Thursday, July 13, 2006

South Dakota

(Note—I realize I’m going on and on about my nephew’s death, but writing it all out is great therapy and for that matter, I guess you can always go visit someone else’s blog if you’ve had enough.)

My evening in South Dakota was terribly sad, healing, and enlightening, all at the same time.

About four years ago, Leonard moved away from his home in Minnesota to a small town two hours away, just into South Dakota. It was there that he died, so his family decided to have a viewing/visitation there before bringing his body back to Minnesota for the funeral and burial.

To save costs, they chose to bring the body back in Marcus’s van, and one of the enduring images of that week is of stopping by my brother’s place on Wednesday afternoon and seeing him outside carefully washing his van in preparation for bringing his son’s body home.

Only a few of us went—Leonard’s immediate family, myself, and 5 of Anna’s family.

To be living my normal life on Sunday and then three days later find myself in a small South Dakota town at my nephew’s viewing was downright surreal. So was the glimpse into Leonard’s world of farmers and cowboys and warm, down-home people with pronounced South Dakota accents.

The funeral home was beautiful, an old renovated house. We sat in a hushed, dim room as dozens of young men came through, all of them clean-cut and dressed in almost identical uniforms of long-sleeved shirts, cowboy boots, and tight jeans with big belt buckles. All of them were polite and respectful, all were silent. They placed their black hats on a shelf at the entry, greeted the family, stood with bowed heads at the casket, and then gathered in a little anteroom, where they sat in silence for almost two hours.

One young man stood near the casket for an hour and a half. He was from Wyoming, it turned out, and had come all that way because he and Leonard were friends.

Families came together, groups of young women came, and toughened farmers came.

I knew this was the only chance I would ever have to get a glimpse of Leonard’s life, so I forced myself to talk to a few people. "How did you know Lenny?" I would ask, and out would pour their story. "Lenny took me hunting. I didn’t have a big brother, so he said he would be my big brother." "Lenny was my friend." "Lenny and I baled hay together." "Lenny was in my Bible study." "Lenny was like a son to me."

There were many stories told that evening besides the ones I heard first-hand. One young man came in a wheelchair. He had been badly hurt in a house-moving accident and it hurt terribly to be transported, but he insisted on coming. "Lenny had a huge impact on my son’s life," his mother said.

Then there was the beautiful blond girl that Lenny had liked who couldn’t seem to stop crying. She had just turned 18 not too long ago, and wasn’t interested in dating just yet, Lenny had told his sister, but she was still a good friend.

"We worked long hours together, and I never saw him get angry," said one co-worker. "And if one of us had the flu, we knew pretty soon Lenny would show up to do the milking for him."

The girls wept, the guys were silent, the moms and dads hugged Marcus and Anna and cried with them.

I thought, over and over and over, "Oh, Leonard, how could you not know how loved you were?"


  1. Okay I cant stop crying while I read this. It sure shows how important it is to let people know how much they mean to us before they die.

    Its all so sad and beautiful at the same time.


  2. You just go right ahead and keep on writing. It allows us to grieve with you even though we are not there in person. I felt so sad as I read this and your question as to how could he not know he was loved just really tore me up. I do know how much depression can just eat you away and you really don't feel loved and you feel like the rest would be better off without you. Depression is awful and you don't think right when you are in it. I wish he could have found his way. It is so very important for someone to stay very close to the person when they are depressed. Now I don't say that to throw stones at you or anyone else. The tears are running down my cheeks as I write this. I hurt so bad inside for all of you. Blessing and peace go with you. Keep writing, I know too how theraputic that is as well. Love you, Lorene

  3. You say it so well. Miss

  4. having been through my own struggles with suicidal depression, i don't think it's a matter of realizing whether or how much you're loved. as jump4joy said, depression twists your thoughts until you can come to truly believe that you are a burden to everyone you love. that's one of the most painful and difficult things about depression: it controls how you think, how you feel, how you relate to others, how you filter their interactions with you, and often in very insidious and pervasive ways. leonard must have been in an incredible amount of pain to take his own life, but he is finally beyond the grip of that pain and is free, perhaps for the first time, to experience the fullness of God's love for him.

  5. Nice! Where you get this guestbook? I want the same script.. Awesome content. thankyou.