Friday, June 17, 2011

How Much Did Heredity Play a Part?

When I saw this photo of my father when he was about eight years old, I was struck once again by the resemblance to Leif at the same age. My dad's home haircut was a bit more jagged than Leif's, and the color photo of Leif makes it harder to compare the two, but I still see such a similarity. They both are beautiful children, and both have a certain vulnerability about them, a certain tenderness.

Were there any signs, in either of them, at this young age, that their adult lives would end in suicide?

Beyond that, what else did they have in common? Both were extremely intelligent. Both had only one sibling, another brother, six years apart, though my father had a younger brother and Leif had an older one. Both were dreamers and described as moody. Both liked to take photos when they were teens. Both liked music, though their musical tastes only overlapped in a few areas. Both liked pie, good food, stage plays and movies. But most of those things are superficial, things many people share and they aren't connected to suicide.

Leif had a harder and sadder adulthood than my father did, from a repeatedly broken heart to financial difficulties he couldn't solve, from being robbed to being injured in a motorcycle accident. He served in the army, which my father never did. He was divorced, which my father never was. He had no children. My father had four. He had no faith. My father was a professed Christian, though I think some of his views were less than properly doctrinaire.

But despite the lack of some strong and obvious characteristic that linked their fate, I believe there was a link. Was it genetic? Was it example? Was it both?

I will never know, but it is so hard to look at these beautiful and hopeful young faces and know that despair ended their lives. Grandfather and grandson who never knew each other but shared a common fate.

I miss them both. My father has been dead for 51 years now, and I don't associate him with Florida and my adult life, so I don't miss him acutely and daily, but I do still miss him and deep down in my heart, when I open that door, I grieve for him. He was only a part of my life for twelve years. Leif was mine for thirty-three, and though he has been dead for over three years now, there is no day that goes by without us talking about him, remembering him, no day that I don't miss him, no day that I don't still ask why.

What was the link? Why did they both take their lives? No matter how many reasons we can give, it is still no explanation. It still doesn't reveal how a man can consciously decide to drink cyanide, or knowingly put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.

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