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.