Monday, November 28, 2011

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"

 Saturday we went to the German American Club Christmas tree lighting ceremony at our community Atrium building. We've done this every years since moving to Florida, but in the years since Leif died, until this year (our fourth without him with us for Christmas), I have not been able to sing the carols without crying. This was the first year I got through all but one without tears.

Today I sang in the Women's Chorus Christmas Concert, and in our two concerts a year, I've gotten choked up by a couple of songs in each one. I thought I was going to make it through today's concert without that happening, as I hadn't experienced any difficulty with the songs during rehearsals.

But I got surprised by the audience sing-along, which the chorus sings "along" with, too, and by a song I never would have suspected to have such an effect on me.

It was "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

I was glad it was a sing-along and no one would be noticing me, but at least I didn't burst into tears. Just couldn't sing for awhile.

I tried to think of why. I don't associate that song with Leif in any way. It wasn't something we sang in our house. I never heard him sing it.

I think it was the association with Peter W. playing Santa with our boys. It wasn't just Leif; it was Peter A. and our family, and the boys being young, and Christmases together. I missed all those things overwhelmingly.

I DID kiss "Santa Claus."

I've posted these photos before, but not in this context. I could kiss that Santa again, and I wish those little boys were with me again.

The first one was taken in Ansbach in 1978 when Leif was not quite four. He never suspected "Santa" was his dad. That Santa suit had a really nice beard with it.

The bottom one was taken in Kansas in 1975 when he was not quite one year old. The Santa suit Peter W. borrowed didn't have a beard or hair, so he tried to make them out of cotton batting. It looked really funny but the kids believe in him anyway and never suspected it was their daddy.

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.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Our Fourth Thanksgiving Without Leif

I am grateful today for my family and friends, for the life I have, for my home and my country, and to be fortunate to have enough to live well. I am thankful for my husband and best friend, my sons and my grandchildren, especially.

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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another James Bond Father and Son Photo

Yesterday I wrote about Leif's fascination with guns and James Bond. He shared the James Bond interest with his dad, who took him to the Bond films starting when he was very young. Here's another photo of them posing together in May 1987 when we were living at Fort Sheridan. Leif was twelve years old. He was wearing his dad's white dinner jacket, which was of course too big for him, but not as big as it would have been on most twelve-year-olds.

The guns are toys. We did not own any real guns and never had any in our home when we were raising children.

On the day I took this, I took a series of photos of the two of them posing with these toy guns, together and separately. It seems to run in the family to enjoy posing and pretending.

It was all in good fun then, whether the posing was with guns or something else, often silly, but after Leif's death, the photos with the guns took on another aspect we could never have predicted . . . and how glad I am that we could not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

His Lifelong Love of Guns

As I've written before, Leif displayed an amazingly consistent set of interests throughout his life. So many kids go through fads of interest and drop them. He didn't. From a very early age he was captivated by vehicles and speed, all kinds of vehicles. He always loved them. He collected toy cars, boats, planes, rockets. He built models of them. He drew them. And, when he was older, he test drove them and photographed them.

As he got a little older as a child, he became interested in science fiction moves, James Bond movies, and the weaponry that both used. Most little boys who are allowed to have toy guns play with them, and those that aren't allowed to have them often pretend with a "hand" gun or improvised toy guns made of sticks and other materials. Leif had toy guns, but by the time he was in the primary grades he was also making his own, and that's another thing he continued off and on throughout his life. He drew them, and then constructed them out of wood. Sometimes, when he was a kid, his dad helped him.

When we lived in Japan, they sold very realistic "toy" pellet guns. Our boys each had one or two, and they enjoyed pretending they were action heroes. Sometimes they'd get dressed up and pose, and even their dad enjoyed doing that with them. This was much more a pastime of Leif's than his brother's, though.

I think Leif loved both the design and mechanical beauty of guns, not just the power and glamor he saw in them (the glamor coming from the James Bond movies, of course). He must have had fantasies of being the gun-toting hero.

This photo is one of a series that Peter W. took of Leif posing on the lanai of our townhouse in Hawaii. I think it was probably taken in 1984 or 1985. He's holding two "guns." The larger one in his right hand is one of the guns he and his dad made, and the one in his left hand looks like it might have been a pellet gun. He's wearing his beloved black Members Only jacket, black pants, black gloves, and his cool sunglasses.

Leif started wearing "cool" sunglasses at an early age, here about 9 or 10, and graduated to Gargoyles and then Oakleys, which he saved up for and paid for himself. I would never have spent that kind of money on sunglasses! But the cool factor was always important to him, and he would gladly pay for it.

I like his hair the way it is in this picture, but it was combed over and styled like this just for the picture. On a daily basis, he wasn't interested in bothering with that.

It's hard for me to know how to think about Leif's lifelong love affair with guns because he used one to shoot himself, but I know he was passionate about them, enjoyed them, loved shooting them, and was incredibly knowledgeable about them. If I had known what would happen to him, would I have prevented him from having toy guns as a child? I don't know. I doubt that it would have done much good. We never had real guns in our home, and he was brought up with a very strong anti-violence ethic. He never had real guns until he was grown and had left home, and he wasn't irresponsible with them. So many millions of American own guns and don't misuse them. He was passionate about the Second Amendment, too. There was no way to know or predict that he would turn one on himself. Even though we worried so much about him, even though we knew the possibility of suicide with a gun existed, we worried far more about the possibility of a terrible car or motorcycle accident.

I wondered, when he died, whether I would be able to look at these photos and enjoy them, knowing what eventually happened, but I have come to the point where I can remember his posing like this and be glad he enjoyed himself and that he never turned a gun on anyone else.

Friday, November 18, 2011

He loved goofing around

I was showing old photos to my sister, Lannay, and were were smiling over so many of Leif goofing around and acting silly, some of which I've already posted on this blog, but I keep finding more in the photos that haven't been scanned. He always had such a great sense of humor and liked to pose for silly pictures. Here's one I discovered among Peter W's photos.

It was taken in Hawaii, up in the pineapple fields on the island plateau near Wahiawa when Peter W's mother was visiting us and we took her there to see them. There's no date on the photo but I'm managed to figure out that it was the summer of 1984 because of her visit and the annual letter I wrote that mentioned it. So, Leif was nine years old.

That thing he has stuck on his head is his dad's camera case, the one he had for his 35mm Pentax SLR with the long telephoto lens on it. It's amazing to remember that Leif once was a "little" boy called Alex, and that I was taller than he was.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Evanescence - Bring Me to Life

A friend told me today that this had been one of Leif's favorite songs. It certainly fit his dark mood and wish for something to give him life and purpose. It's cry for meaning and contact, the despair of being numb and cold. So sad we could not save him. Bring Me To Life by Evanescence.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A US Veteran Dies by Suicide Every 80 Minutes.

How inexpressibly sad that so many of our servicemembers and veterans are committing suicide. Read this blog piece by Juliette Kayyam, "A US Veteran Dies by Suicide Every 80 Minutes," and hope that we can do something to prevent this continuing tragedy. I wonder how much of it is due to social isolation in a country were so few people serve in the military and people don't understand what they go through.