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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Mother's Love - December 31, 2009

It's been my tradition at the end of every year to "take stock" in my journal: highlights, accomplishments, work, family, review of goals, etc. I just can't bring myself to take pen to paper this year as what would I say? Everything pales in comparison to the loss of our beloved Josh. This is not only the event of the year, but of my life. Nothing will be the same for me since that fateful day on March 18, 2009......ever. Why is this?

What was just an intellectual truth to me, has now been lived and experienced. Grief is directly proportional to love. Love much - grieve much.

In the book, Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide, Christopher Lukas and Henry Selden write: "The guilt and depression among parental survivors does seem to be more intense and longer lasting than among others. Every single parent to whom we talked expressed this same feeling: their "job" had been to protect their child - and they had failed" (127).

One cannot measure the love a parent has for their child - no matter how old that child is. And while a father's love is intense, I still don't think it is the same as a mother's love. And it doesn't matter how many children a mother is blessed to have, as her heart just grows to accommodate the same, intense love for each one.

These thoughts were roaming in my head one night and the next morning, I had to write this poem down. I dedicate this to my fourth son, Joshua Lee Anderson, whom I love with all of my heart and soul and therefore am grieving with all of my heart and soul.

A Mother's Love
by Sue Anderson

A mother's love,
if expressed as hope,
is never ending.

A mother's love,
if expressed as energy,
is boundless.

A mother's love,
if expressed as space,
is immeasurable.

A mother's love,
if expressed as truth,
is irrefutable.

A mother's love,
if expressed as substance,
is indestructible.

A mother's love,
if expressed as understanding,
is unfathomable.

A mother's love,
if expressed as sacrifice,
is unquestionable.

A mother's love,
if expressed as devotion,
is unconditional.

A mother's love,
if expressed as time,
is eternal.

Rest in peace, my dear, beloved son.

God Bless.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas - Then and Now

"Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!" In a world that seems so far away, yet was only twelve months ago, these words were said with much sincerity and gusto to everyone I knew. Nothing too "merry" or "happy" about it now. Apart from the fact that I love having the girls home, I want it to be over as soon as possible.

I never realized it before, but it takes a lot of energy to have a "merry" christmas or "happy" holiday. Decorating, shopping, wrapping along with the cooking, baking and cleaning. Just don't have what it takes this year and right now, not sure if I ever will have the energy of the past, or "pre-Josh".

Also, it is hard to sit down and think about what to write on this post. Much easier to be mindless and numb while going through the motions of daily activities. Thinking means crying. And anyone who has had a good cry recently knows this activity is an energy drainer.

We have received so many cards with special notes of sympathy. One came from Germany in which a dear friend shared that she reads the blog and has passed it along to others who have lost children to suicide. She says the blog helps them but is sorry that the loss our beloved Josh makes it so. I know what she means. I am glad it helps but wish to God as I know these other mothers do, that we did not have to suffer this tragedy. We wish that our children had survived those dark moments so they could be with us today.

Letters and pictures are often included with the cards. I enjoy looking at the photos as it is amazing to see how quickly children grow, to young adults and then with families of their own. In fact, some of the pictures of my friends are only with their grandchildren, which is very cute. The letters, however, that describe the family highlights of the year, stay in the envelopes for now. I will look at them later, as it is too hard to read about the "normal" lives of so many.

Grieving is a very personal thing. "Everyone grieves differently," all the books say. Having observed our own family on this point, I would agree. What I didn't realize is that it is also lonely. My heart always aches, but there are some moments when the sorrow rises up and needs release. These times may not coincide with what others are feeling so in an effort not to bring anyone else down, I weep alone, as inconspicuously as possible.

I still find myself asking "why?" over and over. "Why did he do this to himself? Why didn't he say something? How long had he been feeling like this? What did we miss?" Sometimes it seems like I have let these unanswerable questions go, and then they pop up again, as if never asked before. It is a mystery which cannot be solved, although it may be that some answers lie in his unused room.

As a huge favor to me, in the week while everyone was home right after his death, Josh's room was cleaned up. His clothes were divided into various piles: keep, give away and throw away. His desk and closet became neat and organized. I wonder if, within the untouched notebooks, are missing clues?

Some of the seemingly blank books were taken by Gillian to use. While at school, she found something and emailed the following to me:

I'm using one of Josh's old composition books for school and while I was mindlessly flipping through the pages, I spotted some ink. My heart sped up as I slowly sifted through the notebook, trying to find the page. I kept thinking, "please let it not be angry, please let it not be angry, please let it not be angry." I didn't want to see the hate and despair he might have felt about the world and himself. What I found was more comforting than anything I could have imagined:

Josh Anderson

Got up today like it was any other day,
Thing is, I didn't know that I'd have to pay
For the series of events that would change my ways,
But still I know everything'll be okay.

When I read it, I felt like he was telling us that "everything'll be okay." He said it again through me in my Mother's Day poem. I don't think it's a coincidence that both poems share the same ending. On the previous page, you can see his formation process of the poem:

My dad came back just the other day, (crossed out)
And he came back from work in the (crossed out)

How come things ... (crossed out)
My dad came home just the other day
Another long day of school ahead (crossed out)

Got up today like it was any other day

-respect your parents (crossed out)
-try hard in school (crossed out)
-everything'll be alright (circled)
-to get over it (crossed out)

Got up today like it was any other day
Thing is, couldn't have known what was destined to come (crossed out)
Thing is, I didn't know that I would have to pay
For the series of events that would change my ways
But still I know everything'll be okay.

Now I know that he had a much deeper understanding of what was going on and how he was trying to cope with it. That's what I found most heartening. He WAS trying to cope with it. And he wanted so much to be respectful to you and do well in school and so many other things, but in the end, he realized that everything would, eventually, be okay. Which gives me more hope than I've ever had before, even a shred of certainty, that wherever he is now- he is better. He is happy. He is telling us that everything is okay. That everything will be okay.

I hope you can find the same comfort in his words as I have. I love you and he loves you.
Reading this poem, while comforting, raised other questions. Unfortunately, there was no date so I don't know when he wrote it. After the first time he got in trouble in March, 08 or this recent time, which led to his fatal action? Are there other writings in his room, waiting to be discovered? One would think, with all the questions in my head, that I would have torn through every book, nook and cranny to uncover something that might help me understand. But for reasons that are unbeknownst to me, I have not done so. Am I afraid of what might be found? Or afraid of the disappointment if nothing is found? I guess for right now, it is better to flirt with the possibility than to know for sure.

I end this post with the photo we sent last year in our card as well as the only two pictures of Josh last Christmas.

"Merry Christmas, dear Josh. We love and miss you so much."

God Bless

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Remember Me" - Nine Months Later

Books can be found in the most interesting places. While shopping for groceries in California last October, I came across a book called The Angel's Game from an unknown author - at least to me: Carlos Ruiz Zafon. After finishing this book, I had to read his first book, The Shadow of the Wind. Not only are they well written, but the protagonist in both stories are book lovers and authors. And right now, my favorite hobby is reading and favorite place to spend an hour or two: the bookstore.

In The Shadow of the Wind, I was struck by a few sentences written in a letter to the main character - by one who knew their death was imminent.
So long as we are being remembered, we remain alive.
Remember me, even if it's only in a corner and secretly.
Don't let me go.
I have underlined this quote, written it in my journal and have thought about how true these words are. Even in the past week, I've heard stories of loss and what actions the living undertake to remember their loved one and in doing so, keep them alive.

Someone from my cycle class shared about losing a brother many years ago due to a heart attack. He was only four years older than her and they were very close. "His pictures are everywhere. In my bedroom, my office, my home. He is with me all of the time. I will never forget him."

Another situation touched me deeply. A mother whose son was one of Josh's good friends, recounted losing a child several years ago due to health issues. She said the pain does lessen over time, but never goes away. And her child will forever be in her heart. In fact, their Christmas decorations this year will reflect something special about this child and she was so kind to say that an ornament will be put on their tree in memory of Josh.

It is hard to explain, but it helps me tremendously to know that Josh is being remembered not only in our family, for that is expected, but with so many others. I like hearing people say his name. I may cry but that is okay. I want to hear stories about what others remember most about him. I would never tire of listening; even if it is the same one over and over.

One of Josh's friends emailed me recently and said he used to spend hours and hours playing video games with Josh. And it was hard to do so after his death because of the memories. However, he is playing them again and has found that this is his own way of spending time with Josh and remembering him.

Another friend is a starting player on the high school basketball team and is wearing Josh's number, 33, in memory of him.

And while Josh had many close friends, there is one who was like a brother to him, Bryce. Our first introduction to his family was when the boys were about 6-8 weeks old so when I say they have known each other all of their lives, it is not an exaggeration.

Josh was part of their family and Bryce was part of ours. Even though many miles separated them during the last few years, their friendship never suffered. I recently received a most beautiful gift from his mother - a photo album of our families. It arrived in the afternoon but I had to wait until the work day was over to open it for I knew what would happen. I don't think I've cried that hard since the first days after Josh's death. To see picture after picture of the two boys and know that there will be no more just breaks my heart. I feel for this young man who has lost a true best friend. This album is a precious gift, made with love and tears.

Bryce's sister is remembering Josh in a most special way. She is due to have a baby girl early next year and along with the father, has decided to name her HaiLee. The "Lee" is in honor of Josh for that is his middle name. As this child goes through life, she herself, will keep his memory alive. I am amazed. Josh would be too.

All of this is summed up in a card received this week by a work colleague.
Those whom we have loved never really leave us. They live on forever in our hearts and cast their radiant light onto our every shadow.
The holidays are difficult but what helps us through these hard days is knowing that our beloved Josh has not been forgotten. He still lives in all of our hearts.

I will end this post with a slide show of Josh as a happy, nine year old boy in 2001.

God Bless

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Holiday Traditions

The holidays would be easier to bear if it were limited to one or two days - like Thanksgiving. The day would come and go, along with the heightened grief and sadness felt from Josh's passing.

But no, the "Christmas season" or "holiday season" is four weeks or longer. In the past, or "pre-Josh", I enjoyed the holidays. I looked forward to the family traditions and most of all, the time together.

These days, I take inventory in my head. Examining each tradition or action associated with this "festive" time to determine if I can or want to do it. Am I motivated? Do I have the energy? Will it be too sad or will it help?

In speaking about this with our girls at Thanksgiving, I said it wasn't clear to me what I would be able to do. They understood but hoped that we could, at the very least, still have a tree. I didn't make any promises, but over time, after seeing our neighbor's trees in the windows, I came to want one too. But I couldn't bear pulling out the same decorations as years past.

You see, this was one of our traditions. I always got an ornament for each child complete with their initials and the year. When it came time to decorate, the Christmas music played, a plate of cookies were out and the kids put their ornaments on the tree. It would be too sad to look at Josh's ornaments - each one a reminder of our loss.

So this year, we have an all white tree. White lights, ribbon, flowers, ornaments and snowflakes. In memory of Josh. It is absolutely beautiful - exactly what I pictured. Tim took special care in picking out the tree - it is perfect. I don't think the picture does it justice, but I have posted it below.

Another tradition at this time is to put candles in each of the upstairs windows. I like the simplicity of this and it reminds me of being in New England during Christmas. This year, I decided to put one candle up - in Josh's room. Again, in memory of him.

Then something new to consider. What to do about decorating his grave site? I wanted to put a wreath by his stone, but what kind? How big? Where do I get the wreath holder? Should I make it? Or buy it? Real or artificial? These questions occupied my mind for a few days. Having never thought of such things before, and wanting it to be perfect for our beloved Josh, made this seemingly simple task, a bit overwhelming.

In the end, I went to a craft store to look around. I found the wreath holder - a simple stand that can be pushed into the ground. And the perfect wreath - beautifully decorated with bright green ornaments (for Langley) and one bright blue ornament (for South Lakes). I could not have made a better one. So I took it out the day after the first snow fall of the season, set it up and had a good cry. No one was around. A little breeze made Josh's chimes ring softly. The snow, unmarked by footprints, was beautiful.

The holidays are hard and without the continued love, support and encouragement from family and friends, I don't think we could bear it. Not a day goes by, where we don't get something - either a call, an email, card or letter which lets us know that our Josh is loved and missed. This lifts our hearts, like nothing else can.

Thank you and God Bless

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another Sign?

While in Florida for Thanksgiving, we took advantage of the beautiful beach scenery to take our annual Christmas photo - in our "Josh" T-shirts, of course.

After taking the picture, Lauren, Gillian and I decided to stay and watch the sunset since we were leaving in the morning. In my heart, I am always hoping to see a sign that Josh is okay. While we were waiting for the sun to go down, all three of us saw something most unusual. In the sky, were two short vertical lines that were brilliant orange-red and blue-purple. It was striking in its beauty. Gillian immediately took a picture.

Then we saw something more amazing. The same two vertical lines were on the other side of the sinking sun. Yet there was not a hint of rain or any type of precipitation that would warrant what resembled the beginning of a rainbow. Gillian snapped several pictures as none of us had seen anything like it before. Was this a sign? We all hoped it was - something to say that Josh is always with us - like a guardian angel.

Other pictures of the gorgeous sunset.

A photo of our whole family - honoring and remembering Josh. As we were walking to the beach, my nephew said it looked like we were on a field trip due to our matching shirts. I guess we were pretty conspicuous.

Josh - we miss you. Not only on this vacation, but each and every day. You are in our heart always. Rest in peace, my dear, sweet boy.

God Bless

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

This is a difficult post to write for what can be said on a holiday in which all over the country, families and friends are gathering to celebrate the annual Thanksgiving feast? While living overseas many years ago, the fourth Thursday of November came and went like any other day. But here, schools and businesses are closed. It is one of the busiest times to travel whether by plane, train, bus or car. Extended family and generations within families gather. Talking, laughing, story-telling, playing games, watching football, and gaining at least a couple of pounds are part and parcel of this day. And in the midst of all the festivies and food, we stop and give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.

For those who live outside of the US and may not be familiar with Thanksgiving, just think turkey, stuffing, gravy, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and pecan pie. Numerous variations of this basic menu will be served depending on where one resides (i.e. deep South, New England, etc.), the types of recipies passed down from prior generations, and as was in my case, the ethnic background.

My parents are Korean and as a kid, I remember the Thanksgiving dishes being along side many traditional Korean foods such as bulgogi (marinated beef) and kim chee (hot, spicy and very garlicky pickled cabbage). Doesn't that sound appetizing? The solution to this mixture of American/Asian foods was easy - two meals in one sitting. It would be fascinating to see what foods will fill tables throughout our country today. Times for this huge meal will vary. In our home now, if the New England Patriots were playing, the meal time would revolve around this game.

This year, my side of the family has gathered in Florda - renting two homes by the beach. We have traveled from Illinois, Virginia and New York to be together for both Thanksgiving and celebration of my father's 80th birthday. It is great to be together and would be perfect except for one thing. It is strange - Josh's absence is so much louder than his presence ever was. I just took for granted that we would have many Thanksgiving meals with him - little did I know it would stop at seventeen. Our kids were blessed with good health so the possibility of losing one just never occurred to me. So to be here now, sans Josh, is still too hard to believe.

From the beginning of the trip, I envision him being with us. Sacked out on the long car ride down, listening to his iPod, waking only for bathroom/food stops. In the house we are renting, his bed would be the couch - no problem as he can sleep anywhere. We would have gotten our money's worth for him at the "all-you-can-eat" pancake and sausage breakfast on the beach earlier this week. My sister's kids are younger and have looked up to Josh all of their lives. Just chilling on the beach would not have been an option as they would have pulled him into the water to jump waves and teach them how to ride the boogie board. An impromptu football game on the beach became too hard for me to watch as he would've been the star player. Strong, muscular, laughing, teasing, running, jumping, throwing and most of all - alive.

We've been eating Korean food every night, thanks to my mother's great cooking, and let just say that far few leftovers would be in our fridge if he were here. After the dinner dishes are cleared, a poker game commences. I can just see he and the youngest cousin as partners - Josh allowing him to throw in the chips, knock on the table to check, or throw in the cards for a fold.

It is not fair that these visions are only in my head and not reality. "How did we come to be here?" I ask myself. "What didn't we see? What didn't we do? What warning signs did we miss with him? What could we have done to prevent this horrible tragedy?" Then my thoughts, very predictably now, turn to questioning him. "Why, Josh, why? Why did you do this to yourself? Why did you go down this irreversible path of self-destruction? Why didn't you consider your life worth fighting for? Why did you give up on your life and future? Why did you lose hope?" I listen hard for answers, but there is only silence.

My prayer today is simple -
Dear God - thank you for the blessing of family and friends. Thank you for our home, health and livelihood. I pray that our son with with you and is at peace. Be with all of his friends who, while young, have had to deal with such a tragedy. May the impact of his life continue to be felt. May the mode of his death, if thought of by others, be tossed aside as an unviable solution so that no other family would have to endure the anguish and grief that we continually feel. Please continue to help each member of our family deal with the grief of his death while moving on with life.

God Bless

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November 18, 2009 - Eight Months

It is now eight months since the passing of our son and I don't know what to think, say or write. Feeling numb. Knowing it happened but not wanting to think about it. Not even wanting to visit his grave site today because I will have to face reality. It is easier these days to wake up, work, go to the gym, have dinner, watch a little TV, read and go to bed.

But then, without warning, a memory will flash in my mind. Like a snapshot, a still picture, a frozen camera shot, a frame from a movie. It could be a picture of how I found Josh, or of a black body bag going out our front door, or of him lying peacefully in his casket, dressed in the outfit that his brother got from his room because I couldn't do it, or of us at his grave site, saying good-bye.

I can be driving along, minding my own business and whammo - my mind goes to those first awful days. Or sitting at my computer, working away and in a moment of distraction, another flash.

They must be coming from my subconscious mind because my conscious mind has blocked them out. These memories are still too painful. Even in my journal, I cannot write about the events that happened just eight short months ago. The mind must know when something is too much to bear. The body goes into a self-preservation mode: protecting the mind, guarding the heart, sheltering the soul.

In Beryl Glover's book, The Empty Chair, she quotes a woman whose mother committed suicide at 70 years old. I can relate to the following metaphor:

Sometimes when you put a glass in the dishwasher, it fractures. My theory is that if you knock the glass against the faucet in picking it up, you fracture it invisibly. It looks intact, but when you put it in the dishwasher, it falls apart. I've thought of myself in that way, like a glass that had a severe jolt that doesn't show, but is more vulnerable now. (54)
I am functioning in my day-to-day life pretty well. Perhaps if you saw me now and didn't know what happened, you would not guess. But like the glass, my heart is fractured and although not readily visible, I am weak and vulnerable, emotionally. Unusual feelings for me as I have been used to being strong, rational and capable.

I now have to look beyond myself for strength - to family, friends and faith. This is hard too, because like most people, I don't like the feeling if needing help, much less asking for it. But there are some things that are just way too hard to bear on your own; losing a 17-year old, beloved son to senseless suicide is one.

These are the Bible verses in which I find great comfort. They tell me that God is not far; He is close at hand and desires to comfort, guide, lead and save me. He can restore my soul.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quite waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:1-4

Thank you for the continued thoughts and prayers.
God Bless

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2009 Football Season

On Saturday mornings, Tim always grabs the sports section of the Washington Post to read about the previous night's high school football games, paying special attention to the two schools that Josh played for: Langley and South Lakes.

The regular season is now over and All District players were named. Tim read me the names of kids we knew that made the first or second teams. While happy that the boy's hard work and accomplishments on the field were recognized by district coaches, there was sadness as we thought about "what if"? What if Josh were alive and played this season, would he be on this list? Probably so.

For those parents who have lost a child and if that son or daughter was involved in a particular activity during a specific time of year, as our Josh was every fall, there is experienced a double sense of loss. Luckily for Tim, he was asked to film the LHS games which put him on the field and kept him involved. In the two times that Langley and South Lakes did not play at the same time, he went to the SLHS games and was invited to stand on the field with the players/coaches.

For me, I went to the first LHS game but it ended up being so sad that I had to leave at half-time and cried all the way home. In retrospect, I probably should have known it would be too much, but on the other hand, you sometimes don't know. In fact, I felt fine driving to the game. It wasn't until I walked through the gate, and saw all of the healthy, strong boys on the field - so alive and one in particular, who told me that he was going to wear Josh's number, 33, and dedicate his season to our son - that the tears started to flow.

I probably could have made it through that first game had I stayed with Tim on the field. But I went up in the stands to sit with other moms and as I watched the boys and listened to the regular banter about the start of school, classes, teachers, dances, senior pictures, it just got harder and harder. These topics no longer applied to me. Irrelevant. Continued evidence that my life was not the same as theirs. I was on the other side.

It is quite uncomfortable to be in the midst of laughing, happy people while attempting to hold off the dam that is about to burst. Also, I didn't want to be responsible for bringing down the spirits of others around me, so I said my good-byes and left.

Since Tim is like most men in the uncanny ability to remember a game, play-by-play, including how much time was left on the clock at each particular play, I was able to keep up due to his thorough rendition afterwards. I've often wondered how he can remember sports stats galore and yet cannot remember where certain kitchen items are stored. Selective memory, I guess.

Eventually, I did end up going to another game. It was last week between the two schools. A perfect night - clear, crisp and cool. As the game got underway, I looked to the heavens and wondered if Josh could see. And if he could, what was he thinking?

My thoughts were clear. "You silly, silly boy. You should be here on this field. Playing in this game. But for the stupid mistake that started the events which culminated in your death that horrible night - you could still be here." In moments like this, his loss seems to be a dream - did it all really happen? Is he truly gone? In vain, I look on the field for him and cold reality hits again.

It was a hard fought game with both teams being winners, in my book. There was a moment of silence to remember Josh with a loud applause when the moment was over, touching Tim and I deeply. Both cheerleading squads wore ribbons that had JA and 33 painted on the ends. All of the boys helmuts were adorned with a "JA" football sticker. While this district game was important, the greater significance, at least to me, was that a fellow teammate, classmate and schoolmate had fallen and his life was remembered on that night. I'm glad that I stuffed a lot of tissues in my pocket - I needed them.

A few moms came to visit me during half-time and once again, we contemplated Josh's fatal action. And talked about the rash and impulsive behaviors that can overcome teenage boys with seemingly no thought to consequences. I can only hope and pray that any young person who has seen the devastation that Josh's decisions have caused for himself and his family would think twice before acting. Sometimes a few minutes of fun is just not worth it. And as a kids gets older, rules and laws are less forgiving. We learned this the hard way.

I just read a short book called The Empty Chair by Beryl Glover, whose daughter ended her life at age 23. In it she quotes another author, Doug Manning who wrote in his book, The Gift of Significance the following: "People are not going to move forward in their grief until the significance of the person who has died has been established. People who can establish significance, make progress. Those who cannot do so, hang on and hurt."

This sentence rings true in my heart. I am not sure how much "progress" I've made, but perhaps it is the reason why this blog has been my lifesaver. With each post and comment, Josh's young life is being established as significant. Or when our son is remembered on a Friday night football game. Or when I receive an email from his close friend in middle school, who sent me a draft of her college essay about Josh's death and the resulting impact on her life. All of this establishes the significance of his life and for that, I am grateful.

Here are some pictures from that beautiful, Friday night....

Thank you for the thoughts and prayers.
And most of all, for continuing to love, remember and miss our beloved Josh.

God Bless

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Emotions at Periscope Depth

I've realized something about my feelings and emotions regarding Josh's death that has helped me. Maybe it can help you too.

I have always been a reader, but after Josh's death, my thirst for books is unquenchable. I am reading non-stop, but selectively. The book has to mean something to me, as a grieving mom or it has to give me something new to think about regarding Josh. Because of this, I am reading books that I would never pick up otherwise.

For example, I am currently reading three different books on journaling. The unusually long titles of the books say it all.

  • The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer
  • Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth. Open the door to self-understanding by writing, reading and creating a journal of your life by Kathleen Adams
  • Creative Journal Writing: The art and heart of reflection by Stephanie Dowrick

As I am discovering, one of the more well-known techniques to try and access the subconscious or unconscious mind is called free-intuitive writing. According to Rainer, the technique is simple. "You relax and try to empty your mind. You don't think about anything. You simply wait for whatever comes into your mind, and you write it just as it comes, without worrying about whether it makes sense. You let your hand do the writing. You record what you hear from the back of your mind. Nothing is irrelevant" (page 47).

Why would anyone want to do this, you say? For me, I want to know and explore my feelings about Josh and his sudden death. I need to look them in the face, deal with them and move on. For some reason, I know that I will have to do this eventually, so I might as well be proactive about it. At least, this is how I feel now. After a couple of exercises, I may want to live by the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy.

This is taken from my journal entry the night that I tried this exercise.
I am looking at my unconscious or subconscious thoughts. To get here, I've had to walk down corridors, through doors, shut them behind me - lower, lower and lower. I am looking at them - all jumbled, crazy, indiscernible, fighting one another to get to the top, noise, I cannot make anything out. I can't understand them. I can't hear them. My conscious mind won't let me listen to them or write them down. I am trying to hear but now it is silent and white - blank. I know they are there but I don't know what I am thinking.

Breathing deeply - what am I thinking? Why can't I hear? I want to hear my inner voice - what are they saying?

Josh - why did you go? Didn't you know how loved you were? Where are you now? How do you feel now? At peace? I hope so! Can you hear me? Can you seem me? See when I cry, weep and wail for you? I long to know that you are okay - why did you leave me? I didn't make you feel loved? Not enough? I am so sorry - I wish I could do it over again - everything from birth on. You were such a happy baby and little boy - even at 8 years old. So loving, innocent and happy - what happened? Where did you go? Why didn't I stop you from leaving? I am so sorry, my poor son - I failed you as a mother - no matter what anyone says. I failed you. My son, my poor, poor son. I wasn't enough for you. I didn't give you enough. I got distracted. I didn't make enough effort with you and now we are both paying for it. You are dead and I am still here. Why did you die? Now gone forever! My heart is broken. At my deepest level, I am so sad - weeping constantly, uncontrollably, non-stop for my poor boy.
(Still from my journal)
I realize from this exercise that what is happening in the depths of my soul and inner being, my subconscious is a constant, uncontrollable weeping for my son. I am not always in touch with this part of myself but it is there. I saw it. I was in it. This is why I can begin crying at any moment. What is going on inside rises - surfaces like a submarine after languishing in the depths of the ocean. "Periscope depth" is when this inner sadness that is perpetual and never ending comes to the surface. Poor me. Poor Josh.
Maybe what distinguishes really emotional people from me is that those inner feelings are almost always at periscope depth. And what distinguishes me from people who show little to no emotion is that my feelings come to periscope depth once in a while. Maybe for them, their feelings are so trapped - beneath layers of dirt, sand or water - buried so deep that they cannot come up.
As I closed my journal, I thought that perhaps I will know when healing has come. However long it takes, at some point in the future, I will take that trip again and see that the perpetual sadness and crying has been replaced. Maybe with acceptance and happy memories of Josh - maybe even joy? I can only hope.

I will end this post with a slide show of the adorable, happy eight-year old Josh.

God Bless

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extra Josh T-shirts

Soon after Josh's passing, our daughter designed a T-shirt in memory of him. We think he would have really liked it. You can see pictures of the shirt recently worn on an "Out of Darkness" walk by our children and friends.

I placed an order a few weeks ago and have some extra shirts in all sizes. Please let me know if you would like me to send one to you. I am just trying to cover the cost which is a total of $16 (includes shipping). Otherwise the shirt is $12. Anything above this will be sent to his fund.

God Bless

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Faith in the Midst of Tragedy - November 1, 2009

To have a strong faith when life is good and all is going well is not that difficult. The "Thank you, God for this, that and the other" is easy to pray. When times are tough, however, or when an unexplainable tragedy hits home as in what happened to us when our 17-year old son took his life in March, then having faith and trusting God becomes exponentially harder. At least for me.

The age old question surfaces, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" And "why did God allow this to happen? Why didn't He intervene?"

On a previous post, I had shared that to help me with the question of faith, I am working on a cross stitch of the beautiful Footprints vignette. Each stitch is a reminder that I am not walking on this grief journey alone.

In my journal, I wrote the following...

I have been walking this grief journey or through the grief tunnel, one step at a time and have felt alone for no one can do this for me. But I must remember that I am not alone for the Lord is by my side. He has not forsaken me. He has guided me - without my being aware. In the days right after Josh's death, He has directed the creation of the blog. Also, everything came together for the service - a massive undertaking to organize in just two days, under the most horrible circumstances.

I have seen and felt God in all of the ways that people have reached out to us and have felt strengthened by the numerous prayers lifted to the heavens on our behalf. In the midst of all of the bad that is reported in the news daily - the corruption in politics, business and sports, people are good. Have good hearts. Are kind, giving and loving. Willing to share, help, encourage and lift up. We are still getting cards and gifts even though it has been over seven months.

Pre-Josh, I was getting cynical about people - their motives, superficiality and hypocrisy. Then this horrible, tragic event happened to us and rather than feeling shunned or stigmatized, beginning with Josh's friends, we were surrounded by love and fellow grievers. It was the kids first - I will never forget how those young people came over, gave us great big bear hugs and wept unashamedly while looking at the pictures of Josh and writing in his book.

Our neighborhood provided daily meals for weeks. Friends helped tirelessly in our home - organizing and serving food and helping with the numerous plants and flowers being delivered daily. The friends of our surviving kids came that weekend by plane, car, bus and train. All three of them had a "posse" of friends surrounding them - encouraging, supporting and helping them get through this tragedy. Our own family flew or drove from great distances - leaving their own family vacation and even canceling a long awaited trip to China to come and be with us.

Then the hundreds of people who came to the service; many driving for hours to be with us, give a hug, show their support, and share their stories of Josh. And the thousands who have read his blog. The outpouring of love was and still is overwhelming. People are good - I was losing sight of this.

It feels like the movie "Pay it Forward". After being the recipient of a good deed, you turn around and do good for someone else. Maybe this is what is being done through Josh's blog - as it has appeared to help many people who struggle with the harsh inner feelings that can spiral into dark thoughts.

I hope the blog is helping parents open up the lines of communication with their kids, regardless of age, so that all unresolved issues can be brought out into the open, talked about, dealt with and forgiven. I realize now more than ever, that life is too short to keep from being close to the ones we love.

I hope kids will realize that parents are trying their best but are only human. We have our faults. We cannot read minds. That if there are things that are bothering you or dynamics in the family that hurt you - speak up and say it! If it is too hard to say, write a letter. Be open. Express yourself. If you need help, admit it and get it.

Our son did not do this and I wonder, why didn't he? Pride, fear, embarrassment? Maybe he didn't want to be looked at or thought of differently. Maybe he was afraid of what would happen if he really said what he thought. I don't know, but I wish to God that he had been open. Because he would still be here. What he did is what is often said about suicide: a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As his mother, this is what pains me the most.

I know that I need help. It would be easy to just shut myself off from people - no visits, phone calls, emails or posts on the blog. But this is not God's way. He works through others to provide love, support, guidance and healing. Prayer is a bit difficult these days, but when I think about all of what has been done for us, I can say my own "Thank you" prayer to God.

God Bless

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Marathon Ran in Memory of Josh

In life, one never knows how the crossing of paths with various people, will bloom into loving, supportive friendships. This is one of the blessings that I have personally received since news of Josh's death, thanks to the Internet and probably Facebook in particular, went literally around the world.

One dear person, Nadine, sent me pictures of a recently completed marathon in which she ran in memory of Josh. My heart was touched beyond words when I opened up her email, saw the pictures and read her thoughts that are posted here.

After 2 years of falling in love with running, this is the first time that I really ran one of my runs in honor of anyone. The day and night before the run it was pouring in Northern Virginia. That next morning, however, it was such a perfect crisp fall morning. From the night that I was sewing the number 33 on the back of my shirt through the 26.2 miles, I thought of and prayed for Josh and all of you. The funny thing is that I needed Josh just as much. Right around the times I wanted to stop and walk someone would yell out "Go Nadine" or "Go 33". It inspired me to keep going (made it all the way to 24 miles before I had to stop for a short walk), then finished the rest strong. RIP Josh, you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Like streaks of light that permeate a dark, gray day, so these unforeseen relationships and news of how Josh is being remembered, gives comfort to this grieving mother's heart.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tree Memorial - October 18, 2009

I love the spring in Virginia. We are far enough north where we experience all four seasons, but not so far as to seriously shorten the golf season (very important to Tim). One of my favorite trees is the dogwood. Wispy, beautiful white flowers adorn this tree in early spring. Every time I see this majestic tree in full bloom, I am in awe. So when asked, "what tree would you like to have planted at the McLean Mustangs football field in memory of Josh?", the answer was easy.

Our son has played football since he was eight years old. Starting out as an "ankle-biter", he had a real affinity for the game. I still remember being amazed at how these fully padded little boys, who could barely sit still for anything else, had the discipline to be motionless before the ball was hiked. Every year, Josh was fortunately to be on teams with excellent coaches who taught him not only the game, but lesson that transcend sports: teamwork, do your best, never give up, how you play is more important than winning or losing, the little things matter, etc.

We were triply blessed to be part of this particular youth league as the kids and their families were all great. Relationships were forged over the tailgates held in the parking lot right after - hosted by grandparents of one of the boys. Josh was never shy about diving right into the food after a hard fought game, along with the other boys.

Because youth football teams are determined by weight, and since Josh was always bigger and heavier for his age, he would invariably have to lose some weight to stay with the same group of boys. I have vivid memories of the poor kid mowing the lawn in 90+ degrees in layers of clothing. Or going to the official weigh in a couple of hours early and running on the track dressed for a blizzard. Or looking at pizza - wishing so much that he could have a piece, while eating salad. Seems a bit cruel for a kid - I thought so too at the time, but he was willing to do these things to stay on the team.

Being at the football field last Sunday, on the 7 month anniversary of Josh's death, for the gathering at the newly planted tree with this group of boys and their parents was so special. It is times like these, when we see once again, that our Josh is so loved and missed by others, that our grieving hearts are encouraged.

We could not have gotten through the past months of shock, loss and pain if it were not for the love, support and prayers from friends in the community - both Josh's and ours. In the midst of it all, we feel so grateful. I will end this post with pictures from our gathering.

Josh's tree planted on the end of the football field.

Boys gathered around....

So many memories on this field.....

Josh - we all love and miss you and will remember you forever.....

God Bless

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Out of Darkness - 7 Months Later

Two weeks ago, our children were together in Atlanta and along with some good friends, participated in the "Out of Darkness" walk that is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. According to their web site , these walks are taking place all across the country this fall to "raise money for AFSP's vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives, increase national awareness about depression and suicide, and assist survivors of suicide loss."

The statistics reported on their web site are staggering: "In the United States, a person dies by suicide every 16 minutes, claiming more than 32,000 lives each year. It is estimated that an attempt is made every minute; with close to one million people attempting suicide annually."

The title of the walk, "Out of Darkness" is apropos. That fateful night, our Josh entered into a dark place within his mind that he never recovered from. Upon finding him the next morning, cold and stiff, our family was thrust in a darkness of our own. Unwillingly, without consent and any prior warning, having no experience with this type of death, we've had no choice but to walk through this darkness.

At first, you don't see the light at the end - you can only believe it is there. And so you walk - one step at a time in those first few hours and days. Then you walk one day at a time through each month's anniversary. For me, the time seems to have gone so quickly. How can it be seven months already?

How am I feeling now - seven months later? The only word that comes to mind is "resigned". Resigned to the fact that Josh is gone - and nothing I do or say can bring him back to me. He will never be coming through our front door again, to drop his backpack and sports bag on the floor, flop onto a living room couch and take a quick nap with the dogs. We'll never hear the quick race down the stairs in the morning and slam of the door as he scurries to get to school on time. There will be an empty seat at the Thanksgiving table. We won't see his "Santa list" on our fridge door. He will not be part of our annual Christmas photo. He won't be around to celebrate his 18th birthday next January.

Resigned that unless I was a mind reader, there was no way to know that Josh was thinking of suicide as he gave no indication to us or anyone close to him. So I cannot blame myself anymore.

Resigned that I will never know the answer to the question, "why". Through the books that I am reading and some email correspondence from readers of this blog, I have a better understanding of a suicidal mind. But even if I knew exactly why Josh did this, I probably wouldn't understand anyway, because to me, there was nothing in his life - even expulsion from Fairfax County Public Schools - that would be a reason for death.

Resigned that we have to continue with our lives - in spite of his absence. And that it is his memory that will live on in our hearts.

I suppose resignation is good. Perhaps it the precursor to acceptance.

I will end this post with pictures taken at the Atlanta "Out of Darkness" walk. There is one coming up in our area. The Fairfax NOVA walk is this Saturday, October 24th. Unfortunately, Tim and I will be out of town and cannot participate. If there are some that do, in Josh's name, please take some photos and email them to me:

Photos of Josh placed on a table with pictures of other loved ones.

A quilt called "Faces of Suicide"

Participants made necklaces out of different color beads which has the following symbols:
Lost a child - white
Lost a sister or brother - orange
lost some other relative or friend - purple
Support the cause - blue
Lost a spouse or partner - red
Lost a parent - gold
Struggles personally - green

Lauren, Gillian and Tyler wearing their "Josh" T-shirts and necklaces. Gillian wore a white bead for us.

Tyler and Emily's dogs, Tom and Huck, walked in memory of their favorite uncle Josh.

The "Josh Anderson Team" was well represented.

Josh - we love and miss you.

God Bless

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Give Sorrow Words

Give sorrow words.  The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'refraught heart and bids it break (Macbeth IV, III, 211-212)

Yesterday was our 26th wedding anniversary. Tim and I found each other in college, fell in love, got married and had our first child eighteen months later. After seven years, our fourth, Josh was born. Having four children while just turning thirty and thirty-one ourselves is quite a challenge. With the support of our faith, family and friends, however, we managed to navigate the bumpy waters of raising a large family.

As time passed and the children grew, while celebrating our 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th anniversaries over a romantic dinner, one of us would always remark how lucky we felt. Lucky that we found one another; lucky to have four beautiful, bright, talented children. When others gave us positive comments about our family, we simply said, "We have not done anything to deserve this - we feel so blessed."

No more. Unbelievably, we are now part of a small minority of parents who have had to bury their child due to the violence of self-murder. Our lives do not feel very blessed right now. We are not so lucky anymore. In fact, we are extremely unlucky - to have someone commit suicide anywhere in the family tree, in any generation, is profound. To have it happen in your own nuclear family - within your four walls, in the sanctity of your own home is incomprehensible.

One minute, we were normal parents - dealing with all of the joys, challenges and issues that face anyone who is raising kids. The next minute - in a millisecond, in the time it takes to register a thought, take a breath, blink an eye - we were no longer a normal family. What happens to other people, other parents, other families has just happened to us.

In an instant, our entire world - life as we knew it - was gone. Changed forever. Irrevocably altered. Turned upside-down. Shattered. Devastated. Disintegrated. Blown up. Thrown out-of-whack. Discombobulated. There aren't enough words in the English language to describe the effect of suicide on those of us left behind.

The old "normal" is gone and there is no going back. Josh's loss and the mode of his death will forever be a part of our family. Henceforth, his absence will be felt at every family gathering, every holiday, every milestone event such as a graduation, wedding or birth.

And now, a "new" normal needs to be found. I suppose this is all part of the grief journey - to "right the ship", so to speak, so that life can go on - without the physical presence of our Josh. As a result, different words have found their way in my journal: recalibration, rebalance, reinvent, reintegrate and reboot.

Because of my analytical nature, my journey involves processing everything in my head: asking the unanswerable questions, coming up with every possible answer and thinking through each one ad nauseam - it is exhausting, but necessary. For me to get through this pain. To get to the other side.

For I do see light at the end of the tunnel.

During the week, my mind is taken up by work; things are busy as there is more than enough to do in an eight-hour period. I think this is good as it gives my thoughts a break. So on the weekend I visit Josh's grave, read, think, and cry. And plan what I will write on the blog. It is difficult, but critical. Just as air, food and water are necessary for survival, so facing the pain, sorrow and grief in my writing, head on, through this blog, is essential for healing.

Week by painful week, I feel the light getting closer - moving towards recalibration & rebalance. The new normal. I am reluctant to say peace, because how could I ever be at peace with Josh's death? Acceptance - yes. Peace - no.

I see this movement in the letters I write to Josh and will end this post with what I wrote yesterday....

Dear Josh,
I am sitting in the car by your grave site because it is raining outside. I am kicking myself for not coming yesterday when it was sunny and warm. I am starting to let myself understand what was going through your mind that night and perhaps earlier. The dark place or tunnel in which you found yourself: maybe overwhelmed and exhausted with life, and perhaps even contemplating getting help, but in the end, the thought of reaching out was unappealing. Perhaps your future seemed more like a dream than a reality and in general, your life felt out of control. And this was the only way you could be in total control.

Is this how you felt?

In a book that I am reading, the author recounts a very scary 12-hour period when she had a loaded gun on her bed with every intention of ending her life. She says that in that whole time, not once did she think about her family, her kids, her therapist - nothing but her pain. Everyone important to her was outside of her mind and not even a factor.

Was this true with you?

You would not hurt a flea - you had such a tender heart. I have to believe that you would never intentionally want to cause me this much pain. But the reality, son, is that it has. When my mind goes to the place where your death is before me, I have a physical reaction. I feel the blood rushing to my head, my mouth grimaces in pain, my eyebrows furrow, my entire face tightens and the tears flow unchecked - all within a couple of seconds.

This can happen anytime - while talking on the phone with someone who doesn't know and before getting off she asks a very innocent question, "How are your kids doing?" While driving in the car, doing yard work, taking a shower, listening to a song. Anytime, anyplace, with anyone. I cannot control these emotions. So although you did not mean to hurt me, it has - so deeply, so profoundly that I am forever changed.

And it is more than hurt, Josh. If you had died by illness, accident or even murder, a part of me would've have died too. I think any mother who loses a child prematurely, whether in the womb, a baby, child, teen or adult would feel this. But when I found you dead - by your own hand - there was a whole other part of my heart and soul that died. I can't describe it - there is a deeper pain knowing that you were suffering so much in your mind - for how long, I do not know and that death was your only option. How can I ever stop feeling as your mother, connected to you in the womb and who gave birth to you seventeen years ago, that I should have known? I should've have done something more?

In my mind, I know that it is unrealistic to think that I should be a mind reader. You didn't want anyone to know so no one did. But I can't help wishing that you had opened up and shared your heart and pain with me or someone who could help you. Because if you had done this, maybe you would be here now. Maybe we would be a lot closer as I came to understand your inner turmoil.

I would've have done anything to help you - to save you. There is nothing that would be too much. I don't say this flippantly - I would give you anything: a kidney, my liver, my blood, my life. Without a doubt. Without question. I would trade places with you if I could. You were only seventeen; I am almost fifty. My life for yours - absolutely.

But this is not to be. I suppose a saving grace is that your story is saving others. It is making people think more - especially those who struggle with the dark thoughts. My prayer is that what is on your blog will prevent their own demise. But I would take it all back to have you here with me - my baby boy.

I am moving forward - slowly. Doing things and finding interest in things that I stopped after you died - like watching Food Network, Numbers, and House. I am cross stitching the "Footprints" pattern and it is helping me. I have been watching the baseball playoff games with Dad although the Red Sox are not doing well - one game from begin eliminated. When watching, I cheer with enthusiasm.

William Shakespeare said, "Give sorrow words". I guess this is what I am doing - in my journal, in my letters to you, in your blog.

You are free from your pain and suffering. But when yours ended, mine began. I know you didn't mean for this to happen but it has. I forgive you - I hope you can forgive me.

I love you son.
Rest in peace.

Mom xxxooo

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Why?" by Rascal Flatts

I received an email last week from Josh's counselor at school. She is a big country music fan and heard a song from Rascal Flatts on the radio called "Why?". It moved her so much that she had to pull the car over while listening. With one click of a button, I could download the song as a gift from her and listen to it as well. Her caveat - when I was ready.

The email sat in my Inbox for several days and a few days ago, I listened to it. There is something about music - the melody, tone, lyrics that can capture feelings and emotions like nothing else. I began crying while listening to the first sentence; it is as if he is singing about our Josh.

You must have been in a place so dark, you couldn’t feel the light.
Reaching for you through that stormy cloud.
Now here we are gathered in our little home town.
This can’t be the way you meant to draw a crowd.
Oh why, that’s what I keep asking,
Was there anything I could have said or done.
Oh I had no clue you were masking,
A troubled soul
God only knows what went wrong and why you’d leave the stage in the middle of a song.

Now in my mind I’ll keep you frozen as a 17 year old,
Rounding third to score the winning run.
You always played with passion no matter what the game,
When you took the stage you shined just like the sun.

Now the oak trees a swaying in the early autumn breeze,
The golden sun is shining on my face.
Tangled thoughts I hear the mocking bird sing
This old world really ain’t that bad a place.

Oh I there’s no comprehending and who am I to try judge or explain
But I do have one burning question,
Who told you life wasn’t worth the fight?
They were wrong…..
They lied…..
Now you’re gone and we cry
It’s just not like you to walk away in the middle of a song.
Your beautiful song.
Your absolutely beautiful song.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

When I visit Josh, it is always my intention to sit at his grave site with my journal and write. The past two weeks, however, I was unable to do so because of a burial that was taking place very close to where Josh lay and the weather. But yesterday, it was beautiful. Sunny, warm, a little breeze and quiet. I wrote this in my journal.

Already October! It is scary to me how quickly the time is flying by - it will be October 18th (7 months anniversary) before I know it, then Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, then Josh's 18th birthday (January 16th) and then the one year anniversary of his death (March 18, 2010).

I want time to stand still. Or better yet, I want it to go backwards - all the way to March 6 when Josh was deciding whether or not he should drive off school grounds at lunch with a friend to smoke pot. In my fantasy, he thinks, "No, this is not right and I can't risk getting caught again".

Then time can fly forward - through lacrosse season, end of school, summer, taking senior pictures, August football practices up to the South Lakes game Friday night and their win against McLean. They are enjoying a 4-1 record and who knows, with Josh at linebacker, maybe they would not have lost the one game by 4 points.

Everything we have gone through the past 6+ months would be erased and I would not be sitting here on a beautiful Saturday afternoon crying while writing by Josh's grave site, after putting a dream catcher and a rainbow decoration for the song that we all associate with him in his tree, and rose petals all over his grave. These all came from my friend and her kids, who are as close to us as family. Photos are below.

No, we'd be talking about taking the SAT's one more time, college choices, football games and his plays in them, the Red Sox making the playoffs, etc. etc. There is more that dies when a child dies - a part of a mother's heart and soul dies too. And all of the hopes and dreams for the future of that child are gone too.

When I think of Josh now, it is no longer the overwhelming grief, although this is still felt intermittently - it is just sadness and emptiness. A void. Space. Empty like his room which now has only a dresser and desk. Because Josh was our youngest, we are empty-nesters, but 1.5 years too early. Our home feels empty, without his quiet presence.

It is easier to keep the house clean, do the laundry and I am spending less at the grocery store. We don't have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to make sure he is up to get to school on time. I was looking forward to these things at the right time. But not like this - not when our son took his life just two months after turning 17 years old and thrust an empty house on us with such sadness.

When I think of the dates looming in the future, it is so overwhelming. In order to cope, I take one day at a time. For what choice do I have? We have three other children who need me. But I have thought that if and when it is my time to go - that will be okay. I don't fear death - how can I when it would be a way to be reunited with my Josh?

Josh - I love and miss you so much. Be at peace, my dear boy and one day, we will be together again.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is Hindsight 20/20?

These days, thoughts swirl non-stop in my head. Josh's death has changed me so fundamentally that everything I take in - be it a book, newspaper or magazine article, TV show, movie, song or conversation - is filtered through the same questions, "Why did Josh take his life? What did I do wrong? What I could have done to prevent it? What did I miss?" It is like wearing "I need to understand Josh's death" sunglasses, which colors everything I see.

I have just finished reading a very interesting book, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It has raised a lot of questions that I will attempt to articulate on this post - with what success, I am not sure.

I am also making progress on the mammoth project to scan all my negatives. I have just finished with 1999, when Josh turned 7 years old and it occurs to me that it will probably get harder and harder to look at pictures of each subsequent year, almost like a countdown to the year of his death - an event that I cannot stop from happening.

Looking at myself in the pictures is strange - I am completely oblivious to the impending doom, the tidal wave of grief and despair that will come in ten short years, the "suicide quake" that will upend our world. I am an unsuspecting victim - we all are - including Josh. He did not know that through a series of bad decisions on his part and getting caught and disciplined according to our school board's Zero Tolerance policy, that he would be facing circumstances beyond his ability to cope. No, in 1999, he was a happy, go-lucky seven-year old kid who was still excited about school, the baby of the family - spoiled by all. Even then, his smile could light up a room. The Christmas photo that year made a close friend cry when she opened up the envelope and saw Josh's beaming smile literally jump out of the picture.

If I only knew what tragedy would be coming, what would I do differently? Josh was such an easy, compliant kid at this age, very laid back and low maintenance. I remember our three older children needing more of my time, attention and energy. This saying was true in our large family, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" and Josh did not squeak.

I started to notice his behavior changing, especially with school, around the end of 5th grade. He was not motivated, turned in assignments late or not at all and had a "laisse-faire" attitude about everything. Being a responsible student was not an issue with our older three kids, so this was new for us. Despite everything we tried, keeping on task with school work became an on-going problem. At one point, he was interested in home schooling. This was not something that I saw as a viable option but now I think, would he still be alive if I had done this?

"Would have, could have, should have" - these thoughts drive me nuts as I can write a list of these - if only I had known.

In Niffenegger's book, the main character is able to travel through time, forward and backward. He knows things that are going to happen and yet when he travels back to the time of that event, and attempts to force a different outcome, always without success, he eventually realizes that even knowledge is not enough to change what is meant to be.

Thus the title of this post. To me, "Hindsight is 20/20" has always meant that if I knew then what I know now, I could change the course of events by thinking or behaving differently. Like Josh's death - if I had done all of the "would have, could have and should have's", he would still be alive. But is this really true?

My mother has quoted an old Korean saying when discussing how some things for some people are inevitable. "If someone is meant to drown, they can do so in two inches of water". Meaning that even if they knew they were supposed to die by drowning and did everything they could to avoid water, it would happen anyway. The converse would be true too. If someone is not meant to drown, even if there were multiple opportunities for this to occur, it would not happen.

When I was very young, my parents tell me that I almost died. Apparently, I got sick and dehydrated which resulted in a very high fever and was rushed to the hospital. My vessels were so small that any attempt to give me life saving fluids through an IV were thwarted. As a last resort, they put one above my ankle (I still have the scar). My parents left one night to take care of my younger sister and get some rest. They were called back in the middle of the night because the doctors did not think I would make it.

I guess my survival was called a miracle as I made it against all odds. I think back to this event and ask God, "Why did you spare me? I was a small, insignificant child, so close to the line. All of the medical professionals thought I would die. Why didn't I?" And I invariably come to the same conclusion; for whatever reason, it was not my time.

And so I think about Josh. Why did our son die when another high school junior, who recounted his story in a recently read book, Aftershock, survived a three-way suicide attempt of slitting his wrists, jumping off a bridge onto interstate highway traffic? When he woke up in the hospital, he was furious that he was still alive. Since then, he has been trying to understand God's purpose as he has also survived the many life-threatening injuries as a result of his suicide attempt. Clearly, it was not his time.

Was it Josh's time? Despite anything Tim or I could have done, was it his time to go? My mother says that "Josh is an angel. He was here for a purpose. He is saving others". This is sometimes hard to hear because I would take it all back to have him with us

I cannot deny from what has been shared, that Josh's story is saving others. And for this I should be very grateful as it is an answer to prayer - that his death would not be in vain. In comparison to someone who dies and no one is moved, nothing changes, everything goes on as if that person never existed. How sad. How tragic. At least this cannot be said about our Josh as the impact of his life/death is being felt literally around the world. Amazing. He would be amazed.

So based on what I see and witness, was this meant to be? That he came to earth for a specific purpose? And are we seeing this purpose unfold?
  • The spotlight shining on serious teen issues?
  • Highlighting the stress and anxiety that some of our young people find too much to bear?
  • Will kids be more open with their feelings and get the help they need?
  • Will some make better decisions regarding drug/alcohol use?
  • Will parents work harder to keep the communication lines open with their teens?
  • Will parents make different decisions with their kids based on knowing Josh's story?
  • Will something get done with the unconstitutional way our kids are treated via Zero Tolerance policies?
  • Will someone, somewhere make a significant difference in this world, in part, because of the convictions developed through Josh's death?
I don't know, but I can only hope.

And so I end this post with pictures of the happy, seven-year old Josh.
Rest in peace, my son.
We love and miss you so very much.

God Bless

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pictures From Six Month Fundraiser

Tim and I are so grateful for the continual outpouring of love and support from all of Josh's friends and their families. It has meant so much that others remember us in particular, on the 18th of each month. These "anniversary" dates are so hard and I've come to see that in order not to spiral down into the depths of despair, we need to be with others.

Last Friday was the 6 month anniversary and since high school footballs games were played on Thursday, kids were able to come to the fundraiser, held monthly at the Buffalo Wings Factory. We took over the restaurant as so many people came. It is evident that our Josh is still loved and remembered. Our hearts were so encouraged.

We received some very special gifts that night. Tim is staying involved by filming the Langley games. The boys gave him a photo with their signatures. I received a plaque with the Lord's Prayer that will be placed by the dogwood tree we have planted in our front yard - in memory of our son.

I don't yet have the total amount raised, but when I do, I'll post it on the blog.

To end, here is a slide show of pictures taken at the restaurant.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September 18, 2009 - Six Months Later

I have been dreading this day. Six months since our beloved son decided to leave us. Why? This question still haunts me. I rack my brains to find some clue, action, word or deed that would have alerted us to Josh contemplating suicide, much less going through with it. I can't come up with anything and it drives me crazy.

I ask God, "Why did this happen? Why did you allow our dear boy to take his life? Why didn't you stop it? Why didn't you give my mother's intuition a nudge?" Surely I would've acted on it. I would've have asked the hard questions. I would've forced myself into his world to make him see this was not a viable option. Now it is too late. I am too late.

God is silent. He wants me to trust Him which is hard. But I am trying. I picked up this cross stitch pattern that I plan to work on while on my grief journey. It is a story that has been around for a long time but maybe there are some who have not seen it in a while or have never read it.

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Scenes from his life flashed across the sky and he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to him and one belonging to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he recalled that at the lowest and saddest times of his life there was only one set of footprints. Dismayed, he asked, "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. Why at the troublesome times in my life, the times that I needed you the most, would you leave me?"

The Lord replied, "My precious child, I love you and would never, never leave you. During your times of trials and suffering when you saw only one set of footprints...
That was when I carried you."

I have read this several times in my life and it has given me comfort. But there was always a part of me that knew that I had never known real suffering. Now I know. So it is at this time, when a part of my heart feels like it has died, that I have to ask myself, "Do I really believe?"

So part of my grief journey involves the testing of my faith. Is it possible to come through this "fire" with a faith that is stronger and more genuine than ever? I hope so because I know that being at peace with Josh's decision/death will have to involve trusting God. With Josh. With me. With our family. Believing that good can come out of this horrible, unspeakable tragedy. Believing the story above.

There is a bestseller that will soon be out as a movie. I read the book, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold quite a while ago but as with many other things, I have a whole different perspective now. Anyone who sees the back of the book will know that this is a story about a 14-year old girl who was murdered and in heaven, is able to watch what happens on earth - with her friends, her killer, her grieving family. She sees her father writing in his journal and as I read this I wonder, "does Josh see what I write? Does he see this blog? Does he see how much he was truly loved?" I can only hope. And so I end this post with a letter to him.
Dear Josh,
I am sitting by your grave site. It is a cool, cloudy day. The mowers have come through so I've had to clear the grass clippings from your stone. Since it is cooler now, hopefully the fresh carnations that I've placed in your vase will last for a while. There is a little breeze so I hear your chimes. There are seven now in "your" tree. I am the only one here so it is quiet and peaceful.

It has been six months since you decided to leave us. I still do not understand why but know I need to accept your decision. As a mother, it is so hard. I can't help feeling like I failed you. If only you could have told me what you were really feeling inside. I would have done anything to help you. And not just me - your dad, siblings and friends too.

In your short life, you've had such an impact. I've been re-reading the comments on the blog about you. All of your friends say the same thing - that you were one of the kindest and nicest kids - who would never say anything bad about anyone else. You brought a smile to all who knew you. You made people laugh. Quieter than most, but when you spoke, people took note. Smart. A great team player. Being a surprise baby, you were always special to us. But I didn't realize, until hearing from your friends after you were gone, how special you were to them.

My son, there is nothing that I can do now except to try and accept what has happened and move on. I'll tell you, it is not easy. Sometimes I have a busy day at work and almost forget what has happened. Then I remember and it hits me like a punch in the stomach - to where I can bowl over in pain. I guess this is to be expected from a mother who has lost her baby. I know you didn't mean to cause this much sorrow and grief. I only hope that you are at peace and know how much you are loved and missed by your dad and I. You were a surprise gift given to us over 17 years ago and we cherish every moment that you were a part of our lives.

PS - I read in the paper of a 15-year old boy who threw himself in front of a train in Maryland. This is now the 6th boy between the ages of 15 - 22 that I've heard who has killed himself. I don't know the circumstances of this poor boy but some of the others, I do. They were like you, from families who loved them dearly. What did we do wrong? What is happening in our society where young men are choosing not to live? I don't know the answer, but it is scary.

PPS - You are buried in such a beautiful place - like a park. So Grandpa and Grandma have bought plots not far from where you are. So when their time comes, you can keep each other company. Also, when we got a grid map of the place where you are buried, Grandma was the first to notice that you are in section #33! We looked at each other in disbelief. It still amazes me when I think about it. Maybe Dad and I will buy plots so that we can one day be all together.

Rest in peace, beloved son. Be our guardian angel.
Love you with all of my heart,

Would anyone else like to write a letter to him? Please feel free as a comment to this post.

God Bless