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


Biggie-Z said...

Wow. Powerful, as always. This must have been such a difficult post for you. I had often wondered in the last 6 months, too, if Josh had been a squeakier wheel... ? But your post is, in a very bittersweet and sad way, comforting.

Still missing Joshie.

Eileen said...

Thank you so much for your bravery and courage in sharing Josh's story. Poet Pablo Neruda once wrote, "There is no wider space than grief." And I believe this to be true. But I hope by creating this powerful and touching blog to remember and celebrate Josh's life, others may learn and grow from your loss.

May the gap of grief heal and close with time.

Wishing you peace and comfort always,
Eileen Murdock

Nadine said...

Dear Sue,
Rest assured that for me, your blog has been incredibly useful. It has reminded me to really pay attention to my son, to clues I would otherwise have overlooked. I have created opportunities for conversations I wouldn't have thought of. My boy is definitely a "squeaking wheel" bu there is so much I feel i don't know about him. If anything your writings have made me more alert. I pay more attention on the days he is quiet than I do on the loud and disruptive days.
I know nothing can alleviate the pain you feel but your blog is surely helping me. I wanted you to know that. I love you, Sue.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sue,
As I am doing my internship with troubled teens, I think of Josh often, if not daily. I especially want to reach those who are quiet about their pain. The tragic loss of Josh has made me want to grow to be more sensitive, compassionate, intuitive and effective with these kids. Losing him was certainly not worth it but maybe it helps a tiny bit to know that it forever changed at least one teen counselor and probably many more. love, Cathy

Anonymous said...

Sue, because of Josh, I have left my lucrative business behind and am now running a program for at-risk teens, many of whom are using drugs and facing a great deal of the pressure you write about. I am pursing my education and plan to complete my MSW with a focus on Youth and Family.

I know that Josh has influenced me to devote my time and efforts, not to making as much money as possible, but to making a difference in the lives of teens. In this way, I firmly believe that God will use what happened to Josh to save lives.

You and Tim are always in my thoughts and prayers and I have so much love and respect for you guys.

All my love,


Anonymous said...

I read that book too! and it made me think about how life has somewhat already been written. I love your mother's korean saying... it's kind of scary to think of a thing as destiny and your lack of control in forming it sometimes, but it's also powerful..

I know, personally, that the story of Josh has made me look at my friends differently, and even my own brother. He is only 11 now, but already is having a lot of trouble in school and at home. I want to be watchful of him..and when we spend time together I always make sure to keep the lines of communication open. He knows he can talk to his big sister about anything. He also knows that I'm the one person in the world who has gone through the same exact thing with our mother. I want to always be available to him and as he progresses into those hard teen years where he might find himself outcasted or confused.. I will be there...I will be there b/c of Josh and b/c of you.

Thanks again Mrs.Anderson

--jen q