I was fine at the beginning. We talked about how Josh made a stupid mistake and because of the Zero Tolerance policy in the school system, was treated like he was a threat to the school which meant being sent to another high school for the first offense and most likely expelled completely for the second.
We do not condone what he did. But he was not a threat to the student body, of either school.
The FCPS hearing is a horrible experience, for both child and parents. Due process is non-existent; students are guilty as charged. No decision, upon appeal, has ever been overturned. Our question is this: "If the outcome has already been pre-determined, why go through the hearing process? The student is subject to a highly intimidating environment in which they are expected to answer a barrage of questions. It is a lesson in humiliation. To add insult to injury, there is no support, counseling, or assistance for the child and family, either before the hearing or after.
My words are strong, I know. But until your child gets caught in this net, you cannot even imagine the experience. Our three older children either did not violate school policies or were smart enough not to get caught, so we never had gone through this process. In fact, knowing what I know now, that Josh was not emotionally strong enough to handle the probable expulsion, I wish we decided to forgo the hearing, not even attend. What was the point? I should've protected our son from that type of sanctioned bullying.
We did not do this and the morning before the school board hearing, Josh took his life.
She asked if we received anything from the hearing office after the tragedy - a call, letter, or perfunctory condolence card and was surprised at the answer, "no". And to our knowledge, no study has been done either before Josh's death or afterwards to determine the effectiveness of this policy. This needs to be done. The tax paying parents of the County should demand it.
Then the reporter asked, "Would things have changed if Josh were treated differently?" Wow - that really hit me. My eyes filled with tears immediately. A minute later I replied softly as the answer is too difficult to face, much less hear aloud, "I don't like to think about it because it makes me angry and bitter. But yes, I think things would be different". Left unsaid: "Yes, he would still be alive."
With this next question, she was just trying to understand the timeline of events, not to send me in an emotional tail spin. "Would Josh have graduated this spring?" An innocent question with an easy answer but I had to get up and leave. My hand over my mouth to stop loud sobs escaping my lips, not wanting to make her feel bad. The grief washed over me anew.
It has now been 16 months since Josh's fatal decision. One might think that it has gotten easier with the passing of time. But grief does not travel in a linear fashion. In our experience, the connection between grief and time is better described like an archer's target, with concentric circles around a bulls-eye, representing Josh's death. Each circle around the center corresponds to a period of time, say a year. As time moves on, the distance to the circle increases but not by much. Meaning that any memory, word, song, thought, movie, photo or innocent question can bring back all of the emotions of that time. It is never far away. I know that five, ten or twenty years will bring some distance, but I don't think it will be that much.
I will end this post with two pictures that Gillian found recently. They were taken in 2008 as an assignment for her high school photography class. Any new pictures, especially ones taken when he is older, are priceless treasures.
Josh - we love and miss you.