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, December 18, 2011

33 Months Later - December 18, 2011

Sometimes I think of the anniversary month in terms of "x" years and "y" months - like 2 years and 8 months. To title this post however, I thought of total months and in doing so, it is 33 - a very special number.  The number that I will forever associate with our son.  The number on the football jersey that is part of his final wardrobe.

33 months - already?  Time is no longer marching but whizzing by - at dizzying speed.  In a few short weeks, it will be January 16th, which would be his 20th birthday.  A few weeks after that, his third-year death anniversary.  So strange to think that it will soon be three years since he left us.  In most cases that would seem like a long time but not with death.  There is a different time frame associated with grieving which I wrote about last summer.  The words still ring true.
It has now been 16 months since Josh's fatal decision. One might think that it has gotten easier with the passing of time. But grief does not travel in a linear fashion. In my experience, the connection between grief and time is better described like an archer's target, with concentric circles around a bulls-eye, representing Josh's death. Each circle around the center corresponds to a period of time, say a year. As time moves on, the distance to the center increases but not by much. Meaning that any memory, word, song, thought, movie, photo or innocent question can bring back all of the emotions of that time. It is never far away. I know that five, ten or twenty years will bring some distance, but I don't think it will be that much.
How can I, thirty-three months later, still be writing on this blog?  Why does each anniversary month still feel significant?  Why does this grief journey, almost three years old, feel like it just started?

In her poignant memoir, My Brother, writer Jamaica Kincaid ponders the death of her younger brother, Devon. He died of AIDS at the age of thirty-three.
It's not as if the whole thing has not happened before, it's not as if people have not been dying all along and each person left behind is the first person ever left behind in the world.  What to make of it?  Why can't everybody just get used to it?  People are born and they just can't go on and on, and if they can't go on and on, then they must go, but it is so hard, so hard for the people left behind; it's so hard to see them go, as if it had never happened before, and so hard it could not happen to anyone else, no one but you can survive this kind of loss, seeing someone go, seeing them leave you behind;  you don't want to go with them, you only don't want them to go. 
And the same thought repeated at the end of the book...
...if it is so certain, death, why is it such a surprise, why is everybody who is left behind, who is not dead, in a state of such shock, as if this thing, death, this losing forever of someone who means something to you, has never happened before.  Why is it so new, why is this worn-out thing, death, someone dying, so new, so new?
I've never thought of it in this way.  Kincaid is right - death is an everyday occurrence, there is nothing new about it.  In fact it's presence is part of our subconscious; we know and accept that mortality is a part of life.  But I know now that this understanding is only intellectual and superficial - it does not hit the heart.  In fact, I am jealous of the un-grieved, those whose knowledge of death is simple theory and whose heart is unschooled.

For when death comes, and for me it was on a sunny Wednesday morning, March 18, 2009 when I found our son, that innocent world is shattered and life can never be the same.  A hard, cold, shocking reality covers and overwhelms every physical and emotional circuit.  The feelings are strange, suffocating and debilitating.  A trauma to the heart and psyche has occurred and full recovery feels uncertain.

One would think that the acceptance of death as a part of life would adequately prepare us but it doesn't.  Nothing can.  I guess what I am trying to say is that Death is a common occurrence but when it happens to you, there is nothing common about it.

I will end this post by sharing about what happened the other night.  There is an end table in the living room on which a large picture of Josh sits sturdily on a photo holder, along with other pictures.  While the girls and I were decorating the Christmas tree, the large photo came out of it's holder and tipped over - enough to make a noise and get our attention but not enough to wipe out the other pictures.  We couldn't understand why this happened for no one bumped the table.  Was Josh saying, "I'm here"?

An all white tree - in memory of our beloved Josh

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quote from Romeo and Juliet

I have two places to decorate for Christmas now: our home, which I haven't done, and Josh's park.  While traveling there this weekend, with wreath and ornaments in hand, I was listening to an audio course on Shakespeare's Tragedies.  The professor was talking about Romeo and Juliet, the famous play about two star-crossed lovers, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

He quoted a passage in which Juliet tells Romeo of the depths of her love:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep, the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.
This was written to describe a woman's love for a man but as I was listening, I couldn't help but think that this passage better describes another type of love - the purest, deepest, and most sacrificial ever felt by any human - the love of a mother for her child.  There is no rival.  For how many women begin with the same "Juliet-type" feelings for their own lover that over time, fades and in some cases, disappears altogether?

But a mother could never "file for divorce" from her child.  The notion is preposterous.  Whatever may happen, that bond and love, even if it flows one way at times (especially during the teenage years), is always there.  It can never break.  It will survive and perhaps grow stronger, even in death.

Josh's tree is the only one that still has leaves.  

Peace on Earth ornaments

RIP my beloved son. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Sinkhole

On the airplane today, while traveling back from Charlotte on a work-related trip, I was innocently reading an article in the December issue of Redbook magazine.  Next thing I knew, my eyes were filled with tears which I was trying to discreetly wipe away.  Good thing the seat next to me was empty.

What could possibly have hit me so hard?  Reminded me of my loss and rekindled the grief that lies dormant below the surface, but is so easily awakened?

I have a name for when this happens.  In a previous post I call it a "grief mine."  In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion calls it the "vortex effect".  In Joyce Carol Oates' book, A Widow's Story, she calls it a "sinkhole."  In fact, I will quote the passage:
The widow must learn: beware sinkholes!  The terror of the sinkhole isn't that it exists.  You understand, sinkholes must exit.  The terror of the sinkhole is that you fail to see it, each time you fail to see it, you don't realize you have blundered into the sinkhole until it's too late and you are being pulled down, down...
The guilty article?  A Daughter Lost And Found.  The blurb that made me want to read it?  When Julie Mannix refused to get an abortion, her parents had her locked up in a mental hospital.  This is the story of the child she fought to save - and how they made their way back to each other."

Beautiful nineteen-year old Julie, a Philadephia debutante, gave birth to a healthy daughter, whom she named Aimee Veronica on April 19, 1964.  Unmarried, unsupported and unable to care for a child, she felt there was no choice but to sign adoptions papers after which  "my heart ripped apart.  I put down the pen, turned away and, on shaky legs, I left my baby behind."

After the birth, she was reunited with the baby's father and after marrying him, was disinherited by her family.  These are the words that got to me:
I thought of Aimee constantly in the decades that followed.  My longing for her triggered a series of deep depressions, which would come on quickly and linger for weeks; the passing years never softened them....Every year on April 19th, Frank and I celebrated Aimee's birthday, the date of which we had engraved on the inside of our wedding rings. 
This is a mother who longed for her lost child but because the adoption records were sealed, had no hope of finding her.  "There was nothing to do but pray that she was with a good family and growing up loved."  She did not stop thinking of Aimee - even after having two other children and even after the passing of decades.  And what really got to me was that at the time of her wedding, this young, childless mother wanted to have Aimee's birthdate etched in their wedding rings, despite having seen her precious newborn only once, and that from five feet away.  She never got to hold her, nurse her, sing lullabies and gently rock her to sleep.

I understand this mother.  I understand her grief, pain and guilt over losing a child.  I believe it when she says that time, contrary to popular belief, does not heal, remove or soften these feelings.  And that she thought of this child not just for days, weeks, months or years, but for decades.

This is an example of a mother's love and the depths of the attachment to her children.  Of the bond that exists in her heart long after the physical cord has been cut.  It is a relationship like no other and only a fellow mother can understand it.

It reminds me of the sacred, unbreakable bonds to my own children.  The ones for my three surviving children that give me great joy.  And the one to my lost child, my beloved Josh, whom I will never see again, that produces such sorrow and pain, it is literally indescribable.

In reading this article today, I unwittingly fell into a sinkhole, stepped on a grief mine and was swept up in a vortex.