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, October 31, 2009

Marathon Ran in Memory of Josh

In life, one never knows how the crossing of paths with various people, will bloom into loving, supportive friendships. This is one of the blessings that I have personally received since news of Josh's death, thanks to the Internet and probably Facebook in particular, went literally around the world.

One dear person, Nadine, sent me pictures of a recently completed marathon in which she ran in memory of Josh. My heart was touched beyond words when I opened up her email, saw the pictures and read her thoughts that are posted here.

After 2 years of falling in love with running, this is the first time that I really ran one of my runs in honor of anyone. The day and night before the run it was pouring in Northern Virginia. That next morning, however, it was such a perfect crisp fall morning. From the night that I was sewing the number 33 on the back of my shirt through the 26.2 miles, I thought of and prayed for Josh and all of you. The funny thing is that I needed Josh just as much. Right around the times I wanted to stop and walk someone would yell out "Go Nadine" or "Go 33". It inspired me to keep going (made it all the way to 24 miles before I had to stop for a short walk), then finished the rest strong. RIP Josh, you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Like streaks of light that permeate a dark, gray day, so these unforeseen relationships and news of how Josh is being remembered, gives comfort to this grieving mother's heart.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tree Memorial - October 18, 2009

I love the spring in Virginia. We are far enough north where we experience all four seasons, but not so far as to seriously shorten the golf season (very important to Tim). One of my favorite trees is the dogwood. Wispy, beautiful white flowers adorn this tree in early spring. Every time I see this majestic tree in full bloom, I am in awe. So when asked, "what tree would you like to have planted at the McLean Mustangs football field in memory of Josh?", the answer was easy.

Our son has played football since he was eight years old. Starting out as an "ankle-biter", he had a real affinity for the game. I still remember being amazed at how these fully padded little boys, who could barely sit still for anything else, had the discipline to be motionless before the ball was hiked. Every year, Josh was fortunately to be on teams with excellent coaches who taught him not only the game, but lesson that transcend sports: teamwork, do your best, never give up, how you play is more important than winning or losing, the little things matter, etc.

We were triply blessed to be part of this particular youth league as the kids and their families were all great. Relationships were forged over the tailgates held in the parking lot right after - hosted by grandparents of one of the boys. Josh was never shy about diving right into the food after a hard fought game, along with the other boys.

Because youth football teams are determined by weight, and since Josh was always bigger and heavier for his age, he would invariably have to lose some weight to stay with the same group of boys. I have vivid memories of the poor kid mowing the lawn in 90+ degrees in layers of clothing. Or going to the official weigh in a couple of hours early and running on the track dressed for a blizzard. Or looking at pizza - wishing so much that he could have a piece, while eating salad. Seems a bit cruel for a kid - I thought so too at the time, but he was willing to do these things to stay on the team.

Being at the football field last Sunday, on the 7 month anniversary of Josh's death, for the gathering at the newly planted tree with this group of boys and their parents was so special. It is times like these, when we see once again, that our Josh is so loved and missed by others, that our grieving hearts are encouraged.

We could not have gotten through the past months of shock, loss and pain if it were not for the love, support and prayers from friends in the community - both Josh's and ours. In the midst of it all, we feel so grateful. I will end this post with pictures from our gathering.

Josh's tree planted on the end of the football field.

Boys gathered around....

So many memories on this field.....

Josh - we all love and miss you and will remember you forever.....

God Bless

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Out of Darkness - 7 Months Later

Two weeks ago, our children were together in Atlanta and along with some good friends, participated in the "Out of Darkness" walk that is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. According to their web site , these walks are taking place all across the country this fall to "raise money for AFSP's vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives, increase national awareness about depression and suicide, and assist survivors of suicide loss."

The statistics reported on their web site are staggering: "In the United States, a person dies by suicide every 16 minutes, claiming more than 32,000 lives each year. It is estimated that an attempt is made every minute; with close to one million people attempting suicide annually."

The title of the walk, "Out of Darkness" is apropos. That fateful night, our Josh entered into a dark place within his mind that he never recovered from. Upon finding him the next morning, cold and stiff, our family was thrust in a darkness of our own. Unwillingly, without consent and any prior warning, having no experience with this type of death, we've had no choice but to walk through this darkness.

At first, you don't see the light at the end - you can only believe it is there. And so you walk - one step at a time in those first few hours and days. Then you walk one day at a time through each month's anniversary. For me, the time seems to have gone so quickly. How can it be seven months already?

How am I feeling now - seven months later? The only word that comes to mind is "resigned". Resigned to the fact that Josh is gone - and nothing I do or say can bring him back to me. He will never be coming through our front door again, to drop his backpack and sports bag on the floor, flop onto a living room couch and take a quick nap with the dogs. We'll never hear the quick race down the stairs in the morning and slam of the door as he scurries to get to school on time. There will be an empty seat at the Thanksgiving table. We won't see his "Santa list" on our fridge door. He will not be part of our annual Christmas photo. He won't be around to celebrate his 18th birthday next January.

Resigned that unless I was a mind reader, there was no way to know that Josh was thinking of suicide as he gave no indication to us or anyone close to him. So I cannot blame myself anymore.

Resigned that I will never know the answer to the question, "why". Through the books that I am reading and some email correspondence from readers of this blog, I have a better understanding of a suicidal mind. But even if I knew exactly why Josh did this, I probably wouldn't understand anyway, because to me, there was nothing in his life - even expulsion from Fairfax County Public Schools - that would be a reason for death.

Resigned that we have to continue with our lives - in spite of his absence. And that it is his memory that will live on in our hearts.

I suppose resignation is good. Perhaps it the precursor to acceptance.

I will end this post with pictures taken at the Atlanta "Out of Darkness" walk. There is one coming up in our area. The Fairfax NOVA walk is this Saturday, October 24th. Unfortunately, Tim and I will be out of town and cannot participate. If there are some that do, in Josh's name, please take some photos and email them to me:

Photos of Josh placed on a table with pictures of other loved ones.

A quilt called "Faces of Suicide"

Participants made necklaces out of different color beads which has the following symbols:
Lost a child - white
Lost a sister or brother - orange
lost some other relative or friend - purple
Support the cause - blue
Lost a spouse or partner - red
Lost a parent - gold
Struggles personally - green

Lauren, Gillian and Tyler wearing their "Josh" T-shirts and necklaces. Gillian wore a white bead for us.

Tyler and Emily's dogs, Tom and Huck, walked in memory of their favorite uncle Josh.

The "Josh Anderson Team" was well represented.

Josh - we love and miss you.

God Bless

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Give Sorrow Words

Give sorrow words.  The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'refraught heart and bids it break (Macbeth IV, III, 211-212)

Yesterday was our 26th wedding anniversary. Tim and I found each other in college, fell in love, got married and had our first child eighteen months later. After seven years, our fourth, Josh was born. Having four children while just turning thirty and thirty-one ourselves is quite a challenge. With the support of our faith, family and friends, however, we managed to navigate the bumpy waters of raising a large family.

As time passed and the children grew, while celebrating our 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th anniversaries over a romantic dinner, one of us would always remark how lucky we felt. Lucky that we found one another; lucky to have four beautiful, bright, talented children. When others gave us positive comments about our family, we simply said, "We have not done anything to deserve this - we feel so blessed."

No more. Unbelievably, we are now part of a small minority of parents who have had to bury their child due to the violence of self-murder. Our lives do not feel very blessed right now. We are not so lucky anymore. In fact, we are extremely unlucky - to have someone commit suicide anywhere in the family tree, in any generation, is profound. To have it happen in your own nuclear family - within your four walls, in the sanctity of your own home is incomprehensible.

One minute, we were normal parents - dealing with all of the joys, challenges and issues that face anyone who is raising kids. The next minute - in a millisecond, in the time it takes to register a thought, take a breath, blink an eye - we were no longer a normal family. What happens to other people, other parents, other families has just happened to us.

In an instant, our entire world - life as we knew it - was gone. Changed forever. Irrevocably altered. Turned upside-down. Shattered. Devastated. Disintegrated. Blown up. Thrown out-of-whack. Discombobulated. There aren't enough words in the English language to describe the effect of suicide on those of us left behind.

The old "normal" is gone and there is no going back. Josh's loss and the mode of his death will forever be a part of our family. Henceforth, his absence will be felt at every family gathering, every holiday, every milestone event such as a graduation, wedding or birth.

And now, a "new" normal needs to be found. I suppose this is all part of the grief journey - to "right the ship", so to speak, so that life can go on - without the physical presence of our Josh. As a result, different words have found their way in my journal: recalibration, rebalance, reinvent, reintegrate and reboot.

Because of my analytical nature, my journey involves processing everything in my head: asking the unanswerable questions, coming up with every possible answer and thinking through each one ad nauseam - it is exhausting, but necessary. For me to get through this pain. To get to the other side.

For I do see light at the end of the tunnel.

During the week, my mind is taken up by work; things are busy as there is more than enough to do in an eight-hour period. I think this is good as it gives my thoughts a break. So on the weekend I visit Josh's grave, read, think, and cry. And plan what I will write on the blog. It is difficult, but critical. Just as air, food and water are necessary for survival, so facing the pain, sorrow and grief in my writing, head on, through this blog, is essential for healing.

Week by painful week, I feel the light getting closer - moving towards recalibration & rebalance. The new normal. I am reluctant to say peace, because how could I ever be at peace with Josh's death? Acceptance - yes. Peace - no.

I see this movement in the letters I write to Josh and will end this post with what I wrote yesterday....

Dear Josh,
I am sitting in the car by your grave site because it is raining outside. I am kicking myself for not coming yesterday when it was sunny and warm. I am starting to let myself understand what was going through your mind that night and perhaps earlier. The dark place or tunnel in which you found yourself: maybe overwhelmed and exhausted with life, and perhaps even contemplating getting help, but in the end, the thought of reaching out was unappealing. Perhaps your future seemed more like a dream than a reality and in general, your life felt out of control. And this was the only way you could be in total control.

Is this how you felt?

In a book that I am reading, the author recounts a very scary 12-hour period when she had a loaded gun on her bed with every intention of ending her life. She says that in that whole time, not once did she think about her family, her kids, her therapist - nothing but her pain. Everyone important to her was outside of her mind and not even a factor.

Was this true with you?

You would not hurt a flea - you had such a tender heart. I have to believe that you would never intentionally want to cause me this much pain. But the reality, son, is that it has. When my mind goes to the place where your death is before me, I have a physical reaction. I feel the blood rushing to my head, my mouth grimaces in pain, my eyebrows furrow, my entire face tightens and the tears flow unchecked - all within a couple of seconds.

This can happen anytime - while talking on the phone with someone who doesn't know and before getting off she asks a very innocent question, "How are your kids doing?" While driving in the car, doing yard work, taking a shower, listening to a song. Anytime, anyplace, with anyone. I cannot control these emotions. So although you did not mean to hurt me, it has - so deeply, so profoundly that I am forever changed.

And it is more than hurt, Josh. If you had died by illness, accident or even murder, a part of me would've have died too. I think any mother who loses a child prematurely, whether in the womb, a baby, child, teen or adult would feel this. But when I found you dead - by your own hand - there was a whole other part of my heart and soul that died. I can't describe it - there is a deeper pain knowing that you were suffering so much in your mind - for how long, I do not know and that death was your only option. How can I ever stop feeling as your mother, connected to you in the womb and who gave birth to you seventeen years ago, that I should have known? I should've have done something more?

In my mind, I know that it is unrealistic to think that I should be a mind reader. You didn't want anyone to know so no one did. But I can't help wishing that you had opened up and shared your heart and pain with me or someone who could help you. Because if you had done this, maybe you would be here now. Maybe we would be a lot closer as I came to understand your inner turmoil.

I would've have done anything to help you - to save you. There is nothing that would be too much. I don't say this flippantly - I would give you anything: a kidney, my liver, my blood, my life. Without a doubt. Without question. I would trade places with you if I could. You were only seventeen; I am almost fifty. My life for yours - absolutely.

But this is not to be. I suppose a saving grace is that your story is saving others. It is making people think more - especially those who struggle with the dark thoughts. My prayer is that what is on your blog will prevent their own demise. But I would take it all back to have you here with me - my baby boy.

I am moving forward - slowly. Doing things and finding interest in things that I stopped after you died - like watching Food Network, Numbers, and House. I am cross stitching the "Footprints" pattern and it is helping me. I have been watching the baseball playoff games with Dad although the Red Sox are not doing well - one game from begin eliminated. When watching, I cheer with enthusiasm.

William Shakespeare said, "Give sorrow words". I guess this is what I am doing - in my journal, in my letters to you, in your blog.

You are free from your pain and suffering. But when yours ended, mine began. I know you didn't mean for this to happen but it has. I forgive you - I hope you can forgive me.

I love you son.
Rest in peace.

Mom xxxooo

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Why?" by Rascal Flatts

I received an email last week from Josh's counselor at school. She is a big country music fan and heard a song from Rascal Flatts on the radio called "Why?". It moved her so much that she had to pull the car over while listening. With one click of a button, I could download the song as a gift from her and listen to it as well. Her caveat - when I was ready.

The email sat in my Inbox for several days and a few days ago, I listened to it. There is something about music - the melody, tone, lyrics that can capture feelings and emotions like nothing else. I began crying while listening to the first sentence; it is as if he is singing about our Josh.

You must have been in a place so dark, you couldn’t feel the light.
Reaching for you through that stormy cloud.
Now here we are gathered in our little home town.
This can’t be the way you meant to draw a crowd.
Oh why, that’s what I keep asking,
Was there anything I could have said or done.
Oh I had no clue you were masking,
A troubled soul
God only knows what went wrong and why you’d leave the stage in the middle of a song.

Now in my mind I’ll keep you frozen as a 17 year old,
Rounding third to score the winning run.
You always played with passion no matter what the game,
When you took the stage you shined just like the sun.

Now the oak trees a swaying in the early autumn breeze,
The golden sun is shining on my face.
Tangled thoughts I hear the mocking bird sing
This old world really ain’t that bad a place.

Oh I there’s no comprehending and who am I to try judge or explain
But I do have one burning question,
Who told you life wasn’t worth the fight?
They were wrong…..
They lied…..
Now you’re gone and we cry
It’s just not like you to walk away in the middle of a song.
Your beautiful song.
Your absolutely beautiful song.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

When I visit Josh, it is always my intention to sit at his grave site with my journal and write. The past two weeks, however, I was unable to do so because of a burial that was taking place very close to where Josh lay and the weather. But yesterday, it was beautiful. Sunny, warm, a little breeze and quiet. I wrote this in my journal.

Already October! It is scary to me how quickly the time is flying by - it will be October 18th (7 months anniversary) before I know it, then Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, then Josh's 18th birthday (January 16th) and then the one year anniversary of his death (March 18, 2010).

I want time to stand still. Or better yet, I want it to go backwards - all the way to March 6 when Josh was deciding whether or not he should drive off school grounds at lunch with a friend to smoke pot. In my fantasy, he thinks, "No, this is not right and I can't risk getting caught again".

Then time can fly forward - through lacrosse season, end of school, summer, taking senior pictures, August football practices up to the South Lakes game Friday night and their win against McLean. They are enjoying a 4-1 record and who knows, with Josh at linebacker, maybe they would not have lost the one game by 4 points.

Everything we have gone through the past 6+ months would be erased and I would not be sitting here on a beautiful Saturday afternoon crying while writing by Josh's grave site, after putting a dream catcher and a rainbow decoration for the song that we all associate with him in his tree, and rose petals all over his grave. These all came from my friend and her kids, who are as close to us as family. Photos are below.

No, we'd be talking about taking the SAT's one more time, college choices, football games and his plays in them, the Red Sox making the playoffs, etc. etc. There is more that dies when a child dies - a part of a mother's heart and soul dies too. And all of the hopes and dreams for the future of that child are gone too.

When I think of Josh now, it is no longer the overwhelming grief, although this is still felt intermittently - it is just sadness and emptiness. A void. Space. Empty like his room which now has only a dresser and desk. Because Josh was our youngest, we are empty-nesters, but 1.5 years too early. Our home feels empty, without his quiet presence.

It is easier to keep the house clean, do the laundry and I am spending less at the grocery store. We don't have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to make sure he is up to get to school on time. I was looking forward to these things at the right time. But not like this - not when our son took his life just two months after turning 17 years old and thrust an empty house on us with such sadness.

When I think of the dates looming in the future, it is so overwhelming. In order to cope, I take one day at a time. For what choice do I have? We have three other children who need me. But I have thought that if and when it is my time to go - that will be okay. I don't fear death - how can I when it would be a way to be reunited with my Josh?

Josh - I love and miss you so much. Be at peace, my dear boy and one day, we will be together again.