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, March 30, 2012

2012 Marathon/Half-Marathon - $24,000 raised!

The Third Annual Running to Remember Josh was held in Washington DC on Saturday, March 17th, 2012 - (see post for background and YouTube video.  Our goal was to raise $16,000, matching what was raised in the first two years.  With the generous donations from family and friends in the community, the total is over $24,000!  Fundraisers/runners include Lauren and Gillian, Lauren's boyfriend and three of her friends.  Eleven other friends ran the half-marathon/relay while others came out to support.

A number of Lauren's friends live right in DC while others came from Boston, NYC and Atlanta.  Gillian's friends came from UVA, Virginia Tech, UNC and William & Mary.  One of our neighbor's daughter who is going to college to study photography took pictures throughout the day.  As mentioned in a previous post, a very successful bar fundraiser was held 3 days before.  Gillian created this YouTube video of the 2010 run that was shown at our pasta dinner, the night before the race.

We are very grateful for all of the support.  Lauren has been busy meeting with community groups and local high schools to implement programs before the end of the school year.  This is why we have raised the money - we want it to directly impact high school students.  We are starting locally, but have a vision of expanding to other school systems.

Below are pictures, showcasing our new logo and t-shirts and a slideshow from the day.  We hope more runners will join us for next year's event!

SunTrust Rock N Roll Marathon start at the Washington DC Armory

Lauren's boyfriend John, showed his support by joining her at the half-way mark and running her in

Why we are running.....

Gillian's first half-marathon, supported by three of her friends

Lauren and her best friend from high school (also Lauren) are running the marathon - I love their expressions

Both Lauren's at Dupont Circle (mile 6) - looking good! 

Gillian and her friends running up to Dupont Circle

Gillian and friends running to the finish of the half-marathon

Yea - she did it!!

Tailgate after the half-marathon finish

Both Lauren's at the end of the marathon - it was hot!

We are so proud of them!

All for our beloved Josh

Champaigne celebration!! 

Slideshow with more pictures

Sunday, March 18, 2012

3-18-2012 - Three Years Later

Many thanks for the emails, FB messages, texts and phone calls today.  And to my friend Rox, for coming all the way from Atlanta to be with us.  Getting on the computer late this afternoon, I saw this post on my daughter-in-law's blog which reminded me of a post written a little over two months after his death called Josh and Dogs.

I've been a bit numb.  The week leading up to today has been extremely busy with our two fundraising events - bar fundraiser on Wednesday and marathon/half-marathon run yesterday.  The support for both has been overwhelming and moving.  Despite the lack of time for true reflection, I did try to write a little in my journal this morning and here is the gist of my thoughts.

I am still in disbelief sometimes - not that Josh is gone - I know that is true.  It is more around the fact that it happened to us.  We are like many other close and loving families in our community.  Tim and I have been dedicated parents from the get go.  We were fortunate to have jobs that allowed both of us to be home during their younger years.  I don't think he and I ever disagreed on how we would raise our kids. We believed they should have rules and consequences if broken.  We worked hard not to discipline out of anger/frustration.  We were very involved in their academic, extra-curricular and social lives.  If they participated in a baseball, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, football game or dance competition, we were there.  Tim coached the boy's baseball teams.  We knew their friends.  The kids were our #1 priority.

We struggled and muddled our way through the difficult teen years.  I am sure we were too harsh at times and too lenient at other times.  In fact, our older kids have said that we lightened up a lot with Josh - letting him "get away with things."  Probably true since he was our 4th, and we unwittingly gave into  parental fatigue.  As I reflect now, I wonder if we unknowingly did or said things that made our kids feel competitive with each another.  And while we tried to have open lines of communication, I am sure we said our fair share of "because we said so" to the questions of "why?" or "why not?"

That said, we did our best.  And with a clear conscious, I can say that everything we did, while not always right, was motivated out of what was best for them.  So I struggle now with the inexplicable question - if you love your child(ren) with all of your heart and would do anything for them, and have hopefully proven that through the child-rearing years, how could this happen?

How could your son decide to leave?  A loving home?  Friends too numerous to count?

How?  Why?   I am always brought back to these two haunting and unanswerable questions.  And it is because of these questions that we are focused and passionate about the Josh Anderson Foundation.  We want to fund programs in schools that could have impacted our son to take a different course of action in the midst of his extreme despair.  We want kids to feel comfortable enough to be open about their issues and to get help before it becomes unbearable.  We don't want kids suffering alone. We want to stop teenage suicide so no other family will suffer the same tragic loss.

RIP Josh.
I love and miss you more than words can express,

Friday, March 16, 2012

Successful Bar Fundraiser - March 14, 2012

The support for the Josh Anderson Foundation (JAF) has been overwhelming.  Pulled together in just ten short days, with herculean efforts from one of Lauren's high school friends and her family, the bar fundraiser held at The Tavern in Great Falls, VA was an incredible success, bringing in around $8,000!  

Friends signed up to be guest bartenders, local businesses donated prizes for our raffle, The Tavern gave 10% of the bar proceeds, and generous individuals and companies sponsored the event.  

Lauren's high school and college friends came out in full force along with many from the community so it was a fun mixture of a young 20's crowd and those mine and Tim's age.  As a parent, it is gratifying to see how the younger generation has embraced and supported efforts such as the JAF.  

We have some exciting programs planned in the spring which I will share as they are firmed up.  Everything we are doing is focused on one goal:  establishing programs that promote Youth Mental Wellness so that no teenager will ever turn to suicide. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Darkness Visible" by William Styron

Another survivor memoir of an acclaimed writer - survival from himself.

This short 84 page book, published in 1990 and easily read in one night, is a poignant, powerful memoir in which Styron attempts to describe the indescribable - "the pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne."

Styron won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for his novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner.  Other well-known works include his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951) and Sophie's Choice (1979).  He became clinically depressed and suicidal later in life (60's) although he admits that alcohol use probably masked the symptoms.

Styron has a beef with the word "depression" arguing that
"melancholia" would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but it was usurped by a noun with a bland tonality and lacking any magisterial presence, used indifferently to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness.
Why do the blackest thoughts reside in some and not others?  He tries to answer this for himself and for the long list of other artists who succumbed to suicide, acknowledging that
bloody and bowed by the outrages of life, most human beings still stagger on down the road, unscathed by real depression.  To discover why some people plunge into the downward spiral of depression, one must search beyond the manifest crisis - and then still fail to come up with anything beyond wise conjecture.
Bottom line, who knows?

He describes the rapid descent of "anxiety, agitation, unfocused dread" and openly admits relating to Baudelair, the 19th century poet's words, I have felt the wind of the wing of madness.  He then very definitively says:
But never let it be doubted that depression, in its extreme form, is madness.  That madness results from an aberrant biochemical process.....such madness is chemically induced amid the neurotransmitters of the brain, probably as the result of systemic stress, which for unknown reasons causes a depletion of the chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin, and the increase of a hormone, cortisol.
This reminds me of Josh's psychologist's words when we spoke on the phone after his death. Somehow, that night, Josh suffered a psychotic break with reality.   I did not get it then, but Styron's words help give some framework to the comment.

As Styron's struggles intensified, he gives a vivid description of the mental pain and anguish that leads to suicidal thoughts.
It may be more accurate to say that despair owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room.  And because no breeze stirs in this cauldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.
He goes on to speak of the concept of loss:
It is the touchstone of depression - in the progress of the disease and, more likely, in its origin....the loss of self-esteem is a celebrated dreads the loss of all things, all people close and dear.  There is an acute fear of abandonment....There is no doubt that as one nears the penultimate depths of depression - which is to say just before the stage when one begins to act out one's suicide instead of being a mere contemplator of it - the acute sense of loss is connected with a knowledge of life slipping away at accelerated speed.
He chronicles his own suicidal ideation and the reason why.
In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent.  The pain is unrelenting and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come - not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute.  If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow.  It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul....the situation of the walking wounded.  
On the night he determined his own extinction, he "experienced a curious inner convulsion that I can describe only as despair beyond despair.  It came out of the cold night; I did not think such anguish possible."

He was so close to suicide but luckily for him, one song snapped him out of it.  He was voluntarily hospitalized the next day.  My thoughts upon reading this are, Why wasn't Josh saved?  Why wasn't he spared?  Why couldn't he have failed?  Why couldn't something have snapped him out of it?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"After a Funeral" by Diana Athill

I picked this book up in August 2011 at my local Border's closing sale.  The title caught my eye but the blurb on the back sealed the deal.
The story of how and why a talented writer came to kill himself - a classic memoir by one of our most esteemed authors.  When Diana Athill met the man she calls "Didi," she fell in love instantly and out of love just as quickly....With painful honesty, Athill explores the years she tried to help him, a period that culminated in Didi's suicide - in her apartment - an event he described in his journals as "the one authentic act of my life."
While I did not find myself drawn to the complicated relationship between Athill and Didi, a few quotes made it to my journal for further thought.

Didi was a diarist.  Like me, he wrote in his diary to survive.  Me from Josh's death, and he, from his own depression.
When I started writing I improved a lot, and then I discovered my salvation - a combination of salvation and writing.  My diaries.....I'd sit down and write - give vent to my feelings in writing, instead of in talking or behavior.  This would simmer me down, and I'd become normal again and often shake my head at the strangeness of it all.....In depression my diary becomes hopeless because it was writing it and reading it and seeing the way I sometimes am which often used to cause depression....This diary, then, this medicine, this dark and innermost secret womb of mine, is something I have created to save me (146-147).
Because I have no clues as to Josh's mental and emotional state which led to his fatal and irrevocable act, I want to read the suicidal ideation of others, whether from real people or fictional characters.  In fact, I have a little file box in which are recorded such quotes as below.  Morbid and a somewhat futile exercise, I know, because the only one who could tell me what he was thinking is gone, and who knows if he himself could articulate what dark thoughts were swirling in his mind, but still, I want to try and understand.

When I read such thoughts and copy the quotes in my journal or on notecards to file away, I wonder if Josh felt the same.  Then sadly, I wonder how many other young people or not-so-young people have similar thoughts.

Didi's feeling of self-repulsion were real and overwhelming.
Falling - falling - falling.  Perhaps I have been unable to touch my diary lately, except in short fits, because at times I am repulsive to myself, I don't want to touch me, to interest myself in me.  It is horrible to dislike your own self so much and there must be a vestige of genuine madness in all this....There is nothing I would welcome more than death at this moment, this very instant - here and now....I am left with what I am left with now: hopelessness, self-pity - and ugly and repulsive self-pity - and such despair, sadness loneliness and finally utter darkness....I have no affection or respect for myself at all.  I loathe and find intensely repulsive a man of my sort (53-55).
Because he was a faithful diarist, it stands to reason that he would record thoughts after ingesting a bottle of sleeping pills.
And the most dramatic moment of my life - the only authentic one - is a terrible let-down.  I have already swallowed my death.  I could vomit it out if I wanted to.  Honestly and sincerely, I really don't want to.  It is a pleasure.  I am doing this not in a sad, unhappy way; but on the contrary, happily and even (a state of being and a word I have always loved) SERENELY....serenely.
He did not die serenely at all.  Because he called a friend, (Athill thought he wanted a witness), he was taken to the hospital where his stomach was pumped.  But it was too late.  After ten days in which he "moaned endlessly," he passed away.

After reading the five volume diary he left for her, Athill's conclusion:
It was not intolerable that he had killed himself.  It was intolerable that he had been right to do so - that he had no alternative.  It was intolerable that a man should be so crippled by things done to him in his defenseless childhood that he had been made, literally and precisely, unendurable to himself....He was certain at too deep a level, in the very fibres of his being, that he was unworthy of love.  Being unworthy of love, he must be punished; and the only way he could secure this was by plunging out to the point where he was driven to punish himself.  To be murdered would be a fate much simpler, and less sad. 
Haunting words.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Prose Poem - "The Dead" by Billy Collins and "Where He Lay" by Sue Anderson

Poetry and survivor memoirs are what I have been reading lately.  I've finished How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch and Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt.  I am currently reading The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing edited by Kevin Young.

Reading poems by fellow grievers is apropos for this month - the death anniversary month.  A jarring yet accurate description of March where the hindsight clock ticks away - for example, on this day three years ago, Josh was alive and unbeknownst to us and maybe even himself, would only be so for 7 more days.  This is where REGRET kicks in with her constant monologue of "if onlys" and "what ifs".

"If only" I had asked this or done that or said this or noticed that - maybe he would be alive.  Or "what if" we had decided to forgo the disciplinary hearing or "what if" I had woken up that night - would he be here now?  Nagging questions buzz around my head like an annoying, relentless mosquito.   Irrelevant questions for a past deed that won't let me go or I won't let go - I am not sure which.

Back to poetry.  Prose poems are most accessible to me - those which tell a story "preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery and emotional effects" (Wikipedia).  I simply wrote "wow" in the margin of this one.

The Dead
by Billy Collins 
The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven as they row themselves slowly through eternity. 
They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them, 
which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.
I've read a number of poems that speak to the funeral service and final resting place.  My subconscious must have been ruminating while asleep because when I woke up this morning, certain words and phrases were stuck, begging to be written down.

Where He Lay
Sue Anderson 
Traveling here, after an hour's hard work,
my voice breaking while telling my cycle class of your death and our fundraiser in one week's time, so that other kids do not die like you did. 
So much work on the Beltway; controlled confusion,
but as long as everyone stays in their skinny lanes, all OK. 
Where is everyone going?
This bright, blue Saturday morning? 
To places not like me. 
Driving down Braddock road,
the budding bare trees wave hello and ask,
"Going on your weekly visit, mom?"
Behind cars with Robinson Honor Roll and Virginia Tech and I Love My Dog stickers.
Where are they going? 
This bright, blue, crisp Saturday morning?
To places not like me.  
I pull up and the park is bare,
because twice yearly, they clear out all flowers, old and new. I guess if they didn't some would stay for years, and get ratty, detracting from the serene beauty.  
A red tent is set up in the distance with chairs.
So I know that someone has recently died 
and if that person was loved,
like Josh, fresh grief is consuming others somewhere. 
Where he lay, entombed in Mother Earth's womb forever,
where luckily there is no claustrophobia,
because the dead are unaware.  
Surrounded by fellow dead 
like poor 2-year old Amber,
who died the year Josh was born,
so it has been 20 years now and her grave shows it. 
No one comes to visit her,
so Mother Earth has not only enclosed her body,
but is consuming her marker. 
"That will never be Josh" my today voice says
but who knows where I will be in 20 years?  
Where he lay, frozen in time, 
by a fatal deed done in the early morning of 3-18-09,
while the house was quiet and I was sleeping,
a virgin, innocent, naive sleep. 
Where he lay, in a silken pincushion,
but where is the soul?  Gone? Still here? Hovering?
Is there a welcome party for other tragic losses
like a "Hospitality Club" for the dead? 
Help for the displaced soul to acclimate to new digs?
And once the dust settles, does Josh glide over
(for how do souls move?) and befriends? 
I envision him with a posse of other youngsters,
tragically pulled from this life to his,
by accident, illness, violence including his - by self.
Chilling, hanging out like kids do.   
But wistful...wishing....longing.....
to be be be HERE;
dealing with all the crap that our youth have to deal with,
but knowing that as long as one is alive,
there is hope for a better moment, hour, day, week, 
month, year or future.  Experiences, growth, change, maturity, love, life. 
Because he now knows that when you're dead, all that is gone.  Poof.  Done.  Over.  Kapputz.  Gonzo.  Sayonara.  Adios.  Au revoir.  C'est fini.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March - tough month

Part of my weekly ritual on Saturday mornings is to teach my indoor cycle class, visit Josh and write a letter to him.  This is what I wrote yesterday:

Dear Josh,
We are now in March - the month in which events occurred that led to your death.  How I wish....long... no that is not strong enough...I would give my life, and I mean it, to go back to that time, a "do-over", do things differently, ask more questions, probe, intervene, SOMETHING so that you would still be here...alive...with us.  Instead, I sit here in the car, after finishing my little housekeeping chores at your gravesite, looking at the chimes on "your" tree, (for we have really taken it over), and writing.  This is my time to "visit" you.

I received some new pictures of you in the mail.  In one, you were probably 9 or 10 years old, smiling broadly at the camera with your hand up, saying "hi".  My heart stopped for a millisecond when I saw it.  You looked so happy.  I kissed the picture and put my hand up to match yours, palm-to-palm.

We are preparing for the marathon fundraiser - 2 weeks from today and the bar fundraiser - 10 days from today!  I have shared about you and what we are doing with my aerobics classes, without tears.  But I cry now.  For you.  For what is lost.  For what could be that never will be.  Tears of regret, more than of sheer grief and pain.

I can tell you, Josh, that you are still in the hearts of so many of your friends and their families.  They have not forgotten.  I hope you are at peace.