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.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

Hard to believe it is our 5th Christmas sans Josh.  All the boxes of Christmas decorations stay in the basement - I only have the motivation/energy to put up a tree and wreaths on the front door.

The 5th year of our white Christmas tree - in memory of Josh

I found this ornament while organizing my closet a couple of months ago and put it next to his initials….right in the front of the tree

RIP Josh.  We love and miss you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

4 Years and 9 Months Later - Dec. 18, 2013: Song "Into The West"

I am still in the habit of visiting Josh every Saturday - last weekend, I put up his wreath and hung up some ornaments on the tree near his final resting place.  A new part of my weekly ritual is listening to a beautiful song called "Into the West" by Annie Lennox.  It is featured in the third Lord of the Rings movie, Return of the King.

It was sent to me by Gillian shortly after Josh died but for some reason, I was not ready to listen to it until a couple of months ago and now it is what I listen to while clearing his stone and getting ready to write my weekly letter.  

"Into The West"
by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore and Annie Lennox

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say: «We have come now to the end»
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again

And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping


And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West

RIP Josh - we will be together again one day. 


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 - Original Poem: His Eyes

Our 5th Thanksgiving sans Josh.  It was a quiet one with just our immediate family.  I guess you can say that we are getting used to his absence - in the past, especially the first couple of Thanksgivings, Josh's death filled the house.  There was no getting around "it", ignoring or denying "it" - you just had to endure.

In quiet moments, it is still very sad.  Like when contemplating what to write on this post or when writing some lines of poetry at Starbucks.  I wonder what the young, chatty girls with their pumpkin lattes think when their glances fall on a middle-aged woman, sitting alone, wiping her eyes with a tissue. 

Over the last couple of days, I worked on a short poem about this particular picture, taken by Gillian at their brother's college graduation in 2007, less than two years from his death. 

His Eyes
by Sue Anderson

His eyes twinkle in two-dimensional form,
with a merry thought or private joke
or just plain teenage silliness.

Pictures capture a person's soul,
said my friend 
after my son died.

Which explains the photos
all over my house.

Monday, November 18, 2013

4 Years and 8 Months Later - Bar Fundraiser for JAF

Last Thursday, at our 2nd Annual Fall Bar Fundraiser, where many came to provide financial support for the Josh Anderson Foundation, I experienced dichotomous emotions - like oil and water in the same container but maintaining their own separate space, was joy and sorrow, bitter and sweet.

Joy at seeing the tremendous number of friends and colleagues whose generous donations allowed us to exceed our $10,000 goal by almost 50%.  Emails and letters of those who could not attend as well as conversations at the event underscores the support for our crucial mission - to provide teenagers with the mental health education, resources and support so that they will never turn to suicide.

This article, Giving Teens Strength to Keep On Living, published in our local community paper the  day before the fundraiser, exemplifies what the money is being used for.

Sadness, of course, as to why we were there - a reminder of our personal tragedy.  But the next night is when the grief really bubbled over.  I was home alone, walking around our silent house, looking at the myriad of pictures chronicling the growth of our big family, each photo bringing back memories of vacations, sporting events, weddings, and holidays - all the precious moments that us moms treasure, and it hit me once again, as if it happened last month and not over 4 years ago, that our Josh is gone.

Being alone, through tears, I started talking to him.  "Why did you do it Josh?  Why did you do something that we cannot fix or change?  Why did you do something so permanent?  Why didn't you say anything?  Why didn't you tell me?  I would gladly trade places with you if that would mean you could be here…..I would've taken all your pain upon myself if that would keep you alive.  If someone in our family had to die, I wish it were me, not you."

In my mind's eye, he is equally sad and remorseful in response, "I'm sorry mom - I didn't know what I was doing.  I wish I could take it back and come home."

For us, it is too late.  But hopefully not for other kids and their families.

Getting ready to sell drink and raffle tickets

Josh's picture and the JAF banner

What makes this event special is the support by young adults…..

…..and not so young adults

Tim showing a supporter the big screen TV which was showing pictures of Josh and JAF events

Two moms of Josh's friends manning the table

Our new JAF T-shirts

Friday, October 18, 2013

4 Years and 7 Months Later - Out Of Darkness Walk in DC

On September 28, 2013, Gillian and two friends participated in American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's (AFSP) Out of Darkness Community Walk in Washington DC.  There were close to 2,000 participants and over $100,000 was raised. 

.......RIP Josh......

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

4 and Half Years Later: Emerging From a Cocoon

Something inside of me is different.  It feels like a small pilot light has been lit and instead of blowing out as in past months, it is stays alight.

Another image that describes this new feeling is a cocoon.  Unbeknownst to me, I have been enveloped in a grief cocoon for the past four-and-a-half years, since that awful day that Josh left us.  According to the dictionary, a cocoon is "something that covers and protects a person or thing."  That sounds right.

I have been enveloped in a web of grief, sorrow, pain and heartache which has been reinforced with the tough fibers of guilt and regret.  Mixed in this protective layering is the unresolved question of "why?"

If this image has a color, it would be grey as that is what has permeated my view 24/7.  But intermittently, over the past few months, some rays of light have broken through.

Now, it feels like I am emerging from the grief cocoon and enjoying once more favorite activities such as shopping.  I have recently bought new dishes.  I've also gone shopping with my daughters whereby I've ended up with more new clothes than they.

I have found motivation to finally work on a scrapbook that a dear friend from college sent to me four years ago, all ready to record Josh's life in pictures.  It has been sitting, patiently waiting for the time that I could cull through hundreds of photos, separate by year, to determine which would make it into this precious keepsake - without the sadness that prevented the exercise in the first place.

Another sign is the purchase of a new bedroom set, to replace an inexpensive but functional set that we bought upon our return to the U.S after living overseas - over 20 years ago.

Emerging from this grief cocoon, I feel like I've joined the living.  Things that I cared about in the past are making their way into my consciousness again.  It is like I've been a zombie - functioning in this world but not really a part of it.  Going through the motions but not really caring.  Living but with a deadened heart.

The grief is still there as evidenced by the tears as I re-read this post and type these words.  But now, grief exists alongside this spark of life and together, one step-at-at-time, we will move forward together.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

4 Years and 5 Months: Grief IV

I wrote this poem after being in the hospital due to a recent medical issue.  One of the first things that happened in the emergency room was hooking me up to an IV (intravenous therapy).

Grief IV
by Sue Anderson

I am eternally hooked to an IV
     a grief IV - one 'specially made
for mothers like me
    whose child is gone
never to return.

No tousled hair to rub
     no warm body to wake
No "hey Mom, what's for dinner?"
     no parental exhortations.

Instead, an empty chair
     a vacant place in photos
A weekly visit to his park
     quiet and still; a peaceful resting place.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Josh Anderson Foundation: Working to Stop Teenage Suicide

The mission of the Josh Anderson Foundation (JAF) is simple - to provide young adults with the mental health education, resources and support so that they will never turn to suicide.

Due to Lauren's efforts, much has been accomplished over the past 18 months.  In fact, JAF is featured in the August 2013 episode of SAMHSA's Road to Recovery television series entitled "Young Adults in Recovery: Meeting the Needs of the "Millennial Generation""

SAMHSA stands for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Click here for the JAF segment.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

4 Years and 4 Months: Dead But Not Dead

My grief journey has taken a very unexpected turn in terms of my reading.  For the past nine months, after reading Winter of the World, an engrossing novel about World War II by Ken Follett, I have been obsessed.

Since then, I have read or listened to 25 books on WWII:  biographies, memoirs, historical fiction, non-fiction and have watched the two HBO series Band of Brothers and The Pacific and as well as Hollywood's renditions of the war: War and Remembrance, Patton, Midway and Memphis Belle.  I have ordered 17 more books from Amazon and have another 20 books on my wish list.  I have never been interested in history, much less military history before now.

Why the fascination?  And how does this relate to my grief journey, knowing that somehow it must?

I find the first question easier to answer; in fact, the following bullet points are what I wrote on the first page of my WWII study journal:
  • This war spanned the entire globe - it was a true world-wide conflict.
  • It was a two front war against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan.
  • Transformation of the United States was unprecedented from an isolationist country to full and total commitment to war as we would only accept full and unconditional surrender of the enemy - no peace negotiations. 
  • Enormous sacrifice of human life.
  • Countless inspiring stories of valor and courage.
  • Sometimes, the outcomes of battles came down to pure luck.
  • War politics personified in the larger-than-life Big Three: Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
  • War and larger-than-life generals: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Rommel, Montgomery.
  • War and citizen soldiers: college students, farm boys, salesmen, factory workers - regular "Joes" turned soldier.
  • Homefront in war - changes in the workforce primarily for women and Negroes.
  • Holocaust 
  • Post war - the "Greatest Generation".  What did they do? How did they fare?
  • Post war politics: Cold War to Korean War to Vietnam War
I think the answer to the second question, "How does this relate to my grief journey?" can be found in my September 2012 post: "He Who Learns Must Suffer".

I wrote that reading drama by the four greatest tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Shakespeare) was cathartic.  I also noted that while my external life had contracted to a small circle, my internal world had expanded with the exploration of ancient Greek and Elizabethan literature.

Since then, my mind's eye has jumped centuries to the greatest drama of human history: World War II.  And instead of reading about characters created from imagination, I am learning about real life heroes and heroines - about the grisly business of war and how in the midst of either witnessing or experiencing unspeakable horror, one can keep their human dignity and find the resilience and fortitude to keep going.

The cathartic affect is still a paradox: i.e how can reading about someone else's pain and suffering cause a purging, cleansing and connection to my own deep feelings?

In recent days, I have been drawn to the classic memoirs of two Marines who fought in the Pacific Theatre, Helmut for My Pillow by Robert Leckie and With the Old Breed by E. B Sledge.  These brave men were featured in Tom Hanks/Steven Spielburg's HBO mini-series, The Pacific. 

The title of this post comes from a quote in Leckie's book as he ruminates on a post-battle scene in Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain.
I stood among the heaps of dead.  They lay crumpled, useless, defunct.  The vital force was fled.  A bullet or a mortar fragment had torn a hole in these frail vessels and the substance had leaked out.  The mystery of the universe had once inhabited these lolling lumps, had given each an identity, a way of walking, perhaps a special habit of address or a way with words or a knack of putting color on canvas.  They had been so different, then.  Now they were nothing, heaps of nothing.  Can a bullet or a mortar fragment do this?  Does this force, this mystery, I mean this soul - does this spill out on the ground along with the blood?  No.  It is somewhere, I know it.  For this red-and-yellow lump I look down upon this instant was once a man, and the thing that energized him, the Word that gave "to airy nothing a local habitation and a name," the Word from a higher Word - this cannot have been obliterated by a quarter-inch of heated metal.  The mystery of the universe has departed him, and it is no good to say that the riddle is solved, the mystery is over - because it has changed residences.   The thing that shaped the flare of that nostril, that broadened that arm now bleeding, that wrought so fine that limply lying hand - that thing exists still, and has still the power to flare that nostril, to bend that arm, to clench that fist exactly as it did before.  
Because it is gone you cannot say it will not return; even though you may say it has never yet returned - you cannot say that it will not.  It is blasphemy to say a bit of metal has destroyed life, just as it is presumptuous to say that because life has disappeared it has been destroyed.  I stood among the heaps of the dead and I knew - no, I felt that death is only a sound we make to signify the Thing we do not know. 
This is a profound thought written by one who, after looking at the dead; no, really, deeply looking at them, contemplates what has occurred and after deep reflection, is convinced that a piece of metal cannot destroy the "mystery of the universe" that resides within our earthly vessels, nor can a plain, brown extension cord.

Said another way, just because life has disappeared or no longer inhabits the flesh, it does not mean that it has been obliterated or destroyed.  How this works, I do not know but I believe it.

I wrote the following in my journal:
Death is not the end but rather the beginning of another beginning. 
Death is not the end but the transition to another form of living.
And perhaps the living bears some responsibility for as long as our loved ones are remembered, they stay alive.   I underlined this passage from Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer Prize winning book, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in  World War II.  This little verse, given to Eleanor by a friend after FDR's sudden death, encouraged her to "make the rest of her life worthy of her husband's memory.  As long as she continued to fight for his ideals, he would continue to live."
"They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind.  In those whom they have blessed they live a life again."
RIP Josh.
You remain alive in our hearts.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

4 Years and 3 Months (OBX vacation) - June 18, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, we went on a vacation to the Outerbanks, NC.  In years past, this beach mecca was a favorite destination during spring break.  We teamed up with other families and rented big homes on the beach - Josh loved it.

This year, three generations filled our large oceanfront house, from my brother's inquisitive, energetic 19-month old baby to my parents - still going strong at 77 and 83 years old.

It is our 5th summer without Josh and it is during family vacations that his absence is acutely felt. Gillian remarked that these times are especially hard as this was when she and Josh would spend hours together - talking, joking and laughing.

It hit me hard on our 4th day.  It started on my habitual early morning walk on the beach while listening to Ingrid Michaelson's poignant version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  Then I sat down on my sand chair and wrote a list of activities that I could just picture Josh doing:
  • boogie-boarding over waves with his cousin, Greyson
  • throwing the football around with cousins, Mitch and Lydia
  • watching Star Trek in the in-house theatre room
  • snoozing on the couch with the dogs
  • playing poker
  • discussing Dr. Who with Ava
  • playing pool with uncle Steve and Greyson
  • catching sand crabs
  • in the jacuzzi with his sisters
  • flirting with baby Keilani
I fell into the grief vortex, wracked with pain and sorrow - the sand crabs undisturbed by my sobs.  Attempts to describe these feelings were scribbled on the blank pages:
It is still painful - feels raw - piercing right to the depths of my heart and soul  - a mother's pain...
  • deep
  • never ending
  • un-explicable
  • emotional torture
  • lazer sharp, pointed, stabbing pain - making it difficult to breathe
  • fueled by guilt, regret, remorse
  • a longing for life which will never be fulfilled
  • a deep, profound sadness which feels bottomless
  • like a boat which enjoyed calm seas and is now pummeled by waves - relentless, furious, uncaring, fierce, brutal, attacking
I was exhausted the next day - spent and drained.  The rest of the vacation passed with the awareness of Josh's absence, translated into a dull ache instead of the acute pain.   We saw dolphins every day which I've always taken as a sign of Josh's presence.  Then on the last day, an unmistakable sign occurred right outside our deck - a huge, beautiful, full rainbow - right on the ocean.  

The whole family missed you on this vacation.  Thanks for letting us know you were with us.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Fibonacci Poems: Gone and Negative Space

Reading and writing poetry is a small but significant part of my Grief Journey.  Poems, via careful choice of words, can house deep, profound thoughts and feelings within a relatively short amount of space.  Since I am not a verbose person nor a prolific writer, this form has suited me - see post of my fledgling attempts.

I have been reading through the posts on last month's National Poetry Month Blog Tour, hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit and came across this post on Fibonacci poems  by Tabatha Yeatts.

In 2006, Gregory K came up with the idea to marry the mathematical Fibonacci sequence and poetry.  "The Fib" is a "six line, 20 syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8 – the classic Fibonacci sequence."- see his original post.

My first attempts at the Fib:

He's gone
by his hand.
Sun and moon have stopped;
irrevocably changed - damn Death!

Negative Space
space in my red heart,
un-fillable except by him.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

4 Years and 2 Months - Chronos vs. Kairos Time

My 5th Mother's Day, sans Josh, has passed.  I didn't expect to feel sad the day before but sure enough, on the way to teach my morning cycle class, I started thinking about Josh and next thing I knew, big fat tears were rolling down my cheeks.  I only had a few stoplights to get myself together and in the right frame of mind to lead an energetic workout.

Grief is like that sometimes: a spigot that suddenly turns on and with much effort, can be turned off.

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of time after reading a profound passage in Styron's haunting novel, Sophie's Choice where the protagonist Stingo quotes George Steiner, an essayist who wrote about the Holocaust and more specifically, about the disconnect between the horrors faced in German concentration camps and normal life experienced by millions of others, within the same timeframe - see link for actual essay.
Precisely at the same hour in which Mehring and Langner were being done to death, the overwhelming plurality of human beings, two miles away on the Polish farms, five thousand miles away in New York, were sleeping or eating or going to a film or making love or worrying about the dentist.  This is where my imagination balks. The two orders of simultaneous experience are so different, so irreconcilable to any common norm of human values, their coexistence is so hideous a paradox, Treblinka is both because some men have built it and almost all other men let it be - that I puzzle over time.  Are there, as science fiction and Gnostic speculation imply, different species of time in the same world, 'good time' and enveloping folds of inhuman time in which men fall into the slow hands of the living damnation?
In the margins I wrote: Different species of time in the same world?  Yes!  Grief time vs. normal time. 

I felt this disassociation the split second my eyes saw death and my heart, soul and psyche comprehended our new reality.  I began living in two genres of time.  In my world, the sun stopped, echoing my zombie-like feelings and exemplified the un-natural state of life.  Externally, the sun and moon exchanged places, as per usual.  This is what is hard - the "as per usual" piece.   It was incomprehensible that everything continued as normal: neighbors still walked their dogs, kids got on the school bus, people went to work, shopping, to the gym.  How can you act as if nothing has happened? I wanted to shout.

In doing some research, I found this helpful article: How Long is This Grieving Going to Last? by Elizabeth Harper Neeld on  In it she talks about two kinds of time:

Chronos time- chronological time.  "Measured by a calendar.  Chronos time is counted in days, weeks, months, years.  Chronos time describes a continuum of past, present, and future."

Kairos time - "the time within which personal life moves forward.  Kairos is an ordered but unmeasured kind of time outside of space-time."

She says that the integration of our grief takes place in kairos time, not chronos time so that "the mere passing of days and weeks and months and years does not within itself bring integration of our loss."  Furthermore Neeld postulates that this kairos time is longer than what non-grievers will think.

So true!  This thinking is exposed with unhelpful comments such as "It's been a year - you should be feeling better by now" or "give it a few months and you will feel better."

Another google search brought up this blog post, The One Greek Word You Ought to Know by J.R.Briggs.   These quotes bring more clarity to these Greek descriptions of time:
Chronos is quantitative minutes. Kairos is qualitative moments. 
Kairos is pregnant time, the time of possibility – moments in our day, our week, our month, our year or our lifetime that define us. It is a crossroads. It has the ripe opportunity to make you bitter or better. It is a teachable moment. It is the right or opportune moment. They are rarely neutral and always leave an impact on us.
Kairos moments are a string of moments that possess possibility – clarity brought on often by pain, uncertainty or crisis. They force us to be absolutely present: to ourselves, to God and to the experience of reality that we’re facing.
and the bottom line:
As human beings, all of our growth happens in kairos moments.

Personal reflections from my journal:

Chronos time:  Four years and two months.

Kairos time:  this is what my journal and this blog have chronicled.  Or better said, this blog, my reading blog, my journal are all critical to my kairos time - tools to help me integrate my loss.  Chronos time just marks points of kairos time, like mileposts on a road - a very long road - a lifetime road, what I have called My Grief Journey. 

Intuitively, I know this journey is not bound by physical time (chronos) but is internal, personal, subjective.  There will be epiphanies, setbacks, ruts, obstacles, wrong turns, U-turns, hairpin turns, bumps, potholes, hills, valleys and maybe mountain tops.

I will end this post with Neeld's thought-provoking questions and uplifting conclusion:
"What insights have I had? What have I realized? What meaning am I making of this terrible loss?"
The good news is that healthy grieving does result, at the time right for each of us, an experience of integration. We take stock and say: I am changed by our loss, and I have changed my live as a result of my loss. And we are not shriveled permanently like a dry stick because of our loss. We can feel alive again…probably wiser, maybe quieter, certainly full of gratitude and a desire to contribute from what we have been through. 
And all in good time. All in good kairos time.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Guilt and Regret - April 28, 2013

This is an example of how reading good literature makes me face difficult thoughts and feelings that might otherwise be unexplored.

I have been slowly making my way through Sophie's Choice by William Styron.  Slowly because of the number of new words to look up, define and write in my personal lexicon and also, to savor the gorgeous prose, just like one would deliberately slow down to enjoy a delicious dessert.

Sophie, the hauntingly beautiful protagonist is consumed by guilt.  The writer-narrator Stingo is witness and describes it as:
Guilt. Hateful guilt. Guilt, corrosive as brine.  Like typhoid, one can harbor for a lifetime the toxin of guilt. 
In another part, Stingo personifies his lust in a way that puts the reader in the body of a virile twenty-two year old male virgin, completely obsessed with sex.

Combining these two ideas made me think of how I would personify my feelings, namely Guilt and Regret.   This is what I wrote in my journal:

Guilt and Regret - like two peas in a pod; siamese twins, joined at the hip.  When one shows up, the other comes by default.  I wonder if there will be any point in my grief journey when Guilt will part for good, taking up residence with another poor soul; when I will be able to say clearly and soberly that I did all that I knew to do, that Josh did this to himself and therefore, I am not at fault?  I wonder.

There are moments now when these absolving thoughts float through my head but always, either softly in the background, or loudly in my ears, Guilt says, "No!  You should've known, seeing it coming, been on your guard, questioned him, talked to him......prevented his death."

Then Regret chimes in with her soliloquy which repeats like a broken record, unable to get out of the verbal rut: "what if...if only... would've....could've...should've..."

I endure their mental flogging as just punishment for not being a good mother, for although I tried to be,  I was not attentive enough, not what he needed me to be and now my Josh is dead - ergo, my fault.

I've come to accept Guilt and Regret's tenacious hold for it is the price of motherhood.  Moms protect.  Moms guard.  Moms are willing to die in order to save their children.  Moms are not supposed to outlive their precious offspring.  Good moms do not have a child who takes their own life.

So deep down, I believe Guilt and Regret words:

I should've been different.
I should've been better.
I should've seen something - a sign - even when no one else did.
I should've known and so been able to prevent his death.

And what it really comes down to is this most painful thought:

If Josh had a different mom, maybe he would be alive.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

4 Years and 1 Month later - April 18, 2013

Josh has been top-of-mind lately as it is a big week for the Josh Anderson Foundation (JAF).  We have brought suicide awareness speaker Jordan Burnham back to Northern Virginia to speak to middle schoolers, high schoolers and parents about his depression, suicide attempt, and how he found ways to cope after his miraculous survival.  Check out ESPN's E:60 Special to learn more about his story.

He spoke to the entire student body of three schools: Lake Braddock Middle School, Lake Braddock High School and W.T Woodson High School - about 6,000 students.

We held parent sessions the night before he spoke to the students and roughly a hundred parents came out. I wish there were more.  I attended these sessions and at both, during the Q&A, parents asked him, "In retrospect, what could've stopped you from going out your 9-bedroom story window?"

Of course, my ears perked up as this is the question I ask myself over and over about Josh:  What could've helped him?

His answer reinforces JAF's mission.  Jordan simply said that he needed to hear a speaker like himself: someone young, who talks confidently and unashamedly about his struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, time in a mental hospital, skepticism about therapy, medication non-compliance and alcohol abuse while in high school.   That he needed to be educated about mental health issues and know that it was not only okay but it was actually courageous to be open and seek help.

As I sat listening to his story, I couldn't agree more.  Teens need to hear from people they perceive as cool - someone they would like to emulate.  Lectures from adults go in one ear and out the other whereas a powerful, honest story like Jordan's will impact and inspire them.  As he told parents, his main goal was to give kids permission to own up to their emotions/feelings and to do whatever they can to get better.  I believe Josh would've been impacted by listening to such direct and unafraid talk about mental health.

One of the schools had two suicides this school year.  My heart dropped when I heard this.

The counseling staff at the other school said that kids were coming to see them because of Jordan's story.  GOOD!

At Lake Braddock High School gym

Speaking with students afterwards

Middle school students line up to speak to him

W.T. Woodson auditorium - two sessions allowed him to speak to the entire student body

Jordan's parents are lucky that their son miraculously cheated death.   I wish that were us.  But at least we can do something so that Josh's death is not in vain.  We can work to save other teens, by providing hope and education so that they will NEVER turn to suicide.

But as rewarding as all of this is, it does not take away the deep. bottomless sadness that overwhelms me - even four years later.  I have finally gone through Josh's desk and closet and have found strands of his hair which I keep in his wallet along with driver's license and AAA card.  This is next to my computer along with his passport, issued in August 2007.  The pages are empty as he never had the chance to go abroad.

The loss feels very raw right now, like when a deep wound reopens.  But this is what grief does; it ebbs and flows, recedes and advances, diminishes and lengthens, very much like the waves of the sea.  Today, after Lauren had spoken at a Safe Community Coalition breakfast about the work that JAF is doing, she was approached by an administrator at Josh's school, who said that despite dying in their sophomore year, his friends took him with them throughout the rest of their high schools days - all the way through graduation.  Hearing this is bitter-sweet; it helps me to know how much he was loved but is tough to contemplate once again, the negative space of his passing.

RIP beloved son.  We are keeping your memory alive while working to save others.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

4th Annual Running to Remember Josh - March 16, 2013

It is a blessing that our annual fundraiser, connected to the Rock n Roll Half and Full Marathon occurs around the anniversary of Josh's death.  (Click here to see post of last year's run).  Instead of sadness and grief leading up to that dreaded day, we are busy and focused on raising as much money as possible for the Josh Anderson Foundation, dedicated to preventing teenage suicide.  That weekend, our normally quiet home bustled with family and friends as both Gillian and Tyler arrived, as well as their cousin and friend, and one of Lauren's friend.

It is a reunion of sorts as most of the runners are friends of Lauren and Gillian and were in our home four years ago, giving their support, comfort and love to Josh's grieving sisters.  They have been with us every step of the way and so are an extension of our family - we are so grateful.  My dear friend Roxanne  came from Atlanta: we have known each other for years; she is like Josh's second mom since her son Bryce and Josh have been best friends since birth (they were born three weeks apart).  It was great to have Rachel, Josh's special friend, run her first half-marathon in support of JAF.

New friends were made: a high school student in Charlottesville has been volunteering with JAF as part of her senior project; she came to take pictures and shoot video.  One of Lauren's sorority sisters from college dedicated her run to her older brother, who tragically took his life last fall.  

All told, over 30 runners and supporters came from all over the country: Washington DC, Colorado, New York City, Boston, MA and Atlanta/Athens, Georgia.   Due to the generous contributions of over 400 donors, we raised over $27,000 - very close to the ambitious goal of $30,000.

Read article in our local newspaper, Foundation Prepares to Promote Mental Healthto learn more about what we are doing with the money.

The date for next year's run has already been set: Saturday, March 15, 2014.  We hope more runners will join us next year!

2013 Rock N Roll Half Marathon in Washington DC

Why we are running

Lauren and Gillian on race day morning with blue flag

Runners and supporters on Constitution Ave before the start

Starting line

Mile 6 - looking good!

Tailgate afterwards

Lauren and Gillian are happy it is over!

Congrats to all runners!

Lauren's friend ran in memory of her brother who took his life last fall

Everything we do is for him...

our beloved Josh

Slideshow with more pictures:

Monday, March 18, 2013

4 Years Later - March 18, 2013

Four years ago, Josh decided to leave us.  I still ask "why?" but am no closer to knowing the answer than 48 months ago.

The day started with a wintry mix so by 10:30am there was a thin layer of snow on the trees and on the ground which was actually quite pretty.  But by mid-day the snow had turned to rain, and thick, grey, gloomy clouds had settled over us - pretty apropos for the sad day that it was.

I have gone back over the previous "anniversary" posts (The day after burial1 year later2 years later3 years later) and still find it hard to believe that this tragedy happened to us. It remains difficult to comprehend, reconcile, absorb and digest.  I don't deny that it happened but the disbelief is still strong.

I have put all our pictures of Josh on a digital frame which usually sits in the family room, but has been moved to the kitchen counter this weekend.  While I wait for the tea kettle to boil, I watch the slideshow of his life and just shake my head and think for the umpteenth time: "why Josh why?"  This is immediately followed by self-recriminating thoughts of how I did not give him what he needed - to live or to want to live.  This well-rehersed pattern of thought is not part of my intellect, (for I can reason my way out of guilt), but lies in my heart - the seat of emotion.  It is hard to reason with a feeling: especially one as strong as a mother's guilt.

There are a couple of things that make this day bearable.  One: we had our 4th annual Running to Remember Josh on Saturday which was a great success (a post will be coming shortly). And two: all the friends who have gotten in touch via the various way we communicate these days (text, email, e-card, face book) to say they are thinking of us and most importantly, remembering our beloved Josh.

Josh changed our life when he came into the world on January 16, 1992

This was our last family photo taken at Thanksgiving 2008

This shirt was created in memory of Josh in the first year and graces one of his friend's room in a frat house

My friend, Rox, wrote this while in Hawaii on a recent trip

The front of this year's half-marathon running shirt...

....and the back

Runners and supporters before the start 

On Sunday, Rox put up this wind chime on Josh's tree...

....and adorned his final resting place with rose petals

I went today - you can see the snow 

RIP Josh - loved and missed more than ever.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Letter to Grief - Almost 4 years later

Time relentlessly marches me closer to the four-year death anniversary on March 18th and I am powerless to stop him.  The house is quiet; I am alone.  I understand Paloma when she says "that silence helps you go inward" (in The Elegance of a Hedgehog, a recently read favorite book).   I need this silence to try and understand how I feel.  To help, I wrote a letter to Grief in my journal - read this post to see how I picture her.

Dear Grief,
You came into my life suddenly, without warning almost four years ago. I had not known you before, having never lost someone close to me.  And not just someone, but my own child whom I nourished in my womb and bore into this world over 21 years ago; who now lies frozen in time as a 17-year old man-boy; who, for reasons still unknown to me, decided to leave this world: no, how I really feel is that he decided to leave me.  I know I shouldn't take it personally (that he was not thinking of me that fateful night but of his own pain and suffering and the best way to end it), but as his mother, I can't help but take it personally.

And wonder yet again what I did wrong, or perhaps better said, what I didn't do.  For I plead "guilty" to the charge: sin of omission.  I torture myself thinking I should've done this or that; I should've said this or that.  But of course, it is too late and nothing I think, say or do will bring him back.  Death is permanent.  Irreversible.  Irrevocable.

Which is why you are still here and will continue to be until the day that I am reunited with Josh.  I am curious about one thing: when the inevitable happens and my elderly parents pass away, will a different version of you come or will more of you pile onto the current you?

If I am to guess, I would say that the part of you associated with Josh's death will be distinct and separate, perhaps only added to - heaven forbid! - if something happens to one of my other three children.  If that were to occur, I think you would become so enormous - a monstrosity - that I would crumble and break under the sheer weight: I could not survive.

For now, I acknowledge your presence without fear, flight or fight.  I do not fear you as I've learned that you are a measure of my love: love much, grieve much.  I know I cannot flee you for you reside within, so wherever I go, there you will be.  And fighting you is useless as your strength far exceeds my own.

I guess the question most on my mind is this: "What next?  Where will you be taking me on the 5th year of our journey?"

Monday, February 18, 2013

3 Years and 11 Months Later - Nothing Was the Same by Kay Jamison

After Josh's death, I read a number of bereavement books in an attempt to find answers and comfort from those who had suffered the same loss - see list.

While all have been helpful, I have found much food for thought in memoirs from celebrated authors who, having lost their spouses, penned their grief in literary prose.  See posts for more.
Kay Redfield Jamison will be added to this list.  Jamison is a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and co-authored the classic textbook on bipolar disorder called Manic-Depressive Illness (published 1990).  Five years later, at considerable risk to her reputation, she bravely published a memoir called An Unquiet Mind which chronicles her own struggle with this disease

In her second memoir, Nothing Was the Same, Jamison writes about the loss of her husband, Richard Wyatt.  What I found interesting and unique was her differentiation between the darkness felt in grief and that of depression.  I wrote a number of quotes in my journal.

About grief:
Grief conspires to ensure that it will in time wear itself out.  Unlike depression, it acts to preserve the self.
Mourning, as Freud made clear, is a natural part of life, not a pathological state. "Although grief involves grave departures from the normal attitude to life, it never occurs to us to regard it as a morbid condition and hand the mourner over to medical treatment.  We rest assured that after a lapse of time it will be overcome." 
Grief is not a disease, it is necessary. 
Grief gives much to the living, slows time that one might find a way to a different relationship with the dead.  It fractures time to bring into awareness what is being mourned and why. 
Grief, lashed as it is to death, instructs, it teaches that one must invent a way back to life.  Grief forces intimacy with death; it preserves the salient past and puts into relief our mortal states.  All die, teaches Grief.  
Grief is at the heart of the human condition.  Much is lost with death, but not everything.  Life is not let loose of lightly, nor is love.  There is grace in death.  There is life. 
Grief vs depression:
Grief, like depression is a journey one must take largely unattended....I had less energy but enough to see me through.  This is never so in depression.  Weariness pervades the marrow when one is depressed; it is what renders despair intolerable.  I bled out during my depressions.  This was not so after Richard died.  My heart broke, but it beat.  
Time alone in grief proved restorative.  Time alone when depressed was dangerous.  The thoughts I had of death after Richard's death were necessary and proportionate.  They were of his death, not my own.  When depressed, however, it was my own death I sought out.  In grief, death occasions the pain.  In depression, death is the solution to the pain.   
I read deeply, if fitfully, after Richard died. Such consolation was never possible for me during the times I was depressed.  When depressed, I could not concentrate well enough to read; little made sense to me and the written word left me cold.  When depressed, nothing could open my heart or give me courage.  I was too dulled, too incapable of receiving life; I was dead in all but pulse....Grief on the other hand, rendered me able to take solace from those who had written so well about loss and suffering. 
I found her thoughts about grief helpful - that to be human will mean, eventually and inevitably, that one will face the death of a loved one and will need to grieve.  It is unavoidable.  It is a part of living.  It is a part of one's journey.  And to grieve is absolutely necessary if one is to reconcile with death and find a "way back to life."

Her descriptions about depression are haunting.  They remind me of William Styron's thoughts in his powerful memoir, Darkness Visible.  Did Josh feel this?  If so, why and how did he hide this from us and his psychologist?

For those diagnosed with clinical depression, I have more empathy.  For those teens in our high schools who suffer from undiagnosed depression, it is imperative that they are educated enough to seek help.  This is our foundation's mission.  We must succeed so other lives may be saved.

RIP Josh

Friday, January 18, 2013

3 Years and 10 Months Later: Hippolytus by Euripides

There is much in this ancient Greek tragedy which resonates with me on this anniversary month.

First, some background of the story:  Handsome, strong, athletic, virile Hippolytus whole-heartedly worships Artemis, virgin Goddess of the Hunt.  He has absolutely no romantic interest in women and has gone so far as to call Aphrodite the "vilest of the Gods in Heaven."  Because of this, the vain Goddess of Love determines to punish Hippolytus by causing his step-mother, Phaedra to fall hopelessly in love with him.  In keeping these incestuous feelings a secret, Phaedra suffers mightily; becoming depressed and suicidal.

Phaedra speaks of the power of shame:
Then there is shame that thwarts us.  Shame is of two kinds.  The one is harmless, but the other a plague.
This "plague" fills her body and mind, leading her thoughts towards death.
Then I believed that I could conquer love,
conquer it with discretion and good sense.
And when that too failed me, I resolved to die.
And death is the best plan of them all.  Let none of you
dispute that. 
A haunting description of Phaedra's suicidal ideation:
For she would willingly bring her life to anchor
at the end of its voyage - the gloomy harbor of death. 
When the awful deed is done, the chorus says:
Woman unhappy, tortured,
your suffering, your death,
has shaken this house to its foundations. 
You were daring, you who died in violence and guilt.
Here was a wrestling: your own hand against your life. 
Who can have cast a shadow on your life? 
Her husband Theseus' words echo perfectly what I felt 46 months ago, on that horrible, unspeakable day.  (My edits are in parenthesis).
O city, city! Bitterness of sorrow!
Extremest sorrow that a [mother] can suffer!
Fate, you have ground me and my house to dust,
fate in the form of some ineffable
pollution, some grim spirit of revenge.
The file has whittled away my life until
it is a life no more.
I am like a swimmer that falls into a great sea:
I cannot cross this towering wave I see before me. 
My [son]!  I cannot think
of anything said or done to drive you to this horrible death.
You are like bird that has vanished out of my hand.
You have made a quick leap out of my arms
into the land of Death.
I have no doubt that "pre-Josh", these gut-wrenching words of sorrow and woe would have gone in one ear and out the other, bouncing off my naive heart.  Instead, they have pierced and penetrated my death-initiated soul with arrows of truth.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy 21st Birthday Josh - January 16, 2013 - updated with original poem

Josh - You would be 21 years old today!  To commemorate this momentous birthday, I've listed twenty-one things that you liked in your short seventeen years of life.  Your siblings helped with the list.

1.  Barney

2.  Yellow Blanket

3.  Legos

4. Drawing - you did such a good job with the Cat in the Hat!

5. Dragonball-Z

6. Yu-gi-oh
7. Pokemon

8.  Buddy
9.  Benji

11.  Food - Bulgogi, Ramen noodles
10.  Back scratch (just like Grandpa)
12.  Video Games:  Zelda, Gears of War, Guitar Hero, Halo
13. Football and lacrosse

14. Sleeping

15.  Shades

16. Listening to your iPod (Bob Marley, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slightly Stoopid, Sublime, All American Rejects)

17. Texting on cell phone

18. Girls

19. Girlfriend

20.  Best friends

21. Being silly

RIP Josh.

We love and miss you on your big (legal) birthday!

May 27, 2013 update
Reading and writing poetry has become a small but significant part of my grief journey.  At the coffee shop yesterday, after my weekly visit to his gravesite, I was re-reading a short poem written at the beginning of the year, a couple of weeks before Josh's 21st birthday and immediately and unexpectedly started to cry.

Sue Anderson

I see him, in my mind's eye:
     twenty-one year old.

He looks good:
     formidable shoulders
     lean waist
     mop hair
     trademark smirk.

Mirage looks so real!