Josh has been top-of-mind lately. You see, over the past few weeks, we have been preparing for a bar fundraiser (our second) for the Josh Anderson Foundation (JAF). It was held Thursday night at The Tavern in Great Falls and was another success, matching the amount raised at our March fundraiser. See this post for more details and slideshow.
But what was truly heartwarming about the evening was the incredible community support for our family, for Josh, for JAF and ultimately, for the young people in our area that we are trying to reach. In numerous conversations with new supporters, heads were nodding as I stated the obvious: teens today face tremendous pressure, academically and socially along with expectations to excel in athletics and/or extra-curricular activities. Combine this with issues that may be occurring at home and one can see the "perfect storm" for mental health deterioration.
Therefore the statistics in the 2011-2012 Fairfax County Youth Survey ( 31,106 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades) are alarming but not surprising. Almost one in three students (29.2%) reported "depressive symptoms in the past year" which means "feeling so sad or helpless for two or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing usual activities." FCPS's 10th and 12th grader percentages are higher than the national average.
Students were asked if they had seriously considered suicide in the past year. Affirmative responses were reported from one in five girls and one in eight boys. Once again, FCPS's 10th and 12 graders are higher than the national average.
4% of students reported actually attempting suicide. It is good to see that our 10th and 12th graders are below the national average; however, in absolute numbers, we are talking about over 1,200 of our kids attempting to end their lives!
In our work with local schools, it is encouraging to see that school administrators, counselors, schools psychologists and social workers as well as PTSA presidents all understand that our kids are at risk and are eager to partner with us. As a result, true inroads and impact are being made in local high schools and one middle school - see flyer.
So last Thursday was about community and a demonstration of the adage, "It takes a village to raise a child". It was about people of all age groups coming together to show support financially and/or with their time for the Josh Anderson Foundation, born out of tragedy, that seeks to prevent other needless teen deaths. We are making a difference. Josh's death is not in vain.
All this was swirling through my head when a dear friend asked me, "How are you doing?"
I was thinking about this while on vacation in California at the end of last month. I have been in contact with two moms who have lost their sons earlier this year - one by suicide, the other by an accidental drug overdose. They are just starting their grief journey whereas for me, it has been well over three years. They are facing their first holidays without their beloved boys; it is my fourth. I can tell their grief is so raw and acute whereas mine is a dull ache. At every moment they are reminded of their loss; for me, Josh's absence is a sad fact of life.
All this makes me realize that I am at a different place, doing what I never thought possible in the early months - I have moved on, while taking Josh with me. I do not feel stuck in "grief quicksand", for which I am grateful.
Another thing that I've noticed is that my memories are no longer overshadowed by his death. I can now look back in time, remember a certain event, gesture, comment, facial expression or interaction and see it clearly - without pain.
The dark, grey clouds that colored my landscape those early months; swirling, relentless and all-encompassing have lifted. I cannot point to a specific moment when they dissipated; it must have happened gradually, over time, while putting one foot in front of the other.
Back to the question: How am I doing? Thanks to all the support from family and friends, I think I am doing okay, and not just flippant okay, but really, genuinely and sincerely okay.
We love and miss you.