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.