Sunday, April 24, 2011

Leif - Easter 1977 - Charlottesville, Virginia - Age 2

Holidays are always so much more fun with children. They are still in love with the magic of it all. I don't think any parent will forget the first time a child really participated in Christmas or Easter.

Leif was two years old, 26 months, when we celebrated Easter on a gorgeous day in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was April 10, 1977. We had our traditional Easter breakfast with Easter Nest Cake, and my sister, Lannay was with us for the weekend. We decorated hollow egg shells and made an egg tree with forsythia branches. In the photo of the family around the breakfast table, you can see both the cake and the tree. It was fun making them with the boys.

Later, we had our own Easter egg and basket hunt out back. Like most very young children, Leif at first didn't catch on to the idea that he had to go and LOOK for something hidden, but he did find his basket and very much enjoyed the contents. In addition to the standard candy, the boys got a few other little goodies, one of which was a "magic slate." Leif found this utterly fascinating and would scribble on it like mad and then rip up the plastic page to make it disappear. At the age of two, he wasn't doing much actual drawing yet, though he was able to do more than most kids that age.

This Easter Day, I am thinking of all those Easter mornings we spent together. Easter as a religious holiday was not meaningful to Leif, but all of us treasured it because of our good family times and traditions.

The last time we saw Leif alive was on Easter in 2008, March 23. Too old for Easter baskets and egg hunts, but still sharing the day with us.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Leif and the Antique Pump Organ - 22 months old

Leif's interest in music started when he was tiny. He always loved music, and he loved exploring things. Here was a great opportunity! We were visiting my sister in Alexandria, Virginia in November 1976. These photos were taken the same time as the last set, and also by my sister.

She inherited the old pump organ that used to belong to our mother's cousins, Mabel and Becca. When we were kids, this wonderful old instrument stood on the stair landing at the top of their steep stairs. To play it, we had to lean against a spindle railing, and had it given way, we would have fallen to the first floor. Luckily, it never did. We loved playing the organ, pulling out the stops, pumping the pedals. It was always a special treat to go visit Mabel and Becca and get the play the organ. I have photos or me playing it when I was about seven.

Leif spotted the organ at Lannay's house and, tiny as he was, not quite two years old, he did his darndest to play it. I have to smile, looking at him standing on the pump pedals and holding himself onto the keyboard with his little fingers, barely able to see the keyboard! He was having a great time.

Later, when he was in about third grade, Leif briefly took piano/keyboard lessons at Punahou School in Honolulu, but keyboarding was not his favorite. What he learned to love playing was electric guitar.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Leif in his Blue Pajamas

I've had this album open on my desk for days, scanning a picture here and there that I hadn't scanned before, seeing this group of pictures my sister, Lannay, took when we were at her house in Alexandria, Virginia for dinner in November 1976. It may have been Thanksgiving. We apparently took the boys' pajamas along and got them ready for bed . . . perhaps we all stayed overnight. I can't remember any more, but both boys are in their blue matching pjs.

Leif was having a great time. He enjoyed putting on a show, exploring a whole new apartment, and the extra attention of his aunt. I've been smiling at these cute pictures of him at 22 months of age for days, but tonight when I scanned them and saw them full size on the computer screen, I just cried. He was so beautiful, so precious. How can he be gone?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Leif and the Zip-a-Babe harness

Leif was a little escape artist, and boy, could he run fast! He never worried about getting lost. He would just take off as fast as his little legs would go, which was remarkably fast, ironic, since when he was in the infantry, although he could pass the army fitness tests, he couldn't run fast enough for his sergeant because of his asthma.

This is another one of those ordinary but serendipitous photos. My sister, Lannay, took it in a Chinese restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia in November 1976, when Leif was 22 months old. He is wearing the Zip-a-Babe harness. It was a lifesaver, literally. Although I got disapproving looks for using it, it allowed me to let Leif walk without him being in danger of escaping or running out in front of a car. People said leashes were for dogs, not kids, but those people never had a kid like Leif, I bet. he didn't mind it at all. I think he was actually rather relieved at being curbed a bit.

I don't remember the dinner we had at this restaurant, but it wasn't unusual for my boys to end up in retaurant kitchens being treated to things like cookies or bananas. They were such cute kids they attracted that kind of attention wherever we were. I remember Peter A. being whisked off the kitchens in restaurants in Spain, for instance.

Leif is holding a cookie in cellophane wrap. I think it's a Chinese almond cookie. He was a little charmer.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye By Meghan O'Rourke, Slate Magazine.

I found this article interesting, thought-provoking, and so true. I have also written about how we hide our grief from others and there are no rituals to make it acceptable. She asks how we can do that. My answer is this blog. For three years I have written about Leif's life and death, about our grief, about our journey out of the deep hole of sadness. Although it is not a public ritual in the sense than I am in the midst of people when I write, it is public in the sense that it is on the web for all who are interested to read. I plan to follow her coming articles. They may be of help to readers here, too.

Although it is a "Long Goodbye," I'm not sure that there ever really is a "goodbye." I don't think we ever really accept, somewhere deep inside, that the person we love so much is truly gone.

NOTE; On the first page of this essay are links to others she has written on the subject of grieving.

Another Young Man Takes His Life

One big question haunts Marine's suicide: Why?

Another young man who served his country took his life, and like Leif, will not be counted among battle casualties, though they certainly died in battles of their own, battles that were at least in some large part brought on by their military service. How sad for this family. How sad that we send our young people to war.

Leif Getting a Haircut

Here's another one of those ordinary things most people don't have photos of. I always cut my boys hair, and most of the time, I also cut Peter W.'s hair. I'm not a trained barber, but I learned how to do it well enough to save us a lot of money over the years. This photo was taken by my sister, Lannay, in March 1977 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Leif was two years old. I'm wearing a jacket because it was so cold in the house. I no longer remember why, but it was very chilly.

Leif was such a cute two-year-old! His terrible twos weren't like other kids, though. The two things I remember that were difficult about him at that age were staying in bed and banging his head on the floor. I remember counting one night that he got out of bed 29 times before he finally gave up and went to sleep. I finally managed to find a "Zip-a-Babe" harness that was meant to keep a child safe in bed so they wouldn't roll out, and used that. I thought he would fight it, but he actually seemed relieved that he couldn't get up, though he could roll and find a comfortable position.

The head banging was disturbing. He would go off by himself and bang his head on the floor. I was very concerned that he had a serious neurological condition and we had him checked out thoroughly. No one could figure it out. I finally noticed that he didn't do it when we went out places but only when we stayed home all day. It turned out to be boredom and frustration, apparently. He was so incredibly smart that he was like some caged animal when kept at home all day, no matter how much time I spent with him or how many toys he had. He was fine once we got him started at Rocking Horse Country Day School.

At this age, Leif knew all his shapes, including complex ones like octagons and trapezoids, all his letters and numbers, and had memorized several long books, such as Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax." He loved any kind of outing, anything new that could stimulate that smart little brain.

He was not fond of haircuts. :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Douglas Adams Quote on the Afterlife

Leif was a huge fan of Douglas Adams, as I've posted before. Today I saw a Douglas Adams quote that Leif would have found profoundly amusing, at least in the time before he decided to kill himself, and knowing Leif, probably even then. He had a wonderful sense of humor and irony.

"He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife."

About this quote, Leif would have probably speculated about why the person quoted hoped there wasn't an afterlife . . . but more likely he would have known just what book it came from and why. Leif himself was an agnostic. Sometimes he said he was an atheist, but then would say he really was an agnostic. He said he liked to hope that there was a benevolent deity, but that he saw no evidence for it. There were quite a few women he dated who tried to convert him to fundamentalist Christianity and he did not appreciate their efforts to "save" him. He felt that if there was such a deity, he would not condemn people to eternal misery. Another one of his favorite quotes, which I've written about before, one that he used as a sig line on Zaon, was, "Maybe this planet is another planet's hell." by Aldous Huxley. I think Leif had some tiny hope that there was an afterlife, but not a belief.

I chose this photo of the family because it was taken about the time Leif became enamored of Douglas Adams, when he was in junior high school. Peter Anthony was a cadet at the Air Force Academy and took a science fiction literature class, where he was introduced to Douglas Adams. He was so taken with Adams work that he insisted the whole family had to read at least "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," and we all did. All of us except Peter W. read the entire series and we had a lot of fun talking about all the absurdity in the books.

The photo was taken in September 1987, right after Peter Anthony's first cadet summer, at the home of his Air Force sponsor, virtually the first time he was allowed off the Academy grounds to have a "normal" meal without all the cadet constraints. It was actually a little before he took the sci fi course, but the only photo I have of all of us together around that time. It was a good visit.

Remembering the Little Moments of Life

There are so many ordinary moments of life that we don't think to document or even remember, moments that in their own way make up the cement of family time and bind us together, moments that slip past us without a second thought.

My sister, Lannay, captured some of those moments when we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia and she came to visit often. The boys were so young then, Peter Anthony in second grade, Leif two years old.

This photo of Peter W. giving Leif a drink of milk, their eyes meeting over the glass, is such a moment, not the kind of moment someone normally photographs, but so precious, such a sweet intimacy between father and son, such innocence and trust.

This photo was taken in April 1977. It has begun to yellow and it's not in sharp focus, but the sweetness comes through for all time.

Thank you, Lannay.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Way to Heal

Three years ago, two years ago, I would not have been able to do what we did today and be happy. The day would have been too fraught with sorrow. But sometime in the past year, I told Peter W. that instead of staying home and being sad on Leif's birthday, we should celebrate it by doing something he would have enjoyed, after visiting the cemetery, and I feel the same way about the anniversary days of his death. It's important to mourn, but it is also important to find some joy.

Yesterday, the third anniversary of the day we found Leif, we went to the beach. It was a gorgeous day, balmy, and the beach was full of people reveling in the wonder of it.

Then we went out to dinner at Two Senoritas Mexican Restaurant in Sarasota. Leif would have approved.

And last, we went out for a sunset cruise on "Le Barge," a boat that oddly has four live palm trees growing on the top deck, glitzy mermaids pointing the way, and live music in the Margaritaville vein. It was a beautiful evening to be on the water and watch the sun go down. Leif loved sunsets, and as I saw it set, I thought about his life, as though the setting sun was a metaphor for the sunset of his life, though his end was not beautiful.

I was at peace, and glad that we had gone to the cemetery the day before and said our words of sadness and grief so that today we could find beauty in our surroundings. Leif was with us in our hearts.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Three Years

Yesterday, the third anniversary of Leif's death, we went to Bay Pines National Cemetery to visit Leif's niche. It still seems odd to me to say "niche" instead of grave, but it isn't a grave. Why is it that it is important to me to go there on this anniversary, on his birthday, on Veteran's Day, to touch the stone and cry my heart out? I think it's because there is something still acceptable in mourning him openly on those days and in that place. I try to avoid that in other times and places, to live as normally as I can, to be happy when I can, but there is a time for allowing those feelings to have free rein and admit they are still strong.

There is something both infinitely sad and somehow comforting to lean against the stone, my hands on the words, his name, on the marble face of his niche, and allow the tears to flow, something about acknowledging how deeply his death has etched its sadness on our lives, something about being near to the only early remains of our son.

And it is also important after being there, to be able to dry my tears and drive away into the life we live and find life goes on, even if it's harder without him.

I remarked to Peter W. yesterday that if we visited Bay Pines without Leif there, it would be a beautiful place of peace, where we would feel respect for all the veterans buried and inurned there, a sadness for their sacrifice and their families, but we would not experience the heart-wrenching grief that we do now.

About this time on April 10th three years ago, we were at Leif's apartment. We had drive there with dread and hope, more dread and fear, but still a tiny spark of hope, after no one could get any contact with him in over 24 hours. It was three years ago today that we found his lifeless body, and the nightmare of grief began. We have come a long way since then, climbed back up the well of dark sadness into a happier place, and for that I am grateful, as I am grateful for Leif. Life will never be the same, but it can be good . . . not as good as if he were still with us, but never-the-less, good, and we will respect our grief when the feelings come, and go on and smile when it passes.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Day Like Any Other?

My friend and neighbor, whose son committed suicide a couple of years before Leif asked me a few weeks ago, just before the anniversary of her son's death, "Why is it that those days are so hard? Aren't they just a day like any other?"

I answered her that they aren't just a day like any other because humans mark time. They have calendars and a way to measure the passage of time. We spend our whole lives measuring time and its passage, knowing what day it is, what hour, what month, what year, knowing what we are supposed to do or celebrate on a particular day, knowing when the birthdays and anniversaries come, when the holidays arrive. It's only natural that the day something as momentous and life-changing as the death of one's child happens will be one we will continue to remember, not just as the day it happened, but each calendar day throughout the years that falls on the same month and day, another year having passed.

We note or celebrate the passage of a another years since our last birthday, another wedding anniversary for a year gone by, and the birthdays of our deceased child will still come. We will still calculate how old they would be if they had lived. We will remember the day of our child's death and each year on that day we will commemorate it in our own way, whether only in our hearts and minds, or with something more concrete.

Today my sister Sherie brought beautiful plants from her and my mother, and a lovely bouquet from my sister, Lannay, in remembrance of Leif's death three years ago. Three years ago today he died, though we did not find his body until April 10th. My mind goes over again and again those hours when none of us knew where he was or what had happened to him, thinking about his lifeless body lying in his kitchen, cold, gone.

It still seems as though he could come driving up to my door, still get out and say "silly Mommy," and give me a big hug. It still seems as though he should be coming here for dinner and to watch a movie, or chatting with me online. I expect it will always seem that way, no matter how real his death is. The mind does not let go of a loved one easily. The heart holds them close forever.

So no, it is not a day like any other. it is a day with a terrible significance, the anniversary of a tragic loss, a day to remember, a day to mourn. But also a day to pick oneself up and dry one's tears and go on with life, grateful for sisters, grateful for each other, Peter and I, grateful for our son and grandchildren, grateful Leif was ours, even for so short a time.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Visiting the Dali Museum

Yesterday evening we spent at the new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. The new building is impressive and Leif would have loved it, as well as Dali's art. The first time we went to the Dali Museum, it was the old museum, on one of our trips to Florida before we moved here. Leif was with us, and he was fascinated and impressed. He had an appreciative eye for art but particularly liked art that was surreal or fantastic (in the sense of fantasy). He also liked Dali because of his interesting eccentricity, a quality Leif always liked in people. I remember how much he enjoyed that visit, and I always wanted to take him back again.

This new museum has the added attraction of unusual and beautiful architecture. That was something else Leif liked a great deal. Buildings with style attracted him and they were one of his favorite photographic subjects, along with sports cars and cats. He would have loved this new building and its setting right by the bay.

We were not allowed to take photos of any of the art in the galleries, only of the building itself and the gift shop, so I'm posting a photo of the side of the museum that faces the bay.

I did my best to doubly enjoy the museum, for me, and for Leif.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Signs One Does Not See

I really debated about posting this photo. It's shocking and dramatic and disturbing, but in the end, I decided that's why I should post it. I was thinking once again about how we all look back and try to see the signs we might have missed, the ones that might have alerted us to the danger a loved one was in, that he was thinking of suicide. We could find small clues, very small ones, but they weren't things that would have alerted us at the time. I came across this article online, "How to Help Someone Who Is Thinking About Committing Suicide," on Wikihow, and it brought things into a different focus.

The article talks about hints someone contemplating suicide might give. I only remember one email that Leif sent to me in the same month he took this photo of himself, and it did alert me and make me very worried, but when I tried to engage him about his depression and loss of purpose, he insisted he was all right. I think this is a common reaction of men, and this article, helpful as it is, doesn't give you anything to go on if the person denies depression, denies suicidal thinking, and you have no other direct evidence. You certainly don't want to take precipitative steps if someone ISN'T contemplating suicide.

Had I seen the photos Leif took of himself using the PhotoBook program on his computer at the time he took them, I would have been even more worried and confronted him about then, but he would most assuredly have insisted that he was just playing with the program and his guns and it was all just a fun experiment . . . though it doesn't look like that to me. All of the photos look like an angry, depressed, sick man either giving the "camera" the finger or pointing a gun at it, or making nasty grimaces. There are no smiles, nothing "fun," nothing he would ever want to show the world. There is a series of photos using the various effects that PhotoBooth offers, sepia, negative (like this one), and others, but the poses are all in the same vein.

The thing that makes it all the more disturbing was that they were taken in the wee hours of the morning of Thanksgiving, November 22, 2007, less than five months before he died, and he had Thanksgiving dinner with us that night, seeming a little detached and depressed but mostly himself, conversational, pretty normal.

He started out taking some pictures at about 1:38 that morning. those were serious, thoughtful and maybe slightly sad. Then there was a break of about 4 hours and he took the rest between 5:48 and 6:08 a.m., and those were the ones I'm writing about. I think he may have used some of them to help model the face of one of his Mass Effect characters to look like him (I've posted photos of that character), but most of what he was doing was what appears to me to be a sort of documentation of how he was feeling, and that feeling was terrible, angry, hurt, sad, lonely, depressed.

None of the photos had him pointing the gun at himself. He sighted it toward the camera several times, held it sideways in front of his face, but not at himself. There were two different pistols in the photos, and neither was the one he used to kill himself. That one he had purchased only the day before he shot himself.

It's hard to imagine that only 12 hours after taking these photos, during which he probably spent a good part of the day sleeping, he drove to our house and acted normal for Thanksgiving dinner, and probably felt he had very little to be thankful for.

How does one help someone who is thinking about suicide if you can't tell, or they won't admit it, or insists they are handling things all right? And even if you try, will it help? It might. It's worth trying. There are many stories of people who have been saved or stopped from suicide and gone on to live a happier life and been grateful for the chance. We tried with Leif but we weren't able to help him. We cannot get inside the mind of someone in this condition. And we can only help as much as they will allow.

Leif did not call for help, didn't call a suicide hotline, didn't reach out, didn't tell his friends or his family. I still wonder how long the decision had been coming, whether he planned it or decided on the spur of the moment. Surely he had enough depression and disappointments and problems in his life to bring him to that.

However, now I am also beginning to wonder if there was yet another influence that might have tipped the scales. I knew that I'd seen things about the asthma medication Singulair causing depression and suicide. I even remember asking him about that in the fall of 2007. He said that was interesting because he had used Singulair at one time but wasn't on it then and hadn't been in quite awhile. I didn't think to examine further, but due to some other research I was doing online, it occurred to me to find out whether other asthma medications possibly caused depression, and I found that they do. It is a well-known side effect of the steroid inhalers and other medications. Leif's asthma was getting worse and he was using them more often. We will never know, but now I wonder whether that might have been the thing that put him over the edge.

If you have someone in your family who is depressed or despondent, consider their medications as possibly contributing to that state of mind.

On April 10th, it will be three years since we found Leif's body, and we are no closer to knowing why than before, but I think I am more able to take a balanced view. I'm more able to smile at the photos of him that I treasure. I will never smile at this one, but it's part of the truth of who he was and how he felt before he died, and maybe someone seeing this might see signs in someone they love that look like this and find it possible to talk with them and help them. I did not see these photos until months after Leif died.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Shot Through the Heart

Leif was almost twelve years old when the hit Bon Jovi song "You Give Love a Bad Name" made it to the top of the charts, but it remained a favorite of his for many years and it certainly was a poignantly true song for him as an adult. These are only part of the lyrics from this website:

An angel's smile is what you sell
You promise me heaven, then put me through hell
Chains of love got a hold on me
When passion's a prison, you can't break free

You're a loaded gun
There's nowhere to run
No one can save me
The damage is done

Shot through the heart
And you're to blame
You give love a bad name
I play my part and you play your game
You give love a bad name
You give love a bad name

Paint your smile on your lips
Blood red nails on your fingertips
A school boy's dream, you act so shy
Your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

You're a loaded gun
There's nowhere to run
No one can save me
The damage is done

The song, written by Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Richie Sambora. Leif had a huge respect for them, particularly Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. By the time this photo of Leif was taken, he was taking electric guitar lessons and he practiced hard, trying to play some of the guitar solos of his favorite rock guitarists. I remember him listening to Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and many others.

This song just came to me the other day, the lyrics reminding me of all his romantic heartaches, and the words ring so true. The damage WAS done and no one could save him.

I wish I had a recording of Leif playing his guitars. I wish I had a video of it. Three of his guitars still sit here in my house, including the one he designed and made himself.

I believe this photo of Leif was taken by Peter W. during our trip to Canada in August 1989 when Leif was fourteen. I think it was taken in Quebec City, but I can't be sure. He looks like he's trying to fly.

Leif Loved Boats and the Sea

I've written before about how much Leif loved boats and being on the sea . . . not swimming in it, so much, but sailing, motorboats (especially fast ones), and diving. Peter W. took this photo of Leif sometime in 1991, when they were out on a boat in the sea around Puerto Rico, maybe on a dive. I notice the diving knife strapped to Leif's leg, and of course he is wearing those Oakley sunglasses, but the shirt tied around his head is a different look for him. The color of the water in the Caribbean is so beautiful, that marvelous turquoise blue that looks to perfect with the sky and clouds. The temperature was just right, the winds soothing and balmy. Leif seems so at home.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Swimming in a Waterfall Pool - Manoa, Hawaii - Summer 1983

We went to the pool again this evening, our daily swim. It was another lovely, balmy Florida evening, and Peter W. said it reminded him of Hawaii, of the weekend evenings we went to Waikiki with our boys to have dinner at "It's Greek to Me," and then see a movie in the huge theater with the pipe organ, and go to play computer games at the video game store in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.

Those were good times. The years in Hawaii were good ones for our sons. We hoped Florida would be good for Leif.

I knew what Peter meant about, why the air reminded him of those evenings in Honolulu, and the memories were sweet, though tinged with sadness that they will never come again.

It reminded me of this photo, taken the summer we moved to Hawaii and were exploring the island of Oahu. We hiked up Manoa Valley to the waterfall at the end of the line and swam in the chilly pool at its base. Leif was still so young then, only eight years old. We didn't get good pictures that day. Somehow they all were in poor focus, but they were enough to give us images to go with our memories.

Leif enjoyed the hike, along a very wet and muddy trail, and splashing around in the pool. He could swim well, but though he liked going to the beach, he never was an avid swimmer like his dad. Neither of our boys were.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

He Lives in Dreams

A few days ago, I awoke remembering a dream about Leif. It's rare that I remember my dreams, and rarer still that I dream about Leif. In fact, I can't remember dreaming about him since early 2008, when I was so worried about him but dreamed that he was about seven feet tall and immensely strong, and that something wonderful was going to happen for him. It must have been wishful thinking, hope. I remember telling him about that dream and him laughing because I said he was built like "The Rock."

The dream I had a few days ago was quite different, though equally positive. I'm glad that if I was going to remember a dream about him that it was a happy one, with him looking young, healthy, slim and strong. He was dressed in some snappy suit, more stylish than traditional. It was a charcoal gray silk suit. Unlike some men, Leif liked to dress up, enjoyed wearing a tie.

The dream was so like him because he was happy and eager to show me this fantastic new "cell phone" he had. It wasn't like any I've ever actually seen. I wish I could have taken a photo in my mind so I could show it to you. There's something about it that makes me think of the realtime email discussion that he was having with his brother, Peter Anthony, me, and some others, on the evening before he died, about what would make the ideal watch. This gadget combined many of the attributes that Peter A. had suggested, plus more. It didn't look remotely like a phone, but actually more like a very stylish, very smooth calculator, with a sort of brushed metal case, glass screen similar to an iPhone, and some kind of trigger mechanism that reminded me of a pistol, but it wasn't a gun . . . though Leif certainly could have been the one to figure out how to combine that, too.

He was eager, happy, energetic.

It was only a dream, but he lived in it, and I will treasure that time to "see" him once again.

This photo of Leif in his "famous" purple suit was taken in our back yard in Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico around February 1991 when he was 16 years old. Of course he is also wearing his signature Oakley sunglasses.