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.