Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.


Monday, May 18, 2015

May 18, 2015 - Six Years and Two Months Later: A Poem by Edward Hirsch

As noted in prior blog posts, poetry has become an unexpected source of comfort. And with a few clicks I recently searched, found and bought a book-length elegy by a grieving poet who lost his twenty-two year old son in August 2011.

I read Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch in one sitting.

I also found this New Yorker article in which Hirsch speaks about his loss and the genesis of the poem.

The front jacket says this:
Never has there been a book of poems quite like Gabriel, in which a short life, a bewildering death, and the unanswerable sorrow of a father come together in such a sustained elegy. This unabashed sequence speaks directly from Hirsch's heart to our own, without sentimentality....Hirsch's account is poignantly direct and open to the strange vicissitudes and tricks of grief....Hirsch mixes his tale of Gabriel with the stories of other poets through the centuries who have also lost children, and expresses his feelings through theirs. His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer's act of witnessing and transformation. It will be read and reread.
I agree.

Hirsch chose to write this tribute of his son's life and simultaneous exploration of grief in three-line stanzas without any punctuation, not even a period at the end.  It is highly accessible, even to a poetry novice like me.

While the poem is not divided into sections, it reads as though it were. For example, I did not read the section that went into detail about Gabriel's autopsy report as I could not, and still have not read our son's report.  It stays folded in the envelope from the coroner's office in a large trunk which sits in our family room, holding Josh's keepsakes.

Below are the stanzas that speak to me and why.

I like how he describes certain memories of Gabriel....
When he learned to crawl he pulled himself
Forward on his arms a little at a time
As if he were climbing Arizona Beach on D-day
and
When he colored his hair blue
The sink was covered with blue dye
As if the sky was turned upside down in a bowl
Gabriel was not an easy child to raise which Hirsch acknowledged...
Chaotic wind of the gods
He was trouble
But he was our trouble
and
Some nights I could not tell
If he was the wrecking ball
Or the building it crashed into
Getting ready for the funeral....
Not knowing who I am
I was lying beside him
In the coffin I still couldn't breathe 
And so I woke up in the shadow
Of morning black light
And put on my mourning clothes 
His mother also slipped into black
Treachery of the parents
Who outlive their son
How I felt when viewing my own son...
The funeral director opened the coffin
And there he was alone
From the waist up 
I peered down into his face
And for a moment I was taken aback
Because it was not Gabriel 
It was just some poor kid
Whose face looked like a room
That had been vacated
and
I leaned over and kissed him
On the forehead
It was chilly and hard 
I kissed him on the lips
They were stone cold
It was like kissing a corpse 
I started keening and wailing
A sob came out of my body
A sound I had never heard before 
It was animalistic primal
The wailing the terrible keen
Kept bursting out of me
On grief and mourning....
Grief broke down in phrases
And extrapolated lines
From me without myself
and
I did not know the work of the mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night 
The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief
and
Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders 
That's why it take courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day
and
Lord Nothingness
When my son's suffering ended
My own began
He ends with a question that echoes in my heart...
It was Gabriel it was not Gabriel
Wild spirit beloved son
Where have you fled

RIP Josh and Gabriel

Saturday, April 18, 2015

April 18,2015: Six Years and One Month Later

We are now in our 7th year sans Josh. His absence is in the fabric of our lives, felt every day.

Today I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to get my hair cut. I told the receptionist to give me anyone who was available. When I walked in, a tall young girl met me. After chatting the usual, "how did I want my hair done?"etc., I sat down at her station and she asked about my T-shirt.

On the 18th of every month, it is my practice to wear a Josh shirt.  Today, I wore the black one that Gillian designed within a few months of his passing.


It turns out, she went to high school with Josh! And while she did not know him personally, she knew of him. After saying I was his mother, the compassion just poured out.

In my weekly letter to him, this is what I wrote:

She said you were a well-like boy and rattled off all the reasons why someone like you would NOT take his life: popular, good student, had everything going for him. And as I sit and write, it begs the question - the unanswerable question - of "why?"  
Why did you take THE route of no return? And as I look at your pictures, you were...are....a special soul, one that others do not forget. Why deprive the world of your light?  
I don't know...you probably don't know..... 
Of all days, it was an unexpected blessing to meet someone who remembered Josh. I take it as another sign that he still lives.  

RIP beloved son


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March 18, 2015 - Six Years Later

Our son Josh, died by his own hand 6 years ago. It was a Wednesday, just like today and just like any other day. It is 7am now and six years ago, I awoke, showered, was in my office preparing for a client meeting, saw Tim leave for his own meeting; naive and oblivious to what I would find three short hours later.

Anyone close to Josh can probably think back and remember exactly where they were, what they were doing and what they felt upon hearing the tragic news.

Death, grief, sorrow, pain, heartache, memories, living with loss, living in spite of loss are very difficult to navigate early on and even six years later. Emotions are unpredictable as I do not know how I will feel or react today. I know there is numbness as last night, I heard of another teenage suicide in our area which could've put me in a tailspin but instead, I felt nothing except sorrow for the grieving family.

I want to share another "blessing" from John O'Donohue's book, To Bless The Space Between Us which has been a recent source of comfort to me.

For The Family and Friends of a Suicide
by John O'Donohue

As you huddle around the torn silence, 
Each by this lonely deed exiled,
To a solitary confinement of soul,
May some small glow from what has been lost
Return like the kindness of candlelight.

As your eyes strain to sift
This sudden wall of dark
And no one can say why
In such a forsaken, secret way,
This death was sent for...
May one of the lovely hours
Of memory return
Like a field of ease
Among these graveled days.

May the Angel of Wisdom
Enter this ruin of absence
And guide your minds
To receive this bitter chalice
So that you do not damage yourselves
By attending only at the hungry alter
Of regret and anger and guilt.

May you be given some inkling
That there could be something else at work
And that what to you now seems
Dark, destructive, and forlorn,
Might be a destiny that looks different 
From inside the eternal script.

May vision be granted to you
To see this with the eyes of providence.
May your loss become a sanctuary
Where new presence will dwell
To refine and enrich
The rest of your life
With courage and compassion.

And may your lost loved one
Enter into the beauty of eternal tranquility,
In that place where there is no more sorrow
Or separation or mourning or tears.


RIP Josh
January 16, 1992 - March 18, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

5 Years and 11 Months Later - "For Grief" by John O'Donohue

I recently read Tara Brach's book, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart and was intrigued by some quotes by John O'Donohue, an Irish teacher and poet.  I bought two of his books: To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings and Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

This "blessing" really resonates....  


For Grief 
by John O'Donohue


When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that 
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.




RIP Josh
Love,
Mom


Friday, January 16, 2015

Happy 23rd Birthday Josh!

Sad today as it would've been Josh's 23rd birthday. My parents went with me to the park to put some balloons on his stone.

 
Today hits home (yet again) why the loss of the child is so devastating for it is not only the physical absence a mother grieves but the loss of everything in the future. Birthdays are an especially painful reminder of what should be but isn't.

Josh should be in his early 20's, figuring out who he is and what he wants to do with his life.

He should've been with us at our Thanksgiving holiday in Asheville, NC - eating, chilling, playing Cataan and poker, watching sports with Tim and Tyler - everything a kid would do during a week with the family.

He should've been home with us over Christmas and New Years.

He should've come with us to NYC this week to see Gillian perform with her new band of which she is the lead vocalist and Uncle Steve (my brother) is the guitarist. He would've been amazed and proud.



He should be his little cousin Keilani's # 1 fan - and vice versa. There are times when she smiles that she reminds us of Josh.




Tears have flowed intermittently as I remember the day he was born and the joy he brought to our family. 


Happy to have a healthy baby boy - a little surprised too as the doc said he was supposed to be a she!


Poor Tim - so tired taking care of the other three at home and getting ready for our arrival....


Josh completed our family....

RIP Josh.
Happy Birthday.
Love you and miss you.
XXOO






Monday, January 5, 2015

For A Parent On the Death of a Child - by John O'Donohue


For the Parent on the Death of a Child
 To Bless the Space Between Us


No one knows the wonder
Your child awoke in you,
Your heart a perfect cradle
To hold its presence.
Inside and outside became one
As new waves of love
kept surprising your soul.

Now you sit bereft
Inside a nightmare,
Your eyes numbed
By the sight of a grave
No parent should ever see.

You will wear this absence
Like a secret locket,
Always wondering why
Such a new soul
Was taken home so soon.

Let the silent tears flow
And when your eyes clear
Perhaps you will glimpse
How your eternal child
Has become the unseen angel
Who parents your heart
And persuades the moon
To send new gifts ashore.


RIP Josh
Love,
Mom

Thursday, December 18, 2014

5 Years and 9 Months Later - More Signs

We are approaching our 6th Christmas without Josh. I know it is redundant to say "so hard to believe" but it is true. Where has the time gone? Are we really into our sixth holiday grief season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, his birthday on Jan. 16th) without him? And on the heels of his birthday will come our day of infamy, March 18th.

The tremendous sadness, as if every cell in the body were filled with its own grief and loss, no longer weighs me down as in the first few years.  Now, I am apathetic about the holidays, watching as a dispassionate observer and asking what is all the fuss about? Why do stores need to promote Christmas before Thanksgiving? Why is my inbox continually flooded with promotions, screaming for me to spend money? Why all the added stress and pressure?

Bottom line, I am not into it anymore. Holiday decorations will stay in the basement again this year except for wreaths on the front doors, a white tree and stockings (just like the past 5 years). I've stopped sending cards and as a result am receiving less. But that is OK for while I am happy to see how friend's families have grown, it is a painful reminder of our loss.

Despite all this, I do have some inner peace in my heart because I know Josh is still here. How? Because he has recently sent me two distinct signs of his presence. Side note: I have experienced more signs but to share would mean writing about my daily meditation practice which will be on another post if I ever do decide to share.

Last month, I was at the grocery store re-stocking after being away for Thanksgiving week. I distinctly remember buzzing through the cracker/cookie aisle and thinking, "I don't need any of this."

But when I got home and started unpacking the groceries, two bulk packages of those pre-packed peanut-butter crackers and cheese crackers ended up on the kitchen table that I did not put in my cart, nor did I remember them being put in the re-suable bags that I was helping to pack. When I told Tim about this, he asked if they were on the receipt....they were. All this made me recall his funny habit of putting random things in the cart when he accompanied me to the store - see post.

My face must have had a very strange look when I saw those cracker packages and then a smile when I reasoned it was Josh. In the past, I might have chalked this up to some strange coincidence but not any more. Not after all the unexplainable things that have occurred - see posts. Now, that would mean disrespecting the efforts my son is making to connect.

The other happened just yesterday.  I was in Virginia Beach in the lobby of a client's office before going to a meeting. While I was rummaging through my padfolio for a business card to give to a consultant who was waiting with me, the craziest thing occurred.

First, I should preface this story to say that I rarely use either my work or personal iPhone to listen to music.

Long story short, without touching my work phone, it just started playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole. This beautiful version of the classic song was found to be one of Josh's favorites based on how often he played it on his computer. So it was a key song featured in his memorial service and set the tone, I think, of the whole morning. Whenever anyone in our family or close friends hear the song, we think of Josh; it is forever linked to him.

Anyway, back to the moment that the song started playing on my phone in my purse. I was in shock and couldn't really process. I looked at the phone, did not recognize the screen as anything I has seen before but figured out how to stop the music so I could get myself in the "business meeting" mindset.

Afterwards however, while in my car, I just smiled, looked up and said, "Dude, really? Before an important meeting? You must've known I was a bit nervous and wanted to give me some moral support? Well, it worked...meeting went well."

I don't believe death is the end. Josh lives on in spirit. I may not be able to see him but I can feel his essence. And somehow, someway, he has figured out how to use his energy to make things happen here - way to go Josh!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Years and 8 Months Later - New Picture



While browsing through Facebook recently, my heart stopped when I saw this picture (new to me) posted by a friend whose son was a good friend of Josh. She emailed it to me right away.

This is so signature Josh - the cool dude doing something funny. I am guessing it was taken in 2005 when he was 13 years old and in 7th grade. When I look at this picture, I try and peer into his mind and heart. Was he aware of the impending doom? Certainly doesn't look like it. My mind wanders back to that busy time looking for signs.

He didn't like school and was struggling with motivation in some of his classes. Was this something I should've picked up on?

He had a hard time getting up at 6am, but who wouldn't especially if one didn't fall sleep until 11pm or midnight?

He was a quiet kid at home but still engaged - piping in with funny comments at just the right time - making us laugh.

He excelled in athletics (football and lacrosse), which filled him with confidence and satisfaction. We attended every game to cheer him on.

I remember him being somewhat of a homebody. He would just as soon chill at home with us and the dogs as be with friends. I contrast this with my girls who HAD to be with friends 24/7.

Definitely into video games and very good.

In short, Josh completed our family. He and his older brother book-ended the girls. His easy going nature complemented the frenzy of a large, busy family. I still remember his periodic strong admonishments: "Chill Mom!"

This is an emotional post to write - bringing up memories of a happier time. Who knew that in four short years, his death would kill our family? Strong words, I know, but true. When a child dies, the grief is much more than the loss of the loved one. A part of me also died as well as the family that we were at the time. Nothing is the same and can ever be.

So it is loss upon loss upon loss. And grief upon grief upon grief.

And a suicide death complicates this even more.

So now, after 5+ years, while the pain, sorrow and anguish is not front and center like it was at the beginning, when it does pop up as while writing this post, it is still indescribable and inexpressible.

RIP Josh.




Saturday, October 18, 2014

5 Years and 7 Months Later - Book: "Poetry as Survival" by Gregory Orr and Original Poem: "No Answer"

I have just finished reading Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr, a professor of English at the University of Virginia. I loved it; it felt like I was taking a seminar course on how poetry, specifically the personal lyric, has the power to save, heal and transform the individual suffering from trauma.

He begins with his own personal tragedy.  At twelve, he was responsible for a hunting accident which killed his younger brother.  His parents did not blame him but neither did they console or comfort him, being overwhelmed with their own grief.  Two years later, his mother died unexpectedly after a routine medical procedure. The grief and guilt was overwhelming.

Through his high school English teacher, he found poetry and like Anne Sexton, it saved him.  He wrote his first poem and did not look back.  And this book is like a treatise, an argument - laid out carefully as if by an expert lawyer - on the healing powers of the lyric, personal, "I" poem in dealing with personal chaos caused by trauma.

He argues that from the time language was invented, when confronted with destabilizing human experience and emotions, man has used the lyric poem to express the inexpressible, to say the unsayable, to give order to chaos so that the poet could not only survive but then be connected to fellow sufferers. Poetry is then a way out of the silence and alienation that come from personal crisis.
When someone, in the throes of a powerful and disturbing experience, turns instinctively to the writing or reading of a poem, it is because they sense the personal lyric can be a powerful aid in helping them survive and make sense of their experience.
Echoing Anne Sexton's thoughts that poets are artists and as such, must turn to and examine the abyss of internal pain and inner chaos in order to write authentically; for them, the confines of the poem and the tools of language provide a safe place from which to do so. For the page is a finite space to house the words that speak the unspeakable. The poet can use formal techniques such as meter and rhyme which can further exert control and structure. Even in free verse, there is structure - albeit informal.

And to describe the indescribable, poets have the tools of figurative language: symbols, imagery, similes and metaphors that can be subtle or in-your-face. The more intuitive and surprising, the better.
In the personal lyric, the self encounters its existential crises in symbolic form, and the poem that results is a model of this encounter. By making such a dramatized, expressive model of its crisis, the self is able to acknowledge the existence, nature, and power of what is destabilizing it, while at the same time asserting its ultimate mastery over the disordering by the power of its linguistic and imaginative orderings. 
I can relate. I have instinctively turned to poetry as a means to express my deepest thoughts and feelings - see posts.  While they are the work of a true novice, I re-read these poems and are taken right back to the moment, thought or feeling. They still ring true.

For example, the ONLY way I could ever write about that horrible morning was in a short, terse, sparse poem. This describes what I saw, felt and heard.


No Answer
by Sue Anderson
1/29/2012

No answer,
   Voice silent.

No response, 
   Mind gone.

No sight, 
   Eyes unblinking.

No movement,
   Body stiff.

No breath,
   Chest still.

No beat, 
   Extremities blue.

No life,
   Hope abandoned.

Why?  I screamed,
   No answer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Joshua Ball - Annual Fall Fundraiser on October 23, 2014

The Josh Anderson Foundation's fall fundraiser has traditionally been an informal but successful and growing bar fundraiser - see post on last year's event.  We determined that having outgrown the space, it was time to "graduate" to a more formal fundraising event, hence the first annual Joshua Ball.



Date: Thursday, October 23, 2014
Time: 7 - 10pm
Place: The Top of the Town   1400 N. 14th Street  Arlington, VA22209
Cost:  $100 per ticket

If you live in the Washington DC area please come and support our crucial mission to stop teenage suicide.   If you are not local, please consider donating to this worthy cause.

CLICK HERE to go to the event page where you can find out more, purchase tickets or donate.









Sunday, October 12, 2014

Moving Video by Teen Who Survived Suicide Attempt

Sad news recently as teen suicide deaths in our area continue.  This time, two high school girls have taken the tragic, irrevocable action to end their lives….new victims of the "permanent solution to a temporary problem."

It is hard to describe how I feel upon hearing the news: first, OH NO, NOT ANOTHER YOUNG LIFE! then deep heartache in thinking about the intense pain of the poor mother and the terrible grief journey the families must now endure.

And it brings it all up again for me.

In a twitter feed that mourned the loss of one of the girls, a video called "What if I killed myself…" was posted.  Here is a description: "This video is produced by 1VoiceInside for Suicide Prevention Month. Hopefully this video helps to de-stigmatize suicide and opens people's minds to the true helplessness and hopelessness that mental illness induces."

A young man shares about his battle with depression and suicidal ideation.  Thankfully his attempt did not succeed and he courageously tells his story.  The first time I saw the video, my heart flipped because his basketball jersey number was #33, which was Josh's football jersey number.



His message is so important as kids need to know that they are not alone,  On June 5th of this year, the Josh Anderson Foundation (JAF) co-sponsored a Teen-To-Teen Mental Health Summit where 5 kids also courageously shared their stories.  This successful program is one that we want to repeat and multiply - view post to see video and learn more.

As a society and in our communities and families, there MUST be a paradigm shift in how we view mental illness. I long for the day when we have the same understanding and empathy towards a kid suffering from a mental illness like clinical depression as if he/she were a diabetic.  Both kids need to manage their illnesses (medication, activities, etc) to avoid the devastating and affects of the disease.  And if they don't, the consequences could be fatal.

Yet today, in middle and high schools across America, the kid struggling with a mental health issue  feels isolated due to the stigma.  They cannot be real and open about what is really going on inside because of fear…fear of what people will think, what they will say, how they will be treated.

No kid should have to live in shame and fear.

No kid should have to suffer in silence.

No kid should have to feel like suicide is their only viable option. 

RIP Josh and all the others who are in my heart. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Five-and-Half-Years Later

I am in Palm Desert, CA this week where Tim and I are celebrating (early) our 31st anniversary which will be on October 10th.  We got married a couple of weeks before my 22nd birthday so have been married for three-fifths of my life.  Little did we know at the time that we'd be blessed with four healthy, beautiful children complete with the busyness and craziness that comes with a large, active family.

 December 2008 - last family photo with Josh

Nor could we have foreseen that in our 25th year of marriage our youngest - seventeen year old Josh - would take himself out of our life, our family, our marriage, our future.  In one fell swoop, our lives no longer felt "blessed".

But with the loving support of family and friends, including Josh's friends, we have managed to soldier on by putting one foot in front of the other, not looking too far ahead; instead, adhering to the old but true adage to take "one day at-a-time".  The days add up the weeks, the weeks become months and the months morph into years.
 
Our marriage has survived the worst blow - the death of a child. As I reflect on why or how, I suppose it is because we gave each other the space to grieve - in our own ways, without judgement or expectation.

And I stopped being focused on small, stupid things that would invariably cause tension or arguments. Those things were inconsequential next to the monumental task of surviving.  Peripheral issues fell by the wayside and stayed there.

This lasting change has been a hidden blessing, perhaps one, sad to say, that may not have occurred without such a tragedy to wake me up to what truly matters in relationships: grace, peace, forgivness, tolerance, kindness, giving the benefit of the doubt, active listening, and unconditional acceptance.

According to Josh's friends, this is how he treated others. Perhaps striving to embody these qualities is another way for me to keep his memory alive - to allow his spirit to live on within me.

RIP Josh.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thoughts from "Searching for Mercy Street: A Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton" by Linda Gray Sexton

Linda Gray Sexton became a suicide survivor at 21-years old when her mother killed herself by sitting in a running car with the garage doors closed.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet's battle with mental illness was over.  Anne Sexton was only forty-five years old.

In the years following her mother's death, Linda finished college, edited and published Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977)got married, had two children after suffering several miscarriages, published four novels, was a critical contact for Diane Middlebrook, author of Anne Sexton: A Biography (1991)suffered from the same illness and suicidal ideation as her mother and at the age of thirty-six, was at a place in life where her mother's death overshadowed everything.

The answer to her psychotherapist's question, "How often do you think about your mother?  Once a week?  Once a month?" was "How about every day."

In her words, she "needed an exorcism" and what resulted was this brutally honest memoir published in 1994, twenty years after her mother's death.

Rather than being cathartic, she found writing Searching for Mercy Street to be more a testimony to the events of her life - the abandonment, the chaos, the strange sexual games played with her mother, the domestic abuse, Anne's multiple suicide attempts and resulting hospitalizations, the constant manipulation as well as the few positive memories such as the writing lessons received at their kitchen table.
As I told my own story, I validated my life's experiences and toughened myself; it was a part of my self-education, one that helped me gain control over what had once seemed unmanageable.  Silence compels us to look at what lies behind it, and revelation brings with it knowledge - which is why some feel as if they must write about the private aspects of their lives, in search of solace and clarity.  To speak candidly, with neither justification nor humiliation, relieves the haunting of memory and mind and becomes one way to regain our dignity and our strength. 
Yes! - this is EXACTLY why I continue to write in my journal and on this blog.  It is a testimony to the journey I was thrust on, against my will, kicking and screaming, over five years ago.

So this is a very personal memoir about living with mental illness and suicide, both her mother's and her own.  Through her own suffering, she is able to absolve her mother's action.
Suicide is an immediate and permanent solution to pain.  The pain can be either physical or emotional: emotional pain of an intensity sufficient to drive the sufferer to consider suicide often manifest itself in physical symptoms so powerful that to quibble about origin is beside the point. Pain is pain regardless of its source. None of these conditions can necessarily be conquered by willpower; neither are they induced by laziness, lack of moral ethic, or selfishness.  
In my mind I had accused my mother of these failings many times. Now, my own experience had taught me a different and quite simple lesson: suicide is a synonym for escape…She had sought death because she believed she had no alternative. A life of pain is not a life worth living. She was not a coward, but instead a realist.
After reading these words, I can't help but wonder how much is applicable to our beloved Josh. He was not at risk for suicide, so we and his psychologist thought but obviously he was. What haunts me is this: what internal pain did he suffer from and for how long?

Her words about the root cause (depression), reminds me of William Styron's short powerful memoir, Darkenss Visible - see post for thoughts.
My mother died of depression. Untreatable, unceasing depression. Why, when we refer to depression, do we think of it in the main as a state characterized by numbness and low spirits rather than intense suffering? Why, in fact, is the word pain rarely used when describing depression? The dictionary uses synonyms such as melancholy, despondency, and sadness.
These are relevant questions at the time of publication in 1994 and now, twenty years later.

Before Josh's death, I was naive and uneducated in the topics of mental illness, depression and suicide. I did not know the signs of depression/suicide, leaving it to the "experts".  Now, I cringe whenever I see the list of signs because at least half can be ticked off as applicable to Josh.

This fuels our mission of The Josh Anderson Foundation: to "provide teenagers with the mental health education, resources and support so that they will never turn to suicide."

Teenagers because they may be their own last line of defense but also parents and teachers, coaches and youth leaders.  We all need to come together to stop Death's tool from taking any more young lives.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Poem: "Separation" by W. S. Merwin

As mentioned in earlier posts, poetry has been a source of comfort on my grief journey.  This should not be a surprise, according to W. S. Merwin, U. S. Poet Laureate (2010 - 2011):
Prose is something, but poetry is about what can't be said.  Why do people turn to poetry when all of a sudden the Twin Towers get hit, or when their marriage breaks up, or when the person they love most in the world drops dead in the same room?  Because they can't say it.  They can't say it at all, and they want something that addresses what can't be said. 
I found this quote underneath his picture in The Poets Laureate Anthology, bought back in March but not opened until a few days ago.

And was blown away by his three line poem below.

Separation
by W. S. Merwin
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched in its color.

I have read this over and over - so profound, so poignant - capturing truth in a succinct, compressed way.  Josh's death, his absence from my life, from our family is a color that permeates everything.  What we've done, what we do now, and what will be done in the future - the color of his absence will weave through. 

This is why it is impossible to "get over it" - his absence is a part of the air I breathe, part of the space I move in.  It is ingrained in my conscious and subconscious; part of what makes me, me.





Monday, August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014 - 5 Years and 5 Month Later: Quote from "The Namesake"

I've recently finished Jhumpa Lahiri's poignant novel: The Namesake, and want to quote from the end (not to worry; there are no spoilers).
In so many ways, his family's life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another……And yet these events have formed Golgol, shaped him, determined who he is.  They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend.  Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.
EXACTLY….this describes my life with Josh's death…actions and consequences…one thing led to another and before we knew it, he was gone.

An unexpected, tragic death - especially of a child - has no comparison in terms of the ginormous, heavy imprint on a mother's life, psyche and being.  Especially when it never should have happened.

And yes, I feel the compassionate, omniscient narrator is correct in articulating that my whole life was, is and will be about accepting, interpreting and comprehending what happened.  I will also add "process" and "integrate" to the list.  A lifelong endeavor that has no blueprint, no instruction manual, no "How to Deal With the Death of Your Child For Dummies" - the lonely journey begins the millisecond the brain comprehends the unthinkable.

I envision this journey like floating on a river.  "Pre-Josh", this river was fairly calm with some turbulence due to what was going on with him at the time (see post for details) but certainly nothing unmanageable or out-of-control.   But when I realized that our beloved Josh was gone for good, it felt like out of nowhere, an immense, terrifying waterfall was in front and down was the only way I could go.

The fall could kill.  Surviving is a feat.

Then comes the realization that one has forever left the calm river with manageable turbulence for a completely different route, this grief journey - full of angry, churning white water, huge boulders, terrific undercurrents that alternately suck you under and let you go and tributaries which spit you out in whirlpools called Unbelief, Guilt, Regret, Sorrow, Shame and Anger - pools that spin you around in one place for seemingly forever before propelling your battered body to another dizzying vortex.

It is a disorienting, frightening journey that occurs in the depths of one's soul and is very difficult to understand, much less describe to others.  This is what makes the journey a lonely one.

But now, five years later, my journey is on calmer waters and I've occasionally found myself in the pools of Acceptance and Peace.  Visits here do not last but at least I've found them.  For a long time, I questioned their existence or if I would ever experience them.

So to get back to the quote, the narrator says that in the end, the event that was the mistake or accident or thing that should never have happened becomes that which prevails and endures.

Prevails and endures for the departed and those left behind.

RIP Josh….

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Poem: "Remember" by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Poetry  has become a surprising source of comfort the past 5+ years.  And recently, my interest in this genre has heightened.

A poet that I have come to love is Billy Collins.  I took several of his collections to our summer vacation and spent relaxing afternoons on the front porch, reading aloud and transcribing favorites into my poetry journal, complete with a glass of wine or summer ale, or both.   See post on reading blog for more.

I recently found and have been listening to free online poetry courses:
And found the blog: A Poem for Every Day in which the blogger provides thoughtful and personal commentary on favorite poems.

The main thing I've learned from the courses and the blog is how to be a "close reader" of poetry.  To date, I've been content to add poems to my book without much thought on how and why the poem touches me.  Maybe because to do so invites dormant pain and suffering to surface.  This certainly happened yesterday when I journaled through Rossetti's short but powerful poem at a new coffee shop, close to Josh's park.  Luckily no one came by to see if I was OK - who knows, maybe women shedding tears while reading and writing is a common occurrence.

Remember
by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
   Gone far away into the silent land
   When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
   You tell me of our future that you planned:
   Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
   And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
   For if the darkness and corruption leave
   A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
   Than that you should remember and be sad.

In my journal:

Death took Josh away - he is gone….gone far way to a  "silent land" where I cannot follow.  No more can I tousle his hair or tap his behind or talk about what the future may hold.  So there are multiple deaths that I grieve - not only his physical presence but his future, our family's future.  I was reminded of this when looking at a friend's family photo at her daughter's recent wedding - this I will not have. 

"It will be late to counsel then or pray" -  Death is irrevocable, irretrievable, irreversible.  Whatever one meant to do or say, once Death comes, it will be too late.  This is also difficult with a tragic, unexpected death - one is not prepared physically or emotionally for such a sudden, abrupt end - there are too many loose ends.  I call them Would've, Could've and Should've which in turn, fuel Regret and Guilt, close cousins to Grief. 

The poem acknowledges Death as "darkness and corruption" but whose power is limited.  A "vestige" is left - these are the mannerisms, sayings, quirks, habits, tendencies, like and dislikes that made Josh, Josh.  Death has no ownership over these memories; they remain with the living. 

I can hear Josh in the final words - "Mom, it is OK if you forget for a while - don't feel guilty when it happens.  And when you do remember, I would rather you smile than be sad." 

I will try but easier said than done, my son.



Sunday, August 3, 2014

Original Poem: Sir Death

I wrote this poem to contrast polar reactions when faced with a life-threatening situation.  For most, our natural inclination kicks in: we fight for life.  I've seen this exemplified in a close relative who has defied death several times, sometimes it seems, by sheer will power.  Josh took the opposite route.

Why the difference?

More food for thought after reading an article this week in the Washington Post:  Blood Test May Show Risk of Suicide. 



Sir Death
by Sue Anderson

Sir Death is alive and well,
filling most with fear and dread,
his fellowship to be avoided at all cost.

Sometimes close,
he elicits the most desperate desire to live:
     no doctor too far
     no medicine too pricey
     no procedure too painful
     no therapy too crazy
succumbing to the most primal instinct
is to defy Death's grip.

But for others,
even as young as seventeen,
healthy and strong,
the false invitation entices
filling the gullible soul with hope of freedom
     from the pain, shame and guilt
causing a break with Reason, whereby,
     Death wins.
    

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014 - Five Years and 4 Months Later

We are in out 6th summer sans Josh - so hard to believe!  I daydream what it would be like if he were here - would he be done with college or on the "extended track" like some of his friends?  Either way, being home this summer, I see him lazing around in our pool, watching sports with his dad (World Cup, Red Sox), filling our normally still home with his quiet but vibrant energy.  Of course, our phone and car insurance bills would be higher but that is OK.  (Contacting such companies to remove your child is one of the most painful post-death chores).

As quickly as this fantasy life fills my mind, the pain hits because I know it is not real and never will be.

I recently listed to a poignant audiobook memoir of a young woman's own grief journey after the unexpected death of her health conscious mother from late-stage lung cancer at the age of 45.  I would highly recommend Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (2012).  The overwhelming grief led Strayed to hike the less traveled but equally formidable west coast counterpart to the Appalachian Trail, in an attempt to process and internalize her personal tragedy and loss.

In her travels, she encountered many people, both on the trail and off, whose interactions and stories impacted her in some way.  I can relate to the pain of one such person so much that while listening in the car on the way back from a business trip, unchecked tears streamed down my face.

Lou had picked Cheryl up hitchhiking and had a picture of a young boy hanging from her rear view mirror.  When asked who he was, Lou simply said it was her son, Luke, who had died 5 years ago at the age of eight.  He was hit by a truck while riding his bike and died five days later.

Lou told Cheryl the following:
After that happened, I died too.  Inside.  I look the same, but I'm not the same in here.  I mean, life goes on and all that crap, but Luke dying took it out of me.  I try not to act like it, but it did.  It took the Lou out of Lou, and I ain't getting it back. 
It has been five years for me and I feel exactly the same way.

RIP Josh - love you and miss you.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 18, 2014 - Five Years and 3 Months Later

Since Josh's death, I've become an avid journaler.  An important part of my self-care is to have a place (my journal) to absorb my feelings - from the mundane to the intense.  These emotions are like colors which range the gamut from subtle, muted and ever-present grey, which to me is the color of grief, to bold, neon, in-your-face and overwhelming.

Sometimes, it helps to have an open-ended question to start a journal entry such as this recent one: Where am I on this grief journey?   I wanted to share the answer on this post.

Well, I am here, meaning still alive.  Tim and I are still together which is worth noting as my suicide survivor books say that a higher than average percent of marriages do not survive the death of a child.   Pictures of Josh still fill our home.  I have no desire to move as memories of various events in our home (except for that awful day) are not painful.  The dogwood sapling planted in his memory in our front yard is growing - strong and healthy.



I think about Josh every day.  It is strange how the deceased occupies the mind more than the living.  I would like to think his soul, or essence or energy survived death and is on the "other side," not bound by space and time.  I hope he is at peace - no longer suffering, although my life-after-death themed books tell that unresolved issues follow our loved ones- i.e. suicide will not make them disappear.

If his actions have resulted in a karmic debt, perhaps we are helping to repay through the good work done in his name (The Josh Anderson Foundation).

This grief journey is greatly influenced by my reading and in more recent months, by Josh as I believe he led me to this book last December:  My Son and the Afterlife: Conversations From the Otherside by Elisa Medhus, MD.  And books beget books as evidenced by what I've read since the beginning of the year (see reading blog for my thoughts on these books):

  • Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian Weiss, MD
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side by Sue Frederick
  • On Life After Death by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • Life After Death: The Burden of Proof by Deepak Chopra
  • The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
  • Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra
  • Life After Life: The 25th Anniversary of the Classic Bestseller by Raymond Moody, MD
  • Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat by Richard Faulds
  • The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
  • Warrior Pose: How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life by Brad Willis aka Bhava Ram
  • Power of the Soul: Inside Wisdom for an Outside World by John Holland
Upon reflection, my daughter Lauren, has also shaped this journey.  Since Josh's death, she has been diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) which manifests itself as anxiety and depression.  Thankfully, she is very open about her struggles and actively pursues healing and recovery.  She has found excellent therapists and convinced of its benefits to mind and body, has become a yoga practitioner and teacher.   She has encouraged me to attend classes at a nearby yoga studio and has wanted me to join her at Tara Brach's weekly meditation classes in Bethesda, MD.

At first, I was skeptical and reluctant but am now a full-blown believer.  I suppose it started when I accompanied her to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in April where we attended the Yoga In Schools Symposium.  To be in the midst of so many like-minded people dedicated to this ancient healing practice and wanting to bring it into schools to benefit our youth was inspiring.   There is a palatable aura and energy within that place that seeped into my being and has remained ever since.

Because of these influences, my grief journey has turned a significant corner.
  • I take 2 -3 yoga classes a week. On the other days, I practice yoga/meditation on my own.  
  • I've taken a meditation class that met once a week for 8 weeks
  • I've signed up for a 200 hour yoga teacher training to begin in the fall
  • I am much more aware of my breathing during the day.  Taking deeper inhales and exhales, I can't believe how much this small change has helped manage stress during a busy work day. 
  • When I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something, I now know these thoughts are just electrical impulses, nothing more.  With practice, I can release and watch them evaporate like a puff of smoke dissipating in the air and then go back to sleep. 
In retrospect, I see clearly how clueless I was "pre-Josh"….in my own world, detached from the pure consciousness (soul) within.   (And this is despite many years of involvement in a fundamental Christian church which is a whole other story for another time or another blog).  Then after his death, I was consumed with grief, sorrow, pain and guilt, covering my mind, heart and soul like a blanket of fog - thick, dense, grey, impenetrable.

But over the past several months, the fog has slowly lifted.  Because of my reading and daily yoga/meditation practice, I feel awakened and enlightened, knowing I've just started on a lifelong journey of spiritual discovery and experience.

So now I ponder this question:  If Josh had not died, would I be on this path?

Probably not and this is sad to me.   Why did it have to take such a profoundly tragic event to wake me up?  To get my attention?  To make me into a seeker of timeless spiritual truths?  To open my mind to the fact there is much more than this physical world?  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

May 18, 2014: 5 Years and 2 Months Later - More Signs?

We have an awning in the back of the house that provides nice shade over our patio.  Last week Monday was one of the first hot days of the year (low 80's).   There is a short in the line so extending the awning needs to be done via a manual crank, but can be retracted by a switch.  So the awning was cranked out while Lauren and friends came over to enjoy the pool.

After the kids had left, I retracted the awning.  I also checked to see if the switch would open it - no go.

Two mornings later, Tim came upstairs with these words, "I've got a strange one for you."  It turns out that when he went to put the dogs out in the backyard for their morning "business", you guessed it, the awning was open!   My immediate thought, "It was Josh."  I told Tim that in my reading, I've learned that souls "over there" can manipulate electricity in this world.

Another sign occurred on Sunday when we were traveling back from Tim's niece's college graduation.  She was born about 2 months after Josh so if he were here, we would've been attending his graduation instead.  While in a line for gas, Tim said that the high beams turned on by itself!

Two signs from Josh?  I believe so.

Josh,
Thanks for letting us know you are still with us.
RIP - we love you.

Mom