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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing to Heal - August 30, 2009

Strangely enough, the thesaurus has become my friend. Helpful as I journal through my days, striving to put into words the depths of my feelings and emotions - struggling to come to terms with Josh's passing. It is so hard and painful yet I push through as I believe it is better for me to face the grief head-on, rather than to avoid or suppress it, as tempting as this may be.

In her book, "Writing As A Way of Healing", Louise DeSalvo summarizes ten years of scientific research recorded by James W. Pennebaker while at Southern Methodist University. Here are two quotes that keep me motivated.

Many researchers have observed that survivors of childhood sexual abuse and other trauma (like rape) or the suicide or accidental deaths of people close to them, if they do not discuss these events, tend to develop more major illnesses than people who do express their feelings (24).

Writing that describes traumatic or distressing events in detail and how we felt about these events then and feel about them now is the only kind of writing about trauma that clinically has been associated with improved health. Simply writing about innocuous subjects (like what we did throughout the day) or simply writing about traumatic events or venting our feelings about trauma without linking the two does not result in significant health or emotional benefits (25).
There is now a thick, black line that is permanantly placed in time. Before Josh Died and After Josh Died. Everything in my life is relegated to these two time periods. Because he is gone, nothing will ever be the same. And it happened without warning or suspicion. Without any time to prepare myself. One moment, I am feverishly working to get ready for a client meeting, thinking that Josh is upstairs sleeping; the next, I am all alone and holding my dead son in my arms - screaming his name over and over again.
I write to help me navigate this new grief journey. I write because according to DeSalvo, "after a loved one dies, our lives are temporarily in serious jeopardy" (189) and that "we are living in the midst of the disintegration of everything that has marked our lives as normal and meaningful" (195).
Disintegration - this is an accurate description of what has happened on March 18, 2009. My thesaurus gives me other words and I nod my head "yes" to all: break apart, fall apart, shatter, explode, blow up, collapse, perish, bust.
From my reading, I understand that my writing is a quest for several things: to try and understand why Josh took his life, which I know is a futile exercise, but I cannot stop asking; to acknowledge the irrevocable changes to my world and to find some order and meaning in the chaos after his passing.
And so, I find myself in DeSalvo's words:
People who write about their loved one's deaths are paradoxically engaged in a search for the meaning of their loved one's lives. They want to make a record; they want to describe their loss and their grief. But they want to discover, too, an overarching meaning for this death so that it will not have been for naught.
This seems especially necessary if the death was a violent one, if it was a suicide or an accident, or if it was the death of a child. For these deaths greatly threaten our sense of order. They shake the foundations of our belief in a meaningful, beneficent universe; they make us question whether any actions we undertake have meaning" (191).
One of the earliest exercises in her book asks the reader to think about a metaphor for writing. For her, writing is a "fixer"; a means by which she can work through problems and find healing or like a compass, giving her a "fix" on her life - where she is, where she has been and where she is going. For another author, writing is like a "very sturdy ladder out of the pit" (8). For me, writing has become a life preserver. I will end this post with what I wrote in my journal about this metaphor.
Writing is now my lifeline - my life preserver. Without it, I would drown in all of my feelings, sorrow and guilt. Where could it all go except inward to eat away at my soul? Instead of drowning, I am holding onto this life preserver - bobbing up and down in my grief, but not going under. The writing on the blog forces me to think about how I am feeling, organize it and write so that it makes sense to myself and others.
This life preserver is tethered to something bigger - a boat that maybe represents normalcy or happiness (can my life ever be "normal" again? I don't think so). Can I ever say that I will be happy (can't even imagine it right now). So here I am, hanging onto this life preserver - writing - not ready or able to get into the boat. It has been a natural thing to do - even though I've never had to write for my life until now.
Without my life preserver (writing), I would have drown. It has saved me. Could I even hope that my life preserver has provided a life preserver for others?
Please let me know.
God Bless


Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs.Anderson,
I'm a mother of 3 girls and a survivor of child abuse. I have struggled for years with thoughts of suicide. The internal pain, the shame I felt was killing me because the abuse I suffered shattered my childhood. The anxiety of having three precious daughters and the thought that someone could ever hurt them has plagued me because the abuse was at the hands of my father, someone who you were supposed to be able to trust. In the middle of the night, my insomnia brought me to your page. From the deepest part of my heart, I am so sorry for the loss of your son. Reading your blog has made me realize at the age of 30, suicide isn't and never will be the answer to my problems.Writing and getting into counseling has helped me. Things are not easy for me, they never will be, but I do know, I want to live and not miss out. I realized taking my life would be the one last thing that I could let my father rob me of, and even though it has taken me so long to learn that, I'm glad I'm here. Thank you for your words that you write on this blog, I wish you didn't have to, but your family and the story of your son, have opened my eyes.
In my thoughts and prayers,

Adrienne said...

Dear Sue,
As I continue to read your blogs - and reread each one of them - I am struck by several things. The first is how uncomfortable grief is and how completely unfamiliar I am with it. I've had the thought that wanting other people to be "over it" or to "move on" is (perhaps) more about our own comfortability then their health, or their need to give themselves to this process. I haven't had that thought for you ~ but imagine I have had it for others, and that saddens me. I have also grown to love a young man (through your words, others' words and all the photos) that I never even knew. At first, I cried for you and Tim and your other, at times, I cry for Josh. I'm also continuously struck by your courage, and want you to know - as many others have written - that through your courage you "en"courage me. I often feel too lazy to discuss something that is uncomfortable...or to try again with someone who frustrates me...or to read/study/write and ask the questions that I'm personally challenged to ask about myself and my faith at this time in my life. And words from your blog come to my mind...and I push myself a bit more then I might have.

I love your metaphor about the life preserver...and imagine that more then one might be needed before the boat seems like it could become a possibilty. Know that my prayers, heart and thoughts are with you as you journey ~ thank you for including, Adrienne

Josh's mom said...

I am glad that you found Josh's blog and that what is written has reinforced your understanding that suicide is never the answer. While it may not be as trite as this common saying, "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem", because the problem may truly be lifelong and so deep it is hard to understand or articulate, suicide does not make things better.

I am glad you are here too and that you want to live and not miss out on your girl's lives.

I have to believe that if Josh knew the heartache and pain that his death has caused our family and his friends, he would not have done it. At least I hope so.

Your words have encouraged me to continue sharing - even when it is hard and painful to do so. Thanks so much for your open and honest comment.