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.