Sunday, January 30, 2011

Funny Face

Leif enjoyed clowning around for the camera and making funny faces. Here's another photo I found on one of his cell phones. It was taken May 5, 2007.

I have a Google home page for my browser and one of the personalized features I set up is a Picasa slide show. That means that often when I open my browser, I'm greeted by photos of Leif, and usually they bring a smile to my face. Sometimes I say, "Hello, my handsome son." Silly? Maybe, but it's as though he is there to greet me, almost like an avatar online. Wish he were really "behind" that avatar!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How Fast Life Changes

How fast life changes! I have often remarked to friends that life can change in one instant, and you will never know it's coming, like Leif's death. And now we have another change that took place on his birthday.

Yesterday would have been Leif's 36th birthday if he had lived, and a couple of weeks ago I made up my mind that we should celebrate his birthday instead of either moping around or not celebrating it. We had plans for the day. But then my cousin from Wisconsin called. She was in Florida and wanted to get together. Yesterday was the best day to do it, and she was flying out the next day, and wanted to meet in Sarasota. Peter W. had talked about going to Sarasota, so though it was a switch in plans, it seemed right to meet two of my cousins and one's husband in Sarasota for lunch and some strolling around.

Driving down to Sarasota, Peter W. talked about Leif and how hard it was to know that he was so unhappy, so miserable, that he would take his life. It was a sad trip down, serious, thoughtful.

Then we had a really delightful lunch with Judy, John and Sandie, a cousin I hadn't met before. We ate outside in the sunshine at Marina Jack by all the pretty yachts and Sarasota Bay. Afterward we walked around Bayfront Park by the dolphin fountain, and then drove across the causeway to Lido Key and St. Armand's Circle, took a little walk on the beach and around the shops. I was remember the last time Leif was there with us, with Peter A. and his kids, and having coconut ice cream.

It was a good way to spend his birthday, and I had planned to come home, light a candle, and have a beer in his honor (his favorite drink), a Newcastle, a beer he introduced us to, but life had other less pleasant things in store for us.

On the way back from Sarasota, my cell phone rang and it was a Lifeline dispatcher telling me that my mother had falled and was taken to the hospital. We went directly there. Mom fell and broke her right hip, just a year and eleven months after breaking her back for the second time.

Mom is 92 and in good health except for severe osteoporosis and macular degeneration. As she put it, she's like a "china doll," and breaks easily.

I spent the entire evening at the ER with her and then in her room, after which I went to her house to take care of some things and get some other things for her and took them back to her hospital room. I didn't get home until nearly 2:00 a.m. Mom will have to have surgery, but we don't know when or what the prognosis will be, but she's a fighter and if anyone can make it back from a broken hip, she can.

After I got home, I realized again that the living have to take precedence over the dead, but that I could still have the beer, even though it was past 2:00 a.m.

So here I am, Newcastle in hand, toasting Leif's birthday a day late. I am glad he was my son, glad I had him in my life, glad he HAD a birthday, sad he isn't here to celebrate it.

Life has changed yet again, suddenly, without warning.

The photo was taken on Leif's birthday in 2007. Little did we know he would have only one more. He hadn't lost hope yet, still had that winning smile. It was a fun birthday, unlike his sad, preoccupied last one. He is crumping up the paper that had wrapped up a 2-drawer filing cabinet we gave him to organize his papers. Of course, he never did.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Celebrate His Birthday?

I was thinking a few days ago about my sadness over Leif's approaching birthday and how hard it is to think about him not being there to celebrate it, not spending it with us or off on some date and texting me about having a good time, not making his favorite food or taking him to a favorite restaurant, not getting a present for him, and for remembering that last sad birthday he had here.

I was thinking about a friend who celebrates her dead daughter's birthday by going to the cemetery with cake and balloons to celebrate. I liked that idea and that spirit, but it's not something that would be either possible or appropriate at Bay Pines National Cemetery. It would look very strange to take a lawn chair and sit in front of the wall of a columbarium with cake and balloons. There's not even any real place to leave flowers. I could sit somewhere quite a ways away and eat some cake, but that seems completely artificial in that setting.

But thinking about this I had a sudden idea. Rather than doing nothing on that day but be sad and go to the cemetery, we SHOULD celebrate his birth, celebrate the gift that he was, by doing something he would have enjoyed and would be glad to see us doing; go out to lunch or dinner, go to the beach, go to a movie, have a beer, do something fun, something new.

We have always combined trips to the cemetery with other more enjoyable things to do in the St. Petersburg area, but only once with the idea that we had once been there with Leif and were doing it in his memory. Now I think we will plan something special on his birthday each year and raise a glass of beer or wine in his honor.

it won't stop me from missing him, and I'm sure there will be some tears at some point during the day, even if they just well up in my eyes for a minute or two, but I will feel better that we are doing something positive he would have liked and celebrating the day he came into our lives and into this world.

Peter W. took this photo of me and Leif at a temple somewhere in Japan in the fall of 1980 when Leif was five-and-a-half years old. I don't know where it was and there's no notation on the photo. He was so darling at that age.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Visiting the Cemetery and Lunch at The Green Iguana

This would be the third year I planned to visit the cemetery where Leif is inurned on his birthday, January 28th, but it is a long drive from our home and we were at another event within a few minutes drive of it today, so we went early. It's so terribly sad to think that his 36th birthday will be in 13 days, but he won't be here to celebrate it. When I go to the cemetery, all I can do is put my hands on the granite stone on the face of the niche that holds his cremains and cry, and wish with all my heart that he were not there, but alive and with us. It is still so hard for me to believe that all that's left of him is half the size or less of the baby who was born to me.

It struck me as we drove to the cemetery from the north this time, crossing Ulmerton Road, how close we were to the first place we stayed the first time we visited the Tampa Bay area, 13.1 miles by car, but more like nine miles as the crow flies. How happy he was in this bay area the first time we came, exultant, as he rented that white Mustang convertible and drove over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, glorying in the view of the bay and the Gulf, the sparkling water and sun. As we stood there beside the columabarium, Peter W. talked about how we wanted to bring him here for a new start, a new hope. How little could we guess that a few short years later he would be here in this cemetery, only nine miles from were we were staying.

We don't stay long at the cemetery. As I told Peter, I could stay there all afternoon and cry for his loss, but I realize that isn't healthy for either of us, and as Peter says, Leif doesn't know we are there. I remarked that some people would think he knows. I wish I could think so, or that it would make a difference if he did. But if there is anything left of him in existence somewhere, surely he knows how much we love him, and surely he can see that we talk about him every day, look at his photos, think of him. Surely this blog is more of a memorial to him than hours in the cemetery.

Yet it does mean something to me to go there, to touch that stone, no matter how sad a moment it is. I'm usually not there more than five or ten minutes. After that time, I decide I need to get ahold of myself, stop the tears, and try to be happy, to try to be normal, and most of the time, I succeed.

That, going on with life, is one of the reasons we try to combine a visit to the cemetery with something positive and fun to do on the same trip in that direction. Today it was a rock and gem show in Largo, which we both enjoyed. After visiting Leif's niche, we went to lunch at the closest restaurant, The Green Iguana, and ate out on the deck overlooking the water, though the day had turned gray and chilly. We enjoyed the food and the view, and talked about how we would love to have taken Leif there, that it was the kind of place he would have enjoyed, with live music and good beer (which we didn't order).

It would have been so good to treat him, to enjoy a lively political conversation. He would have plenty to say about current affairs. I would have been especially interested to hear his viewpoints about the shooting tragedy in Tucson.

So we enjoyed lunch, thinking and talking about Leif, and then we did some shopping before heading home and to a performance about Mark Twain. It was a full day, and Leif was a part of it all, and he will always be a part of our lives, no matter how many years it has been since he was alive and with us.

The photo of the Green Iguana sign was indoors and in low light. I took the photos with my cell phone and Peter turned just as I took the photo. I find myself wondering whether Leif ever ate there. If he did, I hope he had a good time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Time to Stay Very Busy as Leif's 36th Birthday Approaches

Anyone who has lost someone they deeply love can tell you that certain days are harder than others. Sometimes it's a day with a special significance due to a personal event, but it's always holidays like Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving and the loved one's birthday and death day that bring an especially poignant and painful sense of loss.

If find that the days leading up to those days are often harder for me than the actual day itself. I suppose it has to do with anticipating the day and how much I'll miss him. Christmas and Thanksgiving can be made better by time with family, busy time full of the things we do on holidays to keep my from thinking as much about Leif and missing him. Of course, he isn't gone from my mind, but the less time there is to be sad and reminisce, the better, at least for the celebrations.

It's much harder on Mother's Day or Father's Day, dates when we focus on parenthood and our children, and it's acutely clear that Leif isn't there, especially since he WAS with us from every one of them except while he was in the army for three years, plus there aren't any busy celebrations to be a distraction. We can, however, try to focus on Peter Anthony and be grateful for him and our continuing relationship with him, and all the years we have shared.

But Leif's birthday and death day have no other celebration, no other focus, and are impossible to ignore or forget, and I am finding it hard to anticipate his birthday on January 28th, wondering what I will say, what I will do, what he would have been like at thirty-six. I'm sure it will be so every year I live.

This photo of Leif was taken in Charlottesville, Virginia in the spring of 1977 when he was two years old.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Astonishing How This Blog Has Fared

It's amazing to me that in less than three years, there have been over 13,490 visitors to this blog, from six continents and over 90 countries.

I know that many of them arrived here because of some search term, probably many because they were looking for Leif Garrett instead of my son, but it is still an amazing number of visits, and I am glad they saw at least the top of the page photos and saw that my son lived.

It's evident that some were touched, some read on, some were repeat visitors, and I am grateful for that, too.

Now that I post less frequently, I am even more surprised that people keep coming. I come back to see it myself, to check the visitor stats, to post anew. Now that I have posted the best photos of Leif, it's more of a challenge to find new ones, as I don't like to post just words with no pictures.

These photos of Leif were taken on July 26, 2006 when he was helping Peter W. put together my new office furniture. I wasn't there. I was still in Kansas, and Leif's girlfriend at the time, Donna, took the photos with her cell phone and sent them to me.

He had only moved out of this room, which had been his office/living room for a year, five months before this was taken. I wonder, now, if I hadn't needed to use that room, and his bedroom, once I moved down from Kansas, whether he would have stayed with us longer, whether it would have made a difference in his life. I doubt it, though. I think he decided to move when he did because he found the opportunity with her and grabbed it.

Peter W. told me this morning he goes to this page each day wondering whether I've posted something new, even though now I seldom do. This blog became an important focus for both of us to think about Leif and our family and deal with our grief. We have come a long, long way since his death, and we are much happier and function much better. A part of that is because we have learned to live with his death and have come to compartmentalize our sadness, to keep it at a distance most of the time. But not always. It still comes through, and, from what others tell me, always will.

We will miss so many things, but one of them is his wealth of knowledge about technology, vehicles, tools and putting things together, and the help and advice he could give on all of those. Today my sister, Lannay, said she wished that she could just call him up and ask him about her problems with her computer and cell phone. I wish so, too! There are so many times I have the same wish. I don't think Leif knew how many people respected his abilities and counted on them.