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, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Josh

On this beautiful cold but sunny day, perfect for Thanksgiving, while the turkey is roasting, I write a letter to Josh.

Dear Josh,
Happy Thanksgiving!  I can't help but imagine what you would be doing if here.  Let me try.... you came home from college on Saturday, happy to be home but wiped out, and with mountains of laundry.  After giving me the required hug and stooping to play with Buddy and Benji, who would be going crazy, vying for your attention, you would head straight for the kitchen to make sure the pantry and fridge was stocked, giving me a little smile after seeing that it was.

You would then stretch out on the couch with your favorite blanket, inviting the dogs to chill with you and promptly fall asleep.  I would work on your laundry and by the time you woke up, clean clothes would be in your room.  Sleepy-eyed, you would ask me the proverbial and all important question, "what's for dinner?"  Another smile would appear when I said, "Korean food", one of your favorites.

We probably wouldn't see too much of you, between sleeping and hanging out with your friends which would be okay, because you were home.  Then today - one of your favorite holidays because it combines two things you LOVE - the Thanksgiving meal and football (there are some good games on today), you would exude peaceful contentment.  At dinner, you would be your usual quiet self but would interject a well-timed remark that would make us all laugh.  After dinner you would be passed out on the couch again with "turkey coma".  Life would be good.  Let me say that again, LIFE would be good.

But instead of what I imagine in my head and heart, the reality is that you are not here.  At least not physically (I don't want to think of where you are physically).  I hope you are here in spirit.  Can you give us a sign today?  Or does it work best when least expected?  And even though it has been over 2 years and 8 months, I will end with the question that I still ask every day, "Why, Josh why?"


Monday, November 21, 2011

"Send Silence Packing" Exhibit at Active Minds 8th Nat'l Conference

This past weekend, Lauren and I went attended a conference called "Empowering Advocates for Change" at the University of Maryland, hosted by Active Minds.  Started in 2001 by a UPenn student, a year after losing her older brother, also a college student, to suicide, the growth has been explosive (see story).  There are now 370 Active Minds chapters on college campuses all across North America, recognized nationally as the "voice of student mental health advocacy". Over 500 chapter members, advisors and supporters attended the event.  It was inspiring to be amongst so many young people who work tirelessly to ensure that no student is suffering in silence, that they know of available resources and understand, most importantly, that they are not alone. 

We went to this conference because we would like to use the money collected in Josh's fund to bring Active Minds speakers to local high schools, promoting the concept of Youth Mental Wellness.  We would also like to encourage our local school system to imitate Howard County Public Schools in Maryland, which has successfully implemented 5 Active Mind chapters in high schools, as part of a pilot program.

One of the many highly successful programs is Send Silence Packing.  Below are pictures from this powerful, life-changing display, right in the center of the University of Maryland's campus.  We would like to bring this display to Fairfax County.

1,100 backpacks, representing the lives lost to suicide on college campuses every year

Two girls reading Josh's story.  One was crying. 

Another young kid - I was moved because this bag was his actual backpack

Educational signs like this are all over....

These kids believe they are the voice of change.  If you are a college student and would like to be part of this voice, PLEASE join your college chapter, or start one (click here to find out more).

Friday, November 18, 2011

2 Yrs and 8 Months Later - Nov. 18, 2011

Another month has gone by and instead of time lessening the impact of Josh's death, it has become deeper, broader and just "more". What may be contributing to this are the following upcoming events: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, what would be Josh's 20th birthday and the 3rd year death anniversary.  Each of these would be tough - all together, very tough.

As I have shared in a previous post, it is my custom to visit Josh each week and when I am done cleaning off his stone, I sit and write a letter to him.  Here is what I wrote this past week.

Dear Josh,
It is Tuesday afternoon and the time that the park is cleared of all flowers.  This mandatory cleaning ends on November 21st, right before Thanksgiving.  I was late putting fall colored flowers in your vase so you may have them for a week or so, before your Christmas wreath gets placed.   
This is my/our third year without you for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Where has the time gone?  The impact of your death is ginormous, but better seen from a distance.  Just like how viewing the damage from a hurricane is more easily seen the further away you travel.  Up close, you couldn't see that it wiped out most of a town, but a before and after shot from the sky would show the devastation.  
This is how I feel about your death.  As time goes on, the impact is even greater and deeper and wider and broader than at the beginning.  How enormous the impact of your life and your death.  So sad.  
I hope you are at peace.
RIP beloved son.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Media Coverage for FCPS School Board Election - updated 11/11/11

In the past, that is to say "pre-Josh", we did not pay much attention to School Board elections except to notice when they were imminent, evidenced by the multiple signs placed in the busy Route 7 median that runs from Tysons Corners to our home.

But now all that has changed.

The 2008 - 2009 School Board had responsibility over the disciplinary policies that treated our son far harsher than if he were caught by the police.  How can that be?   And in the end, my belief is that the expected decision of his expulsion from high school caused Josh to feel a loss so profound and overwhelming that he could not cope.  His fragile psyche sought a way out - a way that was irreversible and irrevocable.  Death.

After his tragic suicide on March 18, 2009, the School Board and Superintendent had the opportunity to assess the disciplinary policies, determine their effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) and initiate reform.  Yet nothing was done.

Then over a year later, another boy was caught and punished via the same draconian disciplinary policies.  And this poor boy also took his life.  Two death within two years.  And only because of the courageous sharing of the Stuben family, the thorough reporting by Washington Post journalist, Donna St. George, the additional media scrutiny (see blog post), pressing advocacy of FairfaxZeroToleranceReform and increasing outcry from the community, was the School Board forced to address reform in a June 9th vote.  But they did not go far enough.

So it is time for change.  Six of the twelve SB members are not seeking re-election.  Some who are should be replaced.  Josh was our youngest so we no longer have any children in this school system.  But for the thousands that entrust their children to FCPS, just as we did, I hope and pray that the November 8th elections will result in wholesale change.  And that the new group will roll up their sleeves and initiate common sense reform, ensuring that each child/teen is treated fairly, respectfully and above all, with the understanding that he/she is still a kid.

My intent is to keep this post updated with media links related to the upcoming elections.

July 18 - August 8, 2011
Vienna Patch: "Interviews with At-large School Board Candidates" on the issue of school discipline policies. "Discipline reform has become a key issue in this school board race. See how the candidates stack up."

August 10, 2011
McLean Connection: "At-large School Board Race: One to Watch" by Victoria Ross.  "Debates over discipline, boundaries, budgets, standardized tests and sleep have generated Fairfax County’s most closely watched and contested School Board race in the board’s 19-year history."

August 14, 2011
Washington Post: "Fairfax County School Board Races Could Overshadow Other Campaigns This Year" by Frederick Kunkle.  "Stuban is one of several political newcomers whose entry into the normally sleepy School Board elections has transformed them into this year’s marquee event in Fairfax politics in November, potentially overshadowing the races for the more powerful Board of Supervisors, which governs the county of more than 1 million residents."

September 23, 2011
Washington Post: "Fairfax School Board Races: Change vs Continuity" by Emma Brown

October 23, 2011
Washington Post: "Character of Fairfax School Board Rests On This Fall's At-Large Races" by Emma Brown

October 30, 2011
Washington Post: "Fairfax County School Board Candidates" by Emma Brown

November 4, 2011
Channel 9 News: "Fairfax County School Board Elections on Nov. 8" - interviews with candidates.

November 8, 2011
Washington Post: "Fairfax County School Board Control On Line But May See Little Change" by Emma Brown

November 9, 2011
Washington Examiner: "Election Pumps New Blood into Fairfax School Board" by Aubrey Whelan

November 10, 2011
Washington Post: "Even in Defeat, Fairfax School Board Candidates May Force Change" by Emma Brown.