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, April 9, 2009

Working Through My Grief - Week 3

It has been a roller coaster few days since my last post. Monday was a very tough day for both Tim and I. Maybe it was because it was the day after the Washington Post article, and we received lots of phone calls and emails that confirmed in a more definitive way, the loss of our son. I basically cried all day and night - in every call, with every new comment or email that I read. I had a hard time keeping the thoughts of guilt and blame at bay - perhaps in part due to the comments that I did read on the Post web site (I don't read anything now, except for what Tim prints for me).

I was a bit concerned when I woke up crying on Tuesday that it would be more of the same. However, I felt more numb than anything else the past two days. I guess the body can only take so much emotion before a self-preservation mechanism sets in.

The type of feelings/thoughts that I am experiencing are so intense that I have begun to do some reading to try and better understand them. Probably most people like myself have heard of the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). However, I found a web site that lists 7 stages of grief that appear to be more comprehensive.

  1. Shock and Denial - provides some measure of emotional protection from being completely overwhelmed with grief.
  2. Pain and Guilt - excruciating and unbearable.
  3. Anger and Bargaining
  4. Depression, Reflection and Loneliness - can occur months after the death of a loved one as the true realization of death settles in. This period can last for months and should not be discouraged by others.
  5. The Upward Turn - adjustment to life without the loved one begins.
  6. Reconstruction and Working Through
  7. Acceptance and Hope - will find a way forward.
While these stages of grief are helpful for me to think about, there is something unique about coping with grief after suicide. I found a couple of sites that speak specifically to this type of grief. I have named them: Grief after Suicide 1 and Grief after Suicide 2.

Also, a dear friend sent me a book called "No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One" by Carla Fine. While we have received a number of books from other friends, which we so appreciate, this one in particular, speaks to what I am trying to understand at this time. I want to share some of what I have learned from my reading of these three sources.

  • When dealing with death by suicide, survivors experience a more complex kind of grief.
  • Along with the sudden loss, there is overwhelming feelings of blame, anger and guilt.
  • Survivors are often consumed with trying to find the meaning or reason behind the suicide.
  • It is a difficult topic to discuss and often a stigma is attached to this particular mode of death.
  • Many people have been touched by suicide as approximately 1 out of 4 people know of someone who died by suicide.
  • The closer the survivor is to the deceased, the more intense the feelings will be. Intense anger towards self, closely linked with guilt is often felt by this survivor.
  • I think we all know that death of a loved one is an event that causes much stress. However, in Fine's book, she found through her research that the stress caused by a suicidal death is catastrophic - likened to the experience of a concentration camp.
  • I have underlined a number of sentences from her book that seem to speak directly to me:
The suicide of a loved one irrevocably transforms us. Our world explodes, and we are never the same (pg. 20). The worst part of suicide is the shock of it (pg. 36). The initial impact of discovery scars us forever (pg. 37). The immediate response to suicide is total disbelief. The act itself is so incomprehensible that we enter into a state where we feel unreal and disconnected (pg. 40). Guilt suffuses every aspect of a survivor's healing process (pg. 47).
  • Perhaps of everything I have read so far, two paragraphs from Fine's book describes what I feel every day since I made that terrible discovery.
Suicide is different from other deaths. We who are left behind cannot direct our anger at the unfairness of a deadly disease or a random accident or a murderous stranger. Instead, we grieve for the very person who has taken our loved one's life. Before we can even begin to accept our loss, we must deal with the reasons for it - and the gradual recognition that we might never know what happened or why (pg 13).

Suicides are messy deaths, there is nothing neat about them. The lives of those of us who are left behind have been shattered into thousands of tiny fragments, and we do not know how to begin cleaning up the devastating damage. Our loved ones have departed by their own will, even though they knew that they were planning to leave us forever, they did not give us the opportunity to bid them Godspeed (page 35).
I have learned new things through all of this, for example, I never realized how many people have been affected by or have know someone who has departed this way.

In a strange way, it comforts me to know that the stress related to Josh's death is one that can be described as catastrophic, for this is what I have felt since that fateful day.

It also helps to know that grief from suicide is different than if a loved one died by tragic accident, illness or even by the hand of someone else. This death was self-inflicted or horribly put, self-murder. And that the closer the survivor is to the deceased, the more intense the feelings will be.

In my view, this is nothing that compares to a mother's bond to her child. And I don't think it has to be a naturally-born child, as I have friends who have the same intense feelings about their adopted child as I have towards my own children. It is different than any of the other strong family bonds such as a father, sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle, as close as those relationships may be. Think of the phrase, "a mother's intuition". Or the picture of a mother fighting anyone and everyone for the life of her child - even to the point of giving up her own life.

I think this is why I struggle so much with all of the intense feelings, emotions and thoughts. I am comforted by the fact that this is normal, given that I am Josh's mother. He was conceived and carried for nine months in my womb. I gave birth to him and have been a part of every moment of his seventeen years, 2 months and 2 days of life. The grief can just overwhelm me at times: I actually hear a roaring in my ears, my head feels like it is in a vice and the tears flow unchecked.

My own mother is pained by seeing how much I am suffering. For grandparents, this is a double-whammy. They feel deep grief for the death of their grandchild, but in addition, there is the knowledge of the pain and anguish that their own child is going through. There is nothing that can be done about this - except to work through this with each other's support and help. Tim and I are lucky to have such loving parents, who have given of themselves to us tirelessly in this terrible time of loss.

Tim and I also want to thank you so much for your continued support and love. We are encouraged by all of you who are providing comments on this blog and we hope that you and others will continue to do so. Please continue pray for our family and if I can be a bit selfish, I ask that you say an additional prayer for me, Josh's mother.

God Bless


Biggie-Z said...

Sue, you are always in our thoughts and prayers.

I cannot even tell you how many times I have just screamed in my head, "WHY???"

All I can say is - we are here for you. If you just want to yell, we will listen. We will pick you up and carry you when you fall. And when words are not enough - as is often the case - we will be with you and hold you.

Lots of love.

Anonymous said...

Ditto to what "Biggie-Z" said - here for you whenever and whatever. Thanks for allowing us to be there for you. Still praying constantly for you.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sue, Just remember you have neighbors all around you that are here to help. We struggle with not knowing what to say or not say. Do we visit or leave you alone? It's comforting knowing these books are helping you. Thanks for sharing your grief and thoughts with us. Remember that Easter is the time of Eternal life and now it is God's turn to take care of Josh. Love and Hugs, Diane P.

K, B and S said...

Our thoughts, prayers, love, and support are with you, today and always. Just wish we knew how best to comfort and aid in this most tragic of times. Tim, Sue - the entire family, what strength, courage and honor you continual show in the face of this emotional, even physical, personal devestation ... We are here to help in anway and hope that this Easter Season will bring some renewed faith and peace of heart ... Love, K, B & S

Anonymous said...

You continue to amaze me with your openness - there is no telling how many people you are helping as you bare your heart and soul. I am grateful for your friends who found the book for you - I am going to get a copy of it so I can try to understand. As you share what you and your family are going through, the words used by you and by the book's author are so agonizingly descriptive - they help us to know your anguish so that we can try our best to mourn with you and pray for you. Thank you for your courage and may God comfort you in inexplicable ways.
I love you, Cathy R

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about your son all week, I posted earlier that it could have been my son, but for the grace of God. They sound very similar in talent and nature. My son was falsely accused of alcohol (not that he would always be found innocent but in this case it was mistaken identity) and we appealed his suspension. I was shocked by the anger and resentment of the school especially the principal. My son wrote an explanation essay about it for colleges (0nly one asked for it and he got admitted everywhere he applied) that I would share with you if I could do so privately. It was a horrible experience, and we have been bullied by school administration ever since. It should not have to be this way. Other parents do not understand until they have been there- this COULD happen to any kid -- guilty or innocent.

The focus in the schools should be on education, not railroading students into expulsion. I strongly believe expulsion should be the option of last resort and reserved for dangerous/violent students. Alchohol/Drug/ &non-violent mental health issues are best treated within the community. My son will graduate in June, and once he is no longer vulnerable to administrative bullying; I am ready to do whatever it takes to stop this madness in our schools.

One day I'll get It said...

Hi Sue,

You've been so brave during this all. I've been meaning to say something to you for a while, anything that could potentially ease the pain I know you must deeply feel.

I have no words and actually my words of condolences seem cheap and insignificant.

Be that as it may, cheap words or not, my words and my prayers are all I have to offer right now and I don't intend to deprive you of that.

I want you to know how deeply pained I am and how desparetly and I feel for you, Tim, Tyler, Lauren and Gillian.

All I can share with you is that even now, there are still days I think about Josh, I think about how painfully this must be for you and I find myself crying uncontrollably.

I have to confess sometimes I feel like a fool for being this affected when Josh and I really didn't spend that much time together but I can't help it, I am.

Sue I am so so so so sorry, and I can't begin to imagine the physical aches and pains I'm sure you must experience as you deal with him not being here.

I hope you feel confident and free in expressing grief over losing your baby with uninhibited abandon.

All my love and prayers,

NOVA Teen Ministry

E.Huber said...

Ms. Anderson,
No matter what people say to you, we all know you are right and nothing is your fault. You are not the one to blame for anything, and everyone that you know and I know that are actually smart you that too. I hope the people that aren't thinking straight begin to realize what is really going on, and that they can actually be sympathetic and nice towards you. The negative things they say to you are worthless and they are absolutely wrong. Maybe one day they will change..but until then please don't listen to a word they say. You or anyone in your family do not deserve to hear people say that, and especially do not deserve to be extremely hurt by them. Josh now feels like a brother to me even though he technically isn't. We have pictures of him everywhere, we think of him all the time, we feel the pain, and we will always be here. I hope you and your family can be happy because you all deserve it. We all love you (:
Ellie Huber

CampbellFamily said...

I pray for your family daily and as a mother myself, can respect your wish for additional prayers. I am glad you are no longer reading the comments on the Post article. I had to stop myself as I had never felt such rage and anger. People truly can be heartless and I'm amazed they can say such things having never known Josh or your family.

My thoughts continue to be with you.

Anonymous said...

I cant even believe it has been one month since we lost josh it still feels like it was just yesterday i cant believe he is gone i wore the shirt my friends and i made for him and the ribbon as-well i plan on wearing them every month if not more. I miss him so much and i hope you guys (the andersons) are hanging in their.

josh remains in all of his friends hearts and he will forever. Never forget....
RIP 33

Vanessa Stalets-Brentwood TN Homes and Real Estate said...

The book no time to say goodbye is very helpful. Someone sent it to me when my mother committed suicide in Oct 08.She left no note, no explanation. It has been over 3 yrs now and it still jumps up an blind sides me sometimes. The only thing harder I can imagine would be the loss of a child as you have had. God is with you still, everyday, be blessed~