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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Another sign - Dr. Joshi

In a previous post entitled ”Remember Me”, I had shared how the sister of one of Josh's best friends, Bryce, was planning to name her unborn daughter, Hailee, in honor of Josh, whose middle name is my maiden name, Lee.

Hailee Marie came safely into the world on February 11th and with her, another sign from Josh. I received a phone call with the good news along with the most unbelievable story. Pictures confirming this story soon followed and are posted below.

Those of us who have given birth know that the pediatrician on call is the one who will be the baby's first doctor. If an on-going pediatrician has been chosen, this doctor will see typically see the baby later that day or the next.

Hailee's first doctor's name: Dr. Joshi - I kid you not!! A couple of questions ran through my mind: How many times have I heard this last name - never. What are the chances that a Dr. Joshi would be on call at the exact hospital on the exact day that Hailee was born? Can't even imagine the probability. Could this be just a coincidence? Even harder to believe than if it were a sign.

Also, "Joshie" is the nickname that Bryce's family used for him. And, if it was a sign from Josh, it would be exactly what he would do - with a very big smirk.

So over a year later, while I have heard of a number of "signs" given to others, there are three that are firmly embedded in my heart. The first sign was last year on Easter Sunday, less than a month after he died; the second sign was only a couple of months ago, followed by Hailee's sign, two weeks later.

Despite the pain that still pierces my heart whenever I am reminded that Josh is no longer with us, these signs give me hope and peace that he is not far from those he loves.

God Bless.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Half and Full Marathon Fundraiser - March 20, 2010 - updated with You Tube video

Days leading up to race day - To be honest, the most predominant feeling was one of dread and regret. After weeks of training, I was finding that after 8 miles, it seemed like every cell in my body wanted to stop. The longest I had run was 10 miles, and both times, it was really, really, really difficult. It would be fair to say that I could barely finish. I was experiencing sharp pain in my right knee during the long runs. But the notes, letters and checks that came daily did much to encourage me to continue in the quest to run 13.1 miles.

Two days before - was the 1 year death anniversary. We had a memorial service at "Josh's park", as his grandmother calls it, and then an open house in the evening. A mother of one of Josh's closest friends provided the food. Friends traveled from all over Virginia as well as from different states to help us remember Josh and to cheer us on during the race. As I remember this day, tears of thankfulness, not sadness fill my eyes. We are so overwhelmed by all of the love and support shown to us individually and as a family.

Day before - In the morning, Lauren, Tim and I met with a program director from the Optimist Club. We were encouraged by our conversation as they have found an organization that can possibly provide the type of programs that we are looking to fund: education/awareness of teenage depression/suicide -hopefully at his two high schools. Additionally, she had run a couple of marathons and based on her experience, suggested that we ask friends or family to run the last couple of miles with us. We followed her advise and this is one of the main reasons that we were able to successfully finish the race.

Eliza came in on the bus in the afternoon and her mom flew in from a vacation in LA. It was exciting to have our team together after months of training in four different cities (Boston, NYC, Atlanta and DC). Nadine, another dear friend joined us for dinner and gave us many other useful tips as this was her third marathon. We feasted on a big pasta dinner complete with lots of bread (carb heaven!), spinach salad and wonderful desserts that were left over from our open house. A plan on how all the "cheerleaders" would get to various mile markers by using the Metro was made and distributed. We were nervous, excited and ready.

Race day - Up at 5am and out of the door by 5:45am for the 7am start. Gillian is making a documentary of this event so she interviewed us while getting ready. When asked how I was feeling, two words came to mind: nervous dread. I really did not think I could finish but was going to give it my best effort. Some may think a negative mindset would work against me. In actual fact, it was the opposite because it took the pressure off and whatever happened, happened. I would be okay with it.

It is hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm that surrounded us as we waited for the start. It was another stellar day and we all felt Josh's presence. The route took us past the the U.S. Capital, Washington Monument, White House, through Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Howard University and back to the start. As we ran through neighborhoods, people were on their porch, playing music from boom boxes or with actual instruments like drums and trumpets. Little girls dressed up in their cheerleading outfits and were on the streets with the parents, yelling for us to keep going. Our fans were at mile markers 3, 6, 7.5, 10 (Gillian and a friend joined us) and at the half marathon finish. Because of the blue flags, we were able to spot one another from a distance.

The girls continued and a large group of fans were at mile 17. In fact, one of Lauren's friends joined them at this time and another at mile 20. During the last mile, Gillian and her friends joined and the entire "posse" ran them in. My eyes filled up when Lauren ran by - to do this in memory and honor of her brother was moving. Apparently, the announcer had seen the blue flags and asked what they were for. He was filled in and as Lauren crossed the finish line, over the loud speaker, he mentioned how her run was dedicated to Josh.

Post race - Two days later, my legs are sore and the right knee is tender. Words I would now use to describe the day? Exciting, exhilarating, and amazing. It was such a great experience that while running, we were talking about doing this again the following year and having more people join us.

As of this post, I am delighted to report that 89 checks and $8,000 has been given - double our goal! Thanks so much to all of our supporters. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of other young people.

See YouTube Video of the day.

One of many flags that were made for this special day

In the crowd - before the start of the race

Our "cheerleaders" - using the metro to get to places along the race route

Our team at 7.5 miles.....looking good!

Crossing over the half marathon finish line!

We made it!

Lauren in the final leg of the marathon - being "run in" by a group of Gillian's friends

Eliza in the final leg - ready to get a "side five" from me

They made it!

Lauren and Eliza with their cheering section

All for our beloved Josh

Celebrating with a well-earned glass of champagne

A note from Lauren about what the day meant to her....

My new beginning.

Some of you may know but most of you not, that I have suffered the past couple months with depressed and anxious thoughts and feelings as I have not been able to come to terms with the tragic loss of my brother and comprehend his mode of death and what both have meant for my life. One of the things- among my amazing friends and family as well as professional help- that has helped me progress through this low time has been my marathon training. Even when days seemed like they could not get worse, I would force myself to get out there and keep up with my running schedule. On the weekends, instead of partying and being social as I normally would, I devoted my time to preparing, completing and recovering from my long runs of 17, 18, 19 miles. During these hours, when I was alone on the road with my thoughts, I was able to put to practice a lot of the methods and practices I was using to re-train my thought process that has taken a course of its own post-Josh’s death.

So that is why marathon day meant so much to me. Josh’s spirit with us the entire time- making the sky as blue as possible and the temperature warm but bearable. The support was uncanny and amazing- my friends and family were running all over DC (literally) to catch us with loud screams and flag waving for a split second as we ran by. But there was also hope in the air. Hope that Josh will never be forgotten, that his death will not go in vain and especially necessary for me, hope that there still is life out there to be lived. There is a life that must be filled with relationships that withstand all adversity, love that endures even when it seems impossible and perseverance to take every day as it comes. Thank you to everyone who was there to support us- I know that I most definitely could not have run 26.2 miles without all of you there. Thank you Josh for watching over us that day and everyday. And thank you God for giving me the hope to get through this and live a much more fulfilled life on the other side.

God Bless

Sunday, March 21, 2010

1 Year Memorial Service - March 18, 2010

Seventy-five of us gathered on a beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon to remember our beloved Josh, who, at 17 years old, tragically took his life one year ago. The days preceding had been cool, cloudy, rainy and downright gloomy, so to have a glorious day to remember a special life, was a blessing. Our three children arrived the night before, which filled our home, once again, with the voices of youth.

At the service, we shared stories about Josh which made us laugh and cry, and together, we made a blanket of rose petals on his grave site. "Miss You" and "Love You" balloons were brought by his grandparents. The blue flag seen in the slide show, is one of several made by my dear friend Roxanne, for our upcoming half and full marathon run, which is also a fundraiser, in memory of him.

How is it that one young life has affected so many? Evidenced by the numbers who gathered with us today, not to mention the numerous cards and emails received in the days leading up to the 1 year death anniversary.

Is it because he was a gentle, kind and good-hearted person whose presence while living was perhaps overlooked, but whose absence is so profound, it is difficult to imagine life without him? Or is it because he was a typical teen who made some stupid decisions that literally cost his life, and if this could happen to him, it could happen to any other "typical" teen? Or maybe because anyone who spent time with him could see that he was a genuine, non-judgmental, soft-hearted kid whose greatest joy in life was to make others smile - either with a funny comment or wisecrack remark, made with uncanny timing or by just giving that infamous smirk.

My conclusion is that he, without knowing or meaning to, managed to endear himself to others. And it didn't matter the age, socio-economic background, gender, culture, intelligence level, athletic ability or other "labels" that we can use to judge others, because Josh did not see these. When he looked at someone, he saw their soul, and this is what he connected to. I have learned much about my son this past year, and this lesson is the most profound of that I want to incorporate into my life.

We are still working through our grief, which will continue for quite some time, and without the love, support, thoughts and prayers that come daily from family and friends, we could not hope to survive this tragedy. Josh is always in the forefront of our hearts and minds and to know that he is not forgotten by others means the world to us.

If you have any photos of him or any stories you would like to share, please email them to me ( Any memory of our beloved Josh is a treasure.

Below is a slide show of pictures taken at the service and a video of some of the sharing (listen for the chimes).

God Bless

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday - Last Day

The way the calendar marks time makes things confusing when a certain day of the week, not the date, is significant. I found Josh on a Wednesday morning, around 10am, on my way out the door for a client meeting. I was dressed in a gray suit which has since been given away - I can't look at it, much less wear it. I was by myself, which is one of the things that I can't understand. Why me? Why not Tim and I together? I don't know the answer except that maybe it was meant to be. I carried this child in my body for nine months, gave birth and was the one to be with him at the end.

So tonight, Tuesday, a year ago, is the last time we saw our son alive.

The day was uneventful, so I cannot remember specifics. I am sure that Josh slept in as he was suspended from school and didn't need to get up at "O dark hundred" like all of the other high school students in our area. I don't remember having dinner together, although I am sure that we did. I do remember his girlfriend coming over; in fact, he walked out to her car to get notes for a history test that he needed to take the next day. He seemed relaxed; not tense, angry or upset.

I left for a couple of hours to visit with my cousin and her family who were visiting DC. In the meantime, Tim and Josh were watching TV, playing with and laughing at the dogs, and just relaxing. He was even doing his laundry.

What kid does his laundry and gets notes to study for a test when he knows that nothing will matter once the night is over?

I came home, don't really remember when, but when I was ready to go to bed, around 12:30am, he was watching "House." I said something like, "I'm going upstairs, so time for bed." He obediently turned off the TV and followed me up to our rooms. We said good-night as usual and that was that. I wish I had hugged him and told him I loved him, no matter what. But this was not his way. Josh was a very affectionate baby, toddler and little boy, but as he grew older, he was uncomfortable with any physical affection. But I should have hugged him anyway.

After receiving the news about Josh's suicide from their dad, our three older children came home that day, and stayed for 10 days after. Our oldest, Tyler, was brave enough to look through the history on Josh's computer and his iPod to try and reconstruct what he was doing that night. It appears that he watched almost 3 hours of You Tube videos. When I first heard this, my heart dropped as I thought, "what was he watching?" As it turns out, it mainly silly videos and then, towards the end, the videos became a little weirder and somewhat apocalyptic.

There was also a playlist on his ipod called the "final playlist" that he listened to that night. Strange, Tyler found it on his iPod but not on the Mac. We think he listened to it on the computer, then deleted it, but not from his iPod - maybe he forgot.

I have been reading a book, published in 2006 called, By Their Own Young Hand: Deliberate Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideas in Adolescents by Keith Hawton and Karen Rodham, two researchers in England. They were able to give a written survey to over 5,000 teenagers (15-16 years old), in which they asked questions about deliberate self-harm, be it actions or thoughts. 13% had engaged in self-harm behavior at some point in their young lives. Almost 7% within the previous year with another 15% reported having thoughts of self-harm but did not act on it.

Compared to the general population, the percentages quoted above are high. Therefore, the researchers theorize: "The relatively high prevalence figures for deliberate self-harm and thoughts of self-harm in adolescents suggest that such behavior and/or thoughts may not always indicate severe pathology but for some adolescents may indicate a period of transient distress" (pg. 47).

When one speaks of the suicide of a loved one, there is an immediate response, "Was he/she depressed?" or "How long was he/she depressed?" Tim and I struggle with this question as Josh did not appear depressed. Additionally, he had been seeing a counselor who specialized in treating adolescents and not once, did he suggest that Josh be treated for depression. "Transient distress" - this sounds more like what Josh was suffering from.

One of the more relevant discoveries from the study involves the question of the time spent thinking about self-harm behavior before acting on it. In other words, is the act impulsive or premeditated?

Based on this survey, "43.2% had thought about it for less than an hour, 13.1% had thought about it less than a day, 12.1% for less than a week, 9.3% for less than a month" (pg. 57). All told, over half had thought about it less than one day and 68% had thought about it less than one week. The conclusion, simply stated, is this: "the shortness of the period of premeditation involved in many acts of deliberate self-harm means that there is often little time for preventive intervention once planning has begun" (pg. 57).

Moreover, the researchers noted that underneath the impulsivity was a more fundamental issue: a deficiency in problem solving skills. "When an individual who lacks problem-solving skills is faced by an apparently insurmountable problem and consequent distress, they may act rapidly by doing something that will provide immediate relief" (pg. 74).

This seems to be borne out when kids were asked to choose the reason why they engaged in deliberate self-harm behavior within the past year. They had eight motives and could choose more than one, if applicable. The most frequently chosen motive was "I wanted to get relief from a terrible state of mind" at 73%.

When asked if they tried to get help, over half said "no". The most prevalent reason was that they did not need or want the help. Other reasons were that they didn't think the problem was serious enough or felt they should deal with the problem themselves.

The findings in this study resonate with me. Josh did not have good coping skills. He had a hard time expressing himself verbally and instead, just got mad and quiet. I could see improvement in this area, from the work done with his counselor, but it was not enough. That night, as he thought about the impending School Board hearing in which he would be expelled, Josh was backed into a corner where he did not see any solution (at least acceptable to him) and so he quite literally, eliminated the problem....himself.

How does a 17-year old kid get to this point? How does their mind go to a place where self destruction is the answer? There has to be a break with reality for no one in their right mind could do this to themselves. Everything that is real and part of the rational mind such as love of family and friends, must be shut out of the irrational mind that has taken over the body. Did Josh really want to die, or was death just the solution to the insurmountable problem? Why couldn't he have chosen a non-fatal solution, one that he could recover from? The saying about suicide rings true: "A permanent solution to a temporary problem."

Perhaps the most haunting question is posed at the end of the book.

One might regard the extent of self-harm and suicidal behavior by young people in a society as reflecting the extent to which that society cares for and cherishes its young people. Levels of self-harm and suicidal behaviors are far higher in young people in many societies than they were three or four decades ago. There has been much debate about the reason for this. One obvious but important conclusion is that the problem of self-harm and suicidal behavior among adolescents needs to be fully recognized within society. If there is adequate recognition of this problem, then this should lead to prioritization of efforts to understand more about it, to develop preventative initiatives, to ensure that adequate clinical services for adolescents are available, attractive and staffed by knowledgeable individuals, to support helplines for adolescents in need, and to address issues and threats posed by the Internet and other aspects of the media" (pg 193).

Last weekend, four of Josh's friends were home for Spring Break and came to visit. These boys told me how much they still missed Josh and wished that he was with us. They pray for us often - especially as the 1 year anniversary was approaching. It was touching to hear them share these thoughts. They also recounted stories from the time spent together, many of which were during sleepovers. I end this post with one fond memory - of him coming over with his sleeping bag and his "Josh-asaurus" pillow.

Rest in peace, my dear, dear son. We love and miss you so very much. We will never forget you.

God Bless

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Year Ago - Josh Was Still Alive

During the past few days, at various times, my mind starts and finishes this sentence. "A year ago, Josh was doing _____." Or "a year ago, we were doing _____." Remembering the last days that he was alive is tough and painful.

Last year, on Saturday, March 14, 2009, Josh took the SAT's at a high school in Loudoun County. He could not take them in Fairfax County as he had been suspended and could not set foot on Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) property. A few weeks after his death, his scores came in the mail. When I saw the envelope, it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach - another reminder of our loss.

How did he do? This is what is so baffling. As compared to the average SAT scores of college bound seniors in 2008, Josh scored as well in Writing (490 vs 494 ave.), better in Critical Reading (530 vs. 502) and much higher in Math (620 vs. 515). In fact, this math score was better than 80% of college bound seniors the previous year.

I only bring this up to say, how can a kid take a four-hour college entrance exam on a Saturday morning and be dead by his own hand only four days later? When I say that going over everything in my mind those last few days does not reveal any clues about the impending doom, this is what I mean.

A year ago today, Tim and I took Josh to see an attorney. Someone who "specialized" in youth incidences that involved the school system. We had a disheartening discussion as she confirmed what we had felt; this was Josh's second offense and in school system with a Zero Tolerance policy, two strikes meant out. We did talk about alternatives with the attorney so Josh knew we were already looking at other school options for him.

We drove in two cars as Tim had another appointment after this meeting. Josh drove back with me. It was a quiet ride. He put his chair all the way back and closed his eyes. What did I do? Bit my tongue so I wouldn't yell at him because I really wanted to. I was mad at him - for making dumb choices that got him (and us) in this situation. Mad that he did not learn from his mistakes. Mad that he was making a mess of things again. I didn't say anything because I knew he felt bad and sorry. And that if he could, he would've done anything to change the situation. In retrospect, I'm glad I kept my mouth shut for if I had yelled at him, I am sure the guilt would be exponentially worse.

But as I think back on this time, why didn't I say something else? To let him know it would be alright? That his dad and I would stick by him and help him any way that we could? That we would get through it together. That although it is horrible to be expelled from school, "this too shall pass". And that some good could come out of it. What really haunts me is this: could he have been thinking those dark and fatal thoughts at this time? During our silent car ride?

When we got home, he pulled himself together and actually completed four homework assignments. So again, why would a kid do this if he knew there would be no point? If he was certain that in 48 hours, he would be dead? You see, Josh was the type of person that if it was not going to make a difference, he would not do it.

So a year ago, Monday night, he was alive. We ate dinner and talked about the upcoming School Board Hearing which none of us were looking forward to. His counselor was going to attend and be an advocate as well as a buffer for Josh, in case the hearing officers became hostile, like they had done previously.

He seemed okay; albeit resigned to what was going to happen. We all were. Sometimes I think back to that dinner and ask myself - why didn't I just say, "Forget FCPS. We are not going to the hearing. We are not going to subject our son that that kind of treatment. We are going to figure it out without them." I would say and do this now. But back then, this option did not even enter my mind. I wish it had. Would he still be alive now?

"Hindsight is 20/20" is a true saying and in my case, a cruel one.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, a year ago, is the last day that Tim and I saw our beloved Josh alive.

Pictures of Josh on friend's cell phones

God Bless

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My "Josh" tattoo - March 13, 2010

When we walked in for our appointment today, the place was buzzing with activity. Three artists were busy working on tattoos that were as varied as the people getting them. A high school girl accompanied by her friend and mother, and two others, male and female, probably in their late 20's. I was with two of Josh's friends, one of which was also getting a tattoo, in memory of him.

Josh's friend wanted his initials, "JLA" in light grey. I brought samples of his written work, as his friend wanted it in his writing.

For my tattoo, Josh left a very short note on that fateful night, with two sentences and his name. "Josh", possibly the last thing he ever wrote is what I wanted on the inside of my left forearm; small enough where I could hide it under my watch if needed, but still in a place where I could see it.

Getting ready - my pulse had quickened and sweat beads were forming on my brow. I must not be the only customer that experiences this, as a strategically placed fan was turned on by the artist, when he saw my discomfort.

I could not watch the procedure. And, contrary to other's experience, this did sting!

My beloved son's name, written on the night that he died, etched not only in my heart, but now on my skin.

"Pre-Josh", I would have never set foot in a tattoo place. But neither would I be writing on a blog. Or training for and running in a half marathon, which happens in less than a week. I've learned that "all bets are off" when you lose a child. The inconceivable has occurred, at which point, to deal with the loss, sorrow and grief, anything is possible.

I have also learned that grieving is personal. What helps one person deal with their loss may not be sufficient or appropriate for someone else. No matter how well meaning, it is not helpful to judge or criticize how someone grieves the loss of a loved one. The only exception I can think of, is if self-harming behavior is the result.

Grieving is also complicated, especially in the case of a suicide. And it is a lonely journey that must be taken to arrive on the "other" side - peace and acceptance. I have to admit, that almost a year into this "grief journey", I do not feel any closer to experiencing peace. I have to believe it will come but do not know when. Nor do I have any expectations. When you love someone as deeply and thoroughly as a mother does a child, how can there be a timetable?

So I continue to take one day at a time for this is all I can do. And I keep ending my posts with the same truth - Josh's tragic and sudden death has been more bearable due to the love, support, thoughts and prayers that we continue to receive.

God Bless

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Surviving Suicide

Our daughter has recently attended a survivors of suicide support group in Atlanta at which those who lost fiance, parent, son, daughter, sibling, friend to suicide gathered. It was very emotional as these survivors shared their thoughts, feelings, pain and grief. One young lady is just like our daughter: one of four children where the youngest, a brother, took his life. One marked difference however, which I see as tragedy upon tragedy. She said that all of her friends have abandoned her.

Our daughter was shocked and immediately thought of herself. "What if my friends did that? How could I ever get through or "survive" this horrible loss?" It prompted her, upon returning home, to email her closest friends a note of thanks for being there: supporting, encouraging and loving her through the past 12 months.

As I shared this with Tim, we shook our heads with incomprehension. We felt sadness and sympathy for this young lady who is trying to make sense of a devastating loss and marveled at how our experience has been completely different. We have felt nothing but the highest level of support from the community, work colleagues and friends. And very important to me, Josh's friends.

I shudder to think what it would be like if we felt shunned or judged because of what Josh did to himself. One of the reasons that I think we are doing "as well as can be expected" is because of the love, thoughts, and prayers still being received. Our half/full marathon run has raised over $3,000 so far. The letters and notes that accompany the generous checks are full of support and encouragement. We hope to well exceed our goal of $4,000. This keeps me going on the challenging 10 mile runs that are part of my training.

And as each day goes by, I hear of more of ours and our children's friends who plan to be with us over that weekend. To remember Josh: tell stories, laugh, cry and just be together. It makes what would be an unbearable 1 year anniversary something to share with those who love and miss our beloved boy.

I have visited with several of Josh's friends in the past couple of weeks. One is organizing a "black out" on March 18th at school (participating students wear black to remember Josh). Another said that several of his friends have approached the principal to ask if an empty chair could be placed in what would have been Josh's seat at graduation. "Yes" was the answer, with our permission. When asked, all I could do was nod in affirmation as the tears rolled down.

I received an email from another of his friends who sent a copy of her well researched and thought out position paper for English/Government titled: "The Zero-Tolerance Policy in Schools Is Not Effective". I am encouraged to see students study, think about and write about policies that affect themselves and classmates. And in our case, a tragic and senseless loss of a young, vibrant life which was directly linked to such a policy.

A few weeks ago, I visited Josh and found this letter to him. With permission, this is what it said:
I don't know where to begin. There's so much to say. I wish you were still here so badly I can't describe it. It's incredible how much your passing has affected us all. I wish that so much had been different, but most of all I wish you were still alive. I feel like I could have been so much of a better friend to you. I am sorry that you didn't have enough reason in your eyes to stay with us. I miss you always & forever. I hope that wherever your are, you are happier now then you were on earth.

I feel the same way as what is penned in this heartfelt note by a young friend.

I speak for Tim and each one of our children when I say that without the love, support, encouragement and prayers from family and friends, we could not bear our loss.

Thank you and God Bless