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, 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.

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