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, January 30, 2011

My Journal, My Friend

It is no exaggeration when I say that journal writing has saved me.  For it is where, day or night, I can pour out my heart without inhibition or censorship.  It is a place of safety and freedom where openness and honesty are paramount.  What I truly think and feel, the "real" me, resides in its bosom.  The good, bad and ugly.

The pages welcome my pen.  They do not judge.  They seek not to fix.  I am completely understood so clarification or re-explanation is unnecessary.  Sometimes it is a purging; my hand cannot write fast enough.  Other times, my thoughts are flitting and incoherent so cannot be snagged and immortalized on paper.  Many times, I journal about quotes from my reading that help solidify an unconscious thought, feeling or question.  Many such as the previous post or, this one, have ended up here.

As a mother, I have the horrible and nightmarish task of processing the suicide death of my 17-year old son, my baby.  Much lies underneath, in my sub and unconscious mind.  My journal is a place to face what is there with the faith that I'll only "see" what can be handled.  Many times, it is convoluted and strange.  Other times, it is just repetitive, like "why did he do it?"  Who know how many times I have written those words.  Or it is ever evolving.  Random thoughts today may be solidified or revised tomorrow.

Regardless, in these pages, I can think through, ponder, and ruminate on my "stuff",  which over time, is helping me to process Josh's death and the devastating impact to my heart, soul, mind and psyche.

Two helpful books are 1) Creative Journal Writing: the Art and Heart of Reflection by Stephanie Dowrick and 2) The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer.  Some of my favorites quotes in Dowrick's book:
"I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart."   Anne Frank
"We do not write to be understood; we write in order to understand."     Cecil Day-Lewis
"Truly, it is in the darkness that one finds light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us."   Meister Echkart
Rainer writes how a diarist, Anais Nin "used the diary not to escape from life but to live it more fully and deeply."  A number of journal writing books and memoirs have referenced "The Diary of Anais Nin" which is actually seven volumes.  I was lucky enough to find six at a used bookstore over the summer.  I'm currently reading through Volume I and the most meaningful quotes are below:
"I have been trying to be honest, day by day, in the diary."
"The diary began as a diary of a journey, to record everything for my father.  It was also to be an island, in which, I could take refuge in an alien land, write French, think my thoughts, hold on to my soul, to myself."
It is "the only steadfast friend I have, the only one which makes my life bearable; because my happiness with human beings is so precarious, my confiding moods rare, and the least sign of non-interest is enough to silence me.  In the journal I am at ease."
Since Josh's death, less than 2 years ago, I have filled up four books and am working on my fifth.  The fourth, and only book that I plan to use going forward has blank pages.  Uncertain about it at first, I now love the freedom to write, diagram, draw arrows, box, illustrate, list, color - anything I want within the pages.  The best news is that I found Piccadilly large notebooks that are the perfect size and price at Borders - for $5.99.  Whenever I see them, I stock up.

Writing utensils are important too, so say other books.  I agree now that I've found the perfect "journal-writing" pen, the Varsity disposable fountain pen by Pilot.  They are a bit pricey at $3.29 each but are worth it.

Is anyone else writing in a journal?  Are there things that have helped you? 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Another Suicide in Fairfax County - Similar to Josh

Yesterday, this article appeared in the Washington Post.  My heart sank as I read the words, "The apparent suicide of a 15 -year-old high school football player in Fairfax County has sparked concerns about the school district's disciplinary policies, which critics say are overly punitive and often debilitating for students."  Oh no, not another kid!  Not another family!  Not another mother!  Poor, poor mother.  

The article says he is an only child.  My heart breaks even more.  Her son will be buried with his football shirt #45.  Josh was buried in his #33 South Lakes jersey - the one he is wearing in the picture on the right side of this blog. 

As I as reading through the article, I was steeling myself for it.  For when his death would be mentioned.  It was at the end.  "Noting the 2009 death of Josh Anderson, 17, who committed suicide as he awaited hearing on a second marijuana offense: One death was enough.  Not a second one."

I didn't cry when I read this article.  I just felt numb and empty.  And very, very sad - knowing the pain facing his parents - now and in the months to come.  No, the tears did not come until hours later;  after doing the laundry, going to the grocery store, working on a new blog for myself, a reading blog; after trying to sleep and not being able to, finally getting up to write in my journal - that is when it hit me.  Note: my thoughts below are raw and uncensored; right from my journal.

The poor family.  His poor friends.  Another kid - dead.  I don't know what to write or how I feel.  Why?  I should be feeling a lot with this but just numb.  Blank.  Why has my handwriting shrunk all of a sudden?  While I am writing this?  My mind and heart are blank.  School officials are not saying much or what they say is status quo.  I HATE FCPS AND THEIR POLICIES.  That kill - literally - kill or if not kill, they maim and destroy our children.  Teens who are not bad and evil - they're just dumb.  They are guilty of being dumb.  Doing stupid things.  Thinking they will not get caught.  They don't connect behavior and consequences.  Impulsive.   
I guess this is what I really feel - that if we didn't live here, would Josh still be alive?  That in my heart of hearts, I place a lot of blame on the Zero Tolerance Policy - which subjected our son to a humiliating, degrading interrogation by cold-hearted School Board Hearing Officers.  So horrible that he could not face it again. Then I turn to myself.   I BLAME MYSELF.  That I did not see his inner turmoil.  That I didn't help him cope.  That I wasn't there for him in the way that he needed.  That if someone else were his mother, maybe he would be alive.  I feel complicit with his death.  That my good wasn't good enough.  I am so sorry Josh.  I am so, so sorry.  
I couldn't write my usual letter to him today - maybe this is why.  I didn't make the effort to visit him today - maybe this is why.  I couldn't sleep - maybe this is why.  This is really what is going on - MAJOR GUILT.  And now that I've allowed my conscious mind to see and feel it - it is smothering me.  
I am guilty.  
I am not the mother he needed. 
I was not enough for him. 
I am the reason he is dead.
It was 2 am when I wrote these words.  The empty kitchen was witness to my refreshed grief.  And even when the words flew from pen to paper, I thought, "It is 2am.  You are tired, emotional and not thinking straight.  Better go to bed."  And I did.  For some reason, it is cathartic to purge myself of all crazy thoughts and feelings onto empty pages that don't speak back, try to reason with me and say that I am talking rubbish.  No, my journal pages just take it.   I went to bed feeling empty, drained and exhausted. 

Woke up thinking about the last sentence I wrote the night before.  Do I really think I am the reason he is dead?  No, of course not.  In fact, if I were awake that fateful night, I would have tried to physically restrain him from his fatal action.  He would've had to knock me out to continue with his plans.  

So I understand that he did this to himself.  But I do feel, in the depths of my soul, a guilt that cannot be shaken or reasoned away.   I remember reading something early on that struck me, but I found it hard to relate to.  Not any more.  In the book, My Son, My Son: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss and Suicide, Iris Bolton writes about guilt:
Guilt is perhaps the most punishing stage of all.  I remember that first day sitting on my bed saying over and over, "What have I done wrong?  If only I had done more." My senses told me that I'd failed as a parent, failed myself, failed my son.  The word I used to describe my condition was foul.  Irrationally I thought I must indeed be foul for my son to prefer death to living with me and our family.  Guilt hits hard and flits in and out of other moods. 
I am lacking as a parent.  Or more specifically, as Josh's mother.  And I don't write this to solicit vehement comments to the contrary.  Everyone has a cross to bear and I think this is mine.  I can't absolve myself of this guilt.  For how could I not be found guilty when my own son chose to take his life?   

Suicide of a child means enormous guilt for the mother.   Any child.  Any mother.  Cause and effect.  One leads to the other.  It is what a mother unwittingly signs up for, once she has given birth to her baby. Or first holds an adopted child in her arms. It is a tragedy that you can never be prepared for, never expect to be part of your family history.  So when the nightmare occurs, when it really happens to you, the waves of shock and disbelief eventually gives way to guilt.  A guilt so large, it defies measurement. 

Tim sent me a link to another article in the FairfaxCityPatch called "Student's Death Opens Old Wounds."  The "old wounds" refers to Josh's death.  This will never be an "old" wound for me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

22 Months Later - January 18, 2011

A dear friend recently lost her father and I sent her a sympathy card with this saying:

"To remember is another way to love"

I have seen evidence recently of how much Josh is loved and continues to be - even almost 2 years later. Two days ago, there were almost 100 posts on his Facebook wall from friends wishing him "Happy Birthday" and sharing how much they loved and missed him. And not only on his birthday, but on high school graduation day, before going to college, during the holidays - friends posted throughout the year.

The tear spigots turn on as I read these posts - so sincere, so poignant, so genuine. I am moved by how his friends, despite everything going on in their lives, have not forgotten him. The uninhibitedness with which they express their love - this from both guys and girls. How could he not see how much he was loved? How many would be affected by his death?

The book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is a moving memoir by Maya Angelou, who describes her life as a young black girl trying to understand why she is judged by her skin color when she feels as human as any white person. These words are towards the end of the book, when she speaks of the "coming of age" process. It really struck me.
To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflicts than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity.
I wrote in my journal:
For some reason, this rings true of Josh. Describes the vulnerable teen. What our young people face. Pressures from within, from their peers, from adults - parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches. Are there some kids, whose internal make-up need more time to mature and develop before asked to navigate the space between adolescence and adulthood?

Are there some kids, so adverse to conflict, that they would literally rather die?

We wanted Josh to grow up, be mature, be responsible, act his age. "Forty years ago," I'd say, "kids your age were going off to war with guns in their hands. Can you just PLEASE think about the consequences of your behavior before doing something really dumb?"
Our expectations obviously did not help him cope with life. Didn't help him with finding an alternative to suicide. Did we expect too much? More than he was emotionally ready for? It is a difficult question because we think, at times, that since he was the youngest and the baby of the family that we did too much. Maybe didn't allow his character to be tested enough. I vacillate back and forth - did we expect too much of him or not enough? Were we too strong or not strong enough? Did we push him too much or not enough?

I find myself on a mental merry-go-round with these thoughts. None of which will change the situation - the fact that he is gone. So it is futile, I know, but my mind doesn't want to let it go. It is a form of "guilt jail" built for myself so that no matter where I turn, as his mother, I am responsible. I was not good enough. I did not give him what he needed. I did not notice his fatal frame of mind. I missed something. I did not do enough or I did too much. I did not say enough, or I said too much.

Many times I tell myself, "You did the best you could," and sometimes, I believe it. But not always. And back in the "grief jail" I go - even twenty-two months later.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Josh - January 16, 2011

Josh would be 19 years old today...if he were alive. These months are harder than usual because they make up a "season of grief", as one of my books calls it. This happens when your deceased child's birthday and death anniversary fall within a three month period of time. Add in Christmas and New Years and it is a triple header.

I was going to Josh's grave site today to place "Happy Birthday" balloons, lost in thought while listening to an audiobook, and was jolted to reality by the harsh, loud sounds of an ambulance and fire truck racing by. They turned into a subdivision and I was immediately brought back to the day that Josh died. I had called Tim, hysterical, after finding Josh. He called 911 and before I knew it, sirens were screaming down our street and stopping in front of our home. Paramedics came racing up the stairs and shooed me out of his room. I remember looking out the front window, seeing the red trucks and thinking, "I can't believe this is happening to us."

Today, as I watched the trucks enter the neighborhood, I thought of the poor soul in need of help and hoped that it was not too late. Then I thought of those paramedics who have answered other 911 calls last year and found teenagers, just like Josh, dead by their own hand. How many have there been in our area? How are the parents and families coping? How do the paramedics handle seeing such tragedy?

As time marches me towards the 2-year death anniversary on March 18th, like a conveyer belt that I cannot escape from, I think about my "grief journey". Words flow through my mind that describe the terrible work needed to come to grips with the loss of my beloved boy. Words like:
  • assimilate
  • integrate
  • incorporate
  • comprehend
  • take in
  • reconcile
  • come to terms with
  • adjust to
  • accept
  • resign
  • submit to
The magnitude of losing a child is so great, that the reality can only be faced in small doses. Only as much as a mother's breaking heart can bear. There is a frailty and fragility to my soul now - despite what may be seen from the outside. Painfully aware that our family is not immune to tragedy, my greatest fear is if something happened to one of our other three children. I tell God that I could not survive it and beg Him to please spare them. "If one must go," I say, "take me."

Today was cold and blustery at the cemetery with the wind cutting through my jeans and gloves. "Partly sunny, partly cloudy," the weatherman would say. The ringing chimes in the trees reminded me of church bells. While securing the balloons to the vase, I noticed two items placed in the hole that holds his vase. I didn't recognize them as Josh's but they very well could be. I don't know who has done this or the significance of the items, but am happy that others visit him, just as I do.

Happy 19th Birthday Josh. We love and miss you. R.I.P.

Dad and Mom

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Death of a Friend

I was baking cookies the other night when a friend's call informed me of the sudden death of another dear, gracious, sweet friend. A few weeks ago, I had learned that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was awaiting test results and prognosis. I don't think anyone thought her death would be this sudden. I mistakenly thought there would be time to reconnect as we had not been in touch since Josh's death.

My friend has lived a long life - full of love. Love from husband, children, grandchildren and friends. She lived life to the full and with great gusto. She traveled extensively - listening to her itineraries would leave me exhausted! I can't imagine her having any regrets except that she's left her loved ones without warning.

My journal has become my confident. I write what I am thinking and feeling - just to get things out. This is what I wrote on hearing of her passing:
She has passed away! I can't believe she is gone! So fast! Her poor family: husband, daughter and sons. How tragic to be so sudden but maybe she was spared tremendous suffering. Maybe this is God's mercy. Poor, poor family! I hope she is able to be with Josh. It comforts me to think they may be together.

I am no stranger to death now. To what it means - the catastrophic impact to your family and to what you know to be true, real or tangible. How thin the line is between life and death - literally seconds or a few minutes. One minute - alive. The other minute - gone. And so final, irreversible, undo-overable. Cannot take it back. Cannot push replay. This is what is so difficult about death - the fact that it is FINAL. Cannot change. Powerless. Neither fame, earthly power or money can undo death.

When enough happens to shut down critical bodily functions, whether by illness, accident, old age or violence, and the line is crossed, death has arrived. Life has gone. Evidence of life is gone - no breathing, no movement, no pulse, no reaction, no response. A stiffness - so unnatural to see a body with no life. Empty. A shell. No energy. Nothing happening on a micro or macro level. Quiet. Still. Gone. Absent. And eventually taken out in a black body bag, put on a gurney and into a waiting van for a final trip to the morgue.

And that was the last time I saw and touched my beloved Josh.
It will be two years in March, and I can still vividly remember the morning I found him. I try not to think about it very much but occasionally I do. It is like a bad dream, except I know it is not. It happened. And when I go and make my weekly visit to his grave site tomorrow and see the stone with his name, date of birth and date of death, I will know, once again, that this is my reality.

God Bless