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 18, 2011

Remembering Josh - 28 Months Later

Where has the time gone?  It is hard to believe that another 18th is here, another summer sans Josh (our third) is almost over, and that his friends are leaving for their sophomore year in college.  Time relentlessly marches on and all I can do is move along with it.

And despite the fact that it has been over 2 years since Josh has left us, his memory still burns brightly in the hearts of family and friends.

We just got back from a trip to visit Tim's parents and below are pictures of a bottle of wine they received.  When my mother-in-law drew my attention to the bottle, I just focused on the wine type - pinot noir.  Then she said, "look at the name."  When the beautiful script "Josh" registered in my brain, a very strange feeling occurred which happens periodically when I unexpectedly hear or see something that reminds me of our beloved boy.  Every cell, muscle and organ in my body stops - for one millisecond - as the memory of his death washes over me.

The same thing happened when I was sent these pictures from the moms of two of Josh's friends, who had recently gotten tattoos - in his memory.  One of them shared the reason:

 I got this tattoo of Josh's initials and date of death on my back because he always had my back and near my heart because that's where he'll always be.  

This beautiful arm tattoo has Josh's nickname and his football jersey number. 

RIP Josh - forever loved and always remembered.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thoughts from "A Widow's Story" by Joyce Carol Oats

I read this moving memoir in May and wrote a post soon afterwards with the intent of writing more.  I journaled extensively while reading so have my "notes" from which to write a post - which I've attempted numerous times.  Why so hard to get started?  As I sit and ponder this question, no answer comes to mind, only possibilities.

Maybe it is because I only have a set amount of emotional energy and since reading the book, I have taken a job at another company and have been supporting my parents through my dad's recent health issue (two surgeries to address a leg aneurism).  And while I like my new job and my dad's recovery is going well, both situations have been prolonged and stressful.

Or maybe this task, for some unexplicable reason was one that I could not do at the time I tried. When this happens, I've learned the important lesson of being "kind to myself".  The last thing this grieving mother needs is additional undue pressure.

Another example where I've not pushed myself is with regard to Josh's room, more specifically his desk and closet.  My self-prescribed task is to go through his things meticulously, with a fine-toothed comb, looking for clues.  You'd think this would be one of the "must do" tasks, completed well within the first year of death.  Maybe for another mother, but not for me.  And I cannot explain why, only that I can't.  It is not time, even though almost 28 months has passed.  I am not ready.  For what? For the possibility of finding out why our funny, intelligent, athletic, well-liked son took his own life?  For fear of the anticipated flood of emotions as I look through his personal items?  I don't know.

Now to the book.   There is so much that I could relate to which tells me that when it comes to the sudden and tragic loss of a loved one, be it Oates' spouse of 47 years who succumbed to a hospital contracted staph infection, or a seventeen year son who died by suicide, the feelings are similar.

Much of Oates' writing is via stream of consciousness, which allows her thoughts to flow uncensored to the page (or so it seems).  On the night her husband died, she was sleeping peacefully at home, anticipating Ray's release in a couple of days.  Then the phone rang. She left for the hospital in the middle of the night, obeying the speed limit and traffic lights (why?) and did not make it before he died, which was on February 18, 2008....exactly 13 months before Josh.  Now, dates are always relative to March 18, 2009 - always.
That I was sleepting at the time when my husband was dying is so horrible a thought; I can't confront it....And so I'd been eating when my husband had succombed to that terrible fever that precipitated his death - the thought is repulsive to me, obscene....It was the most horrific thought - my husband died among strangers.  I was not with him, to comfort him, to touch him or hold him - I was asleep, miles away.  Asleep!  The enormity of this fact is too much to comprehend, I feel that I will spend the remainder of my life trying to grasp it.
I, too, slept, woke up and showered, and was working in my office while Josh as dead in his room.  By suicide!  My baby!  The beautiful, happy boy that is in all the pictures on my fridge, all over my house.  How could this be??  Over 2 years later - that question is as fresh as the week after it happened.  Like her, I will spend the rest of my life trying to grasp it - make sense of it, comprehend and understand it which will probably never happen.

On the death certificate:
I will discover on the death certificate noting that Raymond J. Smith died of cardiopulmonary arrest, complications following pneumonia.  12:50 am.  February 18, 2008.
I have not seen Josh's death certificate....Tim has.  He told me, "No need to look."

On getting perspective with what really matters:
The minutiae of our lives: telephone calls, errands, appointments.  None of these is the slightest significance to others and but fleetingly to us yet they constitute such a portion of our lives, it might be argued that our lives are a concatenation of minutiae interrupted at unpredicatble times by significant events. 
This rings true.  I was attending to such minutiae (which escapes recollection), on that fateful morning when life was turned upside down, when a part of my soul died, when a hole was formed in my heart that only Josh can fill.  Such tasks now, compared to the overwhelming loss of a beloved child, are nothing....just necessary nuisances.

Oates' thoughts on the hospital vigil which I can relate to because of my dad's recent hospitalizations:
There are two categories of hospital vigils.  The vigil with the happy ending, and the other.  Embarked upon the hospital vigil as in a small canoe on a churning white-water river you can have no clear idea which vigil you are embarked upon - the vigil with the happy ending, or the other - until it has come to an end.  Until the patient has been discharged from the hospital and brought safely home.  Or not discharged, and never brought home.
Her husband wanted to be cremated.  While Joyce was at the funeral home making arrangements, with no advanced warning whatsoever, she was asked to identify Ray's body.  Completely unprepared, she elected not to do so.
I will regret this moment.  I will regret this decision.  I will never understand why at this crucial moment I behave in such a childish way, as if my husband whom I love has become physically repulsive to me.  How ashamed I will be, at this decision: like a child shrinking away, hiding her eyes.
Those in our immediate family were able to say "good-bye" to Josh on Friday night, before the funeral service the next day.  I remember walking across the parking lot of the funeral home with a pit in my stomach thinking over and over, "I don't want to be here....I don't want to be here."  It was inexplicably hard, requiring tremendous courage, but so very necessary - to provide a sense of closure.

Oates's grief analogies which I found interesting but did not quite understand:
Advice to the widow: Do not think that grief is pure, solomn, austere, and "elevated," this is not Mozart.  Think of crude coarse gravel that hurts to walk on.  Think of splotched mirrors in public lavatories.  Think of towel dispensers when they have broken and there is nothing to wipe your hands on except already-used badly soiled towels.
What I wrote in my journal:
Think of emotional pain so deep that it hurst physically.  Think of more tears than what you thought possible for a body to produce.  Think of waves - relentless, constant, pounding with no relief in sight.  Think of being inside a pressure cooker - to the point of explosion.  Think of driving on a straight, narrow road with nothing but dead, brown grass on either side and a completely grey sky.  There is no end in sight as the road goes to infinity.
Think of a powerful, swirling vortex or whirlpool where you are caught helpless, swirling around and around, eventually swallowed up.  Or think of a piece of debris whirling around and around in a never-ending, violently strong tornado.  Or think of a roller coaster that shakes you so hard that you are scared, sick and end up with a terrible migraine.
I will end this post with quotes from two of her friends:
Grief is exhausting and requires the strength of an Olympic athlete.

Suffer, Joyce.  Ray was worth it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thoughts from "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote

A highly recommended book published in 1965 which is hailed as the first in a new genre: the non-fiction novel (see post on reading blog).

Two men brutally murder an innocent family of four in December of 1959 in a small farm town called Holcomb, Kansas.  Capote spends the next four years following the story: leads on the murderers, the eventual arrest, the trial and ultimately, the sentence - death by hanging.  Due to his fame as a literary star, he was given unlimited access to the prisoners.

One of the murderers, Perry Smith is empathatically portrayed in Capote's book as his was a sad and sorry life, touched multiple times by suicide.  Because I am a survivor of suicide, I was moved by Smith's story and wonder if I would've felt the same reading this "pre-Josh" - probably not.

One of four children, Perry had a very unstable childhood.  Upon his parent's divorce, he lived with his alcoholic mother who eventually died of alcoholism (slow suicide) when he was a young teen.  His father was out of the picture which meant he was placed in various orphanages where he suffered abuse and torture as a bed-wetter.

Tragedy followed his family. His brother Jimmy, the eldest with the most promise, married but was obsessively jealous of his wife.  She shot herself and when Jimmy found her, he shot himself - a double suicide.  Perry's favorite sister Fern, drank heavily and went out of a 15 story window - another possible suicide.  In a family of six, when three are dead by their own hand, the psychological affects must have been tremendous.  Barbara, his only surviving sibling was also interviewed by Capote and revealed fears about herself and her family.
The eldest, the brother she loved, had shot himself; Fern had fallen out of a window or jumped; and Perry was committed to violence, a criminal.  So, in a sense, she was the only survivor; and what tormented her was the thoughts that in time she, too, would be overwhelmed; go mad, or contract an incurable illness, or in a fire lose all she valued - home, husband, children.....They shared a doom against which no virtue was a defense.
When a family has been touched by horrible tragedy, the feeling of vulnerability is pronounced.  I admit to having crazy, irrational fears that in another moment of deep darkness and sheer desparation, someone else in my family will choose suicide - something, "pre-Josh", that I would never have considered.  But now, it is a possibility. 

I desperately wish I had this awareness in early 2009, while we were going through everything with Josh.  If so, would I have been more dilligent?  Not taken "no" for an answer?  For I did ask the question, almost embarrassingly, "have you ever thought about hurting yourself?" which Josh shook off like it was the most stupidest question ever.  And I accepted his answer because I thought the same - a stupid question - of course, he would not do anything.  I didn't think he cared enough to be suicidal. 

Not surprisingly, Perry admits to having suicidal thoughts throughout his life.
As a child he had often thought of killing himself, but those were sentimental reveries born of a wish to punish his father and mother and other enemies.  From young manhood onward, however, the prospect of ending his life had more and more lost its fantastic quality.  That, he mush remember, was Jimmy's "solution," and Fern's, too.  And lately it had come to seem not just an alternative but the specific death awaiting him. 
And while incarcerated, he saw it as a way to escape fate:
...despite the jailer's precautions (no mirror, no belt or tie or shoelaces), he had devised a way to do it.  For he also was furnished with a ceiling bulb that burned eternally, had in his cell a broom, and by pressing the broom-brush again the bulb he could unscrew it.  One night he dreamed that he'd unscrewed the bulb, broken it, and with the broken glass cut his wrists and ankles "I felt all breath and light leaving me," he said, in a subsequent description of his sensations. "The walls of the cell fell away, the sky came down, I saw the big yellow bird."
What about those who knew the murdered family?  Of specific interest to me were the friends of the kids for two of the victims were high school students, Nancy (16) and Kenyon (15).  Nancy's best friend, Sue Kidwell (who actually discovered the bodies), talked to Capote about the days right after the murders.
We were like sisters.  I couldn't go to school - not those first few days.  I stayed out of school until after the funeral [just like Josh's friends].  So did Bobby Rupp [Nancy's boyfriend].  For a while Bobby and I were always together.  He's a nice boy - he has a good heart - but nothing very terrible had ever happened to him before.  Like losing someone he loved.  And then, on top of it, having to take a lie-detector test.  I don't mean he was bitter about that; he realized the police were doing what they had to do.  Some hard things, two or three, had already happened to me, but not to him, so it was a shock when he found out maybe life isn't one long basketball game.  
Mostly, we drove around in his old Ford.  Up and down the highway.  Out to the airport and back.  Or we'd go up to the Cree-Mee - that's a drive-in - and sit in the car, order a Coke, listen to the radio.  The radio was always playing; we didn't have anything to say ourselves.  Except once in a while Bobby said how much he'd love Nancy, and how he could never care about another girl.  Well, I was sure Nancy wouldn't have wanted that, and I told him so. 
From Bobby's point of view:
Everybody - his parents and every one of his seven brothers and sisters - had treated him gently since the tragedy.  All the same, at mealtimes he was told again and again that he must please eat.  No one comprehended that really he was ill, that grief had made him so, that grief had drawn a circle around him he could not escape from and others could not enter - except possibly Sue. Without her almost constant presence, how could he have withstood such an avalanche of shocks...Then after about a month, the friendship waned.  Bobby went less frequently to sit in the Kidwells' tiny, cosy parlor, and when he did go, Sue seemed not as welcoming.  The trouble was that they were forcing each other to mourn and remember what in fact they wanted to forget.
These passages remind me of Josh's friends - those who did not go to school for a few days after.  The many who came to our home to join us in grief, sorrow, and tears; the sharing of memories, looking at pictures, and writing good-bye notes to him in a treasured journal.  I can't begin to imagine what is is like to lose a close friend at such a young age.  How does the teenage mind process this?  How do they cope?  I just hope that our "open-door" policy at the time of  Josh's death helped his friends.  Witnessing the uninhibited outpouring of love and emotion certainly helped me.