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.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Sign From iPhoto?

Gillian has been coming home on the weekends from college to earn a bit of money working as a youth league basketball referee/scorekeeper. We like having her home as the house is too quiet otherwise. Last night, I was at my desk working when she came downstairs saying in a somewhat strained voice, "Mom, you have to look at this." My stomach dropped a bit, not knowing what I would see. Another note from Josh? A picture that I haven't seen? Another reminder of our painful loss?

What she showed me took my breath away. On her Mac, she had been working in the iPhoto program, where you can "tag" someone's face, name it and iPhoto will suggest other photos they might be in. Once tagged, it is a clever way to find all the pictures with that person in it.

She was working on tagging all photos of Josh. Below is the screenshot of what she wanted to show me. Above the black bar are all the tagged pictures of Josh. Then the words: "Josh may also be in the photos below". It is a bit difficult to see on the first screenshot, but the second shows the photo is one of angels on the side of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France.

We both stared at the screen, shaking our heads and wondered how this could be. Being a novice Mac user myself, I asked her, "Have you ever seen something like this before?" Gillian, who has thousands of picture on her computer and works with iPhoto regularly, answered emphatically, "Never, no way! This has never happened."

Just two weeks ago, at Josh's grave site, on his 18th birthday, I asked him to let us know he was okay.

Thank you, Josh for giving us this sign and letting us know you are now our guardian angel.

God Bless

Monday, January 25, 2010


Since Josh's passing, my mindset has changed about a number of things. One example is tattoos. I never really understood why someone would want to mark their body in that fashion. However, this past weekend, I accompanied one of Josh's friends as she got a "JA" tattoo on her arm, in memory of our son. She used the letters from a note that he had given to her, so the tattoo is in his handwriting.

I am not sure what I expected, but the place was clean and neat. Photo albums depicted real-life samples: all black, color, large, small, lettering, animals, NFL teams, flowers, etc. The variety was amazing.

The artists that we met were passionate about their work. Very knowledgeable and followed such strict hygiene protocol, it reminded me of being in a doctor's office. Since it was the first time for Josh's friend, the standard warnings that some people faint or get sick was a bit nerve-wracking, but in fact, the tattoo took less than five minutes and did not seem to bother her at all. This was the experience of our daughter as well, who got a "JLA" tattoo on her arm, shortly after his death. You can see this tattoo as well as a couple of others from Josh's friends on the side bar of the blog, under "Original Art".

While I wanted to go and provide moral support, I had an ulterior motive as I, too, have been thinking about getting a tattoo on my arm. His name, his handwriting, taken from the final note which had two short sentences and "Josh". Small and easily covered by my watch, when needed. But in a place where I can see it. Another way to have my beloved boy with me, everywhere I go.

Photos are posted, with her permission.

I think Josh would be flattered. But why are we having to do this in the first place? No matter where I turn, the unanswerable"why" question is always there.

God Bless

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January's Fundraiser at BWF

Many thanks to everyone who came to the fundraiser at the Buffalo Wings Factory where the manager has graciously allowed us to gather on each anniversary month of Josh's passing. 10% of the receipts are donated to his fund at the Great Falls Optimist Club. It helps to have something like this to look forward to; a gathering of friends who knew, love and miss Josh - just as we do.

This past Monday was particularly poignant as it was two days after his 18th birthday. In fact, the manager presented a photo cake to us, in memory of our beloved boy.

Here is a photo collage made by one of Josh's football coaches, up on the wall, along with other sports paraphernalia.

At these fundraisers, it is wonderful to see our friends, but in particular, my heart is lifted in being with Josh's friends. They are full of life, energy and hope for the future. College applications are done and they now must wait for the decision letters. It is an exciting time, but also a bit scary and unnerving. I feel privileged when taken into their confidence and feelings are shared. They have been there for me; in whatever way I can, I would like to be there for them.

These kids remember Josh in their own ways. I have shared in another post how one of his friends wore #33 during the football season - in dedication to Josh. Another friend ended up being a walk-on football player at JMU this past fall and since #33 was already taken, chose the next closest number.

Another friend was able to get his number for the basketball season. I know Josh would get a kick out of this picture. They had that kind of relationship.

Even when writing this post, I am amazed at how much our Josh was loved. Makes his choice and subsequent action even more senseless. How does a kid get to that point? I don't know but hope that any other young person who might be toying with idea of self-annihilation, would look past their own pain and realize there is a vast network of loving people to help, support and guide them to life. I wish Josh had known this. It is too late for him, but hopefully not for anyone else who has witnessed the impact of his life and death.

God Bless

Monday, January 18, 2010

10 Months Later - January 18, 2010

Has it been ten months already? On the one hand, it does not seem possible, but on the other, it does, as my mind flips through the calendar of time.
  • March 18 - the day Josh left us
  • May - Lauren's graduation from college
  • July - vacation
  • September - start of school and football season
  • November - Thanksgiving
  • December - Christmas and New Year
  • January 16 - his 18th birthday
Yes, he was missing at all of these events.

Then I think of what we've done because he is gone.
  • The funeral service and burial
  • Picking out his gravestone
  • Regular visits to the cemetery or " Josh's Park" as my mother calls it
  • The monthly fundraisers at the Buffalo Wings Factory
  • A photo scanning project that has overtaken my dining room
  • The dogwood tree planting at the youth league football field
  • My "jandermom" email address
  • New license plates for our cars
  • Accruing a mini library with titles like Grieving a Suicide or No Time to Say Good-bye or By Their Own Young Hand: Deliberate Self-harm and Suicidal Ideas in Adolescents
  • Three filled journals
  • White christmas tree
So strange that a year ago, I was completely oblivious to the impending doom. Josh had just turned seventeen years old, was acclimated to his new school, had a girlfriend and was seeing a counselor which helped in his communication with us....things seemed to be pretty good.

Never, ever, in a million years would I guess what would transpire within two months. That Josh would smoke pot again, be caught at school which enforces a strict Zero-Tolerance policy, face expulsion, and choose to take his own life - the day before the School Board hearing. It is like a nightmare that replays over and over again.

Everyone in our family is traumatized. How could we not be? Totally and completely blind-sighted with no warning or time to prepare emotionally. One minute, we were living normal lives, then the unthinkable happened: I found our Josh dead. Gone. Never to see, hear or touch again. He took himself out with no explanation and left a boatload of unanswerable questions.

Ten months later, we continue to reel - trying to come to terms with this most incredible, horrific event. How do we live with his death? How do we live in spite of his death? How do we go forward with our lives - without him? I think of it like being at a rest stop while on a family vacation. We have to get in the car to keep going but Josh cannot continue with us - at least in a physical form.

After a number of conversations with our daughter, who is having a particularly hard time right now, I wrote this in my journal.

Everything has caught up with her. She has to stop and think about how she feels regarding her brother's death and how to incorporate "it" - Josh's suicide, his tragic, sudden and senseless death and our subsequent loss into her young life. And as much as she'd like to bury and ignore everything, "it" must be faced and dealt with. "It" is life changing; she will never be the same, none of us will. I think this is part of grieving, to process not only losing Josh, but a part of our family and a part of ourselves - very overwhelming and difficult.

In addition, feelings surrounding the mode of death are complicated - in comparison to say, an illness or accident. In these situations, one can say, "my son died by X disease" or "he had cancer" or "he was in a car accident". In our case, "he committed suicide" or "he died by his own hand" or "he decided to take his life" brings up questions with no known answers. Even after ten months, I cannot think of one thing he said, did or didn't do that could have alerted us to his fatal mindset.

For all family members who lose a child, at whatever age, the grief is immeasurable. But when it is via suicide, processing this death is more challenging. The waters are muddy, the way is unclear, the path like a maze. One question leads to ten others. None with answers. So because the reason for death is unclear, there is no resolution. Feelings include the expected sorrow and grief, but also a tremendous amount of guilt and even a little anger. Difficult terrain to navigate for a middle-aged mother, much less for siblings who are 19, 22 and 24 years old or friends who are 17 or 18 years old.
As well, we've not had to deal with death prior to this as both sets of grandparents are living. Even our pets have survived Josh. A distant concept has become a living reality. The shadow of death is an unbidden and unwelcome presence - constant, relentless, and unmerciful. Permeating conscious, subconscious and unconscious thoughts. Casting a permanent grey cloud over previously sunny skies. Poking its head in our dreams and thoughts while causing a general feeling of malaise. Unshakable. Unlike guests that eventually leave, death and all of its partners (grief, sorrow, pain, etc) have taken up permanent residence and we have to figure out how to live with them. "One day at a time" is my motto and mantra.

Josh did not understand the far-reaching consequences of his actions - I am sure of this. For if he could see even 1/100th of the pain we are in, he could not have gone through with it.

Rest in peace, my dear boy. We love and miss you with all of our hearts and promise that as we move forward with our lives, we will take you with us.

God Bless

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Happy 18th Birthday - January 16, 2010

I have been dreading this day and now it is here. Just typing the title causes my eyes to fill with tears. What can I say? What is there to say? Nothing really, except that I wish with all of my heart that Josh were still here. To be celebrating his 18th birthday with his family and friends, not with balloons on his grave stone saying "Happy 18th Birthday."

If he were still alive, what would we be doing? Those that knew him could attest that he did not like parties where he would be the center of attention. In fact, the last birthday party that I was allowed to organize was his 13th. How could I know that there would only be four more?

Below is a slideshow of photos from Josh's birthdays, beginning with the wonderful day he came into our family.

My dear friend, Roxanne and her son have flown in today to be with us. We went to visit Josh with arms full of balloons, flowers and photos. When we got there, we found a letter to Josh from one of his friends. Tim and I were moved by the sentiments expressed. With his permission, this is what it said:

Dear Josh,
Hey, your birthday is on Saturday so I have come to visit you. I think about you all the time. You were a great friend, who always looked out for people who needed it, especially me. We were very close for a good while, and I considered you one of the most important people in my life. I miss you so much, and I am so sorry for whatever situation led to your final act. However, I feel your death has helped so many people realize what they have in this life. I am so thankful to you for making me more appreciative and grateful for everything. I pray for you and your family often, and I hope your soul has found a peaceful place to rest. I will never forget you and everything you meant to me.

Your friend,
We spent a good amount of time decorating "Josh's tree" with photos that Roxanne had laminated, laying rose petals on the grass and positioning his balloons. Below are pictures of our handiwork. As Rox said, "Anyone who sees this will see a much loved soul". I agree.

We love and miss you so much, especially on this day. Do you like the balloons? One is from Grandpa and Grandma. And Gillian thought you would like the dog with the shades. I will never know why you felt that leaving us was your only option and I confess that this question haunts me every day. I wish you could have understood how important you were to so many people. Maybe if you had realized this, it would have saved you. Please watch over us as it is still so very hard. We take one day at a time - it's the only thing we can do. I pray you are at peace, my beloved son. One day, we will be together again.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Running Half Marathon: March 20, 2010

On a previous post, Josh's sister wrote about running a marathon in memory of Josh. And it just so happens that the National Marathon is being held in Washington DC on March 20, 2010. Fitting as this is only two days after the anniversary of his death.

I enjoy working out, and even teach a few aerobics classes a week at a local gym, but am not a runner. I get bored easily and have always found the monotony of running something to be endured, not enjoyed. But in the past few months, to mix up my own work-out, I've begun running once a week. It is not much, but enough to have my daughter ask if I would consider signing up for the half marathon and running the first part with her.

In the past, I would've laughed and said, "Are you crazy?" However, things are different now. The thought of being in training during the weeks leading up to the "one year" mark is appealing. To do this in memory of Josh, with his sister, something hard and challenging - feels right.

One small caveat. In order to sign up for this race, you have to post a qualifying time in another race, like a 5k. "How long is a 5k?" I ask my daughter. "It is 3.1 miles and you have to run at least a 10 minute mile or within 31 minutes", she replies. So I sign up for an outdoor race called the Christmas Caper which ended up being canceled due to a huge snowstorm that hit the day before. Probably a good thing as running on a freezing, cold morning might have done me in.

Next try is an indoor track meet at a local middle school on a weekend morning. I did not know what to expect and was surprised to see children, teens, and adults of varying ages. "People do this for fun? Why?" says my thought bubble.

The 5k was the last race and I was there with about 20 other runners. 25 laps around. As I look around, I notice that I am the only one with an IPod. This should have alerted me to what I was in for. Start gun goes off and I can tell my pace is faster than a 10 minute mile. But very quickly, I find myself at the end of the pack and not only that, people are passing me because they are 1, 2, 3 or 4 laps ahead! I am the last one to finish and get a sprinkling of applause when done. I clocked a 27.40 minute time, well within the time needed to qualify which was good enough for me.

So I now have a calendar with my running goals and only hope that I can get acclimated to running longer distances. It is not so easy to coax an older body to get used to the constant pounding on the joints. And with all that has happened, I feel as though I have aged 10 years in the past ten months.

One of my daughter's college friends is running the full race with her and I hear her mother may be interested in running the half with me.

If any others are interested, please join us. We would love to have you. In memory of Josh.

God Bless

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Journal - My Friend

In the post Writing To Heal, I share how the act of writing has become a life preserver for me, saving my life. This was written at the end of August, and four months and three major holidays later (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year), it is still the case - even more so. And as I look to the future, with Josh's 18th birthday on the horizon (January 16th) and the ever looming one year anniversary date on March 18th, I suspect that without my new friend, I would not survive.

My journal writing over the years has been sporadic and if I look back on the entries, very boring. Pretty much a list of activities done by myself or members of my family. Not much color or emotion.

Since Josh's death, I have already filled three blank books. Thoughts, questions, emotions and feelings such as hurt, pain, sorrow, and grief are scribbled in these pages. I am doing a lot of reading and as I journal through the books, it helps me to remember what I've read, and internalize key thoughts and ideas.

For example, I can relate to the author of The Suicide Index. Joan Wickersham was already out of the home, married with a child when her father shot himself. Fifteen years after his death, she began penning this memoir. She ponders over the same questions that I have.

What was it about him that made him add up the reasons and come up with dying as the right answer? Had he been adding up reasons? Was it possible to arrange rational causes in a column and arrive at an irrational result? Was his death a rational act, or an irrational one? Was his suicide a decision he made, or a force beyond his power to control? Did he have a choice? If so, then he did something unforgivable. If not, then how can we blame him? (69, 229)
I read this book quickly, with my customary underlining, writing in margins and dog-earring the pages that speak to me. Let's just say that I would not be able to resell this book or even give it away. After finishing, I set it down for a few days. Then came back, re-read what I marked, and opened up my journal. This is what I wrote about the above quote:

First of all, will I be obsessed with these questions fifteen years from now? I hope not, but knowing me, I probably will be. "Queen Analyzer" - that could be my middle name. It is like taking a thread - a question or thought and following it to where it leads. Problem is, the answer is unknown, or if it could be known, it is complicated. Cannot be one answer. Someone cannot commit self-murder as the result of a simple answer - like he was a teenage, impulsive, spur of the moment, wasn't thinking, his brain was not fully developed. Too neat, like an accident. Cannot explain an accident, it just happens. Unavoidable. Chance. Nothing could be done. I am therefore absolved of all guilt as a mother of a child who committed suicide. Sorry, I can't accept this. I cannot or will not let myself off the hook that easily. So while some of this may be true, I reject it as the only answer.
I currently write in a bound black book with unlined pages which I found for around seven dollars. Being the control freak that I am, I was unsure about writing without any lines. "Be free, write big, small, diagonally across the page, draw - whatever you want to do," the "how-to" journal books have said. Surprisingly enough, I do like it. And I've found a type of pen that I like too. A disposable fountain pen which I've ordered from Staples. About two dollars per pen, it is a little pricey, but I like how it feels across the page.

So with my unlined blank book and my fountain pen, when I sit down to write, I feel at home. With a friend. A confidante. Available 24/7 - without judgment, critique or the need to "fix" me. Willing to take whatever I give: good, bad, ugly and downright horrible. Can take my tears without getting uncomfortable or the silence without needing to fill the space with words. Willing to listen to all of my emotions, regardless how irrational they may be.

Sometimes I have been unable to sleep and so I take my journal downstairs, intending to write while in front of Josh's tree. Most times, I get sleepy, lay down and fall asleep with the lights and beautiful white tree being the last image in my tired mind - my journal doesn't care. Nor when I wake up at 6:30 am with some thought that I have to get down on paper - no problem. Completely unselfish - only there for me - as much as I want to give or as little. Hours and hours in one day and only a couple of quick minutes in a week - my friend is always there.

How could I survive the overwhelming loss, sadness, grief, guilt, despair over Josh's young and tragic death without it? Simply put, I could not. My feelings, without a safe outlet, would churn, boil, bubble up and explode. I can now understand why some people turn to alcohol after tragedy to mask the pain. Instead of this type of harmful activity, I can bring a nice cup of tea or glass of wine to my room, sit down and pour my feelings onto the pages of my journal.

There is not a human who could be this type of friend to me. I could not be this for someone else, but a ninety-nine cent spiral notebook or seven dollar blank book can be. And so I say, "Thank you, journal, for being there for me over the past nine-and-a-half months - the most horrible that I've had to endure - that any mother would have to suffer. You have kept me sane. You have saved me and will continue to do so. Thank you for being my friend".

God Bless