Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Bond With One's Child

I've written in posts shortly after Leif died that it felt like having a part of me cut off, and though it still does, like an amputee, I am learning how to live with it, though that doesn't mean I will ever stop missing him. I have speculated that there is something very physical about the bond between a mother and child, something in the DNA, perhaps, that knows when it is missing, but now I've read a study in Scientific American that has a different and compelling explanation. It says that the brains of new mothers change and areas grow as they bond with their infants. There literally are neural connections that are deep and strong, physical ones, not just psychic bonds, or are they one and the same? The article, "A New Mom's Changing Brain," by Nathan Collins, explains how these changes occur and what the effects are. The entire article is not available with this link, but if you have access to a good public library that has databases or a college or university library that does, you can access it there.

I found myself wondering just how profoundly my bond with Leif had changed my brain, and how acutely my brain, and thus my feelings, suffers from the lack of him and the bond being supported by his presence in my life. Is this at least partly why mothers (and perhaps fathers, too, for someone needs to research that) grieve so terribly over the death of a child, no matter what age they are when they die?

I also wondered whether love of any kind, romantic love, friendship, also creates changes in the brain, demonstrable proof of the response to another. I'll bet research would show that, too, but that it would be in some ways different than the response to one's baby.

I have felt sad that I haven't had time to post on this blog for the past 12 days due to other family needs. The living have to take precedence over the dead, and although I know that and believe it, still I felt as though I were neglecting Leif during this time, not giving him the time I want to devote to his memory, not keeping up the blog as well as I would like to do during the last part of the third year since his death. I can hardly believe that in only 18 days, it will be three years since he died. I still don't want to believe it, still want him back. It doesn't seem like three years could already have passed.

I was talking to my neighbor and friend whose son died six years ago this month and she said she heard a man whose son died man more years ago answer the question about whether it hurts and less over time this way, "No, but it hurts less often." She agreed with that, and so do I.

These photos of Leif were taken in our quarters at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico around February 1991 when Leif had just turned 16 and was starting to let his hair grow longer. They are unusual because I think this was the only tan outfit or shirt he ever had. Tan was not his color or a favorite of his, so I don't even really know how or why he got it. Note the acid rock t-shirt under it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Sense of Style

Leif loved this pink "Hypercolor" shirt. He had a sort of mustard yellow Hypercolor sweatshirt, too. For awhile during our years in Puerto Rico, Hypercolor was a big fad. I still have two of my shirts, though they no longer change color. The tie-dye feature reminded me of the 70s. The flared "weight-lifter" pants with the narrow ankles were "in," too, in wild prints. I don't know whether the same things were all the rage on the US mainland at the time or not, and it seemed to me that the styles in Puerto Rico were a little more colorful and flamboyant, at least for the young.

Leif was right in step, wearing the ragged blue jeans and the wild print weight-lifter pants, an earring, "cool" shirts, Oakley sunglasses, and necklaces. This photo of him was taken somewhere on the island of Puerto Rico on an outing but I can't place it exactly. It was in November 1991 when Leif was 16 going on 17.

Leif was a stylish dresser until he was got out of the army. When he gained weight, he couldn't get into a lot of the clothing he had worn when he was younger, and he was always financially strapped. I don't know whether he didn't continue to dress with flare because his taste had changed, whether he was depressed and didn't care, or whether he just didn't have the money to dress the way he wanted to. He did spend a lot of money on his motorcycle jackets and boots, and just the day before he died he bought an expensive pair of shoes, but I think most of his money was going to support his debts and living expenses. We often gave him shirts as gifts, so he had some nice ones, but he gained so much weight that he didn't have the figure to show off the kind of style he once had. I wish I had seen him dressed to the nines one more time.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Leif in Hawaii - October 1985 - Age 10

This is kind of an unusual picture of Leif, with his hair sort of blowing in the wind. In high school, he grew very long hair but when this was taken, in Hawaii in October 1985, he usually didn't have hair that long. Since I was the family barber, if I got busy and didn't have time to cut their hair, it got longer . . . but more often, it was a resistance on the boys' part to sitting down and getting it cut that resulted in the haircut being put off for awhile.

There's another unusual thing about this photo . . . the look on Leif's face, with his lower jaw kind of jutting forward. It's not a look I remember as typical of him. Those are reasons to treasure the picture, but more than that, there's a kind of eager, confident look about this photo that I really like. I no longer know for sure where we were when Peter W. took this photo (and a series of similar ones), but I think it was on the Big Island, Hawaii. Leif was wearing his trademark black Members Only jacket, though the cloth one, not the black leather one he came to love so much he wore it even in the Hawaiian heat.

Each day I look at photos of Leif and am grateful for all of them. We must have at couple thousand, at least, and I still wonder whether other people have photos of Leif I've never seen. I'm sure they do and I wish they would share them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Leif's Sense of Beauty and Aesthetics

Leif would sometimes maintain that he didn't "understand" jewelry, or things that people acquired simply as decor. He insisted that he loved the beauty of well-designed functional things, whether a gorgeous car, a snazzy motorcycle, a beautifully designed computer, a "cool" cell phone, or anything else of that kind. Furniture he could find both comfy and beautiful, and he had a great sense of style in clothing when he was younger and slimmer, and cared. He also could have made a fine art student if he'd had the interest to develop his talent, but it wasn't his burning interest.

However, I used to like to argue with him about his assertions concerning decor, jewelry and the like, because when he found something that truly "spoke" to him, he went for it. For instance, he picked out one of the most beautiful diamond ring sets I've ever seen when he wanted to propose to J. He wore jewelry on occasion; earrings and necklaces when he was young, and still wore the Greek double battle axe necklace I brought him from Greece up until he died. He loved stylish, fancy watches, too. And he decorated his walls with swords and a print he bought that he very much liked.

So, in a way, his assertions were contradicted by his behavior and his taste, but in another, they weren't. He liked to purchase things he could USE, and those he wanted to be the best and not just functional but aesthetically pleasing. His fine taste was one of the things that helped to put him in debt, as he apparently couldn't resist expensive things he could not afford if they fit into his scheme of desire-functionality-design.

These photos were taken when we were living at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, I think, when he was in ninth grade in the spring of 1990, age 15. He was just beginning to let his hair grow longer. His ears weren't pierced yet, but it's surprising to me that he is wearing a cross. He was never religious, never a believer. I wish I knew the story of why he wore it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Help a Bereaved Parent - WikiHow

How to Help a Bereaved Parent (click on the title)

This is an excellent article and video from WikiHow on how to be a friend or relative to a grieving parent whose child has died, the best I've seen. Especially good are the short video and tips at the end. Three years ago, before Leif died, this would have been just "information" for me. Now I can relate to everything said and it is all so true. Save this or bookmark it in case you ever need it. I hope none of this blog's readers every experience the death of their child.

The photo of Leif was taken at Lovers Point in Monterey, California in July 1980 when Leif was five years old.

Will They Remember Him?

Leif's nieces and nephew found him irresistible. They would climb all over him, touch his beard, play with him, act silly, make cell phone videos together, play chess together, and generally horse around. He was good with the kids, gentle and tolerant, and amused, my gentle giant. I wondered how he felt about being with them, whether he wished he had children of his own to go home to, though he never really voiced that sentiment.

I wonder, now, whether they will really remember him. I know they will remember that he lived, that they had an uncle that died, but they were so young when he left them that I imagine they will only remember him from photos or stories we tell.

I have a lot of photos of him with them, but I don't post photos of them online. This one is an exception because it was taken six and a half years ago and their faces aren't shown. That night in July 2004, all three of them were climbing all over him and having a great time. He was pretending to roar and flex his muscles like some kind of giant and they loved it. I loved watching it. That was a happy evening with all of us together, and Leif seemed relaxed and happy. It's a good memory.

The photo was taken in our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas. Now neither Leif nor the house is still on this earth.