Thursday, July 19, 2012

Was it his destiny?

Someone asked me, a few months ago, whether I thought perhaps Leif's life and death were his destiny. I thought a long time about that. What does destiny mean?

The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines destiny as:
destiny [ˈdɛstɪnɪ]
n pl -nies
1. the future destined for a person or thing; fate; fortune; lot
2. the predetermined or inevitable course of events
3. (Philosophy) the ultimate power or agency that predetermines the course of events

How can we really apply that to a life? Because something DOES happen, can we automatically assume it was "destiny" and MUST happen?

If there is such a thing as destiny, can we change or avoid it?

Is destiny the same as "fate"?

fate [feɪt]
1. the ultimate agency that predetermines the course of events
2. the inevitable fortune that befalls a person or thing; destiny
3. the end or final result
4. a calamitous or unfavourable outcome or result; death, destruction, or downfall

It seems to me that the definitions rather beg the question. If the end result IS fate or destiny, then of course it was fate or destiny, but if we define it as "inevitable" and basically preprogrammed to happen, that's a different thing all together.

Or, is there a force called destiny or fate that DOES determine our lives?

I don't believe that, at least not in the usual colloquial sense. For instance, I don't think there was some guiding hand of fate that "made" me and Peter go to the Manhattan swimming pool one August day just so we could meet. I think that was a more or less random piece of luck that could easily have happened entirely differently.

However, I DO Think there are factors that determine things in our lives, some of the biological or genetic. I think that genes not only determine or heavily influence much of our appearance, they also determine many other things about us, from talents and likes and dislikes (some of them) to propensities to diseases or risky behavior or some forms of mental illness.

It's hard for me as a mother to contemplate that I, and perhaps Peter, passed on to Leif some genetic tendency toward severe depression, but with the family history on my side, and my father's suicide, and Peter's mother's severe depression, it know it is possible, and indeed probable, that he inherited the gene for depression and that it was activated during his miserable time in the army and he fought it the rest of his life. Perhaps he WAS doomed by destiny, the destiny of that inheritance, and perhaps it was only a matter of time for him, as it seemed to have been for my father.

My dad lived 13 years longer than Leif did, but he had much to anchor him to this life that Leif never had, a wife, four children, a career, a home. Even with those things, life became empty and he said he felt "dead inside." Leif listened to Johnny Cash's sad song "Hurt," which seemed to speak of what Leif was going through.

I don't know whether Leif had an exact predetermined fate, one that would end on that day, that exact day, with him taking his life, in that exact place, with that gun. I doubt it. What I do think is that he may have had a destiny to become depressed and eventually end his life, but the how, why, when and where would have been shaped by the events of his life. Perhaps if he hadn't joined the army, perhaps if his marriage had lasted, perhaps if he'd found a career he could get his mind into, perhaps if he'd felt he had worth in this life and that he mattered, he would have lived . . . but for how long?

In the end, would he have still terminated his life as my father did? I will never know the answer to that, never know exactly why did shot himself in the wee hours of April 9, 2008, never know whether he could have been saved . . . or if he was, for how long.

I have come to believe that we all face some destiny in our lives, but that it isn't all just predetermined, that it influences our lives but doesn't just determine it. We, and events, and the people in our lives, shape the outcomes every day with each and every action and decision. Yes, many of THOSE are in some sense "determined," too, but not every detail, just the broad outlines. We paint in the strokes.

Leif suffered, but there are others who suffered worse than he did who did not and will not take their lives. What could be the difference? I believe it was inheritance, the genetic disposition to depression and suicide, and I regret that I passed that on to him.

Could things have been different? I believe they could have, but his life would have to have been different, too. He would have to have made different decisions, found a path that wouldn't have taken him down the path of depression, or found a way out of it for a second or third time. But much of that was not of his choosing . . . the things that happened to him were the RESULTS of his choices, but all of us make choices without knowing the outcomes we will face, and he was no different.

Was suicide my father's fate? Yes, because it happened. Perhaps yes because of his genetic inheritance. Yes because of the damaging depression he developed.

Can we know our fate? I'm glad we can't, though sometimes we can see some possibilities or the broad outlines we face in life. I'd rather not know if terrible times are ahead. Nor do I want the happy times lessened by knowing about them in advance.

All we can do is make the best choices we know how, forgive ourselves for the ones that turn out to be foolish or unwise, and appreciate, as much as we can, the life and loved ones we have.

I will always be glad that Leif was my son, no matter how hard it is to know he is dead, no matter how much I miss him, no matter how much I disagreed with some of the choices he made. He was my son, my handsome, brilliant, anguished son, and he brought much to my life I would never want to wish away.

The photo was taken of Leif by my sister, Sherie, in the living room of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, in November 1975. Leif was 10 months old, and must about that time he started walking.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Are you over it yet?

Peter asked me on our bike ride yesterday whether I was "over" Leif's death after four years. I told him no, that I still felt like the man we sat with at a German American Club Christmas Party a couple of years ago whose 17-year-old daughter had committed suicide some fifteen years ago . . . that it still hurt just as much, just not as often.

We didn't continue to discuss it then, but today I asked him whether HE was "over it," and he said he thought he was. But then it occurred to me that so often we use words in different ways. What did "over it" mean to him? So I asked.

He said he still thinks of Leif "all the time" and misses him, but that life must go on and that he was able to enjoy our trip to Germany.

I guess my definition is different. I knew all along that life had to go on, and since Leif died I've helped take care of my mother through a broken back and a broken hip, and now am helping her with another move. We've traveled to Egypt, South America, Alaska, Germany, India and Russia since Leif's death, and I've enjoyed the trips. Most of each day I'm busy and functioning well. I don't dwell on his death the way I did for the first three years after he died. I cry more rarely, but I still do get tears in my eyes, and once in awhile grief still comes back for a pity party.

If being "over it" means being able to function and enjoy life most of the time, I guess I am . . . but if being "over it" means it no longer hurts or affects me, or that I no longer miss him, or that I no longer question and wonder why, no, I am not "over it," and I don't think I ever will be.

There is something so integral to one's life about being a parent, about loving someone so completely, that even if we can eventually let go of the daily depths of grief, we can never really let go of the person we love and miss so much.

I was thinking just today, again, of all Leif's things I still have and what to do with them when there he had no family to give them to, no children to wonder about their father, no grandchildren who would like having his things.

I was thinking of all the memories that we cherish, how glad I am to have them, and yet how hard it sometimes is to remember and know what we have lost.

There are so many days I'd like to write on this blog but find no time. The demands of life have closed in and taken away the time I used to spend each day here with "Remembering Leif," and it may seem to the casual reader of the blog as though I am no longer remembering as often or as deeply, but that would be untrue.

I'm glad I had the time in the first two years after Leif's death to write more often, even daily, to be with him in my mind's eye and share those moments in some inner way with him. Now those moments are fewer, but not because I think of him any less.

I think Peter, too, wishes for more of that time. He checks the blog every day and waits to see whether I've written anything new, tells me I should write something, even if it is short. He may be "over it," but he's not over wanting to see the photos and read about our son.

This photo of Peter and Leif was taken in the back yard of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, in June 1976 when Leif was a year-and-a-half old. He had been playing in the little wading pool and gotten tuckered out, so he climbed up on daddy and fell asleep in the sun, all cuddled up, safe and warm. He must have felt so snuggled up and loved . . . and he was. It's a precious moment, to have a little boy asleep on you like that. They both were so young then.