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.

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

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Suicidequake" - September 11, 2009

I am probably no different than any of you. When I see the date, September 11th, I am transported to that horrible day when our country was attacked in a most vicious and unmerciful way. I remember exactly where I was when the unthinkable had occurred and the numbness at the realization of how many innocent and brave lives were lost.

There was absolutely no warning for those whose loved ones died on this day. They kissed their spouses, children and friends good-bye as they boarded planes or went to work. Little did they know that within moments, their lives would be changed forever.

I have a greater understanding of what these survivors must have felt as my world has been been changed forever too, but in a different way - by suicide.

In their book called Aftershock: Help, Hope and Healing in the Wake of Suicide by David Cox and Candy Arrington, suicide is likened to an earthquake. I find it an appropriate analogy as while earthquakes might give off some warning signals, they are often so unexpected that no one is prepared for the utter devastation and chaos that occurs. Cox begins the book with his own experience - his father took his life when he was 9 years old. He was the last family member to see his dad alive.
On July 17, 1967, an earthquake rocked my world. Felt by relatively few people, it devastated those in its epicenter and brought chaos to our lives. Although not a dynamic force of nature, the event shook my universe, crumbled my stable foundation, and sent shockwaves far into the future. It was suicide.

I can relate to the author's description of the overwhelming devastation that the immediate family suffers as the "epicenter" of the "suicidequake". And just as an earthquake can be felt for miles around, so the effects of Josh's suicide have radiated far beyond our family.

Next Friday will be six months since he has been gone. It is hard to believe almost half a year or two seasons has passed. On the one hand, it seems like yesterday and I am still raw with grief. On the other hand, as I think back to everything that has occurred, I feel detached, as though I see snapshots of someone else's life, their tragedy, their loss, their heartache and sorrow.

Maybe it is my mind and heart's way of protecting myself for if I could feel the brunt of Josh's death, even 6 months later, I don't think I could handle it. The pain would be too much for this poor mother's soul to bear. When I do recognize that it has happened to me, I feel sorry for myself - which is a new feeling. But how can I not? I am living every mother's worst nightmare and the horrible thing is that I can't wake up. It won't go away. Josh really did take his life - for reasons I still cannot fathom, but need to accept.

Sometimes, I wish I could move faster through this "grief journey" and get to the other side which I hear is acceptance and peace. This seems so far away to me - a distant shore that I am struggling to reach. I am realizing from my reading that I must be patient and while I don't want to be stuck or frozen in grief, I shouldn't rush it either.

The secondary effects of an earthquake are often greater than the actual event: fires from broken gas mains, flooding from ruptured water lines, theft and looting in unprotected areas, and panic and fear as aftershocks continue. In a matter of minutes, everything that is stable and firm is destroyed. Once familiar surroundings, now devastated, are oddly unrecognizable.

Just as earthquake survivors must sift through the debris of their homes and lives, so suicide survivors must deal with the emotional and practical fallout that remains. Life becomes unstable and uncertain. It is possible to rebuild your life following suicide, but it involves hard, painstaking work (83).

I guess this is where we are at. Slowly picking through the debris, trying to get our lives back in order and learning how to live with the vacancy and loss felt from Josh's passing every minute of every day.

Thanks so much to all who continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. I am not ashamed to say that we still need them.

God Bless.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pictures of Josh: 5 - 6 years old

I've successfully scanned in two more years of negatives to my computer. What a monumental project this has become! Good thing I will not be hosting Thanksgiving as my dining room is now "Memorial Central".

This blog is a memorial too. In Louise DeSalvo's book, Writing As A Way of Healing, there is a section called, "Writing A Loved One's Dying". How apropos. A memoir is referenced, Heaven's Coast, written by Mark Doty about his lover's death from AIDS.

Making a record of Wally's life and death was a way for Doty to remember him, to hold onto him. Remembering, he says, "is the work of the living." It is what the living must do for the dead. Recalling faces and they way they look in all moods and weathers. Anecdotes that they tell and tell and tell again. Incidents that signify the shared life in all its variety - its ecstatic and banal moments. "Gestures, tics, nuances, those particular human attributes that distinguish us as individuals." Doty believes it is his duty to capture the singularity of Wally, to erect a monument of words to his partner. But Heaven's Coast is a testament, too, to Doty's love for Wally and to his loss and grief (188).

I can relate completely and this is how I feel about the blog. It is a web monument - being erected by each post, comment, photo, shared story and art work - in honor and memory of our Josh. It is also a testament to the love felt for him by family, friends and those who have never met him. This was articulated in a recent comment from a friend whom I have not seen for years, and who, because of what she has seen in this blog, cries not only for me but for him.

This blog is also a record of the tragic circumstances surrounding his death and a call for parents to question the effectiveness of the Zero Tolerance policy in many of our school systems.

It is reminder that the minds of our young people can be quite fragile. That sometimes, they are not as strong, competent and emotionally mature as they appear to be and need more support and protection than we may think.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I end this post with a slideshow of when Josh was five and six years old. Missing front teeth, Little League baseball, first day of kindergarten, Halloween, first (and only) trip to Disney, summer visiting both sets of grandparents in Oregon and on Cape Cod, Christmas.

Josh - we love you so much.
Rest in peace, our dear boy.

God Bless