Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Missing Him So Much

Sunday, November 29th I attended a lovely Christmas concert. A part of the program was a sing-along that included "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I couldn't sing it, just as I couldn't sing it seven years ago, the first Christmas without Leif in 2008. I still got all choked up with tears in my eyes, but I couldn't let myself cry. I didn't want to spoil other people's good time, and I was also the "official" photographer for the concert. I had to keep my mind on my task.

But it wasn't easy, and it hasn't gotten easier in the two days since then. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Leif's birthday. They are always hard. I miss him every day of my life, but I miss him doubly at those times, days we always shared with him throughout his life, with the exception of a very few years when he was gone in the army. But even then, most of the Christmases he was able to come home to be with us, and could still talk to him on the other holidays. I miss the sound of his voice, his laugh, his rascally twinkling eyes. I miss his teasing and his holding forth on any topic.

He would sure have a lot to say about the current presidential race. I wish he were here to say it. He'd have plenty to say about the Middle East mess, too. And strong opinions about the poor treatment of veterans, and the importance of the lives of soldiers. He would understand and agree with "Black lives matter," and he would undoubtedly add, "Soldiers lives matter." We should not waste them!

He would have a lot to say about the events of the day, from support for Planned Parenthood to dash cams for police officers.

And he would be reveling in the upcoming release of the new Star Trek and Star Wars movies, and grinning over the exploits of Super Girl.

There is so much of the world today that would make him angry, and so much he would enjoy, if only he were here. If only. If only. If only . . . .


This photo was taken December 10, 2006 when we met him and Donna for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Brandon. He's opening a phone we gave him.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Seven Years and Seven Months - and Missing Him on Veteran's Day

I don't know whether it's because of Veteran's Day or some other unconscious reason, but I've been missing Leif terribly the past two days.

Veteran's Day is so significant because Leif always wanted to serve his country. He wanted to be a pilot but that was denied to him by his poor eyesight. His second choice was to be an Air Force Officer, nonpilot. But that was denied to him because of a failed muscle. His third choice was an army career, but that was denied to him by asthma despite his excellence as a machine gunner.

Being in a soldier, defending his country and his beloved Constitution, was an integral part of his identity. It never left him, even when he was forced into medical retirement from the army after three and a half years of service. It will always be his identity.

Veteran's Day comes this year on the heels of seven years and seven months since he died. It is hard to realize it's been that long. It seems only yesterday he was sitting at my kitchen table, long legs stretched out, talking politics. We still miss him every day, and never know what will trigger an attack of sadness or nostalgia. . . something we see in a movie, something on television, a car like his driving past, someone on a motorcycle, the political process he would have loved to discuss, the new James Bond movie he would have loved to see.

It's hard not being able to share those things with him. It's hard not knowing what to do with what I still have of his things. I finally parted with his bass guitar and his Kramer Floyd Rose guitar. It took me over seven years to do it. My conscious mind knows he isn't coming back for them, but the hidden mind does not accept that. Somewhere in my unconscious it feels deeply wrong and disloyal to sell his prized possessions.

I am proud of Leif's service. Proud that he managed to get through tough infantry basic training on a broken foot. Proud of his tall and soldierly bearing. Proud of his skills. Proud that he persevered even when asthma made it hard for him to breath or run. Proud that he cared about his country. Proud that the studied the Constitution and believed in it, protecting it, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I miss you, my son!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Fallacy of Letting Go

If you read about loss and grief, they say that eventually you reach the stage of acceptance and letting go. I don't believe it. Maybe some people do. Maybe they manage to shut the door on their feelings, or push them aside, or just get so busy with life that they ignore them, but that hasn't happened to me. The stage of anger never happened either.

I started to wonder, what would "letting go" mean, anyway? I tried to find an explanation that made sense to me. It seems, the prevailing viewpoint is, or at least was, that after some period of time, the surviving person will "get over it" and "get on with life" and behave in a "normal way," as though they have healed from the pain of loss.

But the writers that made sense to me were the ones that said that we now know that some people NEVER get over their loss, never get over their grief, but just learn to live and cope with it. That's not letting go. It's just coexisting with your grieving feelings.

Most days I'm not sad, or at least not for long, but there are always triggers that will bring tears to my eyes and the grief comes flooding back in, as though it were just dammed up behind a door and all it takes to let it out is the key to open that door. The key can be something I don't even know will happen, like seeing a car like Leif's, or seeing a news report about the death of soldiers, or remembering him playing with his nieces and nephews, or a host of other things.

If letting go means I can finally and dispose of some of his things that I haven't been able to bring myself to part with for nearly seven-and-a-half years, then perhaps I'm getting closer. After all this time, I still have his billfold intact, but I've finally come to the decision to sell his base and Kramer guitars. It's hard, because yet again, it seems like dismantling a piece of his identity, taking away something he loved and which gave him great pleasure. But, I have finally come to the point where I know that letting them sit untouched does none of us any good, and someone else could have that pleasure in playing them. So, I am now going to sell the guitars.

I don't think, though, that letting go of THINGS is the same as letting go of LEIF. I can't do that. I never will. He is still a daily part of our lives, every day. Like his dad said yesterday, we still have so many of his things, and things he gave us, that we use daily. But it's not just those that remind us of him. It's even just being in this house, remembering where he sat, what his room was like. It's a thousand memories that come back over and over, not always with sadness, but always with connection, with love.

And the lack of that, in the end, the lack of love and connectedness, was what really killed Leif, like a flower that wasn't watered, or a man who felt no one needed him.

I still have and wear the shirt Leif is wearing in this picture. At that time, in 1991, Hypercolor was all the rage. He loved it, found it fascinating. This photo was taken in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands on October 19, 1991. We were having lunch and he was playing with the shirt, making the smiley face on it and showing off the logo for his grandmother, who took the photo. The shirt is old now, well worn, and no longer has the Hypercolor properties, but I love it for the memories that I will never let go, just as I will never let me son go. I will hold him as close as I can for all my life.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Leif on His Suzuki - Nine Years Ago

Here's a photo I found on Leif's computer. I think it must have been taken by Donna where they lived in Tampa, on September 5, 2006. He was putting on weight, but look at that proud posture. He loved that crotch rocket. Unfortunately, in yet another of his series of bad luck incidents, it was stolen right out of the parking lot.

He rode that thing like he was on a racetrack, admittedly over 100 mph at times. It's a wonder he never had an accident at high speed and really wrecked himself or someone else. The irony was, the accident in which he really got hurt and ended up in the hospital happened a low speed in Tampa going back to work.

Lately we are hearing about all the damage that concussions cause, from IEDs to football, and I can't help but wonder whether that, too, influenced the end of Leif's life. I don't know what kind of micro concussions he may have had due to what he experienced in the army, but I do know that when he had that motorcycle accident in July 2007, his head hit the pavement without a helmet on it, and it was an ugly example of "road rash," as were his hands, as he wasn't wearing motorcycle gloves, either, at the time.

He loved riding his cycles. This was the second of three he owned. The first was a yellow and magenta Yamaha sport bike. The third was a silver chrome Honda, which was a more comfortable ride like a cruiser. I think he felt happier and more alive when he was riding than just about any other time.

A year and seven months after this photo was taken, he would be dead. So many awful things happened in that time; two robberies, his bike accident and surgery, domestic violence against him, financial calamity. It was a heavy load on top of all he had already experienced, but now I am wondering whether he could have handled it differently without the head injuries.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Summer of 1976

This picture was taken thirty nine years ago in July 1976. We were all so young and happy and vital. Leif was 18 months old, and Peter A. was seven years old. It was a hot July day and we're dressed for it.

We didn't have central AC in the old stone house. There was one large window air conditioner in the living room-dining room, and it more-or-less managed to cool the downstairs. Upstairs we had one more window air conditioner in the front master bedroom. We "hoped" the AC would sort of make it down the hall and into the other bedrooms and bathroom. It was tolerable, but not like central AC.

That was a period when I was doing fabric painting on t-shirts, long before the days when you could buy t-shirts with all kinds of stuff printed on them, or design your own and have them printed by places like CafePress. I also made bead necklaces, none of which compared in style and elegance to all the ones Peter has made in the past few years. Peter has one of those necklaces on, of brown and white beads.

He is wearing a t-shirt that says "The Happy Hun" on a world globe. This was a nickname other JAG officers had for him as a military prosecutor. Peter A. is wearing his own "Sun Boy" t-shirt, that he designed and painted himself. Leif, suitably enough, has no shirt on. At that age, he wasn't much of a fan of clothes.

It was a good summer, the one before Peter A. started first grade. Many changes took place that fall. That summer was one of the happiest times.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Leif at 20 Months Old - A Joyful, Curious Little Boy

Once upon a time he beamed with joy. Once upon a time he was a happy little boy. Once upon a time he turned that headlight smile on me.

I miss that joyful little boy. I miss the teen he became and the man he was.

This is another photo I had never seen. I found it in my sister's photo album.

I wish I could have given that uncluttered happiness back to him.

This photo was taken at our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas in September 1976. Leif was 20 months old.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Guys and Dolls at Antilles High School

Another find! I was scanning some of my mother's old slides, none of which we had ever seen, and found this shot of Leif (second from left), on stage in his first part in a Broadway musical . . . which we missed!

In April 1991, Peter was sent to a conference in the Washington DC area, and wanted me to go with him. My mother came to Puerto Rico to stay with Leif while we were gone and visit us when we returned.

Antilles High School was putting on "Guys and Dolls," and we knew that Leif was helping with scene construction and lightning, but didn't know he had a small part as well. I'm not sure he even found out he'd be on stage during the performance until we were gone. We were away when the musical was performed and missed seeing him. This photo seems to be the only one. He is wearing his Fedora and carrying his camera. I wish we had been there.

He seemed to be bitten by the theater bug by this experience, and the following spring tried out for a main part in "Grease." No one had ever heard him sing before, but he blew away the audience as Kenicke singing "Greased Lightning."

We moved to Manhattan, Kansas the summer before his senior year, and he tried out for the MHS musical, and was terribly disappointed when he was told that he was good enough to get a major part, but was new to the school and didn't "deserve" it. We never saw him on stage again.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Twenty-Two Years Ago Today - Leif's Graduation Dinner

The last time I posted, using the envelope on my head as an example of Leif's silly humor, I didn't realize what the occasion was. I found another slide my mother took that evening, and discovered it was his family graduation dinner. It was taken exactly twenty-two years ago, June 3, 1993, in our old stone house. Both Leif and the house are no longer.

And now I know what was in the big white envelope . . . and giant graduation card, which you can see in this photo. I'm not sure what Leif was looking at with his head at that angle, but it was after he plopped the envelope onto my head and then stuck my straw hat atop it.

It's hard to realize that twenty-two years have gone by, and now our second granddaughter is graduating from high school this weekend. How could the years slip by so quickly? How could Leif not be here to share the occasions with us?

We are also celebrating our fiftieth wedding anniversary this weekend, and Leif's absence is a heartache for me. I am delighted to be able to share it with Peter A. and our granddaughters, but how I wish we could have our whole family around us, including Leif and Marcus.

If find that it seems to be the days leading up to holidays and special events that trigger a lot of sadness, and I miss Leif most then. It's the anticipation of the coming event without him, I guess. Usually when the actual event happens, I'm over it . . . or maybe I'm just distracted by the good things happening then.

I miss his laugh. I miss his smile. I miss his bear hugs. I miss his silliness and teasing. He would have added so much to all those occasions he has missed in the seven years since he died. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Back to Manhattan and More Memories

So many memories are tied to places and events. We just made a trip to Manhattan, Kansas, where Leif was a baby, where he graduated from high school and college. We drove by the places we used to live, toured the high school, went through the City Park where he used to participate in SCA "fights." So many memories. We saw some of his best friends and the boy who bears his name.

We made the trip to visit family and attend a class reunion, but going back to a place we spent so many years with Leif brought back memories I hadn't thought of in years.

The house where this photo was taken, our old stone house on Moro Street, no longer exists, but we have 17 years of memories of life there.

I am always glad to find photos of Leif I hadn't seen before, and this one made me smile. It was taken not long after he graduated from MHS, handsome, slim fellow with his luxurious long hair pulled back in a ponytail, his mustache and goatee, and the snappy stylish clothes he wore then; silk shirt and silk jacket.

It also shows his sense of humor and silly side. We were having a family dinner in the dining room. I don't know what came in the large white envelope, but he grabbed it and quickly fashioned a mask/hat and popped it over my head. I hadn't seen this photo since the slide film was developed in 1993, because it wasn't a photo we would have printed from the slide to go into an album, but now it seems priceless and cute.

I think of all the things I learned from Leif and wish he were here to teach me more. At the time this photo was taken, he was one of the early users of a cell phone, which he paid for with his own earnings from the telemarketing company he worked for, his first job, as a senior in high school. He taught me so much about how cell phones work (and why they don't work). I miss learning from him. I miss his political and historical discussions. I miss his laugh. I miss his hugs. I want him back.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Leif on Philosophy and Climate Change

Tonight while I was looking for some other information I happened again, after all these years, on this short essay that Leif wrote to on the MySpace blog of the love of his life, J. He sent it to me for comment on February 16, 2008, just over seven weeks before he died. He took a very cynical view of humanity. I found it interesting that he took on what he saw as a coming apocalypse caused by global warming.

The photo was actually taken in August 2003, long before he wrote this piece, but the direct stare seems to me to go with his statements. He was wearing his new SCA armor.

I hope his vision of the future of humanity does not come true, and I am not so sanguine about the survival of the industrial world, but I do think we are in for a lot of horror.

Leif on Philosophy & Climate Change
Read Kant. He has many ideas, some a bit unrealistic, but among his best thoughts is  his idea of peace through conflict, that  eventually through war and competition and  resolved conflict world peace will be achieved because the costs of war with a trading partner will be too great to bear and it will be  unacceptable.

Over the years I have studied philosophy, history, political science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and have learned one thing. None of these guys had the answers. Truth is a jig-saw puzzle, and at best Marx, Kant, Freud, Locke, Montesquieu, Madison, et al, contributed a piece.

Another is that truth is very subjective. What you might find appalling is just fine to others, and those others might find your ideas equally appalling. I have always enjoyed the stark contrast between your excessively compassionate quest to save the world and my ruthless Machiavellian disregard for it. 

Being a bit of an evolutionary and social darwinist, I look forward to the coming apocalypse of global warming. It will be a glorious catastrophe which will either doom mankind or propel us into the next level of enlightenment. I see this as quite possibly the greatest thing that can happen to man, a mass extinction which will disproportionately affect the parts of the world which are least able to embrace a more intelligent way of living.   

The industrialized world, which is principally in northern latitudes, is already pushing to go green and is more likely to survive the climate change. Many of the corporations which plague the industrialized world will go bankrupt as the economy collapses. 

The humans which survive will be smarter and, most importantly, FEWER. Billions will die in China, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Oil will quickly become unimportant and religious conflicts with oil-rich Muslims will become a thing of the past as they cease to matter. The survivors will be in a position to continue the next chapter of human development from a much more enlightened perspective.

This is, of course, very politically incorrect, but then the PC are like idiots playing chess. They can't see the pieces on the board for the game itself. People can't see past what’s right in front of them. Like my 12-year-old niece playing chess with me at Christmas was fully convinced that she had defeated me and that I was either not trying or not very smart when I allowed her to take my queen early in the game. Later, when I mated her king she could not understand where she went wrong. The difference is the long view. When considering any action you must look down the slippery slope and see how it may snowball into other changes covered by the law of unexpected consequences.

Anyway, enough dark proselytizing for one day. - Leif (February 16, 2008)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Seven Years Without Leif

As a teen and adult Leif was such a towering presence in our lives, both emotionally and physically, the tallest member of our entire extended family, it's hard to realize that even though he was bigger than his friends and classmates, he must have felt small and vulnerable in the world as children do.

I haven't written any posts on this blog in some time, because it's hard to find new things to say after all these years, and repeating the same things doesn't seem to make much sense. I also wanted "new" photos of him to post.

Today it is seven years since we found his lifeless body in his apartment in Tampa. We had spent a terrifying 24 hours wondering where he was and what had happened to him, hoping he was all right somewhere because he didn't answer his phones or email, and had not showed up for work on April 9th. Should we have gone to his apartment on the 9th? It wouldn't have made any difference in saving him, as he was already dead. We didn't want to accept that possibility as long as we could hope that he was alive somewhere and just not communicating . . . which happened from time to time.

I still wonder about how it happened and why. It doesn't matter how many reasons we can find, there's nothing we can point to that made it happen just then. Why does someone finally make such an awful decision? I still wonder whether it could have been an accident, as the detective on the scene  said, rather than the suicide the medical examiner declared. I still wonder how a man so well trained in weaponry could have been so foolish as to put a loaded gun to his head and pull the trigger unless he meant it. We will never have those answers.

But it is somehow wonderful to open a box of old slides and find a "new" photo of him we haven't seen in 34 years. Back in those days, we took slides because they were cheaper than prints, and then we would only print the very best ones for our photo albums. A lot of slides really weren't print quality, or we had several that were similar and just picked the best one to print. But now, some of those that aren't really suitable for printing are wonderful to look at.

I realize more and more that our visual memories are so determined by our photos and looking at them over the years. They help to fix the pictures in our minds, and it is hard to recall how other things actually looked. I always wondered how people could say they were forgetting how some deceased loved one looked, but I can understand it if they didn't have photos they could go back to and fix in their minds. The photos also help to recall events surrounding them.

I pulled a few out of some boxes of slides Peter W. took during our years in Japan and scanned some. This was one of my favorites. What a beautiful child Leif was! I no longer remember where in Japan this was taken, though the box says it was in July 1981. Leif would have been six and a half years old. I don't remember the Mickey Mouse baseball shirt, either, but that beautiful little face I remember! The cute boy who needed a haircut I remember.

One thing that amazed me looking at these photos of him at that age was how much he looked like his niece Aly at that age. I'd never seen that before.

I wish I had time to haul out all our slides and scan all the ones of our family. Someday. There will be a lot of memories there.

For today, my memory is with Leif, the years we shared with him, and the years that have gone by without him. He will be missed every day of our lives.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A visit to the Cemetery

We went to visit the cemetery on Monday, February 2nd, five days after Leif's birthday when we originally wanted to go. I made a little bouquet out of four of the flowers from the bouquet my sister Lannay sent to us in remembrance of Leif's birthday, and we placed it in the groove between the stones on the columbarium. There's no place to leave flowers except stuck in the gravel at the bottom of the structure.

Once again, we cried, touched his stone, felt our loss, noted how much longer others inurned around him had lived, where they had served, and how many more have been placed since we were last there.

It's still hard for me to see his name carved into the granite. It still hurts to think of his remains there., and to know that our beautiful son is gone forever.

I will always wish him back

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts on Leif's Fortieth Birthday

If Leif had lived, January 28, 2015 would have been his fortieth birthday. It will be over in just a minute, before I finish this post. I've thought of him all day. We didn't spent the day the way we wanted to. We wanted to go to the cemetery to honor him, but this was the day the house painter decided to show up to finish the job, so we were stuck. It was also the day to deal with other issues that came up unexpectedly, so both of us were sad, both because of Leif, and because we didn't get to go to Bay Pines.

It seems that for several years, something has always come up on his birthday to keep us from going there, and that makes me feel bad, as though I can't manage to take time on his birthday to be there. It's not that I think he's "there" wondering why. It's that I want to go there for me. I want to spend time away from other distractions. Yet it seems that nearly every year since the year after he died, something else has distracted us on his birthday. Even my computer wouldn't publish this post and I had to copy it to a different browser.

We talked this morning about Leif and my father, and how they were alike and different, and how I wished Leif had lived long enough to have a family. He lived thirteen years less than my father did.

Leif's birthday was a happy day for me. I was so glad he was born and part of our family. He brought so much into our lives. I looked at a lot of photos of him today, at all the things we did together over the years.

But the last couple of days I have found myself haunted by the same old questions that have haunted me from the day we found his body. Why? What happened? I still cannot fathom it. The detective thought it was accidental. The medical examiner that did the autopsy thought it was a suicide because it was a contact wound. But I still can't even understand how things transpired, how the gun was where it was on the counter, as though he had been standing by it and dropped it, yet there was no blood on the counter.

I still don't understand how someone who had been carrying on an animated email discussion with several people during the evening, all about designing the perfect smart watch, and who was looking up a German band online and sending requests to Amazon to get their music, who went home with his best friend and was socializing him and another man until the wee hours of the morning, would suddenly not be around to get that music.

I still don't understand why someone contemplating suicide would pay his rent, put gas in his car, get new shoes, a new video game, and a new gun.

Could it have been an accident? As I've written before, it's hard to believe that of someone as well trained in firearms as he was. Surely he wouldn't have been stupid enough to put a loaded gun to his head and play with the trigger? On the other hand, he was drunk and high. Who knows what kind of stupid game he might have played with his brand new gun. Maybe the trigger pulled a little easier than he thought.

Could it have been murder? By whom? The door was bolt locked. Someone would have had to have the key, and his keys were sitting on his desk. And why would they leave the weapon? Who would have had a motive? The detective did not find anything suspicious.

I know it's not about logic. I still think the things I know point to suicide, that the things that happened after March 22nd became too much, and maybe he made a spur of the moment decision to do it.

Would I feel any better if I knew? Probably not. It won't bring him back. But at least the eternal questioning would be over.

I find myself going from smiling at photos of him I love, to crying over his death and missing him. I am grateful for those that remembered him on his birthday, my sisters, Nikko, cousins. I don't want any of us to forget him, that he lived, that we loved him, and he loved us.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Contrast in Memorial Services

Yesterday we went to a memorial service for a friend and neighbor who died on December 24th. It was a good celebration of his life, and we learned a lot about him we hadn't known, saw his children and grandchildren, knew he'd had a good 87 years.

I found it hard to be there in several ways. It brought back memories of Leif's memorial service, and the contrast in their lives; Leif, who died at 33 by his own hand, with no wife and no children, lonely. John, who had a heart attack but had a life of verve and action with a loving wife, children, stepchildren he took as his own, grandchildren and great-granchildren.

The two of them had some things in common, a love of sailboating and SCUBA, being on the water.

How I wish Leif could have lived a life that long, that productive, and that happy. I know no life is completely and universally happy. We all have challenges and unhappy moments. But when we look back over our lives, how much better it would be to say we have lived our lives well.

It was such a contrast in the two services. John's was full of good, and even funny, memories accomplishments. No one had to speculate on why he was dead. Leif's was full of sadness for his loneliness and depression, trying to understand who he was and why he was no longer with us.

I still miss Leif every day of my life. I still wish he were here, and happy, and healthy, and had a family. I will never stop wishing it.