Today is our fourth Thanksgiving without Leif, a holiday he shared with us most of the years of his life. It will never seen right or complete without him, and even with the gratitude I feel there will always be sadness that he is not with us.
I am thankful he was our son, is our son, that we had him for 33 years. It's hard to say that and not add, "but it was not enough." I can't do it. It wasn't enough. I miss him.
Like all parents who have lived through the death of a beloved child, that longing never goes away. After a time, for many hours, many days, the pain subsides. Life seems normal, until something opens the door and lets the longing and sadness out.
Holidays are such a mixed blessing. They are still a time to celebrate, to be thankful, to enjoy our families and friends. They are still a time for traditions and love. They are still a time to treasure.
But they will always be bittersweet, tinged with loss.
This photo of Leif was taken when we lived in Japan, probably in 1981 when he was six years old. The USA patch on his blazer is so appropriate. He grew up to be passionate about his country, served it in the army, studied its Constitution at the university. The thoughtful pose is appropriate, too. When Leif was young, he wasn't a talker like his brother. He was a quiet one, a thinker, and we usually didn't know what was going on in his bright mind. Later, once Peter A. left home, the floodgates opened and he began to talk and talk and talk, as though he had stored it up for the opportunity when he didn't have to "compete" for the "floor," but I also think during those years, when he was close to his brother, he spent a lot of time carefully listening, learning and absorbing what his brother (and the rest of us) were saying.
Leif had an incredible memory for just about everything he heard, and a special talent for being able to multitask, even as a very small child, where he appeared to be absorbed in doing something on his own but was very intently also listening to everything that was going on around him. Later, after he had thought about it and formed his own ideas, he could not only "parrot" back just about word for word what he had heard, even imitating the inflection of the speaker, but explain it accurately and add his own conclusions or further thoughts.
This photo must have been taken around or on Thanksgiving, I think, because I don't have Christmas photos of him wearing this blazer. We always took Christmas photos, but for some reason, rarely or if ever took photos at Thanksgiving. Peter W. says he took this picture. Perhaps he did, but it looks like a professional print to me, and I don't think he ever posed any of us when he took photos. Leif's elbow is resting on what appears to be an upholstered stool, and that curled fist under the chin, while beautiful in this photo, is not a typical pose for Leif. We both love this picture, and it's one of few we have framed and displayed in our house.
While I was writing this, Peter W. came into my office and said he wished we could go back to that time, the time of the photo, but that he didn't know what we could have done differently to help Leif find a better outcome in his life.
That's the trouble. No matter how often we go over it all in our minds, there's no resolution. We can't go back, and if we did, how would we do things differently? We will never know. That's one of the things that continues to eat away at people like us, even on this day of celebration.
Yet we will celebrate, and we will be thankful, just not with unalloyed joy.