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, August 26, 2010

Empty Nest

Josh's friends are either at college or will be there soon. He would've been one of them, if he were still here. Tim and I have looked forward in anticipation to being empty nesters but because of Josh's death, what should be a great time in our lives is now just hard, difficult and sad.

Being college sweethearts, we got married right out of school. Nine months later, I was pregnant with our first and by the time our fourth and last child (Josh) was born, I had just turned 30. While it would've been ideal to have time in our marriage without cribs, diapers, strollers or car seats, and to be more financially secure, we adapted and had fun with our large family. We used to joke that with the six of us, the Anderson clan didn't just visit, we invaded.

While there are many good reasons to delay having a family until older and more established, there are some perks in doing it our way. One: raising children takes a lot of energy which is more abundant when younger and two: when the last child leaves home, you are still relatively young and have a lot, Lord willing, of good years to look forward to.

"Pre-Josh", this was my hope. At those times when raising four active children was overwhelming, challenging and took every ounce of energy, Tim and I would look at each other, sigh and ask when they were all leaving. We obviously loved each of our kids and would do anything for them, but we also yearned for the time when they were out of the house, on their own and we could just focus on ourselves.

Today, the house is quiet since Gillian left for UVA last week. At times, I am caught in a fantasy - deluding myself into thinking that Josh's room is empty not because he is dead, but because he is at school too. In those moments, I think about what Tim and I would be doing, together, sans children. How would I be feeling now that our empty nest nirvana is here? Would we have gone out to a nice dinner to celebrate our new found freedom? Would we raise our champaign glasses in a toast to the next stage of married life saying, "Here's to the future - we are blessed to be young and healthy enough to enjoy it"?

Then reality comes crashing down and when I peer ahead to the future, instead of seeing a bright new stage of married life, all I see is a life without our beloved Josh. An amputated and crippled family. Struggling to survive this earthquake that has shaken our very core. I don't think Josh would want me to be sad and look so bleakly at the future, but then why did he do this to himself and to us?

I had mentioned a book called The Grieving Garden: Living With the Death of a Child by Suzanne Redfern and Susan Gilbert in the previous post. For this post I want to share a poem that expresses where a mother is at in her grief journey, twenty-eight years after her nine year old daughter died of a rare disease. While I cannot relate now, this poem does speak to me and gives me hope that peace, joy, contentment and happiness may be in the future.


You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can't see him,
Or you can be full of the love that you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember him and only that he is gone,
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

David Harkins, Silloth, Cumbria, UK 1981

I will end this post with a picture from Homecoming 2008, recently sent by a fellow mom whose daughter knew Josh. Even though he is in the back, this mom knew that I would want to have it. She is right.

Rest in peace, our dear son. We miss you so much.

God Bless

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

17 Months Later - August 18, 2010

It is now seventeen months since our beloved Josh, at the tender age of 17, with his whole life ahead of him, acted on what is still an incomprehensible decision to end his own life. We continue to reel, even after all of these months.

As I was writing in my journal the other night, an image from a 1998 movie, Deep Impact, came to mind. Two people were on the beach waiting for the inevitable. A comet struck the ocean creating a ginormous tidal wave that wiped them and miles of civilization out. After pondering this image, I wrote in my journal:

Absorbing tragedy - a new thought. I was going along in life, minding my own business, so to speak, and Josh took his life. This monumental tragedy - like a tidal wave, a train wreck, a hurricane, a fire - has struck me full force but rather than being dashed to bits, I have been asked to absorb the equivalent - into my heart, body and soul in order to continue with life. Being asked to incorporate this tidal wave of loss into my conscious and subconscious mind. First of all, the impact is enough to kill or if not, to maim and cripple me. Second, it is not something that can be seen from the outside - the devastating damage is internal.

Trying to absorb this immense tragedy - Josh's death, my baby boy who is now gone - is a monumental task if asked to do it one time, but I am constantly faced with reminders that re-open wounds, resurface feelings, and push me back. So it is one step forward and three steps back.

The most difficult thing is that it is all internal. One does not see broken bones, a cast, or burns - no disfigurement or scarring. If someone were burned over 90% of their body, one glance would be enough to know this person has years of pain and healing in front of them. It would be understood. But in my case, because my wounds are not external, no one would know that this kind of pain, grief, suffering and healing is what I face as well.

But when I look in the mirror, I know. I see someone who is not whole. Who is fractured, broken, and burned. A part of her heart that has been cut out - an amputee. I see this and feel it - every day. It is almost 17 months, in fact, the 18th is on a Wednesday which is the day of the week that he died. That is hard because 17 months ago, right now, he was still alive. How I wish we could move time back.

I have finished a book called The Grieving Garden: Living with the Death of a Child by Suzanne Redfern and Susan Gilbert. In it, 22 parents share their stories of loss. The circumstances vary widely - mode of death, age of the child, and how long ago their tragedy occurred. But the feelings are the same. I have found this book to very helpful and plan to share more in future posts. However, I will end this post with a "Permission to Mourn" certificate, shared by a father who lost his 32 year old daughter to lung cancer.


Is granted to the holder of this certificate, ____________________ who is hereby entitled to publicly acknowledge his/her loss, mourn openly, to share narratives of the loss, and to recruit social support in his/her own way and time, without apology or embarrassment. Tears, memories, silence, uncertainty, and strong emotions are hereby enfranchised.

Please treat this griever with kindness, compassion, and love.

This certificate has no expiration date.

We continue to feel the thoughts and prayers of so many who also love and miss our beloved Josh.

God Bless

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Grief Mine" - Facebook

I have a new term: "grief mine". Like a land mine buried in the ground, ready to blow up an unsuspecting and potentially innocent soul, so grief mines are hidden in places that one would least expect. I landed on one the other night.

I had a hard time sleeping and went online to check my Facebook. A good way to spend a few minutes or hours catching up on friend's activities, viewing pictures, reading wall posts, etc. I happened to see summer vacation pictures of a friend who has a son Josh's age. They were at the beach and he looked so handsome, strong and most of all - ALIVE. In his face, one could see the expectation of a bright future, full of promise, with new adventures and experiences awaiting around every corner.

As I looked at the photos and contrasted them to our summer vacation, also on the beach, but no pictures of Josh - running, playing, posing with his sisters - I began to feel sorry for myself. Started crying. And felt, if I am being completely honest, a little jealous. It hit me that I no longer have what she has. No more happy "all in the family" photos for me. The feelings of despair and sorrow were strong and completely unexpected. I was not prepared. Caught unaware, blind-sighted and knocked flat on my back, emotionally. A casualty of a "grief mine."

At times like this, the reality of his death and our loss is just too hard to bear. So far, at least for me, it has not gotten easier over time.....

Josh - With all of my heart, I wish you were still here with us - alive and well.

God Bless

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Her Name is Grief (2) August 6, 2010

I think of Grief as a "she". A big, round, soft older woman with wide arms and a loving smile. She knows pain, living with it constantly as she feels everyone's loss. Even though worn down and burdened, she still manages to keep some humor. Why do I imagine grief like this?

At this time, almost 17 months later, nothing else comes to mind. Certainly not a monster, horrifying and scary, but rather one who knows sorrow and can empathize. It saddens her that I feel such pain, but at the same time, she knows that it is absolutely necessary for healing, closure, and a chance to move on with life. She is my companion now. She lets me live my life but at times, she needs to be felt in all of her glory. She is cognizant of her power and that too much can be devastating, overwhelming and unmanageable.

She is actually proud of me - that I am able to continue with life, yet still acknowledge her. It may be that too many people actually try to push her to the far recesses of their mind where she cannot move, breathe or help with the healing. Stuffed in a little corner and ignored, her frustration leads to anger which strengthens her power. In fury, she gets out of control and wreaks havoc mentally, emotionally and physically.

But I don’t think she wants to be this way. She only wants to be recognized, acknowledged, and respected. Being aware of her presence, there is no need to be at odds. Instead, we are comrades in the loss of our beloved Josh. From time to time, we need to have a cry, feel sorry for ourselves, think of all that is gone and what will never be, which brings even more tears, until both are drained. After this intense connection, she retreats for a while as she knows that I need a break. And surprisingly, she needs some breathing space too.

As I said in the first post, I think over time, she will become less selfish and needy, allowing other emotions to reside and co-exist in harmony. She will retreat for longer periods of time, knowing that we have spent enough time together. She will be content, realizing her job is almost done. Because of her, I will be at better place - have perspective, acceptance and peace. I will be able to move on.

I hope this is true even though I do not feel it as yet. Because of this, I am okay to keep her in my life, to pay attention and be aware. To not be afraid to let her fill me with her presence. We are in this together - she is my friend. She is not against me, but for me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Her Name is Grief - August 3, 2010

In the past, when reading or hearing of other family's tragedies, I had thought ourselves lucky that we had been spared, then quickly knocked on wood. We had four children who were easily conceived and born, slept through the night at 6 weeks old, did not suffer from colic, and were well behaved. Tim was 100% engaged as their father and in spite of our different personalities, we rarely disagreed on how to raise them. We had no experience with death of an immediate family member as both mine and his parents are living - we haven’t even suffered the loss of our dogs.

Death and his close cousin, Grief rarely intruded in my life, except for example, while reading a sad story. Also, I do cry easily at movies, even an animated one like Lion King, when a character that I care about, dies. At those times, Grief, like a shawl, drapes over my shoulders, enveloping me in her sorrow but is easily discarded when closing the book or walking out of the movie theater. I am now aware that this was only a glimpse of her, a shadow of her true self.

Since Josh's death, on that fateful day of March 18, 2009, Grief, in all of her overwhelming fury, domination, and expansivenss; with no mercy, respite, or break -the "real deal" has come to stay. She invades my heart, soul and mind and when full blown, fills every cell and crevice within my body. Nothing is off limits or sacred. She is with me everywhere, all of the time; no matter what I do or where I am at, she is there. She has now become a part of me. I cannot escape. There is no place to hide, she finds me everywhere.

Strange. What gives her such strength? Such tenacity? Such power? It is tied directly to the love for my boy, who is now gone. Because I love him so much, I grieve so much. And I will love Josh until the day I die, so it stands to reason that I will also grieve until the day I die.

I feel her everywhere. In a picture of Josh, she is there. When I see a kid who has the same kind of build as him, she is there. When I think of places we have been or things we have done, she is there. For example, we are now on vacation in Vermont, a place where he has been. Sometimes, Josh and I would play golf with Tim, in a "best ball" format. With the strokes given (1 if less than 250 yards, 2 if more), it would be quite competitive. I will never forget his smile when a well struck 9-iron would sail 150+ yards, the distance of my driver - sad to say.

During a recent round of golf, on a particular hole, the memory of playing with Josh was so vivid, I could almost "see" him. I remember it being a perfect match of our good/bad shots. We used my drive which landed left of the fairway. His second shot put us in front of the green on the right. We used my pitch up to the green and he made the putt. Anytime we beat Tim on a hole, we would quietly give each other a fist pump. I am happy for this distinct memory, but Grief finds me as well.

I want her to go, but not really for she is proof of my love for Josh. And so, in a weird way, I embrace her, revel in her strength, marvel at how powerful she is. I want her to stay for I fear the time when I don’t cry for him. Would that mean that my love has lessened? Or that I am forgetting him? Or is it possible that as time goes on, she gets weaker, so other emotions can come back? For early on, she is so big, so huge that all other feelings are crowded out. In that way, she is quite selfish and jealous. But maybe over time, she will shrink, so there is room for others - like joy, happiness, peace, contentment, and hope.

I am glad that I don’t feel her 24/7. I know she is there but she lets me get on with other aspects of my life: family, job, working out, reading, etc. She does not control every waking moment, of which, I am thankful. I don’t think I could handle it - way too much. I can hear her voice:

"You have to feel me from time to time. I can’t be pushed back or down for a long period of time. I need to come up and breathe, explode, be felt. Otherwise, it will be worse for you. I know it’s hard, but you have to let me come up. You have to feel me - not all the time, but some of the time. I am not an ogre. I am actually here because of you. For if you didn’t love Josh so much, I would not have a reason to be with you. So do not be afraid. Do not hate me. Do not despise me. We are both here together because and only because of your love for Josh.”

So there it is. Love, death and grief - intertwined. I can’t change what has happened and because of that, she is here to stay.

God Bless