best aspects of grief."

Yes, and that is the crux of it. We WANT to remember. We WANT to keep our child alive in our hearts and minds, but as the memories come, the grief comes along with the happiness, so many times.

There is a section on "Memorials," ways to memorialize one's child. Here, I have perhaps fallen victim to my own feelings of grief, for she writes, "A memorial should be a celebration of the child's life, not an expression of your grief."

She gives some examples, but my memorial for Leif is this blog, and it cannot be truthful without acknowledging grief. I found that out as I wrote it. If you have followed this blog these three-and-a-half years, you may remember that when I started it, the day we found him, I said I wanted it to be about the "remembering the good times." But it was and is not a biography that progressed in linear order through his life. It is not just a series of stories about him. It is a collection of thoughts, stories, emotions, which all intermingle, just as life does.

Here is a sentence from the last paragraph of the booklet, "Recovering from grief does not mean that you get over the death of your child."

Yes, every parent I've talked to who has suffered the death of their child says this. You never get over it, but you learn to cope. You learn to go on. You learn to handle the occasions the sadness and nostalgia return. You learn to be grateful for the years you had. You learn to treasure every memory and every photo. You learn to be thankful for them.

And you will never, never forget.

Leif will not be with us this holiday season, not in person, not on this earth, but he will be in our hearts.

This photo was taken of Leif in Hawaii in July 1984. He was nine years old. He looks happy, confident, adventurous. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reminders of Leif

Yesterday we went to an event in Tampa. On the way home, Peter remarked that we were passing the way to Leif's apartment. We don't ever pass that point on I-4 without thinking about that, and feeling sad that he isn't there. I asked Peter whether he misses Leif any less and he said no, that there are always reminders, and that we won't have him with us again this Christmas. The years keep passing, but we still miss him.

When I was singing with the German American Chorus at the Lutheran church service in German last Sunday, Pastor Stiller's sermon was about finding the joy in Christmas, and was particularly directed at those who don't have that joy and belief in their lives. Although it was a good acknowledgement of the difficulty some people have being happy during the holidays whether through grief, sadness, depression or loss, and a message of why it is important to be childlike in our faith and joy, it did not create that in me. I still miss Leif and it still hurts. There will always be that sadness in the holidays, the reminders that he isn't with us.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy Christmas or the preparations for it. As I've written before, there comes a time when joy and sadness coexist. It's an odd mixture and I can cycle from happy anticipation and busy-ness to sadness in seconds.

I was thinking, for instance, about the gifts we are giving, and what we would have given Leif this year, had he been still alive, what foods he would have wanted for the Christmas celebrations, how his towering frame would have filled the door when he came in.

Today, I saw this report of a multi-car crash in Japan, involving eight Ferraris and a Lamborghini. I knew Leif would have had plenty to say about that! He loved those cars and photographed them whenever he saw them. He had a toy model Lamborghini he'd kept since childhood. The photo above is one he took of a Lamborghini Countach at an auto show in Chicago in February 1987. I'll never see an exotic sports car without thinking of Leif.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Leif's thoughts on infantry training and the army

Leif had such divided thoughts about the army and his military service. He was deeply devoted to our country and took very seriously his oath to defend it from all enemies, foreign and domestic. He had a reverence for our Constitution.

He was both enormously proud of his military service and very angry and how he was treated because of his asthma. He had leaders he liked and highly respected (though they are not mentioned in the piece below) and those he hated -- the ones he saw as petty dictators who delighted in humiliating soldiers, particularly his best friend; those he felt were careerists more interested in promotion than in the soldiers in the command.

His view of the army was through the lens of his unit and its operations, a micro view, to be sure, but it gives a window into a soldier's experience. Despite his biting criticism of their training (only being allowed to actually fire their weapons twice a year, for instance) and inefficiency, he was deeply proud of the soldiers with whom he served and continued to identify himself as a member of that infantry brotherhood all his life.

What made him so angry was what he continually saw as the monumental wastes of time, when he and the other soldiers had no more assigned tasks, past the end of the duty day, but were not dismissed to go home and had to just sit in the day room for an hour or hours. He hated the busywork that had them polishing floors rather than training, and with his quick mind and gift for strategy, felt that much of the training was wasteful marching rather than learning useful battle skills.

The piece below was written to his brother on February 8, 2001, in email he sent to me to be forwarded. It came in answer to his brother's thoughts on job satisfaction in the Air Force. Leif had been in the army for three years at that point and was deeply unhappy. It was during the period after he returned from service in Bosnia to find that his marriage was over, his health was ruined, and although he was the best machine gunner in the battalion (and had the awards for it) and could meet the requirements of the army PT (physical training test), he was treated abusively and denied promotion and awards because of his asthma, which made him unable to run as fast as that leader wanted his men to run. He was a deeply unhappy man when he wrote this, but it accurately reflects his feelings at the time. He was medically retired from the army a few months later.

During his service in Bosnia, he was not unhappy and he did feel they had a useful mission, and that things went much better when they did have a clear military mission. However, at that time, he still felt that mission had not been a clear benefit to the citizens of the USA or the world. I don't know whether he felt differently about it over the years. He was proud of that service.

With that background in mind, here are his thoughts from early 2001.

The photo of him was taken sitting on his cot in the first camp he was in when he went to Bosnia. I don't know who took it, but it was another soldier in his unit. The date on the photo is September 13, 1999. He was moved from camp to camp during the Bosnia duty. Because of his pose, I hesitated to post this photo, but it is surely no secret that this gesture is used, and the photo seems to fit the sentiments expressed below.

First off, You Weenie! Oh the horror, no shower for 33 hours! Try 33 days, you wimp.

But otherwise I must say that I can in no way whatsoever relate to what you are talking about. As a member of the line infantry, or nation's first line of defense (against whatever your compadres failed to shoot down or bomb into oblivion), I have seen a lot of operations. Many, if not all, cost the taxpayer a very pretty penny. And I have yet to see or be able to say that they served any purpose other than to provide a nice bullet for some officer's OER*.

Hundreds of thousands, even millions, are spent on our training and deployments but I cannot say that we have done a single thing that truly benefited this nation or made us more prepared for war, at least not in any proportion with the monetary expenditure that said exercises required. 
From my limited experience with the Air force, I wish that they could be commissioned to reorganize/realign the army. In Bosnia we spend over a million dollars a day to operate one camp. And in seven months I could not give you one example of a day that I felt I had made a difference.

Job satisfaction? That is a concept so alien to me that I must recall the days when I was a pizza delivery driver, for I made much more difference in the quality of life of the American citizen by getting that pizza to a hungry customer On Time than I did to the people of the world as a soldier in the United States infantry.

Perhaps it is simply the fact that we exist for the sole purpose of all out war and when no such war exists there is no secondary purpose to which our leadership can divert us. Our training is contrived and artificial. Our days are an endless monotony of wasted time and an apparent inability to deal with the "difficult" tasks of peace time life, a waste that only furthers our contempt for the nature of the army. Strangely, the ineptitude of our organization in peace time does not make me fear for war. In war there is no time for career-minded ambition. No worries about the luster of the floors. No luxury of petty superiority.

When those things leave us and a real challenge arrives, we seem to posses the ability to pull together and work toward the common purposes of victory and survival. However, in time of peace we seem to lose our way and become distracted with such frivolous and meaningless pursuits as would befit a janitor or gardener, not the noble warriors that defend our great nation. Countless dollars are spent on floor wax and training exercises that teach us nothing except how to walk blindly with the confidence of a boxer that has never lost a fight. Our budget allows us to perform multi-million-dollar operations that teach us nothing and then deny us the opportunity to fire our rifles more than twice a year.

The sort of efficiency you described is simply impossible in the army. Even a rapid deployment force would take days just to prep and plan for such an operation. Our army is sick. No one on the outside can see its ailments for we proud men hide our flaws andshield our egos from the light of day. And like a proud man our army will not seek adoctor's care.

Only when it collapses will an outsider see how it has deteriorated. Only then, in our darkest hour, when this 'machine' of incompetence and misdirection has broken down will we be able to start again and build the army of tomorrow. Until then our only satisfaction will lie in the fact that no matter how flawed or pointless the endeavors that may fill the interlude between wars, we few men and women of the United States Army volunteered to defend this great nation against all enemies foreign and domestic should she ever need to call on us.

*OER = Officer Efficiency Report (job evaluation for promotion purposes)

Monday, November 28, 2011

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"

 Saturday we went to the German American Club Christmas tree lighting ceremony at our community Atrium building. We've done this every years since moving to Florida, but in the years since Leif died, until this year (our fourth without him with us for Christmas), I have not been able to sing the carols without crying. This was the first year I got through all but one without tears.

Today I sang in the Women's Chorus Christmas Concert, and in our two concerts a year, I've gotten choked up by a couple of songs in each one. I thought I was going to make it through today's concert without that happening, as I hadn't experienced any difficulty with the songs during rehearsals.

But I got surprised by the audience sing-along, which the chorus sings "along" with, too, and by a song I never would have suspected to have such an effect on me.

It was "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

I was glad it was a sing-along and no one would be noticing me, but at least I didn't burst into tears. Just couldn't sing for awhile.

I tried to think of why. I don't associate that song with Leif in any way. It wasn't something we sang in our house. I never heard him sing it.

I think it was the association with Peter W. playing Santa with our boys. It wasn't just Leif; it was Peter A. and our family, and the boys being young, and Christmases together. I missed all those things overwhelmingly.

I DID kiss "Santa Claus."

I've posted these photos before, but not in this context. I could kiss that Santa again, and I wish those little boys were with me again.

The first one was taken in Ansbach in 1978 when Leif was not quite four. He never suspected "Santa" was his dad. That Santa suit had a really nice beard with it.

The bottom one was taken in Kansas in 1975 when he was not quite one year old. The Santa suit Peter W. borrowed didn't have a beard or hair, so he tried to make them out of cotton batting. It looked really funny but the kids believe in him anyway and never suspected it was their daddy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Was It An Accident?

Today I was talking to a friend whose son also committed suicide by shooting himself with a gun. Unlike Leif, this young man had grown up with real guns and liked to go shooting with his dad. He told me that he was glad his son hadn't used a gun he had given to him. I understand how he feels.

He asked me, "Do you ever think it could have been an accident?"

The answer is no . . . and yet, there is always the tiniest hint of a question.

When we first told Leif's brother about his death, he could not accept it as a suicide. He thought it had to be a murder. When we and the law enforcement officials believed there was no chance of that, he wanted to know if it was an accident. I remember asking him whether he would feel better if he lost his brother to a stupid and preventable accident because he was mishandling or playing with a gun under the influence of alcohol, or to a the deliberate and chosen act of suicide. How can one answer that?

We tend to want people to be logical, to follow a pattern we can discern and figure out, but life is seldom neat a tidy in that way. Human beings aren't always, or even mostly, logical. There are many contradictions at the end of Leif's life. He had been depressed for a long time. He hadn't been successful i finding a job he liked better. He was suffering from pain caused by the motorcycle accident, broken collarbone and surgery. He had been dealt a financial blow when his GI Bill was discontinued due to a misunderstanding, and he couldn't keep up with his bills. His asthma was worse.

And yet, just three weeks before his death he had a wonderful date with a woman he had been corresponding and texting with, and with whom he'd had many long phone conversations. He was falling in love again. He was hoping to see her on his day off, the day before he died. He was talking to me about taking it slow and getting the relationship right.

A few days before he died, he paid his rent. The day before, he filled his car with gas, bought a new pair of shoes, a new computer game and a new gun he had ordered and been waiting for, the gun he used to kill himself. The night he died, he went out with friends, brought them back to his apartment, drank, and got out and displayed all of his weapons. He was participating in an online discussion about the most perfect watch and a German band whose music he wanted to get. He did not sound like a man planning to kill himself that night. He did not act like it.

But how does such a man sound? How does he act? Do we know? Does he hide it? Even from himself? The night my father died, he acted normal, yet he had planned it.

Was Leif planning it? Was it a sudden decision? Or could it have been a horrible accident? Not according to the coroner. Even under the influence of alcohol, it's hard to imagine that Leif would have pressed a gun barrel to his head (pointed it at it, yes; he'd done that before in jest, foolish as it was) and pulled a heavy trigger hard enough to shoot it. Not only would it have been difficult to accidentally shoot that gun, Leif was so well trained in weaponry that it's hard to imagine him doing that without intent.

But you see, today was another one of those days when the questions don't go away, not for me, not for my friend who lost his son two years before we lost ours.

Today I could discuss it quite calmly with him. Today was so different than the days leading up to Thanksgiving when I felt so sad that Leif would not be with us. I couldn't have done it then. The anticipation of holidays is always hard, for me, harder than the holiday itself.

I wish he'd been here to have some of his beloved pie.

The photo above was taken at the City of Refuge on the Big Island of Hawaii, probably in 1985 when Leif was ten years old.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Our Fourth Thanksgiving Without Leif

I am grateful today for my family and friends, for the life I have, for my home and my country, and to be fortunate to have enough to live well. I am thankful for my husband and best friend, my sons and my grandchildren, especially.

Today is our fourth Thanksgiving without Leif, a holiday he shared with us most of the years of his life. It will never seen right or complete without him, and even with the gratitude I feel there will always be sadness that he is not with us.

I am thankful he was our son, is our son, that we had him for 33 years. It's hard to say that and not add, "but it was not enough." I can't do it. It wasn't enough. I miss him.

Like all parents who have lived through the death of a beloved child, that longing never goes away. After a time, for many hours, many days, the pain subsides. Life seems normal, until something opens the door and lets the longing and sadness out.

Holidays are such a mixed blessing. They are still a time to celebrate, to be thankful, to enjoy our families and friends. They are still a time for traditions and love. They are still a time to treasure.

But they will always be bittersweet, tinged with loss.


This photo of Leif was taken when we lived in Japan, probably in 1981 when he was six years old. The USA patch on his blazer is so appropriate. He grew up to be passionate about his country, served it in the army, studied its Constitution at the university. The thoughtful pose is appropriate, too. When Leif was young, he wasn't a talker like his brother. He was a quiet one, a thinker, and we usually didn't know what was going on in his bright mind. Later, once Peter A. left home, the floodgates opened and he began to talk and talk and talk, as though he had stored it up for the opportunity when he didn't have to "compete" for the "floor," but I also think during those years, when he was close to his brother, he spent a lot of time carefully listening, learning and absorbing what his brother (and the rest of us) were saying.

Leif had an incredible memory for just about everything he heard, and a special talent for being able to multitask, even as a very small child, where he appeared to be absorbed in doing something on his own but was very intently also listening to everything that was going on around him. Later, after he had thought about it and formed his own ideas, he could not only "parrot" back just about word for word what he had heard, even imitating the inflection of the speaker, but explain it accurately and add his own conclusions or further thoughts.

This photo must have been taken around or on Thanksgiving, I think, because I don't have Christmas photos of him wearing this blazer. We always took Christmas photos, but for some reason, rarely or if ever took photos at Thanksgiving. Peter W. says he took this picture. Perhaps he did, but it looks like a professional print to me, and I don't think he ever posed any of us when he took photos. Leif's elbow is resting on what appears to be an upholstered stool, and that curled fist under the chin, while beautiful in this photo, is not a typical pose for Leif. We both love this picture, and it's one of few we have framed and displayed in our house.

While I was writing this, Peter W. came into my office and said he wished we could go back to that time, the time of the photo, but that he didn't know what we could have done differently to help Leif find a better outcome in his life.

That's the trouble. No matter how often we go over it all in our minds, there's no resolution. We can't go back, and if we did, how would we do things differently? We will never know. That's one of the things that continues to eat away at people like us, even on this day of celebration.

Yet we will celebrate, and we will be thankful, just not with unalloyed joy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another James Bond Father and Son Photo

Yesterday I wrote about Leif's fascination with guns and James Bond. He shared the James Bond interest with his dad, who took him to the Bond films starting when he was very young. Here's another photo of them posing together in May 1987 when we were living at Fort Sheridan. Leif was twelve years old. He was wearing his dad's white dinner jacket, which was of course too big for him, but not as big as it would have been on most twelve-year-olds.

The guns are toys. We did not own any real guns and never had any in our home when we were raising children.

On the day I took this, I took a series of photos of the two of them posing with these toy guns, together and separately. It seems to run in the family to enjoy posing and pretending.

It was all in good fun then, whether the posing was with guns or something else, often silly, but after Leif's death, the photos with the guns took on another aspect we could never have predicted . . . and how glad I am that we could not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

His Lifelong Love of Guns

As I've written before, Leif displayed an amazingly consistent set of interests throughout his life. So many kids go through fads of interest and drop them. He didn't. From a very early age he was captivated by vehicles and speed, all kinds of vehicles. He always loved them. He collected toy cars, boats, planes, rockets. He built models of them. He drew them. And, when he was older, he test drove them and photographed them.

As he got a little older as a child, he became interested in science fiction moves, James Bond movies, and the weaponry that both used. Most little boys who are allowed to have toy guns play with them, and those that aren't allowed to have them often pretend with a "hand" gun or improvised toy guns made of sticks and other materials. Leif had toy guns, but by the time he was in the primary grades he was also making his own, and that's another thing he continued off and on throughout his life. He drew them, and then constructed them out of wood. Sometimes, when he was a kid, his dad helped him.

When we lived in Japan, they sold very realistic "toy" pellet guns. Our boys each had one or two, and they enjoyed pretending they were action heroes. Sometimes they'd get dressed up and pose, and even their dad enjoyed doing that with them. This was much more a pastime of Leif's than his brother's, though.

I think Leif loved both the design and mechanical beauty of guns, not just the power and glamor he saw in them (the glamor coming from the James Bond movies, of course). He must have had fantasies of being the gun-toting hero.

This photo is one of a series that Peter W. took of Leif posing on the lanai of our townhouse in Hawaii. I think it was probably taken in 1984 or 1985. He's holding two "guns." The larger one in his right hand is one of the guns he and his dad made, and the one in his left hand looks like it might have been a pellet gun. He's wearing his beloved black Members Only jacket, black pants, black gloves, and his cool sunglasses.

Leif started wearing "cool" sunglasses at an early age, here about 9 or 10, and graduated to Gargoyles and then Oakleys, which he saved up for and paid for himself. I would never have spent that kind of money on sunglasses! But the cool factor was always important to him, and he would gladly pay for it.

I like his hair the way it is in this picture, but it was combed over and styled like this just for the picture. On a daily basis, he wasn't interested in bothering with that.

It's hard for me to know how to think about Leif's lifelong love affair with guns because he used one to shoot himself, but I know he was passionate about them, enjoyed them, loved shooting them, and was incredibly knowledgeable about them. If I had known what would happen to him, would I have prevented him from having toy guns as a child? I don't know. I doubt that it would have done much good. We never had real guns in our home, and he was brought up with a very strong anti-violence ethic. He never had real guns until he was grown and had left home, and he wasn't irresponsible with them. So many millions of American own guns and don't misuse them. He was passionate about the Second Amendment, too. There was no way to know or predict that he would turn one on himself. Even though we worried so much about him, even though we knew the possibility of suicide with a gun existed, we worried far more about the possibility of a terrible car or motorcycle accident.

I wondered, when he died, whether I would be able to look at these photos and enjoy them, knowing what eventually happened, but I have come to the point where I can remember his posing like this and be glad he enjoyed himself and that he never turned a gun on anyone else.

Friday, November 18, 2011

He loved goofing around

I was showing old photos to my sister, Lannay, and were were smiling over so many of Leif goofing around and acting silly, some of which I've already posted on this blog, but I keep finding more in the photos that haven't been scanned. He always had such a great sense of humor and liked to pose for silly pictures. Here's one I discovered among Peter W's photos.

It was taken in Hawaii, up in the pineapple fields on the island plateau near Wahiawa when Peter W's mother was visiting us and we took her there to see them. There's no date on the photo but I'm managed to figure out that it was the summer of 1984 because of her visit and the annual letter I wrote that mentioned it. So, Leif was nine years old.

That thing he has stuck on his head is his dad's camera case, the one he had for his 35mm Pentax SLR with the long telephoto lens on it. It's amazing to remember that Leif once was a "little" boy called Alex, and that I was taller than he was.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Evanescence - Bring Me to Life

A friend told me today that this had been one of Leif's favorite songs. It certainly fit his dark mood and wish for something to give him life and purpose. It's cry for meaning and contact, the despair of being numb and cold. So sad we could not save him. Bring Me To Life by Evanescence.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A US Veteran Dies by Suicide Every 80 Minutes.

How inexpressibly sad that so many of our servicemembers and veterans are committing suicide. Read this blog piece by Juliette Kayyam, "A US Veteran Dies by Suicide Every 80 Minutes," and hope that we can do something to prevent this continuing tragedy. I wonder how much of it is due to social isolation in a country were so few people serve in the military and people don't understand what they go through. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Leif Really Wanted to Be

 From the time he was very small, Leif wanted to be a jet pilot. I suppose some of the things that influenced that desire were visiting Air Force bases, traveling on jets when we moved from one continent to another or traveled, seeing movies like "Top Gun," and all the science fiction movies he saw with incredible flying machines. Two more big components would have been his love of speed and the skies. And lastly, the glamor of it, the cool factor, appealed to him.

He wanted so badly to be a pilot. We were the kind of parents who always tried to help our boys learn more about their interests and be supportive of them. When we lived in Hawaii, Peter W. took Leif to the reserve component of Hickam Air Force Base where a pilot gave Leif a tour and took him up into the cockpit of a jet fighter. Leif was in his element. It was a very special day for an 8 or 9 year-old. This would have probably taken place in 1984. Unfortunately, the photos don't have dates on them.

Leif lived his childhood dreaming of this career and planning on it. Although we all knew he could not definitely count on being selected for AF pilot training, he assumed that was what he would be.

I've posted before his high school essay about when he found out his eyes would not pass the flight physical and what a blow it was to him to have to give up this dream. It must have been even harder on him when his brother, who didn't really want to fly, was at the Air Force Academy and was selected for pilot training. Life is full of ironies we cannot foresee.

Leif tried to capture the feeling of speed by driving his cars and motorcycles like a demon, and would have dearly loved to be a race car driver. He would have been a good one, but that career was closed to him, too, due to the financial requirements.

I read a quote, which I can no longer find, that the death of one's dreams is one of the saddest things that can happen to a person, and that unless we replace the dream we've lost with a new one, a new plan or hope for the future, we flounder.

Leif did try to find new dreams or hopes, whether as an Air Force officer (starting with ROTC), or as an army enlistee, whether with love, or with the gaming and gadgetry he enjoyed, but none of those hopes and dreams came true. It was as though the heavens had determined that nothing he tried would work. How thankful I am that I did not have to live through all the disappointments he suffered.

In the past couple of weeks, we have, as always, had so many reminders of Leif. Yesterday I drove past a Japanese restaurant where we took him to dinner one December. We watched the movie, "Thor," and talked about what Leif would have thought of it. We went out to dinner at another Japanese restaurant and parked next to a silver RX-8 like the one he used to drive. Today I used the computer he built to check how something looked and worked on a Windows machine. Every day I use phones he gave us.

When he died, we lost some of our dreams, too, dreams for his future, dreams of how our future might be with him in it. I miss him every day.

I thought yesterday, after watching an episode of House, about all the babies that die before they are even born, the miscarriages that take their tiny lives, often because they are in some way not viable. Then there are the children who never make it to adulthood because of some congenital problem or disease. And then there are those who do make it to adulthood, but are cut down by, again, some congenital problem or disease, and lead short and sometimes problematic lives.

Perhaps Leif fit into that latter category in some way we will never be able to know for certain. Perhaps that genetic heritage of depression doomed our beautiful son in a myriad terrible ways. But that doesn't mean that he wasn't beautiful, brilliant, funny, loving, generous, kind, and loved. That his meteor only burned a short time and was gone doesn't take away from all that 33 year streak brought us . . . the good and the bad, the happiness and the disappointments. The memories are ours, those we treasure and those we wish had never occurred.

We don't get to choose in life just to have the happy moments. We have to take it all, the good and the bad. Life isn't fair, it just is. It certainly wasn't fair to Leif, and it still hurts every day to think about how he reached that point where he decided to put a bullet into his head. But I'm still glad I had the chance to love him. Still glad of all I learned from him. Still glad he was mine.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Today I found a surprise. In the months following Leif's death, I searched his computers in vain for all the ZAON files I knew he must have. I remembered how hard he had worked on things like weapons, landscapes, and species of alien peoples. I remembered his showing me how he was creating landscapes with a computer program and some of the planetscapes he had created. I remembered things he had showed me on his computer back in Kansas. I searched in vain.

Today I was looking through a small box of his things that was in a closet, a box I hadn't looked at in all this time. They were things someone (perhaps me) had stuck in there when we cleaned out his apartment, little stuff like a couple of pocket knives, refrigerator magnets, a big plastic drinking jug from Alltel, a company he once worked for, and the like. And among the insignificant clutter was a CD with no label. When I looked at it closely, I could see "ZAON" written on it lightly.

To my surprise and delight, it appeared that many, if not all, of his ZAON files were on the CD, at least those he had backed up when he made the CD years ago. I not only found some landscapes he had worked on, but discovered what the program was that he used to make them.

Leif was an avid player of Planetside. I've written about that here before. I didn't know (or didn't remember) that the program to generate landscapes was from Planetside and was called Terragen. There are a lot more interesting planetscapes on the CD but I can't verify that he created them. These three, I believe I can because he named them with his "thegqpirate" handle, which was his email and online name in those days. (He changed it to Graeloch when he moved to Florida to begin a new life.) They were probably created in 2003.

I am sure there are others he created, but whether they are on this CD I don't know and probably never will. Still, I am glad to have these, something of his creativity to save and savor.

The CD had a lot of photos he had downloaded from the internet to use in creating unusual looking extraterrestrial human races, but unfortunately none of those he created from the mix. Those files must either have been on another CD or lost.

I spent a lot of time online recently trying to find out what had happened to ZAON. There are old discussions on some of the science fiction gaming boards asking the same question, but there are never any answers. The domain names are still registered, but there's nothing posted and the links I once had on the blog leading to ZAON are defunct. Sadly, I had to remove all of them.

All of the posts he put on the ZAON forums are lost to me now, and having read many of them in the months following his death and hoping to go back later and save them, I find it sad that so much of what he contributed is lost. All that seems to be left now is a PDF of the ZAON test playbook, an early version of what was someday to be published. Leif is listed as the "reality tester." in the credits. That title certainly did fit. He talked to me endlessly about whether the weapons that were being designed could really work, based on his knowledge as a military armorer, whether living species could actually function, whether space ships were workable designs. Leif really cared not only about the playability of the game, but the workability of the science fiction involved. For him, those were critical questions.

I wish that game had come to fruition and been published. I know he wanted that badly, wanted to see it out there for the gamers to enjoy, and to see his name as being one of the creators, in is way. Leif had the intelligence and talent to have been a designer. He had artistic ability and the capability to learn to use complex software. However, what he didn't have was the "fire in the belly" to go that route. He did not design the ships, the weapons, the planets, the races, but he helped to shape those designs with countless hours of both research and online conversation. It was such a part of him, and the participants in the design and testing of ZAON, and the players in Planetside, truly saved his life when he came back to Kansas from the army, medically retired, an emotionally broken man. I will always be grateful for that.

And now, I am grateful to have found these designs and remember him showing me how he worked on Terragen. Good memories. We need those.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Today it has been three and a half years since we found Leif lifeless on the floor of his kitchen, the gun he used laying on the kitchen counter. I will spare you the details of the scene and how hard it was to walk into that apartment and find him. 

It doesn't seem like it could possibly be that long. We still talk about him so often, it's almost as if he never left, except that too much of the time, those conversations about why he died. 

Nearly every day there is something I do, or we do, that wish he was here for advice, help, education, or just companionship.

In the past week, I've been trying to set up a new computer for my mother. Leif did that the last time she needed one, just a couple of months before he died. It was so much easier for him than for me, both physically and with his better knowledge of Windows. 

You wouldn't think I'd still be finding new uses for things he left behind, but one of his cables turned out to be needed for Mom's new system.

You wouldn't think I'd still be finding new photos or learning new things about him, either, but one of his friends recently sent me a photo of him I'd never seen before, and today I finally put an old laptop hard drive that was laying in a drawer of his into an enclosure and looked to see what was on it. Sadly, though, nothing personal except a photo I took of him standing by his beloved RX-8. 

I still wonder why that laptop hard drive was out of the laptop, where the computer itself went. I thought it was stolen in his apartment burglary, but then why is the drive here? It was an inexpensive off brand machine he got when he bought something else, but it was no longer with his things. I do remember him telling me what happened to it ... but not WHAT he told me.

There are so many questions still in our minds.

There are so many feelings that now are mostly buried, day-to-day, but it doesn't take much to bring them to the surface. I was having coffee with Peter W. at Starbucks in the Brandon Mall on Saturday, across the way from the Apple Store, a place Leif loved as much as I do, and something that came up about Leif brought tears to my eyes. It was one of the things I had come to the Apple store to find out about. Leif's old iPhone from the fall of 2007 that I've been using as an iTouch was no longer working and I wanted to find out if it could be fixed. 

No, not likely, and what brought tears to my eyes was the thought of getting rid of it, yet another thing he used that would not longer be here. That, and talking about the Nokia phone he brought me in July 2007. I'm still using it, and changing service or getting a new phone will cut me off from that. Silly? Emotional? Maybe, but it's the truth. I still have text messages from him on that phone, the last ones he ever sent to me about saving a turtle from traffic. He could save a turtle, but he couldn't save himself.

I will always, always miss him.
This photo was another he took at the same time as the angry one I posted yesterday. It, too, was taken on November 22, 2007, Thanksgiving, around 6:00 a.m. after he had been up all night. One year before that, Thanksgiving had been a happy time for him, at least for awhile that fall. How terribly life changed, and how fast.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thoughts on Leif's Anger and Hurt

Leif died three and a half years ago. It's taken me that long to be able to write this post and to face these photos on the blog rather than just on my computer. During that time, I've examined his life and his death from every angle I can find, with every bit of knowledge I have about his life. I've agonized over his death. I've cried rivers of tears.

All of us who lose loved ones to death, especially our children, have a beautiful fantasy in our minds, I think. We somehow believe that if we could just have saved them, it would have been different. Things would have turned out all right. With a second chance, they would heal and do better. They would thrive the way we always wished they would, and we would be happy together. Our dreams for their future would come true, and we would rejoice in their lives.

Perhaps for some, that fantasy is a reality, if the suicide hotline helps, if therapy succeeds, if medical intervention saves them. We always seem to think that if we had just done the right thing, been there at the right time, we might have saved them and the future would be good, maybe wonderful. 

But what if that weren't true?

What if we saved them only to have things continue to go wrong, 

continue to give them misery and pain? What if their lives did not improve? What if they were too ill, emotionally or physically or both, to ever really recover? What if life continued to deal them blow after blow of disappointment and grief? What if their anger turned outward?

At various times since Leif's death, his dad and I have said to each other how thankful we are that Leif maintained his self control, that he maintained enough moral equilibrium that he did not do as some others and turn his guns on those who hurt him, or on innocent people who happened to be in the way when he was feeling the depth of anger and despair. 

Leif certainly had the capability, both in weaponry and skills, to have created a tremendous amount of death and destruction. I am so thankful that he did not! 

What might have happened if he had lived and not gotten well, not thrived, not found love? Might he have lashed outward? Might he have deteriorated, become mentally unstable, unable to work, gone further into too much drinking or using drugs? Where might he have ended up?

In all my searching, I have had to ask myself, did he ask that question, too? Did he ask himself where he was going, how he was going to find a way forward that did not spiral further downhill?

Some people who attempt or think of committing suicide are in an acute state of depression, anger or misery and if prevented from going through with it, get beyond that low point and find a new path. Others harbor thoughts of suicide continually until one day they finally go through with it, or find another way to act out their pain.

Did Leif, in his own, inimical introspective way, take stock or himself and his life and decide that the right thing to do was to end it before it got worse? Before he felt he had created worse consequences for himself and us? While I will never know, I can conceive of that, of a rational thought process, at least rational from his point of view. That is supported by the essay he left open on his laptop that night. It fits with the philosophy he wrote, his pronouncements about happiness and moral values. If appled to his decision to kill himself, it basically says that he chose a path that others may consider wrong and immoral, but that it served a higher morality he chose.

It's very hard to look at this as a mother, a parent. It's a terrible thing to consider that your son may have really believed that suicide was the right and rational choice for him because he saw his life spiraling downward and perhaps he was ashamed.

I have thought aboout posting these photos for three and a half years, but I never had the right words to post with them, never had to courage to put them on a public blog until now. It's with this realization that I think I can see them, still with pain, but also with understanding.

The first photo was one a a series of many he took of himself with an assault rifle he owned back in Kansas,. (It was stolen in his apartment burglary here in Florida, so heaven knows who has it now.) He had just gotten out of the army and missed his M-16. He loved guns and this expensive rifle was a pride and joy of his. He was posing for the camera in the stances he learned in the army and probably fantasizing about how he could save the day or rescue someone. He did have such thoughts of being a hero.

The second photo he took with his computer camera, a series of photos of him using a variety of filters, a variety of expressions, with and without his pistols. They were taken on November 22, 20007, in the wee hours of the morning. He had been up all night, probably playing online games and drinking. It was the same time he had written email to me about how hopeless he felt, how purposeless and lonely. It was early in the morning of Thanksgiving. He would come to our house many hours later that day and share Thanksgiving with us, putting on a good front, acting as though everything were all right.

Some of the photos he took then just look like a man playing with a new camera toy. Others are striking in their pose of anger or hurt. Whether he was acting or showing his real feelings we will never know for sure, but I believe those feelings are real, and I am thankful he did not act on them against others.

I will never know whether Leif could have recovered and had the good life we wished for him. I know I want him back and miss him terribly every day of my life, but I am also realistic enough to openly say now that I don't know whether, if he had lived, it would have been a good life, whether things might not have gotten worse.

So, I am left with being grateful I had him for 33 years, that he never showed that angry, bitter side to us, that he never turned against those who hurt him or innocent others, that he kept that much of his moral compass. And, in the end, whether I like it or not, I have to accept his choice.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. Dying at 56 after revolutionizing the computer and music industries, and more, at least he knew he'd had an impact. He must have suffered, but he fought cancer as long as he could. Leif would have had a lot to stay about both his passing and his contributions to the world of technology that Leif so loved. His last computers were Macs. He had a iPod and an iPhone. If he were alive, he'd have an iPad. Leif loved both functionality and beautiful design. He loved the "cool factor," and appreciated Jobs' contributions to that in many ways. I know his family will miss Jobs, and I'm glad they had him as long as they did, though I know it was far too short in the end.


This photo of Leif talking on his iPhone was taken at his last birthday dinner on January 27, 2008. His actual birthday was January 28th but he had to work that evening. He was 33 years old. Oddly enough, that iPhone, which I have used as an iTouch (no phone service) for three years, stopped working the day that they announced the latest iPhone 4S, and the day before Steven Jobs died. On October 6, Peter W. accidentally pulled it off the bed and it cracked the glass cover when it hit the bed frame. For four years, it was a beautiful device that first Leif loved, and then I found it wonderful and mesmerizing. 

Leif and the Cover of "Griselda"

I've had so many ideas of things to write about in the last eleven days but no time to write them. It makes me a little sad to think that. The problems of the living are taking precedence over writing my memories of Leif.

I wonder what he would think of this. I created the cover of my new ebook (short story) of "Griselda" from a photo he took of Nikko and Sugar back in 1995, and a photo that one of us took of her out by our big hedge. I'm so glad she consented to let me use the photos and make her hair so long and Sugar into a Siamese. Sugar was a little tiger kitten.

When I wrote Griselda as one of the four stories in the ghost story anthology, "Trespassing Time - Ghost Stories From the Prairie," Leif was there and read them. He was one of my "advisors" about those stories, and I was glad to have his opinion. Little did we know, in 2005, that I would ever publish this one separately as an ebook using a photo he took to create the cover.

I suspect he would like this a lot, because he truly loved cats and was crazy about long, red hair! I think he would be flattered I started with a photo he took, though it is much changed through the magic of PhotoShop.

I am amazed that there have now been over 17,000 visits to this blog from many countries, and that even when I am not posting something new, visitors continue to come back and check. Yesterday there were 24 visitors, when I hadn't written anything since September 23rd. I hope I will be able to write more frequently soon. Thank you to all of you who continue to remember Leif and visit here.

The Griselda ebook, for those interested.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The sanctity of objects

I took this photo today. It's Leif's wallet, nearly exactly as he left it, even the $12 in cash. I still have it. Why?

Some people keep their deceased loved one's room untouched. Some can't bear to part with their belongings. Why?

I've thought a lot about this in the nearly three-and-a-half years since Leif died. There are probably at least three reasons why people do this.

First, some really can't bear to part with those belongings or clean out and change a room. There is something comforting about having them. It provides some kind of emotional connection, makes them seem somehow nearer than death. Some people even keep unwashed clothing that they feel smells like their loved one.

Second, it seems somehow wrong to take someone else's belongings and dispose of them. They aren't ours. Even though that person is dead, it feels like some sort of stealing or misappropriation. We aren't sure they would approve of what we decide to do. It's as though we are doing wrong.

Third, and this is perhaps the strongest reason for me, at least in my conscious mind, is that getting rid of their belongings, especially things like ID cards and drivers' licenses, feels like dismantling their lives, their identities. It's as though we are erasing their existence, wiping it out. That is emotionally painful and very hard to to.

One could argue that keeping these things is unhealthy and allows the grieving to focus on loss even more. For some, that may be true. For others, perhaps here is some tiny comfort in the thought that we have not disposed of those small pieces of their identity, as foolish as that may seem.

We washed and gave away most of Leif's clothing, though Peter W. chose to keep some of his shirts, particularly some we gave him as gifts or some he could wear. I kept a set of his army fatigues and his dress greens, his combat boots, his dog tags, his photos, even his high school yearbooks, his school records. I don't know whether we will keep them always, but for now, they are here.

There are other things we kept and use daily, even some forks and spoons, but those are utilitarian items that we kept because they were practical, not because of any sentimental reason. Leif was not attached to such objects. Still, I sometimes think of him and remember that they were his when I use them.

But the wallet, that is somehow for me a poignant symbol of identity. I can't even bring myself to take the $12 out and spend it. That's Leif's money, the last money he had in his wallet. It's not mine. I can't take it.

The only thing missing from Leif's wallet is his military ID card, which we had to turn in (or at least we were supposed to). I've written about how doing that made me cry, how I felt then that it was dismantling his identity. I can't bring myself to go further and destroy the rest of his wallet's contents.

Who would ever want them but me? Someday they will no doubt be destroyed and gone, and I won't be there to see that or miss them, but as long as the wallet is in my care, even though I KNOW he is not coming back for it, I will save it for him.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Determined Little Boy

In the past week, I was treated to a photo of a beautiful one-year-old baby girl whose father, Leif's friend Phil, named her after him, using his middle name, Ashley. How can a year have gone by so quickly?

I often see photos of Leif's other namesake, who bears Leif's first name as his middle name, the son of Leif's friends Jason and Melissa. He is now two-and-a-half.

I wonder what Leif would think of these two beautiful children, how he would feel knowing his friends care so much about him. I wish he could see them grow and change, experience life anew, and hopefully happier, through their eyes.

I find myself wondering how Leif really felt throughout his childhood. He was so strong, so big for his age, from birth, and so self-contained, so curious about the world, so seemingly fearless, that we missed his vulnerability, and I don't think we knew of all the times he was hurt or unhappy.

There were a few times we did, when his frustration, fear or anger broke through, times when we saw his temper, times when he was moody, but they didn't seem, outwardly to be more than any child's ups and downs. But I wonder now, whether he didn't conceal a lot more than we could feel, know or guess.

The child we saw, especially as a young boy and teen, was eager for physical challenges, whether learning to walk early, loving to climb anything he could, playing soccer, throwing the discus and javelin in track, earning his black belt in judo, SCUBA diving, fighting in the SCA, and even joining the infantry. How hard it must have been for him to accept the physical limitations of the asthma he developed.

The child I remember was a curious and questing one with a big imagination. He loved science fiction, the stars, fast vehicles.

He was eager to learn, frustrated with the lack of challenge in school, had little use for academics.

This picture of him such an icon of him at that age. Look at the determined look on his little face, the stance of his baby legs, the skinned knee. He seems focused, knows where he's going. How I wish he had found a focus for his life as a young man!

He was a "I can do it myself" child, not wanting assistance with much of anything, and resisting it even when it was needed.

Like Peter W. says, you look at this picture and he looks so huggable, so precious. I miss that little boy, and I miss the man he became.

This photo was taken at Mint Spring Valley Park in Albemarle County, Virginia in August 1976. Leif was a year-and-a-half old.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This photo of Leif was taken at Avebury Circle in England in June 1980 near sundown. He was five-and-a-half years old.

"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, 
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
 — Omar Khayyám

And yet, our tears come despite their futility. Our love endures despite it's powerlessness to bring back the times and loved ones we miss. Our memories flood back though they will not convey one embrace to the past. We cannot forget, though we must go on.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Importance of Light and Sunshine

I was working out in the yard today. I'm not an eager gardener. I don't look forward to rushing out into the heat and humidity to prune shrubs, weed, or spray. But oddly enough, once I'm out there, I always enjoy it. If it's not the work I really like, though I do take satisfaction in it when I'm doing it, why do I enjoy being there with sweat running down my face and back?

There is one word for it: light.

Human beings evolved in the light, in sunlight. Sunlight is critical to life on earth, not just because it heats the planet, but because our bodies respond to light. Without light, we cannot see. Light, full spectrum sunlight, affects mood and health, creates vitamin D, and probably increases endorphins or something akin to that.

It's for the same reason that I prefer to swim in the outdoor pool instead of the indoor one. It's the same reason I enjoy going for a walk in a state park, though of course I enjoy the scenery and wildlife, too. It's the same reason that we enjoy riding our bicycles through the neighborhoods more than pedaling on a stationary bike at the fitness center while watching television.

There is something elemental and indispensable about our exposure to sunlight. Without it, we become depressed. Without a window to look out of, an office becomes oppressive. In the winter, many of us experience SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, from the lower exposure to sunlight.

I was thinking about Leif, and how sunlight deprived he was. He worked a job with hours from 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. He worked in a cubicle with nothing to look at but a computer screen, virtually tied to a chair since he had to be on a headset. There was no window to look out of, no sunshine to brighten the day.

He got home around midnight and then he would stay up late online, playing computer games, watching movies. Between his late night hours and his insomnia, he would go to bed very late and get up late. Unless he had some errand he had to do earlier, something that couldn't wait until one of his days off, he didn't see daylight except for the narrow slit of time between when he got up and when he got to work.

As a boy and youth, he had always loved going out in the woods on hikes, going to the seashore, riding a bike, and later a motorcycle, and in high school, skateboarding and in-line skating. He played soccer. He was forced by school, work and his parents to get up in the morning and go to bed at night. He had exposure to that all-important light.

Of course, it would be a gross over-simplification to blame his death on the lack of sunlight in his life, but I believe it contributed to the depth of his depression and hopelessness.

Partly, he lacked the opportunities to be outdoors in the sunlight, and partly, when he did have them, he had no one to share the experience with, and he often sat at home in his apartment rather than go out and seek the light. As I have written before, when we are depressed, we don't feel like doing any of the things that ultimately would make us feel better.

There was a pool at his apartment complex. I asked him if he ever used it or went down there sunbathing. He said no. Partly, I'm sure, it was because he didn't want to be seen in a bathing suit after he gained so much weight, but partly it was the lack of companionship. It was easier and more absorbing to be online, watch tv. Television is entertaining, but it rarely lifts our mood the way being out-of-doors can.

My brother and our son Peter seem to think we are foolish for having a home with a yard we have to spend time on. I know I could use the hours I spend working in the yard to other advantage, and yet, each time I actually do it, I am grateful for the sense of peace, the appreciation of the light, the songs of the birds, and the greetings of the neighbors.

Go out into the light. Soak up the sunshine. It may be the best medicine, and it costs nothing but the willingness to walk out the door. How I wish Leif had done so.

This photo of Leif was taken at Busch Gardens in Virginia in June 1977. He was two-and-a-half years old.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where's the Bravado?

I haven't posted anything here since August 23rd, two weeks ago, though I've thought about it every day. I think back to the first two years after Leif's death and how posting on his blog was one of the most important priorities of my day, how I thought I would end it on the second anniversary of his death, but couldn't, and how I've posted less frequently since then, how other crises and needs in my life have taken over the time I used to devote here. I know that's normal, but how I would want Leif to know that I think of him just as often. Peter W. and I talk about him every day. We still miss him terribly, so terribly.

When I'm looking through those old photo albums from the days before digital photos, I still see so many photos of Leif that haven't been scanned, haven't been shared, and each one has memories attached to it, some of them things we probably wouldn't think of without a photo to remind us.

This photo was taken in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, in a boat on the lake that was formed when a Thai family friend was head of a project to put a dam on the river. We were in Thailand in December 1981. Leif was one month shy of his seventh birthday. Ben took us to see several sights in that area, the dam, the lake, the Bridge on the River Kwai, and the Erawan Waterfall to name some of them. We stayed in a government resort on the lake shore which was guarded by officers with impressive-looking guns. The boys were interested in those, but didn't dare to approach the guards and ask about them.

The were also fascinated by the dam and how it worked, and loved the boat trip on the lake. You can see Leif's hair blowing in the wind. He was wearing a life jacket, of course. What surprises me about this particular photo is that he looks a little scared, a little dubious, and to use a term that Peter W. now often uses to describe some of Leif's childhood photos, vulnerable. Yes, he does look vulnerable. Peter W. said yesterday that he thinks because Leif was always so big and physically powerful for his age, and put on such a good front, that we didn't really see how sensitive and vulnerable he was. I agree. I knew that he felt things deeply, had strong emotions, and that he could get hurt feelings, but he concealed so much that I don't think we were really aware of the depth of his emotions except during the more extreme outbursts of frustration or anger. And, I think he, like many men, often burst out with those rather than show hurt or cry as a child.

When we see these photos, Peter W. says Leif looks so huggable. He was, a beautiful, beautiful, huggable child, though he wasn't a cuddly one with most people. He was too active and squirmy for that.

I thought that by the time we were nearly three-and-a-half years past his death, the hole in our lives might feel less deep, but it doesn't.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What's the Matter With Saturdays?

The last two Saturdays, Peter has been down in the dumps, very nostalgic, missing the family we once had. I felt that way, too, Saturday before last. Didn't even want to get out of bed. I'm glad that feeling of sadness didn't last pervasively for me, and I wonder what was the trigger. Why Saturdays? After all, we are retired and Saturday really isn't much different than any other day of the week for us.

I think after a couple of weeks, I may have figured it out, or at least what came to make some sense to me. In those years when we were raising our boys, Saturday was often a day we did something special together, some kind of outing we all enjoyed. Peter and I weren't working on Saturday, so it was family time. What we did depended on where we were living at the time. In Germany, it was Volksmarching, six mile hikes in towns all over southern Germany.

In Japan, it was the Saturday bus trips to some interesting destination in Japan, or soccer games at Camp Zama (the boys playing; one year, Peter W. coaching), or a train trip to somewhere like Machida for shopping, Tokyo, or Kamakura.

In Hawaii, it was likely to be either beach day, going to Bellows Beach and then to Bueno Nalo for quesadillas and Dave's Ice Cream for the marvelous coconut macadamia nut ice cream, or down to Waikiki for dinner, a movie, and playing games at the video game parlor.

In Chicago, we might have gone to a museum, or something like a car show, or walked down to Lake Michigan, or many other things we did there. And in Puerto Rico, going to Old San Juan, the beach, or trips around the island.

Even after the boys were grown, it was Sunday evening that Leif was likely to be at our house for dinner, so that was associated with the weekend, too.

None of those things happen now, but I think there's a nostalgia for it, for those times we were together. I think we are both finding time, in a way, to think about this more now that we aren't traveling as much and having company. The distractions aren't there. We are refocusing inward.

I do miss that family we had when the boys were young and their problems were small, when they were beautiful, handsome children who made us see the world through new eyes.

My Leif was always the climber. If there was something to climb on, he'd climb it. Rocks, stumps, trees, walls, hills, anything he could go UP. Always up. He could skip around on things like a billy goat with no fear.

This photo of him on a huge stump was taken in Scheffau, Austria in August 1979 when Leif was four-and-a-half years old. He was glorying in having gotten up there and was surveying the world from above our heads. Of course, being "mom" I was worried he'd get hurt, but he wasn't worried in the least, and he got safely down without any assistance. How I wish the other things in his life had been so easy to "get down" from.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Power of Smiles - The Power of Longing

Last Saturday I was going through thousands of digital photos and Peter W. was looking at the slide show of Leif's life on this blog. He said, again, how happy Leif looked, how it was hard to believe what had happened to him, but that you could see the downhill slide in his photos during the last year of his life. I, too, was seeing so many smiling photos of him, and it's easy to get the impression that he really was happy. I've written before about smiles in photos. Most people smile for the camera because that's what they've been taught to do. If they don't, the photographer will tell them to smile, and wait to take the picture until they do. It's not that they are always caught at a spontaneous moment of happiness and delight, or that they are really happy people in those pictures, though sometimes it IS a happy moment. We don't see all those that weren't captured, or all the times before the camera was pointed in their direction or the photographer insisted on a smile.

I've posted some photos of Leif that weren't smiling, though except for the one when he was a kid in Japan having a crying fit, he didn't really look unhappy in the photos . . . pensive, thoughtful, absorbed, perhaps, but not sad or unhappy. I do have some photos of him looking glum or unhappy, though. They aren't my favorite shots, but I am still glad to have them. They are real. Usually, I caught him unaware, or I wanted him to smile and he wouldn't, so I took the picture anyway.

The photo with this post was taken by Peter W. in San Marino in September 1979. Leif was four-and-a-half years old. We were on a trip to Italy in our old Opel Diplomat car, which I'm amazed managed the trip. It was the same trip when we visited Rimini, I think. Leif looks so huggable, but also so kind of intense.

Looking at all the photos induced an intense longing for him, a truly heartwrenching yearning to have him back again. I was overcome by it, and then I decided to think more deeply about the emotion I was feeling and discovered that he was the catalyst, but the yearning was not only for him. It was for that time of our lives. It was for the totality of the experience when our sons were young and we didn't face all these problems, when we had no worries about their adult problems and no memories of Leif's death, when we were together and happy. Peter W. says he would like to go back and do it all again, together. I know what he means. I long for the time when I could hold both my boys in my arms and hug them for all we were worth, when I could tuck them into bed at night and sing to them, a time when I knew that if they were unhappy, it would pass, a time when Peter and I were young and hopeful and optimistic about our future and theirs.

We were so fortunate when our sons were young. They were healthy, intelligent, creative, full of life and fun. Of course, they were rascals, too, and often frustrating, but mostly they were a joy, and that time of our lives was a treasure we can be enormously grateful for. We can be grateful for the smiles, the natural and the posed ones, and we can be grateful for every other expression we preserved on film, even the silly ones. They show who we were. I like that better than what we have become.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Forty Months of Memories and Missing Leif

Today it has been forty months, three years and four months, since we found Leif dead in his apartment. In some ways we have healed. The deepest, raw grief has passed. We live our lives. We find enjoyment in our family, our travels, our friends and home. But there isn't a day that we don't talk of Leif. Every day there are reminders of him, and reminders that he is not with us.

Grief is like the tides. It subsides and then it rolls back in again. With all the trips we've taken since Leif's death, I've come to see a pattern. Coming home brings the realization that Leif is not here. Driving past the exit to go to his apartment on the way home from the airport or elsewhere in Tampa, walking into the room that was once his bedroom or the one that was his den, seeing all the things he helped put up on our walls, the German cabinet and my office furniture he helped put together, the phones he installed, the flag case, possessions that were once his; each of those brings a flood of memories, most of them happy, but the overall effect is overwhelming sadness that he isn't here. There are the inevitable tears, the questions why that come back to haunt us, the realization again what a hole his death has left in our lives.

Luckily, this depression doesn't last more than a few days. It seems remarkable to me that even forty months after his death we still feel it so deeply, that although we have managed to move forward in our lives, this tragedy continues to extract a toll and always will. I am thankful that family, work, and love get us past the hard times when the tide rushes in.

This time, we came back from a cruise where we went to Cozumel. The last time we were in Cozumel was in 1993 on an NCL cruise with Leif. He loved it so much! Of course we were flooded with memories even while on the cruise, and each day we were talking about how Leif would have loved it, what he was like on that long-ago cruise, how we wished he had been with us. That cruise was one of the highlights of his life, and I'm so glad we were able to give that to him then.

I was moping around when we returned and was so glad when we had company visit us, cousins with a darling four-month-old baby. The day of getting ready for them provided a focus on work and their afternoon visit was joyful and a wonderful distraction that lifted us out of the wash of the tide.

As I have written before, when we are depressed, we don't feel like doing any of the things that will help lift the depression, so it takes either a personal will to make oneself do them or something external that forces it. I've learned that allowing myself to be lethargic and mope is destructive, and I try to make myself get involved in something that needs to be done or a new project. That invariably helps. Sometimes I am not able to do that and I find myself sitting and playing endless rounds of computer games or compulsively checking email and Facebook to try to distract myself without expending any energy. That's another thing I've realized. If I find myself doing that for a couple of days, it's time to get up and make myself work. Work of ANY kind is the best therapy. Not only does it distract me from sadness, I feel better for having accomplished something, crossed something off my endless list of things that either need to be done or projects I want to do.

I love my home. I love that Leif is a part of it, forever. I am grateful he was my son. However, after forty months, I think I see the pattern of my days and I know that it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time. I know that I will continue to experience the tides of grief. And I know that love, my family and friends, and work are the antidote.
The first photo of Leif, Peter W. and me was taken on our 1993 NCL cruise. The second is of the Carnival Legend in the Caribbean in July 2011.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Magic of Mass Effect

Ever since Leif died, we had his Mass Effect game here but no one played it. Our great niece Kimberly tried it once, and our grandson Marcus as well, but both were too young to play it and lost interest. Mass Effect is the game that Leif bought about three months before he died. He was absolutely captivated by it and he played it for days, once even 24 hours straight until he solved the game more than once. He created both a male and a female character to play with.

Our granddaughters are now interested in strategy games and Aly in particular likes first person shooter games, so I wondered if she would like Mass Effect. To our amazement, as soon as she tried it, she was as captivated as Leif and she has played it every waking minute that she's been allowed to use the television, up to 8 hours a day. She even set her alarm clock to get up early just to have more time before others were up.

The game has proven fascinating to Madeleine and Peter Anthony as well, and even Peter W. has enjoyed watching them play. How I wish Leif were here to enjoy the game with them. He would be giving Aly tips, chuckling at her intensity and helping her along. I can see the two of them together playing. How he would have enjoyed that, a kindred soul to share one of his passions.

It seems a little bit amazing to me that over three years after Leif's death, the game he loved has brought such pleasure to the family.

The photo is a screen shot of Aly's character in the game.