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, May 23, 2010

Grief Journey - How Long?

As mentioned in the Mother’s Day #2 post, I have read a short book called Life After The Death Of My Son: What I am Learning by Dennis Apple. This father lost his 19-year old son due to complications brought on by mono. He died in his sleep on the family room couch and was discovered by his dad. It was a totally unexpected death of an otherwise healthy young man. He wrote this book 17 years after the death of his son and I have found much that validates my own feelings/experiences with gentle guidance for the long road ahead.

On the grief journey:
  • First year was a daze - living a parent's worst nightmare.
  • Second year, facing painful reminders on the calendar, "we knew we were in this for the long haul."
  • Parents who have lost a child are in a fog, like waking up from general anesthesia, for years, not days.
  • "Bereaved parents feel as though they're on a long, sad march but have no final destination. We feel as though this overwhelming sadness will be with us forever."
  • "Bereaved parents are also learning how to play hurt, but the casual onlooker has no idea how badly they've been injured or how long it will take to recover."
  • Grieve until the "cup of sorrow is fully drained."
  • In the author's case, it was five long years before he and his wife were ready to move forward with their lives.
Although it is daunting to think that my grief journey is in it's infancy, I don't shy away from this truth. Deep in my heart and soul, I know it will take a very, very long time to recover from or be reconciled to Josh's death. How long? I don't know. Why so long? Apple gives some answers.

Why the death of a child, in particular, is so hard:
  • Losing a child is like "having your heart ripped out of you, without the aid of an anesthetic."
  • It is unnatural - summed up in this saying: "When I buried my parents, I buried my past; when I buried my spouse, I buried my present; but when I buried my child, I buried my future."
  • A child carries the parent's DNA. Everything connected to the parent that was in that child dies as well: physical features, mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, etc.
  • This death is unique, creating a cascade of other losses: future birthdays, graduation celebrations, first job, wedding, first home, grandchildren.
  • Parents grieve over these additional losses.
I've learned that losing Josh has been a compound loss. Loss upon loss upon loss. Like dominoes - one falls and so they will eventually all fall. One event that builds upon itself. This is why it has been so overwhelming.

Why it will take as long as it takes:
  • "As a parent mourns the death of her child, the mourning itself provides the connection between the parent and the invisible umbilical cord that keeps the two connected. To cut the cord would be abandoning the child. Few grievers understand this truth, and it is the reason we become resentful of those who try to hurry us through our grief. To us who grieve, it feels as though they - the buck-up-and-get-over-it people - are trying to separate us from our child."
  • In fact, people who try to push grieving parents towards a quick resolution, show that by doing so, they have not suffered this loss. Fellow bereaved parents know better.
  • A good response for those well-meaning people: "People close on houses, not the death of a child."
The whole concept that mourning Josh maintains my connection to him is not something I could have articulated prior to reading this book, but it is true. And even the thought of someone saying "I should be over his death by now" makes me angry. I hope this is never said to me.

Why it means so much to keep up with Josh's friends:
  • "Grieving parents keep a mental record of the age of their child, and they carefully watch whose who were friends of their child as they continue on."
Aha! This is why I like receiving emails, calls and visits from Josh's friends. Why I am happy to accept a friend request on Facebook. Why I know what college choices have been made. Why I have graduation photos in small frames on a table with Josh's pictures. Why his friend's sports photos are on my fridge. Why Tim goes to see his friends play football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse. We still want to know what goes on in these boy's lives - those who are the same age as our Josh would have been.

Do you ever get over it?
  • This author's answer, seventeen years later: "No, you never get over it. It gets different, but you never get over it. For us, the first five years represent the worst of the nightmare. We'll have a big scar on our hearts forever."
Surely Josh did not know this would be the consequence of his fatal action. But I wish he did, for maybe that knowledge would have saved him.

God Bless

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

14 Months Later - Do You Have Any "Josh Treasures?"

My friend Roxanne put this picture of Josh in a beautiful photo album filled with pictures of our two boys. I had seen most of the pictures but not this one. In speaking to her recently, she spent six hours going through previous pictures and found others of Josh that she will send to me. We talked about how finding forgotten pictures of him is like finding "Josh Treasures".

My daughter, Gillian, recently found a couple of black and white pictures that she took of Josh in 2008, when she was taking a photo class in high school. (I will put those in another post.) When she showed me, I was so happy that she found them. A few months ago, I probably would've broken down, so I can see some progress in my grief journey. If you have any pictures of Josh, please email them to me: I would love to have them.

I love this picture. What a strong, handsome (and funny) guy.

I'd love to hear of your favorite or most vivid memories of Josh. Each memory, like each picture, is a treasure, wrapped up and stored in this mother's heart. Thanks so much to all those who have shared their "Josh Treasures" with me so far. I will never tire of hearing them. These memories keep him alive.

God Bless

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day #2 - May 9, 2010

Last year, the days leading up to Mother's day, which was two months after Josh's death, was worse than the actual day. This year, the opposite is true. I knew the day was approaching, but did not feel anything, one way or the other. We made plans to meet my parents at Josh's grave site and then take them to a nice Mother's Day brunch.

Then, last night, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was watching Star Trek and thinking that Josh would've really like the movie. In fact, I think the trailers were out in the weeks prior to his death. I began wishing for the "good old days", when we would watch movies together. He would stretch out next to me on the bed or on the floor, with the dogs curled up beside him. My wishing became a yearning, a longing, a desire so strong that I could "see" him next to me. Then the knowledge that it would never be brought on pain similar to the first days after his death - sharp, overwhelming, deep and intense.

I haven't felt much lately, but now realize that it doesn't mean the pain isn't there. It is ever present, flowing underneath the consciousness and at different times, will come to the surface and release, like a geyser, enveloping and drowning me in emotion. Then the feelings subside, replaced by a numbness - most likely the body's way to protect itself as one could not possibly cope with feeling such grief every day, for months on end. But this kind of numbness has its price too.

Despite Josh's death, life goes on and I am swept in its current. Apart from the geyser-like burst of emotions just described, I mainly feel a deep hollowness inside, a black hole or void that is in the shape of my son, filling every cell in my body. An anesthetizing emptiness - one that erases the enjoyment of life or even the desire for a fulfilled life.

I can relate so much to this poor father's words, describing what it was like to come back to an empty home, after the sudden death of his 19-year old son.

We had to face the empty house, the place where he died, by ourselves. The engine was still running as I turned to my wife and said, "All I have to do is reach up to the visor and press the garage door button and we can lean back in our car seats, hold hands, close our eyes and die together."

"Yes," she said. "I know its very tempting. But we could never do that to Andy. But if we didn't have him...." She didn't finish her sentence but we both knew how tempting and easy it would be to slip out of our pain. We both wanted to die and felt it would have been a wonderful gift if somehow we had a legitimate way to leave the world.

This feeling continued for nearly five years. We were not seriously suicidal, but we had no desire to live either. It's hard to admit, but it's a feeling shared by countless bereaved parents.
Dennis Apple wrote Life After The Death of My Son: What I'm Learning, seventeen years after his otherwise healthy son died from complications due to mono.

I recently went to a Pink Ribbon luncheon, an annual event raising money for breast cancer. The key note speaker was a women who was diagnosed with a virulent form of breast cancer while a young wife and mother, barely in her 30's. She became a warrior, fighting for her life which meant subjecting her body to untested medical treatment, basically becoming a human lab rat. And despite all odds, she has won the fight and has been cancer free for over ten years. Her story was motivating, I am sure, for all the women in that room currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

"What if that happened to me - post Josh?" Would I become a warrior and do anything and everything to live? Or would I lie down in submission and allow the cancer to do it's work? Being brutally honest, I don't have the energy or the desire to fight for life. While I would not do anything to deliberately put myself at death's doorstep, if the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn't fight it because I really don't care what happens to me now. I think this is what Apple means when he says, "we had no desire to live". I am indifferent to life, apathetic and uncaring.

And then I get a Mother's Day card from my 22-year old daughter that says:

You'll never know
how many times your voice
on the other end of the line
has helped me get through a bad day....

....or how often I'll remember
some little piece of wisdom
you gave me
months before,
even though it seemed
like I wasn't listening
at the time.

You'll never know
how much it means to me
to share my feelings
with the one person
who probably knows me
better than anyone,
and who has become
such a wonderful friend.

I love you, Mom

Knowing what a hard day this would be for me since none of the kids would be here, she arranged for her friends who live in DC to hand deliver a beautiful flower arrangement to me - in her stead. It is a wonderful gesture of love and when I called to say "thank you", her parting words were, "Remember Mom, there are three other kids who love you very much."

So because of my three surviving children, if I were faced with the choice of life or death, maybe I could find the will and desire to live. For them.

God Bless