Saturday, November 26, 2011

Was It An Accident?

Today I was talking to a friend whose son also committed suicide by shooting himself with a gun. Unlike Leif, this young man had grown up with real guns and liked to go shooting with his dad. He told me that he was glad his son hadn't used a gun he had given to him. I understand how he feels.

He asked me, "Do you ever think it could have been an accident?"

The answer is no . . . and yet, there is always the tiniest hint of a question.

When we first told Leif's brother about his death, he could not accept it as a suicide. He thought it had to be a murder. When we and the law enforcement officials believed there was no chance of that, he wanted to know if it was an accident. I remember asking him whether he would feel better if he lost his brother to a stupid and preventable accident because he was mishandling or playing with a gun under the influence of alcohol, or to a the deliberate and chosen act of suicide. How can one answer that?

We tend to want people to be logical, to follow a pattern we can discern and figure out, but life is seldom neat a tidy in that way. Human beings aren't always, or even mostly, logical. There are many contradictions at the end of Leif's life. He had been depressed for a long time. He hadn't been successful i finding a job he liked better. He was suffering from pain caused by the motorcycle accident, broken collarbone and surgery. He had been dealt a financial blow when his GI Bill was discontinued due to a misunderstanding, and he couldn't keep up with his bills. His asthma was worse.

And yet, just three weeks before his death he had a wonderful date with a woman he had been corresponding and texting with, and with whom he'd had many long phone conversations. He was falling in love again. He was hoping to see her on his day off, the day before he died. He was talking to me about taking it slow and getting the relationship right.

A few days before he died, he paid his rent. The day before, he filled his car with gas, bought a new pair of shoes, a new computer game and a new gun he had ordered and been waiting for, the gun he used to kill himself. The night he died, he went out with friends, brought them back to his apartment, drank, and got out and displayed all of his weapons. He was participating in an online discussion about the most perfect watch and a German band whose music he wanted to get. He did not sound like a man planning to kill himself that night. He did not act like it.

But how does such a man sound? How does he act? Do we know? Does he hide it? Even from himself? The night my father died, he acted normal, yet he had planned it.

Was Leif planning it? Was it a sudden decision? Or could it have been a horrible accident? Not according to the coroner. Even under the influence of alcohol, it's hard to imagine that Leif would have pressed a gun barrel to his head (pointed it at it, yes; he'd done that before in jest, foolish as it was) and pulled a heavy trigger hard enough to shoot it. Not only would it have been difficult to accidentally shoot that gun, Leif was so well trained in weaponry that it's hard to imagine him doing that without intent.

But you see, today was another one of those days when the questions don't go away, not for me, not for my friend who lost his son two years before we lost ours.

Today I could discuss it quite calmly with him. Today was so different than the days leading up to Thanksgiving when I felt so sad that Leif would not be with us. I couldn't have done it then. The anticipation of holidays is always hard, for me, harder than the holiday itself.

I wish he'd been here to have some of his beloved pie.

The photo above was taken at the City of Refuge on the Big Island of Hawaii, probably in 1985 when Leif was ten years old.

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