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.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Post Dedicated to Josh's Friends

Josh’s friends have shown such love, kindness, generosity, openness, warmth and affection to Tim and I since the passing of our beloved son, I just had to dedicate a post to them. Their acts of kindness over the past four months have done much to ease our constant pain and anguish since that fateful day.

I have to admit, I did not think so highly of teenagers prior to all of this. Having gone through the “teen years” with our three older kids and in the midst of it with Josh, my descriptions would’ve been more like the following: self-absorbed, cocky and arrogant, argumentative, non-compliant, sullen, unopen, only want to be with friends, ungrateful for family, etc. etc. While these descriptions may have been true in part with our son, I am seeing that he was a completely different person with his friends. I now feel blessed to have been witness to and recipient of another side of these young people and have learned much from them.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, these kids have networking skills that far exceed anything I have. Through Facebook and text messaging, it was incredible how quickly the student body at both high schools found out about Josh’s death which happened on a Wednesday morning. By that afternoon, the first group of kids arrived with bouquets of flowers as offerings of sympathy. Josh's best friend lives in Georgia. As soon as he heard the news, he and his family jumped in the car and were at our home the next day, after driving through the night. During the following two days a steady stream of kids came to pay their respects and the first couple of lessons were learned.

The "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" way that I can view relationships is not the way of these kids. Even though Josh had not been part of the Langley high school student body for a year, it was as if he had never left. The number of these friends that came over was staggering. There were some close friends that were so affected, they did not go to school for the rest of the week. Others were very upset when the school administration did not have a moment of silence the next day for Josh. They organized a "black out” and made sure photos were taken of everyone who participated. Apparently there were so many kids that they had to take two pictures in the school gym.

The outpouring of love and support from the South Lakes high school students was equally overwhelming. Josh had been there less than one year and yet these kids treated him as if he had been there from the start. The lesson here is that it does not need to take me a long time to develop friendships that go beyond the superficial.

Two days later, on Friday, there was ”a black out” at this school, with hand-painted shirts reflecting his nickname, "Jushua" and football number, 33. The varsity lacrosse players dedicated the game to him that night by playing a man down on defense for the first play and by putting his initials "JA" on their helmuts and some on their faces. I remember the captain of the team sitting in our living room, telling us of the plan and Tim and I were touched and amazed.

One fellow football and lacrosse teammate will forever remember our son as he got a tattoo on his calf with Josh's name and date of death. This along with two other tattoos can be seen in the "Original Art" section on the right side of the blog. Josh's best friend mentioned above got the large one on his back and the small JLA was received by Josh's sister.

We heard that one baseball player at South Lakes decided to change his jersey to number 33, despite being badly stained - he didn't care because it was Josh's number.

We received a packet of beautiful cards made by fellow students in Josh's business management class along with this letter from their teacher: "The first day back after this tragedy, there were several reactions in my class. A few students, especially those that knew Josh well, stayed home from school. Others were just in a daze. I wanted to take their lead as to what we did in one was really focused. I told them that they could write a letter to your family if they wanted to and that I would mail it to you. Some, as difficult as it was, courageously wrote a card."

The graphics, words and pictures were thoughtful and beautiful. For example, one card said, "When you lose a loved one, you gain an angel whose name you know". I don't know these kids and I don't know how well they knew our son, but it was very touching to have received their condolences in this way.

As early as the next morning after Josh's death, when we were planning the funeral service, it became clear to us that many students from both high schools were going to come and pay their last respects. Thanks to the wonderful work by the funeral home director, we were able to secure a large church that seated 1,500 people. On the day of the service, the numbers of kids that came far exceeded our expectations. It is a true testament to their desire to come and support the memorial service of their friend. As far as I could see and from what we heard from others who attended the service, there was not an empty seat anywhere.

The funeral director also told us that he would need a number of pictures by 8am the next morning. These photos would be part of a printed tri-fold” and slideshow for the service. Also a photo would need to be designated as the primary one - to be used for the large portrait. We had many pictures of Josh's younger years and thanks to my friend who gave us photos taken during a recent trip to Maine, we had great pictures of when he was older. What were were missing were pictures of his football season, one of which we hoped could be the main photo. By Thursday night, we had them all - thanks to Josh's girlfriend's best friend, who was on the South Lakes yearbook committee. These girls went back after school, accessed the yearbook computer and found pictures that we could use, including the one on the front of the tri-fold and on the side of the blog.

On the day of the service, other surprising gifts were received as well. We heard of a football that was brought and signed by his Langley teammates for the expressed purpose of being placed in the casket with Josh.

I had mentioned the day before to a group of kids that were in our home that I did not have many pictures of Josh in high school. Lo and behold, on the day of the service, three girls from Langley HS came to me with a CD of photos that had been taken during an art class in Josh's sophomore year.

Another young lady came with a pencil drawing that she had done of Josh. This really blew us away as it must have taken her hours to make. You can see this and many of the other items created in Josh's memory by his friends in the "Original Art" section on the right side of the blog.

Facebook - I know of at least three groups that have been created in Josh's memory. It was this next story that really gave me the idea of creating a blog. I heard from the kids that many were posting on Josh's facebook wall right after hearing about his passing. I said something like, "Wow, I wish I could see those" and the next day, one young lady came over with a print out of all of the postings complete with cover page (picture of Josh) and dedication written by herself - all in a presentation binder. To say that I was moved would be an understatement as she must have stayed up most of the night to get this done. Since I am not a Facebook user, at least not yet, I wanted to have a way to keep up with Josh's friends - thus this blog.

It has become what I had hoped. A quick scroll through the posts will show that much of the content has come from Josh's friends, either directly or indirectly.

The idea of have a fundraiser for Josh's memorial fund at the Buffalo Wings Factory came from a South Lakes football teammate who was working there at the time.

Just two days after his death, this slideshow was created by one of his friends to "help his memory live on".

In a singing competition less than two weeks afterwards, we heard that the songs were performed in dedication to Josh.

Other pictures of Josh and friends on the bus and hanging out at the Apple store were supplied - giving us a picture of another side of our son.

An original poem showed me that these kids are grieving his loss, just as we are.

One of the sweetest things was received just one week later. In the original picture at the top of the blog, Josh's arm had a small bruise on it. Someone who actually did not know Josh very well, retouched the photo to remove the bruise and emailed it back. This was placed on the blog immediately - I will never forget that small act of kindness.

When the girl's lacrosse teams from the two schools met for the first time after his passing, hair ribbons for both teams with Josh's initials were made by the Langley girls and given out. Our hearts were moved when we heard this story and received the photos.

On the Mother’s Day post I had shared how a couple of Josh's teammates had come over for a BBQ lunch and talk. Since then we have had several others visit with us and a couple of them have gone to Josh's grave site with me. I have also received fairly lengthy emails from friends at both schools. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be in touch with Josh's friends either by visit, via email or posts on the blog. For some reason, it matters very much to me that Josh is not forgotten. Their stories and memories of Josh are ones that I cherish and are giving us a picture of our son that we would not know of otherwise. They are asking me very good questions, are willing to answer mine and I am finding it helpful as they share their own perspective of Josh's death and how they are handling it.

Our family has been thrust on this journey of grief, not by our own choice but by that of our son. Why we got here will never be understood, but one day will need to be accepted. I am finding solace that we are not alone in this journey as evidenced by this post.

To all of Josh's friends who continue to think of him and our family, our heartfelt thanks.

God Bless

Friday, July 17, 2009

4 Months Later - July 18, 2009

I begin this post with two distinct thoughts that are related; the first, I can't believe that it has been four months since our beloved son has passed away and second, I am having a hard believing that Josh is really gone. My head know what our reality is now, but my heart is having a very hard time accepting it.

One would think that I should have moved on from the "denial" stage of the grieving process with the many reminders that happen, even on a daily basis. Within the past week, we've received several sympathy cards, letting us know that we are still in our friend's thoughts and prayers. Another day brought a package with a book on grieving from a thoughtful friend who lost her young son a few years ago.

It hits me when I come across items that have dates just prior to the fateful day of March 18th. An example would be finding a work-related email that I sent on March 17th. My first thought is, "Wow, when I sent this email, Josh was still alive and I had no idea that it would be my last day with him." My second thought is, "How can this be?" with tears.

I teach several indoor cycle classes at two gyms and in order to keep my music straight, I have a notecard for each playlist with the date/place of the class so that I don't inadvertently use the same songs in a short time period. I have come across one such card that references Sunday, March 15th and Monday, March 16th. I know that those two days, I played that play list in separate classes, completely oblivious to the fact that my world would be changed forever by Wednesday morning. And I think, "Is this really me?"

When I am out running errands at the grocery story, or the mall and see a group of boys, roughly Josh's age (17 - 18 yrs old), my breath catches, my throat constricts and tears come to my eyes as I understand that it is no use looking for his face in the crowd since he will absent from such groups forever.

I am being brutally honest with this next example, so please forgive me. When in NYC last month, riding the train, I saw a boy whose age was probably seventeen or eighteen sitting across the aisle. It was clear that he was emotionally and intellectually challenged and in an instant, I saw his life. If he went to a public high school where looks, talent, academic or athletic ability is paramount, this kid probably did not have many friends. Maybe he was ridiculed and/or bullied. At the very least, he might live so far in the background that he didn't register on most kid's social radar screen. Did he ever experience the heady feeling of a young girl's attention? I doubt it. Was he invited to parties and other social gatherings? Probably not. Did he have a loving and accepting family - I sincerely hoped so.

Sitting on the train, thinking about this kid and our son, and as I type my recollections now, my brow furrows in complete incomprehension. I don't how our son who had the looks, the girlfriend, the popularity, the intelligence, and the natural athletic ability could end his life when this kid, who on the surface had none of those things, was still alive.

This kid did not find his life so unbearable that he would end it himself. He still had some reasons to live - perhaps many reasons. Whatever obstacles were in his way, he was moving through them, or living through them. He was not experiencing such excruciating mental anguish that he would cross over to that place in the mind which would allow self-murder.

All of these thoughts running through my mind then/now and I end up at the same place - this is so unfair. Not that I wish circumstances to be reversed where his mother was the one grieving, and not is more like if this kid could still be alive, why couldn't our Josh find a way to live too? He seemingly had so much more - why wasn't it enough? It is still so incomprehensible to me and therefore unbelievable.

We went to the fundraiser at the Buffalo Wings Factory for lunch and ate with two of Josh's friends. They both have been so good about keeping in touch with us; in fact, one of them had come over last week with another friend, just to hang out and talk. Apparently on the way home, these two boys talked about how sad and depressing it was for weeks after his death. Now, however, when they think about Josh, it is the happy memories that occupy their thoughts. I am glad it is this way for them and hopefully for all of Josh's other friends, but I cannot relate.

I think I will get there too but it is not that way for me now. Still, when I think of his death, I am overcome with sorrow, pain and anguish. It is still so hard for me and the tears can flow easily and freely - at any time, day or night, when I am by myself or with others.

One of the most difficult pictures to look at - of the many that are around our house now - is the one taken a few days before Christmas, the one sent out with our annual letter. I can remember that day so clearly. We have a tradition of wearing shirts of the school of choice for our newest college attendee. Gillian had decided to attend the University of Virginia so we were all wearing our UVA gear. It took a while to figure out what everyone was wearing and of course, there were issues with Josh's shirt. It was either too small or the wrong color and he had to wear another one. It was a chilly day and we were all outside waiting for him to come. Finally he did, we took a great picture and that was that.

Now I look at this picture on my fridge and think, "who would've thought at the time, that we only had another two months and three weeks with him." And once again, I can't believe it.

Yet, I have only to look at his empty room, or vacant place at the dinner table, or now, the new license plates on our cars to know that it is true - our beloved Josh is no longer here.

Please continue to keep the Anderson family in your thoughts and prayers.
God Bless.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pictures of Joshua: Birth to 4 Years Old

As mentioned in a previous post, I have begun the formidable task of scanning all of my negatives into our computer. Had I known from the outset just what kind of project this was, I might have been discouraged from even starting. Just in case there are others who having been meaning to digitize their photos, I though it might be helpful to outline what we have done. Certainly, if there is a better way, please feel free to share.

First of all, at least for me, nothing is ever easy if it has to do with technology. I am using a Mac mini purchased about 2 1/2 years ago, which in Mac years is a long time. So much so, we had to first load a more recent operating system to be able to handle the upgraded iPhoto software which I wanted to use. So with the help of Gillian and her friend, this was accomplished. The only other thing, so I thought, was to find a good scanner that would do the job. This did not turn out to be that hard to do via some research on the Internet and the cost was actually pretty reasonable.

It seemed like everything was falling into place, until it was discovered that the Mac had only 60 GB of total storage space so by the time we were finished with the steps above, there was only 3 GB left, which was not going to be enough space for all of the photos that would be scanned. So after many conversations with our oldest son, off I went to Best Buy to purchase an external hard drive that would house all the new photos. The choice was a bit overwhelming but in the end, I picked one that had 500 GB of storage space and is about the size of my hand - amazing.

Finally, after many hours one weekend, I was all set up. And amazingly enough, it was pretty easy to use, albeit time consuming as each negative takes about a minute to scan and the film holder, for lack of better word, can hold 12 negatives at a time. It's times like these that being a multi-tasker comes in handy as I am finding ways to get other things done while scanning.

At this point, it feels like an accomplishment to say that I have scanned in five years so far, beginning with the year that Josh was born. I am finding this exercise helpful to me as I am reminded of the time when he came into our lives - a surprise baby - and the way he completed our family.

Oh, how I wish he were still here with us.

Josh, we love and miss you so much.