Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Four Years Have Passed

This morning at 7:30 a.m., Peter Anthony called to express love and the wish that we would remember today all the good and positive things that Leif brought into our lives. We are grateful for them, and for all that Peter has brought into our lives!

How different this morning is, four years past the day we found Leif's body in his apartment. At 7:30 that morning, Michael called, we got up full of dread at what the day might bring. I wrote all about that day on the one-year anniversary, April 10, 2009. (This is a link to that post.)

The journey through grief is a long one, and it is full of ebb and flow. Change comes gradually, so gradually it is hard to see the progress unless you are far enough along the road to look way back and see how far you have come.

This morning, these past days, have shown me how far we have come. I have been happy! Not happy because these are the anniversary days of Leif's last day of life and communications with me, the day of his death, the day we found him, not happy because of the remembered dread, shock, and misery, but happy because the depths of grief have mostly passed. Yes, the questions remain. Yes, we miss him, but this year, for the first time, I could wake up each of those days and appreciate the sunshine, the mockingbird singing, the wonder of Peter's arms around me, and look forward to the day. This time, I am finally experiencing a renewal of my interest in writing something besides this blog, to turn my energies to some creative writing of another kind.

I know there will be days or moments of sadness ahead, perhaps even today there will be moments when I acutely feel the loss of my son and the misery we felt four years ago, but in these three days I have been, as Peter Anthony put it, glad to remember how much he brought to our lives. I have been motivated to continue making writing notes.

This morning I put on my "Find Joy" t-shirt, and I do find joy in my day.

Because it IS this anniversary, I also find myself wondering, once again, about all those unanswered questions. When Leif's ex-wife, Nikko, was here visiting us in February, she asked me whether I thought his death could have been an accident. I still don't think so, but the question will always be open. I've examined that question in depth since she asked it, though I've done so many times before. I've been thinking of this topic for about two months and decided to save it for today.

The thing is, we somehow expect to be able to analyze people's actions logically, and that doesn't work, or at least normal logic doesn't work, when you are dealing with the state of mind of someone who is either taking their own life or playing with guns. You can't get into that mindset with logic, though a mind in pain or under the influence of alcohol can have a very different logic of its own.

When I look at Leif's life, and his actions leading up to April 9th, I don't see any evidence of planning to kill himself. I see the opposite. He was in love. He was planning to move. He was looking for music. He put gas in his car and motorcycle. He wouldn't have needed that if he weren't going anywhere. He paid his rent. He bought a new computer game, which was still in his laptop CD drive when he died. He bought a new gun he had ordered some months before and showed off proudly.

He bought expensive new shoes, which he was wearing when he died. He wasn't dressed up. He was wearing jeans and a nondescript shirt. No one buys expensive shoes to wear in death along with those clothes. He was out with friends and with them at his apartment until 3:00 a.m. None of those things point to a man considering suicide.

However, Leif had been suicidal before, and he had recently had several huge blows. He had lost his GI Bill funding, which was keeping him relatively afloat financially. He hadn't gotten jobs or promotions he had applied for. He hadn't gotten a personal loan for which he had applied because of his high debt, and he was probably counting on that to help him out of his financial woes. The woman he had fallen in love with had virtually disappeared from his life due to family needs of her own. Until he met her, he had been despondent, discouraged, depressed, and admitted to me that he had more pain than pleasure in his life and nothing to live for. So, perhaps he felt that way again.

The detective who investigated his death on the morning of April 10, 2008 said she felt the scene had all the earmarks of an accident. She did not think it was a suicide. We did. The doctor who did the autopsy ruled it a suicide because he said it was a "contact wound," meaning that the gun barrel was against Leif's forehead.

Leif was an expert on guns, an trained military armorer. He knew guns well enough to write a dissertation on them. He would certainly have known the danger of putting a loaded gun to his head. At least two people have told me that they had seen him do it in jest several times, or even scratch his head with the gun barrel. Yet that wee morning of April 9, 2008, when Michael and Jaime were with him and they had all the guns out examining them and Jaime pointed one at one of them, Leif had a fit and told him never to do that, that he always had loaded guns in his house and you should never point a gun at anyone unless you intended it for protection. So, even under the influence of alcohol that night, he was aware of the danger.

However, all that doesn't mean that he didn't at some point decide to play with a gun himself and maybe go just a little too far. I can't persuade myself to believe that, but it's possible. Alcohol impairs judgement. He could have been "experimenting" with the idea of what it would be like to actually pull that trigger and gone too far . . . . but even if that happened, would that really have been an accident?

I don't know what Leif did after Michael and Jaime left, but I think he must have taken out the trash since there was only one beer bottle in the place. Knowing Leif, even though he had to get up and go to work in the morning, he probably either watched something on television or played a computer game, even though it was past 3:00 a.m. I doubt that he ever even went to bed.

I still come back to my original hypothesis. At some point the effects of alcohol and exhaustion set in and he hated the idea of having to show up for work or call in sick. He felt he was just working to pay his debts and had nothing else in his life. I think he set up the philosophy essay and photo on his laptop as a message to us. I can't see any other reason why he would have had those two things there.

But what happened then, I don't know. Why the kitchen? He wasn't going to go out and drive somewhere in that state. That would have risked getting arrested for drunken driving. The living room and bedroom were carpeted. That left the bathroom and kitchen. I have no idea whether he thought about that logically, or if he just walked around into the kitchen with the gun and a bottle of beer, ate some carrots, and thought, "What the sh___t. What the point? I might was well get it over with," and put the gun to his head. We will never know what he thought.

I hope, if he looked back over his life before he did it, that he remembered some happy times, that he knew he was loved.

I am glad I have so many other, better, happier memories of him. I am glad for every photo I have of him. I am glad I even have the sound of his laugh on a silly little video he made of Aly on his cell phone. I am glad he was our son.

And I am glad that after four years, this day is no longer as sad as it was in the past three years. I am glad I have Peter Walter and Peter Anthony. I am glad I have my sisters and brother, my mother, my grandchildren, my friends. I am glad I feel purpose and worth in my life. I am glad I can find joy again.

The photo is one Leif took of himself with the built-in camera on his computer, and the solarization effect was one he chose to apply. It's a thoughtful shot, and he was an introspective man given to much thought. It was taken during that bleak period in November 2007. I never understood why someone as smart and potentially creative as Leif could have the power of a computer and not use it to be creative. Perhaps he would have had he not been depressed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

This Time of Year

This time of year, each year, and undoubtedly for the rest of our lives, we know we are nearing the anniversary of Leif's death. Another year will have passed without him. It's a hard time for me, for us, in some ways, because we are so aware of his absence and the anniversary brings up all the questions again. It's not that we haven't faced them the rest of the year, just that anniversaries seem to focus the mind more fatefully upon the loss of our son and how it occurred.

It's a puzzling time for me, as I think over what it was like between Easter 2008, the last time we saw him, and April 10, 2008 when we found him, a mere 18 days, but the difference between life and death, between hope and despair.

Since the last time we saw him, he was in good spirits, relaxed, conversational, in love, and in between, we had contacts that seemed normal and good (unlike some of the hopeless and angry communications I'd had from him between November and early March), we were feeling hopeful for him. He seemed happier than he had in a long time. I don't think that was because he had made up his mind to kill himself and was at peace with the decision, because he was busy making plans . . . to get a job in and move to Orlando, to court the woman he had fallen in love with.

The last text messages I got from him were on April 2nd, a week before he died, when he rescued a huge turtle from the road. He cared enough to do that.

The night before he died, April 8, 2008, he was having a lively real-time email discussion about several subjects, including "the ultimate watch," with a bunch of about five of us.

His brother sent the link to all of us for a YouTube video and thought it was stunning. I replied asking whether he understood the German and Latin, saying it was dark and rather occult. I translated some of the lyrics.

Leif responded that he thought it sounded, "kinda like Rammstein but more techno, less metal. Either way I want it."

Then he began to concentrate on finding out the name of the band and where he could get their music. Leif loved music and bought a lot of it.  The last messages he sent, at 8:19 p.m., was that he was contacting iTunes to ask them to get the music from this band so that he could purchase it. He wrote:

Found it. It is a German group called "E Nomine." Here are some of their  videos on youtube. Hard to find the music.  iTunes does not have it. I  just put in a request for iTunes to get it. Amazon does but it's about $35 an album."

With that he sent more YouTube links. Then he disappeared from the conversation. That was the last email I ever got from him. I learned later that his friend Michael had contacted him and wanted to go out together, so Leif spent the rest of the evening with him.

It's still a complete puzzle to me that a man who was conversing like this and contacting iTunes to try to get this music could be planning on taking his life. If he was, why bother with iTunes? If he was not, what made him do it?

These 18 days, and especially April 9th, will always remain a mystery to us.

Sometime near the anniversary of his death I like to go to the cemetery. Peter W. probably would never go if it weren't for me. He always says, "Leif is not here. Leif is with us. He is in the blog." Or something like that. I don't ask him to go with me, but he doesn't like me to go alone, so this year, as in past years, we have combined the drive over the St. Petersburg with another less sorrowful activity and went to a rock, gem and bead show.

This time, as we stood there touching Leif's stone, which is symbolic only, of course, but still draws us, he said again, "We tried to give him everything he needed to succeed in life. We gave him a good family, love, a good home. He was blessed with good looks, intelligence, height. We gave him an education. What went wrong? What was within him?" We will have those questions forever.

We were struck by how many more of the niches had been filled since the last time we were there, about three months earlier. The WWII veterans are dying rapidly, but there are also many Korean and Vietnam War vets inurned in the past three months.

This time, I also saw niches for two young men who were born a year after Leif and served in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. They didn't live much longer than he did, dying in 2012, only 36 years old. I don't know how they died, whether from wounds in battle, illness, an accident, or even a suicide. I feel sad for their parents and family. I do know how they feel.

We also noted that the national cemetery must have a new policy to allow special messages to be engraved on the lower part of the stones. We didn't see any of these until some time after Leif was inurned, and they are poignant and meaningful. Peter W. wondered whether we could still have something added to Leif's stone. I spent some time reading them. Some of them were, "Querida Padre" (beloved father), "Dancing Forever," "Forever Free At Last," "He loved God and Country," "Married 50 Years," "Love of my Life." Spouses can be inurned together. There was even one that read, "Go New York Giants." One that has me wondering was, "He who walked softly."

Usually when we go, there are few others around the grounds, unless it is Memorial or Veteran's Day. That was true on March 31st, but while we were there, one other car pulled up. A man got out and went to one of the newer stones. I had never seen someone else do the same thing I do, particularly a man. He put his head on the stone, his hands on it, and he sobbed his heart out. I felt so sorry for his grief. Something in me wanted to go and just hug him and tell him I understood, but I didn't do it. I didn't do it because I didn't know him or how he would take it, and we are all so alone in our grief. I also thought that perhaps he would not want me to call attention to his private agony.

Perhaps I did wrong to walk away. Perhaps he needed a hug from someone who understood. I will always wonder whether I made the wrong choice. I have almost four years of grief behind me. Whoever it was that he was grieving died not so very long ago and he is only just starting on this journey. I wish him well. I wish them all well. And I wish Leif were here.