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, 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: