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.
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.