Friday, March 30, 2012

Every Precious Picture

Grief hurts, and many aspects of grief are common to all who experience it, but some are acutely individual. Some people put away all photos, all reminders, of their deceased loved one because they can't bear to see them, can't bear to be reminded, can't bear to think about it. I often wonder, though, whether that is successful. Perhaps they can control the exterior stimuli, but what about their minds? Surely then can't cut off all the thoughts, the questions, the memories.

Others treasure every photo, every little scrap of something that was made by or belonged to their loved one, and I think this is particularly true of parents who have lost a child, no matter what that child's age.

I know it is certainly true for me. I look at these photos and remember when each was taken. Often, I was the photographer and I remember why I grabbed my camera at that point, how I felt, how I wanted to preserve the moment.

Photos that someone else has taken that I've never seen before are a precious gift. There have been very few of those. Surely some of Leif's friends took pictures of him that I may yet someday see.

This photo of Leif was taken by my sister, Sherie, when she came to visit us in Kansas in the fall of 1975. Leif was only about nine or ten months old. He was a happy little rascal then, into everything, and loved to play with pots and pans. He had a laundry basket full of stuff to play with and usually just tipped it over to get at everything. You can see it in the background here.

This photo is endearing in several ways, even the yellow corduroy pants and green shirt, an outfit no kid would be found wearing in 2012. :) His hair was still blond and thin. It's hard to believe that he would be so dark-haired as a teen and an adult.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Four Years Since We Saw Him

Today it has been four years since we last saw Leif alive. Four years ago, March 23rd was Easter, and Leif came driving down from Tampa to have dinner with us. He was relaxed and happy, in love, seemed to be taking things in stride. We had a good visit, a good discussion. I can picture him just as he was that evening, first sitting across from me at the kitchen table and later in the green recliner in the living room with his hands behind his head.

I'm glad our memories of that last precious visit are good ones, that it was a pleasant evening together, glad I gave him the $20 for gasoline, since he'd said he didn't have the money to fill up his tank to come for dinner! I wish I'd give him $100.

There was no hint that he was desperate or suicidal. In fact, it seemed just the opposite. I remember that both Peter W. and I felt he seemed better than he had at Christmas or his birthday. Either we misread him completely or something changed dramatically in the following two weeks.

It still seems unreal to me that he won't ever show up for dinner again, that he won't ever bring his laundry with him, that he won't ever send me a text message. Unreal, but I know it's true. It doesn't seem like four years could possibly have passed since the last time I saw him.

This photo of Peter W. and Leif was taken in Puerto Rico at Hacienda Buena Vista in June 1991 when Leif was 16 years old, with his trademark Oakleys hanging around his neck, of course.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Emotional Importance of Objects

I've written before about the emotional significance of things that once belonged to our deceased loved ones. I was reflecting on why certain ones are more important that others and I think symbolically, the ones that we associate with them due to our memories are the hardest ones to part with...if we ever do.

There are some of Leif's things that I don't use or see every day that I can't bring myself to part with; his photo albums, his wallet, his army uniforms and dog tags, for instance. There are also things I use every day that I don't want to lose.

A couple of times in the past few months I've been saddened to think I'd have to get a new cell phone. The one I have is almost five years old and it needed a new battery and had some sound problems. I didn't want to let it go because Leif chose it for me and brought it to me in July 2007 in a cute gift bag from t-Mobile. Although I paid for it, it was yet another example of Leif's importance in helping us with the technology of our lives. The phone I had before that had poor reception at our house, and he knew this one would be better.

I didn't want a new phone because this one I associated with Leif, but not just because he brought it to me. It was the phone on which we had so many text exchanges, sometimes whole conversations. Every day after I went swimming, I would check this phone for messages from him, and most days, it seemed, there was one. Often in the evenings he would send me messages and we'd talk about anything from politics to what was going on in our lives. I still have the last messages from him on the phone. I don't ever want to take them off. He's not there, but his last text messages are.

Leif had one of the first generation iPhones, always the one to adopt new technology. He loved it, and when he died, it was valuable for me to use the contacts he had on it for notifications to friends, his employer, and others I would otherwise not have known how to contact. I didn't want to switch carriers and pay the monthly data fees to use it as a phone, so I terminated his account and continued to use it as an iPod Touch for over three years. It was somehow a comfort to me to have it, hold it, use it.

Then one day not long ago, it froze. I couldn't get it to work no matter what I did. So I "restored" it to factory settings, thinking I could then restore the contents from a backup, but it didn't work. Then Peter dropped it on the metal rail of our bed and cracked the screen. I took it to the "Genius Bar" at the Apple Store to ask how I could get it working again. They said it was useless, in common parlance, "bricked."

I know it won't work forever, but it made me really sad to lose the use of it. I was determined to make it function again. My nephew, Rick, encouraged me to try jailbreaking it to see if that would help. Since it was long past warranty, I decided to try it. The results were frustrating. It would now at least get to the opening screen, but I couldn't get it to do anything further. My niece, Brenda, figured out that if you made screen input fast enough, you could get it to do one thing more . . . and if you were really fast, maybe a few more steps. We tried a lot of things and finally it worked for a few fast steps before freezing. Then the only way to make it work was to turn it off and back on again. Not satisfactory.

I couldn't help but wonder what Leif would have thought of to try, whether he would have had it working again in a couple of hours. I spent many hours over many days, determined but losing hope. I still don't really know what made the difference, but it's working quite well now, although it's anyone's guess how long. I'm glad. It makes me feel better, somehow, that it's working and that I can use it. It seems a little silly how something this small can make me feel a connection that really isn't there.

At his last birthday celebration on January 27, 2008, I took a couple of photos of him talking on his iPhone. I think he was taking to Justin about how to install a newer version of the Mac OS on the laptop he'd bought used from Justin. I was wishing he was paying more attention to us than his techie toys, but he was engrossed, so I took pictures. Today I decided to make the opening screen on his iPhone be one of those photos. The first photo is the unlock screen, which shows the photo in an app that gives a contact phone number in case I lose the phone and someone responsible and kind wants to return it (I removed the number for posting on this blog) and the second is just the photo alone.

There's something good about having this photo on his phone. Something that brings back memories of a good birthday evening spent together. Something that shows him using the phone I now hold in my hand, even with it's screen cracked in a spider web pattern in the upper right.

Tomorrow it will be four years since we last saw Leif alive. On April 10 it will be four years since we found him dead. It still seems as though I should expect him to come riding up to our door and take this phone out of his pocket to check his messages. I want him to.

Monday, March 5, 2012

All the Reminders in Just One Day

Although we live with reminders and photos of Leif all over our house every day, they are part of the fabric of our lives that we are used to and familiar with, so it's now usually the unexpected or less frequent reminders of him that catch us unawares, and they, too, can be everywhere.

Last Friday we went to Walmart to get my glasses frames replaced after they broke. While I was standing in the optical department waiting, I was looking around at the display of frames and my eye caught a display of high tech, high fashion, expensive sports lenses of the type Leif might have gravitated to and I unexpectedly felt tears come to my eyes.

Even recounting this brings tears to my eyes. Why? I was never there in that store with him. This particular store was built after he died. It was just the remembrance of how he favored "cool" glasses, whether regular daily wear ones, sunglasses, or the kind of sport glasses he wore when riding his motorcycle.

From there we drove in to Tampa, and on the way, we were passed by a motorcyclist going like a house afire. Because Leif rode motorcycles and had accidents, I feel protective of cyclists, but I am also horrified at those that ride like he did, like a demon. There was the second reminder.

As we took the expressway exit off I745, Peter W. was remarking that something had suddenly made him feel sad, that he always thought of Leif when we were driving to Tampa and he couldn't believe it had been almost four years since he died, and I said, "If feels like we should just be able to drive to his apartment and see him." Yes, it still does, and it still feels like a knife in the heart when I realize I can't, that he isn't there and he never will be.

We saw some "cool" cars on the way and remarked how much Leif would have liked them.

When we got to the BX (base exchange, a department store for you non-military types), I saw someone that could have been his brother . . . tall, shaved head, goatee and mustache, about thirty-five, and wearing jeans and designer glasses. This man was probably three inches taller than Leif, but even at that, I had to look again to be sure it wasn't him.

We went into the ITT (Information Tours and Travel) office and they were advertising tickets for concerts by Van Halen and Rammstein. Leif would have loved to go to both of those, though they would have been out of his price range with tickets well over $100 each.

At home I read an article about the Mars opposition (positioning of the planet Mars) and an observatory program about it he would have liked.

By now, on Monday, I'm probably forgetting more things that occurred on Friday to remind us of Leif and make us bounce from everyday routine to sadness to reminiscing to sadness to just being busy. There are so many things we associate with him and always will.

The photo above was taken in Germany in the fall of 1977 when Leif was two-and-a-half years old. My little rascal. I miss him so!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Visit to Bamberg

We moved from Charlottesville, Virginia to Fürth, Germany (Nurnberg) in the summer of 1977. We lived in an army housing area that has now been turned back over to the Germans and no longer exists as we knew it. We lived on the first floor of a three-story apartment building in a three bedroom apartment.

Leif was two-and-a-half when we arrived there, and I suppose in some ways he was in his "terrible twos," though I as I remember him the year that we lived in Fürth he was much more easy-going than he had been in Charlottesville.

I think it helped a lot that we did a lot of traveling, since he loved the stimulation and novelty, and that he had friends to play with and the Montessori preschool to attend. The more he could be active and away from home, the better he liked it. The car trips, the Volksmarches, the trips to downtown Nurnberg (with requisite visits to the pet and toy stores) and the parakeet we got all seemed to keep him engaged and less frustrated.

One of the places we visited in the fall of 1977 was the city of Bamberg, which we would return to on our 1988 trip to Germany with Leif. This photo of Peter W. and Leif on the bridge over the Regnitz River reflects his joy and interest at seeing new surroundings. I love that little houndstooth checked coat he's wearing. It was Peter Anthony's when he was little. They both looked so cute in it.