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.