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.

Friday, February 18, 2011

23 Months Later - February 18, 2011

C.S Lewis, celebrated author of beloved books such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity poured out his heart in a journal after the passing of his beloved wife, "H".  His honest and gripping thoughts are recorded in a small book called A Grief Observed. 

Being a journal writer myself, the foreword by author Madeline L'Engle resonates:
"It is all right to wallow in one's journal; it is a way of getting rid of self-pity and self-indulgence and self-centeredness.  What we work out in our journals we don't take out on family and friends.  I am grateful to Lewis for the honesty of his journal of grief, because it makes quite clear that the human being is allowed to grieve, that it is normal, it is right to grieve, and the Christian is not denied this natural response to loss."
There are a number of quotes from the book that speak to me.  One analogy, however, accurately describes the impact of the devastating loss on a survivor's life.  No matter how long it has been since the death.  It reinforces what is mentioned in a previous post, that I will NEVER "get over" Josh's death.
"Getting over it so soon?  But the words are ambiguous.  To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing: after he's had his leg off it is quite another.  After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies.  If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop.  Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg.  He has 'got over it.'  But he will probably have recurring pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man.  There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different.  His whole way of life will be changed.  All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off.  Duties too.  At present I am learning to get about on crutches.  Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg.  But I shall never be biped again."
Then later he writes:
"Did you know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left?  You have stripped me even of my past, even of the things we never shared.  I was wrong to say the stump was recovering from the pain of amputation.  I was deceived because it has so many ways to hurt me that I discover them only one by one."
At present, I have a prosthetic leg which works pretty well.  In fact, so well that people who meet me for the first time would not know that I am an amputee.  That I am a mother who has lost a son.  I function at at a high level on my job, teach three aerobics classes a week, am interested in renewing previously enjoyed experiences like skiing, am planning a trip to New Zealand with Lauren to visit Gillian while there for a study abroad program, and for all intensive purposes, to someone on the outside, I have recovered.

But that is a facade.  You see, the chopping off of my leg was so violent, like the horrible scenes from Civil War movies when the poor solidiers had no anesthesia when faced with the ax; that to recover completely from this deep wound or trauma may never happen.  I am lucky, I suppose that there has been no complications from the amputation.  No insomnia or nightmares.  No anxiety or depression.  No suicidal thoughts of my own.  But there is fear.  That something will happen to one of my three surviving children.  That as a mother,  I might suffer more.

(See post on my reading blog for more.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Motive for Suicide - Not Wanting to be a Burden?

It is almost 2 years since Josh's decision to leave us - can it be that long already?  It doesn't seem possible.  I've picked up some survivor of suicide books to re-read; ones with chapters that addressed feelings farther down the grief journey than where I was at that time of the initial reading. 

One book, Take the Dimness of My Soul Away: healing after a loved one's suicide, by William Ritter is a series of sermons that the author gave at different points after his son's death.  In the last one, given nine years later, he recounts his feelings upon reviewing the film The Hours for a church event.  Having never seen the movie, it is now in my Netflix queue.  The subject matter is suicide.  And how the reason that one of the characters takes her life is that she doesn't want to continue to "spoil" her husband's life any longer.   He then recounts how several have come to him as their pastor with the same motive for their own suicidal thoughts: 
" of the things that always surfaces is their belief that, in choosing death, they will be doing the world a favor....their family a favor...their friends a favor.  Sometimes they will be quite specific about the ways in which their departure will make someone else's life easier.  Those remaining will now have more time, more money, less worry, or less fury.  They really believe that.  Because if they didn't, they couldn't end their lives.  Or wouldn't."
Did Josh feel this way?  I have to believe he did.  Because at this time of his death, due to a very stupid mistake, he was facing unbearable consequences which not only affected him, but us as well.  And I think the mountain of guilt, anxiety, fear and frustration was too much.  He was disappointed in himself and knew we were as well.  What I feel guilty about now, almost two years later is that I am not sure that we made it crystal clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is was the action we were disappointed in, and not him.  He as a person.  His being.  

Why am I thinking of this now?  Because Jack Dale, the Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools in a response to the Board of Supervisors has effectively said that FCPS does not have a Zero Tolerance policy and that linking Josh's death to the disciplinary process "for the purpose of furthering a falsehood is unconscionable and a blow to those who have already suffered great pain and loss." 

Tim and I could not believe this.  How can he say there is no Zero Tolerance policy in FCPS?  How dare he say this!  And who is he to talk about a "blow to those who have already suffered great pain and loss"?  Is he talking about us?  How would he know?  Since that awful day, when the Hearing Office knew we were not coming because Josh had killed himself, we have heard nothing.  There was no phone call or letter of condolence  Silence.  Nothing from the Superintendent's office or any other office at FCPS.  Nothing from our elected School Board member either.   This to us, is "unconscionable".  I suppose they thought it would be an admission of guilt and were afraid of opening themselves up to liability and litigation, which was the furthest thing on our mind at the time.

I believe they are linked.  How can I not think that when our son took his life the day before our second time to the Hearing Office?  I have re-read our experience with that office, posted within a week after his death and there is absolutely nothing I would change.  It is what happened.  And our questions remain the same.

There is a parent advocacy group that is asking questions and wants reform.  For our kids...every one of them.  I have read the comments on the recent Post article about this topic and while many understand this policy is hurting rather than helping our kids, there are others who don't.  Who find this to be another example of parents not accepting full responsibility for their own and/or their kids' actions; instead, pointing the finger elsewhere.  The honest truth is that "pre-Josh", I probably would have agreed.  Until it happened to us.  Until our son was caught up in the horrible, humiliating, degrading suspension/expulsion process.  Where he was considered guilty from the get-go.  There was no due process and nothing remotely fair or compassionate about it.  (Other comments about the Superintendent's response on TOP radio and on the RedAppleMom blog.)

What is "unconscionable" is that Superintendent Dale is not taking the steps to review this policy, whatever he chooses to call it, to determine if it is working.  Is it helping our kids?   It is also "unconscionable" that FCPS, despite repeated requests by parents for statistics regarding this policy, refuses to release what should be public information.

Back to the book.....

What does this pastor say to those who confess their desire to leave?
I do not tell them I know what "wanting to leave" feels like.  But I do tell them I know what it feels like to be left.  That my life hasn't been better since Bill left.  That it's been worse.  For a long time....worse.  Years of worse.  Then I say, "Look, I can't promise that things are going to turn around for you, turn up for you, or get better for you.  I think they are.  But if you can't see that, I can't force you to wear my glasses.  All I can say to you is this: When you reach the point where you can't come up with a single reason to stay alive one more day, then stay alive as a gift to somebody.  Maybe you'll tell them. Probably you won't.  But if you stay alive as a gift for one day, you may just be able to stay alive for two days.  Then who knows, maybe you can go for three."
I wish Josh could've heard these words.  Maybe it would have gotten him through that dark, dark night when he only saw one way out.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Will To Live"

I don't know if it is just me, but every week, I hear or read about a heartbreaking story of another teen suicide.  I don't remember hearing very much "pre-Josh."  Were these tragedies always around, but I wasn't aware?  Did I see articles in the paper and just skim over them, thinking foolishly, "this does not apply to me?"  

This week, a family member sent Tim this link to a Boston Globe article about an ex-Red Sox player who is a "member of the saddest club on earth."  John Trautwein's son Will, age 15, took his life last October.  He sounds a lot like Josh,...he "had so many friends and he was big and strong and good-looking and popular."  And then the haunting words from the dad, "We really don't know."  What is left unsaid - the loudest word to parents like us: WHY?

They have started a foundation in his name called the Will To Live Foundation.  It is focused on getting "kids, teenagers and young adults involved in the fight against suicide."  The family's vision statement ends with this: "Quite simple, this community, your community cannot stand any more empty rooms!  Help us help out kids find the Will to Live and prevent teen suicide together!"

I agree with this approach.  In fact, my daughter and I have been talking about how best to use the money that has been raised in Josh's fund.  We have about $12,000 and while I feel guilty that it has not been deployed as yet, to find the right place has not been easy.  For we want Josh's fund to support local, school-based programs that provide awareness, education and prevention of teen suicide and it does not seem like Fairfax County Public Schools has programs of this nature.  As I wrote about in a previous post, many kids do not or will not talk to anyone about their problems.  This means, they are their own last line of defense.  In order to successfully fight the rising trend of teen suicide, we must get in front of the kids.

Because of another tragic suicide in our area, it may be that the Superintendent of Schools, Jack Dale is ready to acknowledge the issue and stand behind programs that would raise awareness of teen depression/suicide.  While he attempts to deny that FCPS has a Zero Tolerance Policy in this recent Statement to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and calls the linking of Josh's and Nick's death to the county's disciplinary processes "unconscionable" (I can't even go there right now), at least he seems ready to tackle what we would like to see - programs that address the mental well-being of our youth.  (Update: article about this statement in today's Washington Post.)

I am inspired by what Will's parents are doing and agree with their words,  "If we save just one life, then Will's (or Josh's) legacy is forever."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Grief Journey to Reading Journey - Chronicled in a New Blog

Since Josh took his life on March 18, 2009, I have been on a grief journey that is chronicled in this blog.  Curiously, this has given rise to another journey which a new blog will cover - a reading journey.

I have always loved a good book.  My definition was pretty specific. It had to be a fast read, a real page-turner.  Moving plot, engrossing story, believable characters.  Mystery, suspense, drama, romance, spy, thrillers - as long as the story moved quickly, I was happy to read it.

My reading was strictly for pleasure.  I wanted books that took me to another place.  I read quickly and skim the "boring" parts.  A very impatient reader.  Not appreciative of well constructed sentences or paragraphs.  I only wanted to read that which moved the plot forward.  Everything else was superfilous and unnecessary.

My habit was to read at night before going to sleep.  The problem with this, however, is that I retained very little of what I read.  So much so, that within a couple of days of finishing a book, I could not tell you the names of the characters or the basic plot.  In one ear and out the other.  But that was okay since it was all for pleasure anyway.

Then came my personal 9/11.  The day I found our youngest of four, our seventeen-year old son, dead.

Since that day, reading was no longer just for pleasure. It became necessary for my survival. I looked for books that helped me cope with his death.  This has taken me to new genres - ones I would never have looked at "pre-Josh".
  • survivor of suicide books
  • how to journal books
  • parental bereavement books
  • on suicide
  • memoirs
From writing in a personal journal and on a public blog, I see the impact of words.  I have a greater appreciation and respect for authors  who can evoke feelings and emotions in a few short sentences. Who can use words to describe scenes so clearly that as a reader, you feel like you are there.

I was a Biology major.  And having despised high school English, I took one English class in college - and only because it was required.  As a result, I have not read many  of the classics.  Regretfully, the breadth of my reading is narrow.

Now, I am ready for a change.  I want to expand my reading horizon, by using lists like 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.  I want to be a more thoughtful and discerning reader.  I want to become a better writer and the best way to do this, is to read.

We are nearing the 2 year mark since Josh has left our family.  My reading and writing have been a life preserver - I could not have survived without them.  I am actually excited about what adventures await me in books and look forward to chronicling them in the new blog