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.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

This is a difficult post to write for what can be said on a holiday in which all over the country, families and friends are gathering to celebrate the annual Thanksgiving feast? While living overseas many years ago, the fourth Thursday of November came and went like any other day. But here, schools and businesses are closed. It is one of the busiest times to travel whether by plane, train, bus or car. Extended family and generations within families gather. Talking, laughing, story-telling, playing games, watching football, and gaining at least a couple of pounds are part and parcel of this day. And in the midst of all the festivies and food, we stop and give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.

For those who live outside of the US and may not be familiar with Thanksgiving, just think turkey, stuffing, gravy, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and pecan pie. Numerous variations of this basic menu will be served depending on where one resides (i.e. deep South, New England, etc.), the types of recipies passed down from prior generations, and as was in my case, the ethnic background.

My parents are Korean and as a kid, I remember the Thanksgiving dishes being along side many traditional Korean foods such as bulgogi (marinated beef) and kim chee (hot, spicy and very garlicky pickled cabbage). Doesn't that sound appetizing? The solution to this mixture of American/Asian foods was easy - two meals in one sitting. It would be fascinating to see what foods will fill tables throughout our country today. Times for this huge meal will vary. In our home now, if the New England Patriots were playing, the meal time would revolve around this game.

This year, my side of the family has gathered in Florda - renting two homes by the beach. We have traveled from Illinois, Virginia and New York to be together for both Thanksgiving and celebration of my father's 80th birthday. It is great to be together and would be perfect except for one thing. It is strange - Josh's absence is so much louder than his presence ever was. I just took for granted that we would have many Thanksgiving meals with him - little did I know it would stop at seventeen. Our kids were blessed with good health so the possibility of losing one just never occurred to me. So to be here now, sans Josh, is still too hard to believe.

From the beginning of the trip, I envision him being with us. Sacked out on the long car ride down, listening to his iPod, waking only for bathroom/food stops. In the house we are renting, his bed would be the couch - no problem as he can sleep anywhere. We would have gotten our money's worth for him at the "all-you-can-eat" pancake and sausage breakfast on the beach earlier this week. My sister's kids are younger and have looked up to Josh all of their lives. Just chilling on the beach would not have been an option as they would have pulled him into the water to jump waves and teach them how to ride the boogie board. An impromptu football game on the beach became too hard for me to watch as he would've been the star player. Strong, muscular, laughing, teasing, running, jumping, throwing and most of all - alive.

We've been eating Korean food every night, thanks to my mother's great cooking, and let just say that far few leftovers would be in our fridge if he were here. After the dinner dishes are cleared, a poker game commences. I can just see he and the youngest cousin as partners - Josh allowing him to throw in the chips, knock on the table to check, or throw in the cards for a fold.

It is not fair that these visions are only in my head and not reality. "How did we come to be here?" I ask myself. "What didn't we see? What didn't we do? What warning signs did we miss with him? What could we have done to prevent this horrible tragedy?" Then my thoughts, very predictably now, turn to questioning him. "Why, Josh, why? Why did you do this to yourself? Why did you go down this irreversible path of self-destruction? Why didn't you consider your life worth fighting for? Why did you give up on your life and future? Why did you lose hope?" I listen hard for answers, but there is only silence.

My prayer today is simple -
Dear God - thank you for the blessing of family and friends. Thank you for our home, health and livelihood. I pray that our son with with you and is at peace. Be with all of his friends who, while young, have had to deal with such a tragedy. May the impact of his life continue to be felt. May the mode of his death, if thought of by others, be tossed aside as an unviable solution so that no other family would have to endure the anguish and grief that we continually feel. Please continue to help each member of our family deal with the grief of his death while moving on with life.

God Bless

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November 18, 2009 - Eight Months

It is now eight months since the passing of our son and I don't know what to think, say or write. Feeling numb. Knowing it happened but not wanting to think about it. Not even wanting to visit his grave site today because I will have to face reality. It is easier these days to wake up, work, go to the gym, have dinner, watch a little TV, read and go to bed.

But then, without warning, a memory will flash in my mind. Like a snapshot, a still picture, a frozen camera shot, a frame from a movie. It could be a picture of how I found Josh, or of a black body bag going out our front door, or of him lying peacefully in his casket, dressed in the outfit that his brother got from his room because I couldn't do it, or of us at his grave site, saying good-bye.

I can be driving along, minding my own business and whammo - my mind goes to those first awful days. Or sitting at my computer, working away and in a moment of distraction, another flash.

They must be coming from my subconscious mind because my conscious mind has blocked them out. These memories are still too painful. Even in my journal, I cannot write about the events that happened just eight short months ago. The mind must know when something is too much to bear. The body goes into a self-preservation mode: protecting the mind, guarding the heart, sheltering the soul.

In Beryl Glover's book, The Empty Chair, she quotes a woman whose mother committed suicide at 70 years old. I can relate to the following metaphor:

Sometimes when you put a glass in the dishwasher, it fractures. My theory is that if you knock the glass against the faucet in picking it up, you fracture it invisibly. It looks intact, but when you put it in the dishwasher, it falls apart. I've thought of myself in that way, like a glass that had a severe jolt that doesn't show, but is more vulnerable now. (54)
I am functioning in my day-to-day life pretty well. Perhaps if you saw me now and didn't know what happened, you would not guess. But like the glass, my heart is fractured and although not readily visible, I am weak and vulnerable, emotionally. Unusual feelings for me as I have been used to being strong, rational and capable.

I now have to look beyond myself for strength - to family, friends and faith. This is hard too, because like most people, I don't like the feeling if needing help, much less asking for it. But there are some things that are just way too hard to bear on your own; losing a 17-year old, beloved son to senseless suicide is one.

These are the Bible verses in which I find great comfort. They tell me that God is not far; He is close at hand and desires to comfort, guide, lead and save me. He can restore my soul.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quite waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:1-4

Thank you for the continued thoughts and prayers.
God Bless

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2009 Football Season

On Saturday mornings, Tim always grabs the sports section of the Washington Post to read about the previous night's high school football games, paying special attention to the two schools that Josh played for: Langley and South Lakes.

The regular season is now over and All District players were named. Tim read me the names of kids we knew that made the first or second teams. While happy that the boy's hard work and accomplishments on the field were recognized by district coaches, there was sadness as we thought about "what if"? What if Josh were alive and played this season, would he be on this list? Probably so.

For those parents who have lost a child and if that son or daughter was involved in a particular activity during a specific time of year, as our Josh was every fall, there is experienced a double sense of loss. Luckily for Tim, he was asked to film the LHS games which put him on the field and kept him involved. In the two times that Langley and South Lakes did not play at the same time, he went to the SLHS games and was invited to stand on the field with the players/coaches.

For me, I went to the first LHS game but it ended up being so sad that I had to leave at half-time and cried all the way home. In retrospect, I probably should have known it would be too much, but on the other hand, you sometimes don't know. In fact, I felt fine driving to the game. It wasn't until I walked through the gate, and saw all of the healthy, strong boys on the field - so alive and one in particular, who told me that he was going to wear Josh's number, 33, and dedicate his season to our son - that the tears started to flow.

I probably could have made it through that first game had I stayed with Tim on the field. But I went up in the stands to sit with other moms and as I watched the boys and listened to the regular banter about the start of school, classes, teachers, dances, senior pictures, it just got harder and harder. These topics no longer applied to me. Irrelevant. Continued evidence that my life was not the same as theirs. I was on the other side.

It is quite uncomfortable to be in the midst of laughing, happy people while attempting to hold off the dam that is about to burst. Also, I didn't want to be responsible for bringing down the spirits of others around me, so I said my good-byes and left.

Since Tim is like most men in the uncanny ability to remember a game, play-by-play, including how much time was left on the clock at each particular play, I was able to keep up due to his thorough rendition afterwards. I've often wondered how he can remember sports stats galore and yet cannot remember where certain kitchen items are stored. Selective memory, I guess.

Eventually, I did end up going to another game. It was last week between the two schools. A perfect night - clear, crisp and cool. As the game got underway, I looked to the heavens and wondered if Josh could see. And if he could, what was he thinking?

My thoughts were clear. "You silly, silly boy. You should be here on this field. Playing in this game. But for the stupid mistake that started the events which culminated in your death that horrible night - you could still be here." In moments like this, his loss seems to be a dream - did it all really happen? Is he truly gone? In vain, I look on the field for him and cold reality hits again.

It was a hard fought game with both teams being winners, in my book. There was a moment of silence to remember Josh with a loud applause when the moment was over, touching Tim and I deeply. Both cheerleading squads wore ribbons that had JA and 33 painted on the ends. All of the boys helmuts were adorned with a "JA" football sticker. While this district game was important, the greater significance, at least to me, was that a fellow teammate, classmate and schoolmate had fallen and his life was remembered on that night. I'm glad that I stuffed a lot of tissues in my pocket - I needed them.

A few moms came to visit me during half-time and once again, we contemplated Josh's fatal action. And talked about the rash and impulsive behaviors that can overcome teenage boys with seemingly no thought to consequences. I can only hope and pray that any young person who has seen the devastation that Josh's decisions have caused for himself and his family would think twice before acting. Sometimes a few minutes of fun is just not worth it. And as a kids gets older, rules and laws are less forgiving. We learned this the hard way.

I just read a short book called The Empty Chair by Beryl Glover, whose daughter ended her life at age 23. In it she quotes another author, Doug Manning who wrote in his book, The Gift of Significance the following: "People are not going to move forward in their grief until the significance of the person who has died has been established. People who can establish significance, make progress. Those who cannot do so, hang on and hurt."

This sentence rings true in my heart. I am not sure how much "progress" I've made, but perhaps it is the reason why this blog has been my lifesaver. With each post and comment, Josh's young life is being established as significant. Or when our son is remembered on a Friday night football game. Or when I receive an email from his close friend in middle school, who sent me a draft of her college essay about Josh's death and the resulting impact on her life. All of this establishes the significance of his life and for that, I am grateful.

Here are some pictures from that beautiful, Friday night....

Thank you for the thoughts and prayers.
And most of all, for continuing to love, remember and miss our beloved Josh.

God Bless

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Emotions at Periscope Depth

I've realized something about my feelings and emotions regarding Josh's death that has helped me. Maybe it can help you too.

I have always been a reader, but after Josh's death, my thirst for books is unquenchable. I am reading non-stop, but selectively. The book has to mean something to me, as a grieving mom or it has to give me something new to think about regarding Josh. Because of this, I am reading books that I would never pick up otherwise.

For example, I am currently reading three different books on journaling. The unusually long titles of the books say it all.

  • The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer
  • Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth. Open the door to self-understanding by writing, reading and creating a journal of your life by Kathleen Adams
  • Creative Journal Writing: The art and heart of reflection by Stephanie Dowrick

As I am discovering, one of the more well-known techniques to try and access the subconscious or unconscious mind is called free-intuitive writing. According to Rainer, the technique is simple. "You relax and try to empty your mind. You don't think about anything. You simply wait for whatever comes into your mind, and you write it just as it comes, without worrying about whether it makes sense. You let your hand do the writing. You record what you hear from the back of your mind. Nothing is irrelevant" (page 47).

Why would anyone want to do this, you say? For me, I want to know and explore my feelings about Josh and his sudden death. I need to look them in the face, deal with them and move on. For some reason, I know that I will have to do this eventually, so I might as well be proactive about it. At least, this is how I feel now. After a couple of exercises, I may want to live by the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy.

This is taken from my journal entry the night that I tried this exercise.
I am looking at my unconscious or subconscious thoughts. To get here, I've had to walk down corridors, through doors, shut them behind me - lower, lower and lower. I am looking at them - all jumbled, crazy, indiscernible, fighting one another to get to the top, noise, I cannot make anything out. I can't understand them. I can't hear them. My conscious mind won't let me listen to them or write them down. I am trying to hear but now it is silent and white - blank. I know they are there but I don't know what I am thinking.

Breathing deeply - what am I thinking? Why can't I hear? I want to hear my inner voice - what are they saying?

Josh - why did you go? Didn't you know how loved you were? Where are you now? How do you feel now? At peace? I hope so! Can you hear me? Can you seem me? See when I cry, weep and wail for you? I long to know that you are okay - why did you leave me? I didn't make you feel loved? Not enough? I am so sorry - I wish I could do it over again - everything from birth on. You were such a happy baby and little boy - even at 8 years old. So loving, innocent and happy - what happened? Where did you go? Why didn't I stop you from leaving? I am so sorry, my poor son - I failed you as a mother - no matter what anyone says. I failed you. My son, my poor, poor son. I wasn't enough for you. I didn't give you enough. I got distracted. I didn't make enough effort with you and now we are both paying for it. You are dead and I am still here. Why did you die? Now gone forever! My heart is broken. At my deepest level, I am so sad - weeping constantly, uncontrollably, non-stop for my poor boy.
(Still from my journal)
I realize from this exercise that what is happening in the depths of my soul and inner being, my subconscious is a constant, uncontrollable weeping for my son. I am not always in touch with this part of myself but it is there. I saw it. I was in it. This is why I can begin crying at any moment. What is going on inside rises - surfaces like a submarine after languishing in the depths of the ocean. "Periscope depth" is when this inner sadness that is perpetual and never ending comes to the surface. Poor me. Poor Josh.
Maybe what distinguishes really emotional people from me is that those inner feelings are almost always at periscope depth. And what distinguishes me from people who show little to no emotion is that my feelings come to periscope depth once in a while. Maybe for them, their feelings are so trapped - beneath layers of dirt, sand or water - buried so deep that they cannot come up.
As I closed my journal, I thought that perhaps I will know when healing has come. However long it takes, at some point in the future, I will take that trip again and see that the perpetual sadness and crying has been replaced. Maybe with acceptance and happy memories of Josh - maybe even joy? I can only hope.

I will end this post with a slide show of the adorable, happy eight-year old Josh.

God Bless

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extra Josh T-shirts

Soon after Josh's passing, our daughter designed a T-shirt in memory of him. We think he would have really liked it. You can see pictures of the shirt recently worn on an "Out of Darkness" walk by our children and friends.

I placed an order a few weeks ago and have some extra shirts in all sizes. Please let me know if you would like me to send one to you. I am just trying to cover the cost which is a total of $16 (includes shipping). Otherwise the shirt is $12. Anything above this will be sent to his fund.

God Bless

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Faith in the Midst of Tragedy - November 1, 2009

To have a strong faith when life is good and all is going well is not that difficult. The "Thank you, God for this, that and the other" is easy to pray. When times are tough, however, or when an unexplainable tragedy hits home as in what happened to us when our 17-year old son took his life in March, then having faith and trusting God becomes exponentially harder. At least for me.

The age old question surfaces, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" And "why did God allow this to happen? Why didn't He intervene?"

On a previous post, I had shared that to help me with the question of faith, I am working on a cross stitch of the beautiful Footprints vignette. Each stitch is a reminder that I am not walking on this grief journey alone.

In my journal, I wrote the following...

I have been walking this grief journey or through the grief tunnel, one step at a time and have felt alone for no one can do this for me. But I must remember that I am not alone for the Lord is by my side. He has not forsaken me. He has guided me - without my being aware. In the days right after Josh's death, He has directed the creation of the blog. Also, everything came together for the service - a massive undertaking to organize in just two days, under the most horrible circumstances.

I have seen and felt God in all of the ways that people have reached out to us and have felt strengthened by the numerous prayers lifted to the heavens on our behalf. In the midst of all of the bad that is reported in the news daily - the corruption in politics, business and sports, people are good. Have good hearts. Are kind, giving and loving. Willing to share, help, encourage and lift up. We are still getting cards and gifts even though it has been over seven months.

Pre-Josh, I was getting cynical about people - their motives, superficiality and hypocrisy. Then this horrible, tragic event happened to us and rather than feeling shunned or stigmatized, beginning with Josh's friends, we were surrounded by love and fellow grievers. It was the kids first - I will never forget how those young people came over, gave us great big bear hugs and wept unashamedly while looking at the pictures of Josh and writing in his book.

Our neighborhood provided daily meals for weeks. Friends helped tirelessly in our home - organizing and serving food and helping with the numerous plants and flowers being delivered daily. The friends of our surviving kids came that weekend by plane, car, bus and train. All three of them had a "posse" of friends surrounding them - encouraging, supporting and helping them get through this tragedy. Our own family flew or drove from great distances - leaving their own family vacation and even canceling a long awaited trip to China to come and be with us.

Then the hundreds of people who came to the service; many driving for hours to be with us, give a hug, show their support, and share their stories of Josh. And the thousands who have read his blog. The outpouring of love was and still is overwhelming. People are good - I was losing sight of this.

It feels like the movie "Pay it Forward". After being the recipient of a good deed, you turn around and do good for someone else. Maybe this is what is being done through Josh's blog - as it has appeared to help many people who struggle with the harsh inner feelings that can spiral into dark thoughts.

I hope the blog is helping parents open up the lines of communication with their kids, regardless of age, so that all unresolved issues can be brought out into the open, talked about, dealt with and forgiven. I realize now more than ever, that life is too short to keep from being close to the ones we love.

I hope kids will realize that parents are trying their best but are only human. We have our faults. We cannot read minds. That if there are things that are bothering you or dynamics in the family that hurt you - speak up and say it! If it is too hard to say, write a letter. Be open. Express yourself. If you need help, admit it and get it.

Our son did not do this and I wonder, why didn't he? Pride, fear, embarrassment? Maybe he didn't want to be looked at or thought of differently. Maybe he was afraid of what would happen if he really said what he thought. I don't know, but I wish to God that he had been open. Because he would still be here. What he did is what is often said about suicide: a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As his mother, this is what pains me the most.

I know that I need help. It would be easy to just shut myself off from people - no visits, phone calls, emails or posts on the blog. But this is not God's way. He works through others to provide love, support, guidance and healing. Prayer is a bit difficult these days, but when I think about all of what has been done for us, I can say my own "Thank you" prayer to God.

God Bless