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, December 18, 2014

5 Years and 9 Months Later - More Signs

We are approaching our 6th Christmas without Josh. I know it is redundant to say "so hard to believe" but it is true. Where has the time gone? Are we really into our sixth holiday grief season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, his birthday on Jan. 16th) without him? And on the heels of his birthday will come our day of infamy, March 18th.

The tremendous sadness, as if every cell in the body were filled with its own grief and loss, no longer weighs me down as in the first few years.  Now, I am apathetic about the holidays, watching as a dispassionate observer and asking what is all the fuss about? Why do stores need to promote Christmas before Thanksgiving? Why is my inbox continually flooded with promotions, screaming for me to spend money? Why all the added stress and pressure?

Bottom line, I am not into it anymore. Holiday decorations will stay in the basement again this year except for wreaths on the front doors, a white tree and stockings (just like the past 5 years). I've stopped sending cards and as a result am receiving less. But that is OK for while I am happy to see how friend's families have grown, it is a painful reminder of our loss.

Despite all this, I do have some inner peace in my heart because I know Josh is still here. How? Because he has recently sent me two distinct signs of his presence. Side note: I have experienced more signs but to share would mean writing about my daily meditation practice which will be on another post if I ever do decide to share.

Last month, I was at the grocery store re-stocking after being away for Thanksgiving week. I distinctly remember buzzing through the cracker/cookie aisle and thinking, "I don't need any of this."

But when I got home and started unpacking the groceries, two bulk packages of those pre-packed peanut-butter crackers and cheese crackers ended up on the kitchen table that I did not put in my cart, nor did I remember them being put in the re-suable bags that I was helping to pack. When I told Tim about this, he asked if they were on the receipt....they were. All this made me recall his funny habit of putting random things in the cart when he accompanied me to the store - see post.

My face must have had a very strange look when I saw those cracker packages and then a smile when I reasoned it was Josh. In the past, I might have chalked this up to some strange coincidence but not any more. Not after all the unexplainable things that have occurred - see posts. Now, that would mean disrespecting the efforts my son is making to connect.

The other happened just yesterday.  I was in Virginia Beach in the lobby of a client's office before going to a meeting. While I was rummaging through my padfolio for a business card to give to a consultant who was waiting with me, the craziest thing occurred.

First, I should preface this story to say that I rarely use either my work or personal iPhone to listen to music.

Long story short, without touching my work phone, it just started playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole. This beautiful version of the classic song was found to be one of Josh's favorites based on how often he played it on his computer. So it was a key song featured in his memorial service and set the tone, I think, of the whole morning. Whenever anyone in our family or close friends hear the song, we think of Josh; it is forever linked to him.

Anyway, back to the moment that the song started playing on my phone in my purse. I was in shock and couldn't really process. I looked at the phone, did not recognize the screen as anything I has seen before but figured out how to stop the music so I could get myself in the "business meeting" mindset.

Afterwards however, while in my car, I just smiled, looked up and said, "Dude, really? Before an important meeting? You must've known I was a bit nervous and wanted to give me some moral support? Well, it worked...meeting went well."

I don't believe death is the end. Josh lives on in spirit. I may not be able to see him but I can feel his essence. And somehow, someway, he has figured out how to use his energy to make things happen here - way to go Josh!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Years and 8 Months Later - New Picture

While browsing through Facebook recently, my heart stopped when I saw this picture (new to me) posted by a friend whose son was a good friend of Josh. She emailed it to me right away.

This is so signature Josh - the cool dude doing something funny. I am guessing it was taken in 2005 when he was 13 years old and in 7th grade. When I look at this picture, I try and peer into his mind and heart. Was he aware of the impending doom? Certainly doesn't look like it. My mind wanders back to that busy time looking for signs.

He didn't like school and was struggling with motivation in some of his classes. Was this something I should've picked up on?

He had a hard time getting up at 6am, but who wouldn't especially if one didn't fall sleep until 11pm or midnight?

He was a quiet kid at home but still engaged - piping in with funny comments at just the right time - making us laugh.

He excelled in athletics (football and lacrosse), which filled him with confidence and satisfaction. We attended every game to cheer him on.

I remember him being somewhat of a homebody. He would just as soon chill at home with us and the dogs as be with friends. I contrast this with my girls who HAD to be with friends 24/7.

Definitely into video games and very good.

In short, Josh completed our family. He and his older brother book-ended the girls. His easy going nature complemented the frenzy of a large, busy family. I still remember his periodic strong admonishments: "Chill Mom!"

This is an emotional post to write - bringing up memories of a happier time. Who knew that in four short years, his death would kill our family? Strong words, I know, but true. When a child dies, the grief is much more than the loss of the loved one. A part of me also died as well as the family that we were at the time. Nothing is the same and can ever be.

So it is loss upon loss upon loss. And grief upon grief upon grief.

And a suicide death complicates this even more.

So now, after 5+ years, while the pain, sorrow and anguish is not front and center like it was at the beginning, when it does pop up as while writing this post, it is still indescribable and inexpressible.

RIP Josh.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

5 Years and 7 Months Later - Book: "Poetry as Survival" by Gregory Orr and Original Poem: "No Answer"

I have just finished reading Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr, a professor of English at the University of Virginia. I loved it; it felt like I was taking a seminar course on how poetry, specifically the personal lyric, has the power to save, heal and transform the individual suffering from trauma.

He begins with his own personal tragedy.  At twelve, he was responsible for a hunting accident which killed his younger brother.  His parents did not blame him but neither did they console or comfort him, being overwhelmed with their own grief.  Two years later, his mother died unexpectedly after a routine medical procedure. The grief and guilt was overwhelming.

Through his high school English teacher, he found poetry and like Anne Sexton, it saved him.  He wrote his first poem and did not look back.  And this book is like a treatise, an argument - laid out carefully as if by an expert lawyer - on the healing powers of the lyric, personal, "I" poem in dealing with personal chaos caused by trauma.

He argues that from the time language was invented, when confronted with destabilizing human experience and emotions, man has used the lyric poem to express the inexpressible, to say the unsayable, to give order to chaos so that the poet could not only survive but then be connected to fellow sufferers. Poetry is then a way out of the silence and alienation that come from personal crisis.
When someone, in the throes of a powerful and disturbing experience, turns instinctively to the writing or reading of a poem, it is because they sense the personal lyric can be a powerful aid in helping them survive and make sense of their experience.
Echoing Anne Sexton's thoughts that poets are artists and as such, must turn to and examine the abyss of internal pain and inner chaos in order to write authentically; for them, the confines of the poem and the tools of language provide a safe place from which to do so. For the page is a finite space to house the words that speak the unspeakable. The poet can use formal techniques such as meter and rhyme which can further exert control and structure. Even in free verse, there is structure - albeit informal.

And to describe the indescribable, poets have the tools of figurative language: symbols, imagery, similes and metaphors that can be subtle or in-your-face. The more intuitive and surprising, the better.
In the personal lyric, the self encounters its existential crises in symbolic form, and the poem that results is a model of this encounter. By making such a dramatized, expressive model of its crisis, the self is able to acknowledge the existence, nature, and power of what is destabilizing it, while at the same time asserting its ultimate mastery over the disordering by the power of its linguistic and imaginative orderings. 
I can relate. I have instinctively turned to poetry as a means to express my deepest thoughts and feelings - see posts.  While they are the work of a true novice, I re-read these poems and are taken right back to the moment, thought or feeling. They still ring true.

For example, the ONLY way I could ever write about that horrible morning was in a short, terse, sparse poem. This describes what I saw, felt and heard.

No Answer
by Sue Anderson

No answer,
   Voice silent.

No response, 
   Mind gone.

No sight, 
   Eyes unblinking.

No movement,
   Body stiff.

No breath,
   Chest still.

No beat, 
   Extremities blue.

No life,
   Hope abandoned.

Why?  I screamed,
   No answer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Joshua Ball - Annual Fall Fundraiser on October 23, 2014

The Josh Anderson Foundation's fall fundraiser has traditionally been an informal but successful and growing bar fundraiser - see post on last year's event.  We determined that having outgrown the space, it was time to "graduate" to a more formal fundraising event, hence the first annual Joshua Ball.

Date: Thursday, October 23, 2014
Time: 7 - 10pm
Place: The Top of the Town   1400 N. 14th Street  Arlington, VA22209
Cost:  $100 per ticket

If you live in the Washington DC area please come and support our crucial mission to stop teenage suicide.   If you are not local, please consider donating to this worthy cause.

CLICK HERE to go to the event page where you can find out more, purchase tickets or donate.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Moving Video by Teen Who Survived Suicide Attempt

Sad news recently as teen suicide deaths in our area continue.  This time, two high school girls have taken the tragic, irrevocable action to end their lives….new victims of the "permanent solution to a temporary problem."

It is hard to describe how I feel upon hearing the news: first, OH NO, NOT ANOTHER YOUNG LIFE! then deep heartache in thinking about the intense pain of the poor mother and the terrible grief journey the families must now endure.

And it brings it all up again for me.

In a twitter feed that mourned the loss of one of the girls, a video called "What if I killed myself…" was posted.  Here is a description: "This video is produced by 1VoiceInside for Suicide Prevention Month. Hopefully this video helps to de-stigmatize suicide and opens people's minds to the true helplessness and hopelessness that mental illness induces."

A young man shares about his battle with depression and suicidal ideation.  Thankfully his attempt did not succeed and he courageously tells his story.  The first time I saw the video, my heart flipped because his basketball jersey number was #33, which was Josh's football jersey number.

His message is so important as kids need to know that they are not alone,  On June 5th of this year, the Josh Anderson Foundation (JAF) co-sponsored a Teen-To-Teen Mental Health Summit where 5 kids also courageously shared their stories.  This successful program is one that we want to repeat and multiply - view post to see video and learn more.

As a society and in our communities and families, there MUST be a paradigm shift in how we view mental illness. I long for the day when we have the same understanding and empathy towards a kid suffering from a mental illness like clinical depression as if he/she were a diabetic.  Both kids need to manage their illnesses (medication, activities, etc) to avoid the devastating and affects of the disease.  And if they don't, the consequences could be fatal.

Yet today, in middle and high schools across America, the kid struggling with a mental health issue  feels isolated due to the stigma.  They cannot be real and open about what is really going on inside because of fear…fear of what people will think, what they will say, how they will be treated.

No kid should have to live in shame and fear.

No kid should have to suffer in silence.

No kid should have to feel like suicide is their only viable option. 

RIP Josh and all the others who are in my heart. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Five-and-Half-Years Later

I am in Palm Desert, CA this week where Tim and I are celebrating (early) our 31st anniversary which will be on October 10th.  We got married a couple of weeks before my 22nd birthday so have been married for three-fifths of my life.  Little did we know at the time that we'd be blessed with four healthy, beautiful children complete with the busyness and craziness that comes with a large, active family.

 December 2008 - last family photo with Josh

Nor could we have foreseen that in our 25th year of marriage our youngest - seventeen year old Josh - would take himself out of our life, our family, our marriage, our future.  In one fell swoop, our lives no longer felt "blessed".

But with the loving support of family and friends, including Josh's friends, we have managed to soldier on by putting one foot in front of the other, not looking too far ahead; instead, adhering to the old but true adage to take "one day at-a-time".  The days add up the weeks, the weeks become months and the months morph into years.
Our marriage has survived the worst blow - the death of a child. As I reflect on why or how, I suppose it is because we gave each other the space to grieve - in our own ways, without judgement or expectation.

And I stopped being focused on small, stupid things that would invariably cause tension or arguments. Those things were inconsequential next to the monumental task of surviving.  Peripheral issues fell by the wayside and stayed there.

This lasting change has been a hidden blessing, perhaps one, sad to say, that may not have occurred without such a tragedy to wake me up to what truly matters in relationships: grace, peace, forgivness, tolerance, kindness, giving the benefit of the doubt, active listening, and unconditional acceptance.

According to Josh's friends, this is how he treated others. Perhaps striving to embody these qualities is another way for me to keep his memory alive - to allow his spirit to live on within me.

RIP Josh.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thoughts from "Searching for Mercy Street: A Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton" by Linda Gray Sexton

Linda Gray Sexton became a suicide survivor at 21-years old when her mother killed herself by sitting in a running car with the garage doors closed.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet's battle with mental illness was over.  Anne Sexton was only forty-five years old.

In the years following her mother's death, Linda finished college, edited and published Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977)got married, had two children after suffering several miscarriages, published four novels, was a critical contact for Diane Middlebrook, author of Anne Sexton: A Biography (1991)suffered from the same illness and suicidal ideation as her mother and at the age of thirty-six, was at a place in life where her mother's death overshadowed everything.

The answer to her psychotherapist's question, "How often do you think about your mother?  Once a week?  Once a month?" was "How about every day."

In her words, she "needed an exorcism" and what resulted was this brutally honest memoir published in 1994, twenty years after her mother's death.

Rather than being cathartic, she found writing Searching for Mercy Street to be more a testimony to the events of her life - the abandonment, the chaos, the strange sexual games played with her mother, the domestic abuse, Anne's multiple suicide attempts and resulting hospitalizations, the constant manipulation as well as the few positive memories such as the writing lessons received at their kitchen table.
As I told my own story, I validated my life's experiences and toughened myself; it was a part of my self-education, one that helped me gain control over what had once seemed unmanageable.  Silence compels us to look at what lies behind it, and revelation brings with it knowledge - which is why some feel as if they must write about the private aspects of their lives, in search of solace and clarity.  To speak candidly, with neither justification nor humiliation, relieves the haunting of memory and mind and becomes one way to regain our dignity and our strength. 
Yes! - this is EXACTLY why I continue to write in my journal and on this blog.  It is a testimony to the journey I was thrust on, against my will, kicking and screaming, over five years ago.

So this is a very personal memoir about living with mental illness and suicide, both her mother's and her own.  Through her own suffering, she is able to absolve her mother's action.
Suicide is an immediate and permanent solution to pain.  The pain can be either physical or emotional: emotional pain of an intensity sufficient to drive the sufferer to consider suicide often manifest itself in physical symptoms so powerful that to quibble about origin is beside the point. Pain is pain regardless of its source. None of these conditions can necessarily be conquered by willpower; neither are they induced by laziness, lack of moral ethic, or selfishness.  
In my mind I had accused my mother of these failings many times. Now, my own experience had taught me a different and quite simple lesson: suicide is a synonym for escape…She had sought death because she believed she had no alternative. A life of pain is not a life worth living. She was not a coward, but instead a realist.
After reading these words, I can't help but wonder how much is applicable to our beloved Josh. He was not at risk for suicide, so we and his psychologist thought but obviously he was. What haunts me is this: what internal pain did he suffer from and for how long?

Her words about the root cause (depression), reminds me of William Styron's short powerful memoir, Darkenss Visible - see post for thoughts.
My mother died of depression. Untreatable, unceasing depression. Why, when we refer to depression, do we think of it in the main as a state characterized by numbness and low spirits rather than intense suffering? Why, in fact, is the word pain rarely used when describing depression? The dictionary uses synonyms such as melancholy, despondency, and sadness.
These are relevant questions at the time of publication in 1994 and now, twenty years later.

Before Josh's death, I was naive and uneducated in the topics of mental illness, depression and suicide. I did not know the signs of depression/suicide, leaving it to the "experts".  Now, I cringe whenever I see the list of signs because at least half can be ticked off as applicable to Josh.

This fuels our mission of The Josh Anderson Foundation: to "provide teenagers with the mental health education, resources and support so that they will never turn to suicide."

Teenagers because they may be their own last line of defense but also parents and teachers, coaches and youth leaders.  We all need to come together to stop Death's tool from taking any more young lives.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Poem: "Separation" by W. S. Merwin

As mentioned in earlier posts, poetry has been a source of comfort on my grief journey.  This should not be a surprise, according to W. S. Merwin, U. S. Poet Laureate (2010 - 2011):
Prose is something, but poetry is about what can't be said.  Why do people turn to poetry when all of a sudden the Twin Towers get hit, or when their marriage breaks up, or when the person they love most in the world drops dead in the same room?  Because they can't say it.  They can't say it at all, and they want something that addresses what can't be said. 
I found this quote underneath his picture in The Poets Laureate Anthology, bought back in March but not opened until a few days ago.

And was blown away by his three line poem below.

by W. S. Merwin
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched in its color.

I have read this over and over - so profound, so poignant - capturing truth in a succinct, compressed way.  Josh's death, his absence from my life, from our family is a color that permeates everything.  What we've done, what we do now, and what will be done in the future - the color of his absence will weave through. 

This is why it is impossible to "get over it" - his absence is a part of the air I breathe, part of the space I move in.  It is ingrained in my conscious and subconscious; part of what makes me, me.

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014 - 5 Years and 5 Month Later: Quote from "The Namesake"

I've recently finished Jhumpa Lahiri's poignant novel: The Namesake, and want to quote from the end (not to worry; there are no spoilers).
In so many ways, his family's life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another……And yet these events have formed Golgol, shaped him, determined who he is.  They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend.  Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.
EXACTLY….this describes my life with Josh's death…actions and consequences…one thing led to another and before we knew it, he was gone.

An unexpected, tragic death - especially of a child - has no comparison in terms of the ginormous, heavy imprint on a mother's life, psyche and being.  Especially when it never should have happened.

And yes, I feel the compassionate, omniscient narrator is correct in articulating that my whole life was, is and will be about accepting, interpreting and comprehending what happened.  I will also add "process" and "integrate" to the list.  A lifelong endeavor that has no blueprint, no instruction manual, no "How to Deal With the Death of Your Child For Dummies" - the lonely journey begins the millisecond the brain comprehends the unthinkable.

I envision this journey like floating on a river.  "Pre-Josh", this river was fairly calm with some turbulence due to what was going on with him at the time (see post for details) but certainly nothing unmanageable or out-of-control.   But when I realized that our beloved Josh was gone for good, it felt like out of nowhere, an immense, terrifying waterfall was in front and down was the only way I could go.

The fall could kill.  Surviving is a feat.

Then comes the realization that one has forever left the calm river with manageable turbulence for a completely different route, this grief journey - full of angry, churning white water, huge boulders, terrific undercurrents that alternately suck you under and let you go and tributaries which spit you out in whirlpools called Unbelief, Guilt, Regret, Sorrow, Shame and Anger - pools that spin you around in one place for seemingly forever before propelling your battered body to another dizzying vortex.

It is a disorienting, frightening journey that occurs in the depths of one's soul and is very difficult to understand, much less describe to others.  This is what makes the journey a lonely one.

But now, five years later, my journey is on calmer waters and I've occasionally found myself in the pools of Acceptance and Peace.  Visits here do not last but at least I've found them.  For a long time, I questioned their existence or if I would ever experience them.

So to get back to the quote, the narrator says that in the end, the event that was the mistake or accident or thing that should never have happened becomes that which prevails and endures.

Prevails and endures for the departed and those left behind.

RIP Josh….

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Poem: "Remember" by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Poetry  has become a surprising source of comfort the past 5+ years.  And recently, my interest in this genre has heightened.

A poet that I have come to love is Billy Collins.  I took several of his collections to our summer vacation and spent relaxing afternoons on the front porch, reading aloud and transcribing favorites into my poetry journal, complete with a glass of wine or summer ale, or both.   See post on reading blog for more.

I recently found and have been listening to free online poetry courses:
And found the blog: A Poem for Every Day in which the blogger provides thoughtful and personal commentary on favorite poems.

The main thing I've learned from the courses and the blog is how to be a "close reader" of poetry.  To date, I've been content to add poems to my book without much thought on how and why the poem touches me.  Maybe because to do so invites dormant pain and suffering to surface.  This certainly happened yesterday when I journaled through Rossetti's short but powerful poem at a new coffee shop, close to Josh's park.  Luckily no one came by to see if I was OK - who knows, maybe women shedding tears while reading and writing is a common occurrence.

by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
   Gone far away into the silent land
   When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
   You tell me of our future that you planned:
   Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
   And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
   For if the darkness and corruption leave
   A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
   Than that you should remember and be sad.

In my journal:

Death took Josh away - he is gone….gone far way to a  "silent land" where I cannot follow.  No more can I tousle his hair or tap his behind or talk about what the future may hold.  So there are multiple deaths that I grieve - not only his physical presence but his future, our family's future.  I was reminded of this when looking at a friend's family photo at her daughter's recent wedding - this I will not have. 

"It will be late to counsel then or pray" -  Death is irrevocable, irretrievable, irreversible.  Whatever one meant to do or say, once Death comes, it will be too late.  This is also difficult with a tragic, unexpected death - one is not prepared physically or emotionally for such a sudden, abrupt end - there are too many loose ends.  I call them Would've, Could've and Should've which in turn, fuel Regret and Guilt, close cousins to Grief. 

The poem acknowledges Death as "darkness and corruption" but whose power is limited.  A "vestige" is left - these are the mannerisms, sayings, quirks, habits, tendencies, like and dislikes that made Josh, Josh.  Death has no ownership over these memories; they remain with the living. 

I can hear Josh in the final words - "Mom, it is OK if you forget for a while - don't feel guilty when it happens.  And when you do remember, I would rather you smile than be sad." 

I will try but easier said than done, my son.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Original Poem: Sir Death

I wrote this poem to contrast polar reactions when faced with a life-threatening situation.  For most, our natural inclination kicks in: we fight for life.  I've seen this exemplified in a close relative who has defied death several times, sometimes it seems, by sheer will power.  Josh took the opposite route.

Why the difference?

More food for thought after reading an article this week in the Washington Post:  Blood Test May Show Risk of Suicide. 

Sir Death
by Sue Anderson

Sir Death is alive and well,
filling most with fear and dread,
his fellowship to be avoided at all cost.

Sometimes close,
he elicits the most desperate desire to live:
     no doctor too far
     no medicine too pricey
     no procedure too painful
     no therapy too crazy
succumbing to the most primal instinct
is to defy Death's grip.

But for others,
even as young as seventeen,
healthy and strong,
the false invitation entices
filling the gullible soul with hope of freedom
     from the pain, shame and guilt
causing a break with Reason, whereby,
     Death wins.

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014 - Five Years and 4 Months Later

We are in out 6th summer sans Josh - so hard to believe!  I daydream what it would be like if he were here - would he be done with college or on the "extended track" like some of his friends?  Either way, being home this summer, I see him lazing around in our pool, watching sports with his dad (World Cup, Red Sox), filling our normally still home with his quiet but vibrant energy.  Of course, our phone and car insurance bills would be higher but that is OK.  (Contacting such companies to remove your child is one of the most painful post-death chores).

As quickly as this fantasy life fills my mind, the pain hits because I know it is not real and never will be.

I recently listed to a poignant audiobook memoir of a young woman's own grief journey after the unexpected death of her health conscious mother from late-stage lung cancer at the age of 45.  I would highly recommend Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (2012).  The overwhelming grief led Strayed to hike the less traveled but equally formidable west coast counterpart to the Appalachian Trail, in an attempt to process and internalize her personal tragedy and loss.

In her travels, she encountered many people, both on the trail and off, whose interactions and stories impacted her in some way.  I can relate to the pain of one such person so much that while listening in the car on the way back from a business trip, unchecked tears streamed down my face.

Lou had picked Cheryl up hitchhiking and had a picture of a young boy hanging from her rear view mirror.  When asked who he was, Lou simply said it was her son, Luke, who had died 5 years ago at the age of eight.  He was hit by a truck while riding his bike and died five days later.

Lou told Cheryl the following:
After that happened, I died too.  Inside.  I look the same, but I'm not the same in here.  I mean, life goes on and all that crap, but Luke dying took it out of me.  I try not to act like it, but it did.  It took the Lou out of Lou, and I ain't getting it back. 
It has been five years for me and I feel exactly the same way.

RIP Josh - love you and miss you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 18, 2014 - Five Years and 3 Months Later

Since Josh's death, I've become an avid journaler.  An important part of my self-care is to have a place (my journal) to absorb my feelings - from the mundane to the intense.  These emotions are like colors which range the gamut from subtle, muted and ever-present grey, which to me is the color of grief, to bold, neon, in-your-face and overwhelming.

Sometimes, it helps to have an open-ended question to start a journal entry such as this recent one: Where am I on this grief journey?   I wanted to share the answer on this post.

Well, I am here, meaning still alive.  Tim and I are still together which is worth noting as my suicide survivor books say that a higher than average percent of marriages do not survive the death of a child.   Pictures of Josh still fill our home.  I have no desire to move as memories of various events in our home (except for that awful day) are not painful.  The dogwood sapling planted in his memory in our front yard is growing - strong and healthy.

I think about Josh every day.  It is strange how the deceased occupies the mind more than the living.  I would like to think his soul, or essence or energy survived death and is on the "other side," not bound by space and time.  I hope he is at peace - no longer suffering, although my life-after-death themed books tell that unresolved issues follow our loved ones- i.e. suicide will not make them disappear.

If his actions have resulted in a karmic debt, perhaps we are helping to repay through the good work done in his name (The Josh Anderson Foundation).

This grief journey is greatly influenced by my reading and in more recent months, by Josh as I believe he led me to this book last December:  My Son and the Afterlife: Conversations From the Otherside by Elisa Medhus, MD.  And books beget books as evidenced by what I've read since the beginning of the year (see reading blog for my thoughts on these books):

  • Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian Weiss, MD
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side by Sue Frederick
  • On Life After Death by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • Life After Death: The Burden of Proof by Deepak Chopra
  • The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
  • Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra
  • Life After Life: The 25th Anniversary of the Classic Bestseller by Raymond Moody, MD
  • Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat by Richard Faulds
  • The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
  • Warrior Pose: How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life by Brad Willis aka Bhava Ram
  • Power of the Soul: Inside Wisdom for an Outside World by John Holland
Upon reflection, my daughter Lauren, has also shaped this journey.  Since Josh's death, she has been diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) which manifests itself as anxiety and depression.  Thankfully, she is very open about her struggles and actively pursues healing and recovery.  She has found excellent therapists and convinced of its benefits to mind and body, has become a yoga practitioner and teacher.   She has encouraged me to attend classes at a nearby yoga studio and has wanted me to join her at Tara Brach's weekly meditation classes in Bethesda, MD.

At first, I was skeptical and reluctant but am now a full-blown believer.  I suppose it started when I accompanied her to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in April where we attended the Yoga In Schools Symposium.  To be in the midst of so many like-minded people dedicated to this ancient healing practice and wanting to bring it into schools to benefit our youth was inspiring.   There is a palatable aura and energy within that place that seeped into my being and has remained ever since.

Because of these influences, my grief journey has turned a significant corner.
  • I take 2 -3 yoga classes a week. On the other days, I practice yoga/meditation on my own.  
  • I've taken a meditation class that met once a week for 8 weeks
  • I've signed up for a 200 hour yoga teacher training to begin in the fall
  • I am much more aware of my breathing during the day.  Taking deeper inhales and exhales, I can't believe how much this small change has helped manage stress during a busy work day. 
  • When I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something, I now know these thoughts are just electrical impulses, nothing more.  With practice, I can release and watch them evaporate like a puff of smoke dissipating in the air and then go back to sleep. 
In retrospect, I see clearly how clueless I was "pre-Josh"….in my own world, detached from the pure consciousness (soul) within.   (And this is despite many years of involvement in a fundamental Christian church which is a whole other story for another time or another blog).  Then after his death, I was consumed with grief, sorrow, pain and guilt, covering my mind, heart and soul like a blanket of fog - thick, dense, grey, impenetrable.

But over the past several months, the fog has slowly lifted.  Because of my reading and daily yoga/meditation practice, I feel awakened and enlightened, knowing I've just started on a lifelong journey of spiritual discovery and experience.

So now I ponder this question:  If Josh had not died, would I be on this path?

Probably not and this is sad to me.   Why did it have to take such a profoundly tragic event to wake me up?  To get my attention?  To make me into a seeker of timeless spiritual truths?  To open my mind to the fact there is much more than this physical world?  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

May 18, 2014: 5 Years and 2 Months Later - More Signs?

We have an awning in the back of the house that provides nice shade over our patio.  Last week Monday was one of the first hot days of the year (low 80's).   There is a short in the line so extending the awning needs to be done via a manual crank, but can be retracted by a switch.  So the awning was cranked out while Lauren and friends came over to enjoy the pool.

After the kids had left, I retracted the awning.  I also checked to see if the switch would open it - no go.

Two mornings later, Tim came upstairs with these words, "I've got a strange one for you."  It turns out that when he went to put the dogs out in the backyard for their morning "business", you guessed it, the awning was open!   My immediate thought, "It was Josh."  I told Tim that in my reading, I've learned that souls "over there" can manipulate electricity in this world.

Another sign occurred on Sunday when we were traveling back from Tim's niece's college graduation.  She was born about 2 months after Josh so if he were here, we would've been attending his graduation instead.  While in a line for gas, Tim said that the high beams turned on by itself!

Two signs from Josh?  I believe so.

Thanks for letting us know you are still with us.
RIP - we love you.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

6th Mother's Day - Song: I Turn To You

Holidays for me are now measured in relation to Josh's passing.  Instead of this being my 29th Mother's Day, I mark it as the 6th, sans Josh.  Tim and the kids work extra hard to make sure this day is special; I even received a recording of Gillian singing this song to me with sweet thoughts at the end - like an audio card.  I think she would be embarrassed if I posted her cover of the song so you can click here to listen to the original artist.

I Turn To You 
by Christina Aguilera

When I'm lost in the rain,
In your eyes I know I'll find the light,
To light my way.
When I'm scared and losing ground,
when my world is going crazy,
You can turn it all around.

And when I'm down,
you're there pushing me to the top.
You're always there 
giving me all you've got.

For a shield from the storm,
For a friend, 
For a love to keep me safe and warm,
I turn to you.
For the strength to be strong,
For the will to carry on.
For everything you do,
For everything that's true
I turn to you.

When I lose the will to win,
I just reach for you and I can reach the sky again.
I can do anything, 
'cause your love is so amazing,
'cause your love inspires me.
And when I need a friend,
you're always on my side.
Giving me faith taking me through the night.

For a shield from the storm,
For a friend, 
For a love to keep me safe and warm,
I turn to you.
For the strength to be strong,
For the will to carry on,
For everything you do,
I turn to you.

For the arms to be my shelter through all the rain,
For truth that will never change,
For someone to lean on.
For a heart I can rely on through anything.
For the one who I can run to 
I turn to you.

For a shield from the storm,
For a friend, 
For a love to keep me safe and warm,
I turn to you.
For the strength to be strong,
For the will to carry on,
For everything you do,
For everything that's true
I turn to you.

Happy Mother's Day Mom. I still turn to you...whenever I have a problem...whenever I need a friend.  I'm so thankful and lucky to have you as my mom.  I love you. 

Of course, listening to the song made me cry but not because of how touched I was to have this dedicated to me but because of Josh - how I was not this way for him and because of that he is gone.  I've come a realize a very painful truth recently and that is, while I have 100% forgiven Josh for his action, I have not forgiven myself.

Any my feelings go deeper - I do not even feel forgiveness is deserved and as I peer into the future, I cannot imagine a time when this would be true.

I know this feeling is irrational and untrue but it is deep, strong and powerful.  So I know there is more healing to be done within my heart.

RIP Josh - my biggest regret is that I was not a better mom to you.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Gillian sings "Make You Feel My Love" to Josh with slideshow

Gillian made a slideshow of pictures that chronicle the special relationship she had with Josh.  They were only 19 months apart and were inseparable when young.  Their closeness remained through the years.  She posted it as a YouTube video and sang Adele's Make You Feel My Love to him. Warning - you may need tissues!

Make You Feel My Love

When the rain the blowing in your face,
and the whole world is on your case.
I could offer you a warm embrace
to make you feel my love.

When evening shadows and the stars appear
and there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years,
to make you feel my love.

I know you haven't made your mind up yet
but I would never do your wrong.
I know that from the moment that we met
no doubt in my mind where you belong.

I go hungry;  I go black and blue
I go crawling down the avenue.
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love.

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
and on the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
You ain't seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do.
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
to make you feel my love

To make you feel my love.

Friday, April 18, 2014

5 Years and 1 Month Later: Acceptance

A couple of years into my grief journey, I found a helpful website: and on it, the 7 stages of grief:

  1. Shock and Denial
  2. Pain and Guilt
  3. Anger and Bargaining
  4. "Depression", Reflection and Loneliness
  5. The Upward Turn
  6. Reconstruction and Working Thru
  7. Acceptance and Hope

Over the past 5 years, I have meandered my way back and forth through the first 6 stages which I've tried to chronicle in my personal journal and on this blog.

The last stage of Acceptance and Hope has always seemed a fantasy land, completely out of reach.  Like a mirage to a parched desert wanderer, it was an elusive illusion.  A place that maybe other people could find but not me.  In other words, an impossible dream.

And yet…..something has changed…..deep within.

I can't pin-point the exact date, as it has been a process over the past several months.  And as I write this post, my analytical mind is trying to identify the reasons:
  • My reading about the afterlife (see this post) and a couple of Deepak Chopra's books, namely Life After Death and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
  • The good work being done by The Josh Anderson Foundation and all the wonderful people we have met along the way.  We ARE making a difference.
  • I feel a more enlightened person; I have a different perspective of life and what really matters
  • I have learned much through my own suffering and my two girl's suffering, especially Lauren
  • A deep belief that death is not the end 
  • A deeper understanding of the inter-relationship between life and death; death and life - more like a circle where one begets the other
Every week, on Saturday, I visit Josh and write a letter to him.  On April 5th, 2014, this is what I wrote - very different than past letters:

Dear Josh,
At the park today - a breezy, cool, sunny day - high 50's.  Lots to share but you know already….we got your signs in NY - the picture of your backpack on the Send Silence Packing blog that Lauren saw while preparing for the Deepak Chopra interview…also the song, Over The Rainbow, came on as we were getting ready to leave the city.  You are still with us - I believe it.  But hope you are not a "displaced" soul, or "untethered" or "disassociated" - wandering, still searching for peace.  If you are and if it is tied to my emotions at all…

Be free
You are OK
We are doing OK and will be OK
I have accepted your death
I understand the connection between death and life
You died for a reason
You died so I could be born anew - enlightened - eyes open to the true spiritual beings we all are
You died and JAF was born
There is no need to feel guilty for what you did 
You are giving us strength and direction to repay the karmic debt which is OK…I am happy to do it…It feels right, like our purpose
I know you are not alone
I know you are in a place of love, peace and wholeness
I believe your spirit is alive and well
I am no longer mad at you
I forgive you
I love you
Be at peace, Josh.  I think I am getting there.
Be free - do what you want to do but still be connected to us - in a good, healthy way
Be whole, Josh
Love yourself
Know we love and miss you - that will never change

Taps is being played now - haunting, beautiful and apropos.

I don't need answers anymore - it is what it is.

I am starting a new spiritual journey - more real, authentic and truer than anything experienced in church.

An awakening…
An enlightening…
A birth….

All because of you
I am grateful

RIP Josh - guide me to true knowledge

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Original Poem: His Park

Five years later and I still visit Josh - it is part of my regular Saturday routine.  His park is a safe place and this poem expresses why.

His Park
By Sue Anderson

His park
   quiet and still
   full of ears
   listening attentively
   without judgement to my
   sighs, groans, sobs,
   whispers, cries and questions. 

compassionate mob

Frozen as infants, 
   adults and

From all walks of life
   all nationalities
   all shapes and sizes

Keeping my son company.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Original Poem: The Facade

A couple of years after Josh's death, I took a job at another firm - where no one knew of our tragedy.  I wrote about the struggle of what to say, what not to say in this post.

It is now three years later and while some know, many that I interact with on a regular basis do not.  This poem describes the problem that still exists.

The Facade
by Sue Anderson

Like a false front on a movie set
     is me to someone who does not know.

To those who do,
     they know that Josh's death defines me.

No longer the mom of four beautiful children,
     I am the mom whose youngest took his life.

Unspeakably tragic, this sacred and fragile truth
     can only be told to the trustworthy,

of whom I know many,
     but the dilemma becomes one of timing.


There are no good answers
     so I remain silent,

which means those who think they know me,
     really know nothing at all. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Poem: To The Young Who Want To Die by Gwendolyn Brooks

I received this poem from a fellow mom who lost her son to suicide exactly one month before Josh and knew I had to share on the blog.

I want every teen who is in that dark place to read it.

I wish Josh's could've read it that fateful night.

To the Young Who Want to Die
by Gwendolyn Brooks

Sit down.  Inhale.  Exhale. 
The gun will wait.  The lake will wait.
The tall gall in the small seductive vial
will wait will wait:
will wait a week: will wait through April.
You do not have to die this certain day.
Death will abide, will pamper your postponement.
I assure you death will wait.  Death has
a lot of time.  Death can
attend to you tomorrow.  Or next week.  Death is
just down the street; is most obliging neighbor;
can meet you any moment.

You need not die today.
Stay here - through pout or pain or peskiness.
Stay here.  See what the news is going to be tomorrow. 

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green's your color.  You are Spring. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

5th Annual Running to Remember Josh on March 15, 2014

This year's 5th Annual Running to Remember Josh was a blast!  We are so grateful for all our friends and family who came from 10 states (DC, VA, MD, MA, CT, NY, GA, TN, TX and  CO) to run and support our crucial mission - the prevention of teenage suicide.

Thanks to ALL our donors, we have blown out our $30,000 goal with over $44,000 raised!!

Flags made by friends in Georgia - luckily Rox was able to bring them on the plane with her!

We know you were with us in spirit!

Loading up on carbs the night before….

Donna Sanson, Karin and Luca (family friends) ran in memory of her Timmy...

Runners and supporters on Constitution Ave in the heart of Washington DC at the start

Mile 6 - up the hill…Gillian and friends looking good!

Tyler, Lauren and friends looking good too….

Donna at the finish….Timmy was with you every step of the way.

Gillian and friends excited at the finish! 

Tyler, Lauren and posse at the finish….

Tailgate afterwards…..carb re-load

Well done runners!!!

All for our beloved Josh - we love and miss you….

Dedicated to saving other young lives...

January 16, 1992 - March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March 18, 2013 - 5 Years Later: Song - "Slipped Away"

I don't know how to start this post - has it really been 5 years since Josh decided to leave us?   On the one hand, it seems like a long time ago, perhaps even longer than half a decade; on the other, it feels like yesterday.

It was a busy weekend with so many of our family and friends in town to run and support the 5th Annual Running to Remember Josh (big annual half marathon fundraiser) - a nice distraction as time moved us closer to the date of our family's personal tsunami.

This song resonates with me today; I listened to it while visiting Josh.  Click here to listen.

Slipped Away
by Avril Lavigne

I miss you, miss you so bad
 I don't forget you, oh it's so sad
I hope you can hear me
I remember it clearly

The day you slipped away
Was the day I found it won't be the same

I didn't get around to kiss you
Goodbye on the hand
I wish that I could see you again
I know that I can't

Oh I hope you can hear me
'cause I remember it clearly
The day you slipped away
Was the day I found it won't be the same

I had my wake up
Won't you wake up
I keep asking why
And I can't take it
It wasn't fake
It happened, you passed by

Now you are gone
Now you are gone
There you go
There you go
Somewhere I can't bring you back

Now you are gone
Now you are gone
There you go
There you go
Somewhere you're not coming back

The day you slipped you away
Was the day I found it won't be the same
The day you slipped away
Was the day that I found it won't be the same

I miss you

My faithful friend Rox was in town for the fundraiser and had a chance to visit Josh on Friday.  She brought roses, some thoughtful items for his tree and lots of pictures.  I went today - you will see the drastic change in weather.  Luckily the snow came on Sunday - after everyone had left. 

RIP Josh.  We love and miss you more than ever.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

4 Years and 11 Months Later - Poem: Grief by C.K. Williams

The tragic deaths of two high school boys two weeks ago have brought back memories of our own loss which occurred almost five years ago.  Can it be that long already?  In some ways, it does feel like a lifetime ago but at other times, it feels like yesterday.

During that difficult week, while thinking about the two boys and our son, I turned to poetry - specifically, an anthology edited by Kevin Young called The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing.

These are excerpts from Grief by C.K. Williams.  Although it is about the poet's grief over his mother's death, there is much about the feeling of grief in the first few terrible days that is universal.

Is this grief?  Tears took me, then ceases; the wish to die, too, may have fled through me,
but not more than with any moment's despair, the old, surging wish to be freed, finished.
I feel pain, ….even pain for myself, my incomprehension, my fear of stories never begun now, never ending.

But still, is this grief: waking too early, tiring too quickly, distracted, impatient, abrupt,
but still waking, still thinking and working; is this what grief is, is this pain enough?
I go to the mirror: someone who might once have felt something merely regards me,
eyes telling nothing, mouth saying nothing, nothing reflected but the things of the world,
nothing told not of any week's, no, already ten days now, any ten days' normal doings.

Shouldn't the face evidence anguish, shouldn't its loving sadness and loss be revealed?
Ineffable, vague, elusive, uncertain, distracted: shouldn't grief have a form of its own,
and shouldn't mind know past its moment of vague, uncertain distraction and sureness of sorrow;
shouldn't soul flinch as we're taught proper souls are supposed to, in reverence and fear?
Shouldn't grief be pure and complete, reshaping the world in itself, in grief for itself?

My face beneath your face, face of grief, countenance of loss, of fear, of irrevocable extinction;
matrix laid upon matrix, mystery on mystery, guise upon guise, semblance, effigy, likeness.
Oh; to put the face of grief on in the morning; the tinting, smoothing, shining and shaping;
and at the end of the day, to remove it, detach it, emerge from the sorrowful mask.

Stripped now of its raiment, the mouth, caught in its last labored breath, finds last resolution;
all the flesh now, stripped of its guises, moves towards its placed in the peace of the earth.
Grief for the earth, accepting the grief of the flesh and the grief of our grieving forever;
grief for the flesh and the body and face, for the eyes that can see only into the world,
and the mind that can only think and feel what the world gives it to think and feel;
grief for the mind gone, the flesh gone, the imperfect pain that must stay for its moment;
and grief for the moment, its partial beauties, its imperfect affections, all severed, all torn.

RIP Josh.  I envision you have found these boys and are showing them the ropes in the world you now inhabit.  One day - we will be together again.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

RIP Timmy

A couple of weeks ago, I found an article on Facebook, printed it out for myself and made a mental note to post on the blog.

After the very sad events of this week, it is a perfect time to share.  Our community is reeling over two suicide deaths at Langley HS where both Lauren and Josh went to school.  We know one of the families as Timmy's older brother Peter, was a good friend of Josh's and came to our home over 4 years ago to console us.  And now, tragically, we are returning the favor.

When Josh died, the friends of Tyler, Lauren and Gillian came from all over to be with them.  Peter's friends are doing the same for him.  And they are the same boys that came to our home in March 09 so it has been like deja vu for all of us.

Two of his friends joined me in my weekly visit to Josh's park yesterday.  One asked, "what can I do to help Peter?  It is hard to know what to do and what to say."  I just shared what helped us and what it comes down to is very simple - just being there….through thick and thin and over the long haul….just as they have done for us and I know they will do for their suffering friend.

While writing this morning, I came across the article within the pages of my journal and have cut and pasted in it's entirety below as I could never do proper justice by paraphrasing.

Please read and pass along to others - those who have suffered unbearable loss/trauma and those who seek to help them.

A New Normal:  Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma by Catherine Woodiwiss.

I wasn’t really expecting painful things to happen to me.

I knew that pain was a part of life, but — thanks in part to a peculiar blend of “God-has-a-plan” Southern roots, a suburban “Midwestern nice” upbringing, and a higher education in New England stoicism — I managed to skate by for quite some time without having to experience it.

After a handful of traumas in the last five years, things look different now. Trauma upends everything we took for granted, including things we didn’t know we took for granted. And many of these realities I wish I’d known when I first encountered them. So, while the work of life and healing continues, here are ten things I’ve learned about trauma along the way:

1. Trauma permanently changes us.

This is the big, scary truth about trauma: there is no such thing as “getting over it.” The five stages of grief model marks universal stages in learning to accept loss, but the reality is in fact much bigger: a major life disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no “back to the old me.” You are different now, full stop.

This is not a wholly negative thing. Healing from trauma can also mean finding new strength and joy. The goal of healing is not a papering-over of changes in an effort to preserve or present things as normal. It is to acknowledge and wear your new life — warts, wisdom, and all — with courage.

2.  Presence is always better than distance.

There is a curious illusion that in times of crisis people “need space.” I don’t know where this assumption originated, but in my experience it is almost always false. Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable. Do not assume others are reaching out, showing up, or covering all the bases.

It is a much lighter burden to say, “Thanks for your love, but please go away,” than to say, “I was hurting and no one cared for me.” If someone says they need space, respect that. Otherwise, err on the side of presence.

3.  Healing is seasonal, not linear.

It is true that healing happens with time. But in the recovery wilderness, emotional healing looks less like a line and more like a wobbly figure-8. It’s perfectly common to get stuck in one stage for months, only to jump to another end entirely … only to find yourself back in the same old mud again next year.

Recovery lasts a long, long time. Expect seasons.

4.  Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.

This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. This is one reason why trauma is a lonely experience. Even if you share suffering with others, no one else will be able to fully walk the road with you the whole way.

A hard lesson of trauma is learning to forgive and love your partner, best friend, or family even when they fail at one of these roles. Conversely, one of the deepest joys is finding both kinds of companions beside you on the journey.

5.  Grieving is social, and so is healing.

For as private a pain as trauma is, for all the healing that time and self-work will bring, we are wired for contact. Just as relationships can hurt us most deeply, it is only through relationship that we can be most fully healed.

It’s not easy to know what this looks like — can I trust casual acquaintances with my hurt? If my family is the source of trauma, can they also be the source of healing? How long until this friend walks away? Does communal prayer help or trivialize?

Seeking out shelter in one another requires tremendous courage, but it is a matter of life or paralysis. One way to start is to practice giving shelter to others.

6.  Do not offer platitudes or comparisons. Do not, do not, do not.

“I’m so sorry you lost your son, we lost our dog last year … ” “At least it’s not as bad as … ” “You’ll be stronger when this is over.” “God works in all things for good!”

When a loved one is suffering, we want to comfort them. We offer assurances like the ones above when we don’t know what else to say. But from the inside, these often sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false.

Trauma is terrible. What we need in the aftermath is a friend who can swallow her own discomfort and fear, sit beside us, and just let it be terrible for a while.

7.  Allow those suffering to tell their own stories.

Of course, someone who has suffered trauma may say, “This made me stronger,” or “I’m lucky it’s only (x) and not (z).” That is their prerogative. There is an enormous gulf between having someone else thrust his unsolicited or misapplied silver linings onto you, and discovering hope for one’s self. The story may ultimately sound very much like “God works in all things for good,” but there will be a galaxy of disfigurement and longing and disorientation in that confession. Give the person struggling through trauma the dignity of discovering and owning for himself where, and if, hope endures.

8.  Love shows up in unexpected ways.

This is a mystifying pattern after trauma, particularly for those in broad community: some near-strangers reach out, some close friends fumble to express care. It’s natural for us to weight expressions of love differently: a Hallmark card, while unsatisfying if received from a dear friend, can be deeply touching coming from an old acquaintance.

Ultimately every gesture of love, regardless of the sender, becomes a step along the way to healing. If there are beatitudes for trauma, I’d say the first is, “Blessed are those who give love to anyone in times of hurt, regardless of how recently they’ve talked or awkwardly reconnected or visited cross-country or ignored each other on the metro.” It may not look like what you’d request or expect, but there will be days when surprise love will be the sweetest.

9.  Whatever doesn’t kill you …

In 2011, after a publically humiliating year, comedian Conan O’Brien gave students at Dartmouth College the following warning:

"Nietzsche famously said, 'Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.' … What he failed to stress is that it almost kills you.”
Odd things show up after a serious loss and creep into every corner of life: insatiable anxiety in places that used to bring you joy, detachment or frustration towards your closest companions, a deep distrust of love or presence or vulnerability.

There will be days when you feel like a quivering, cowardly shell of yourself, when despair yawns as a terrible chasm, when fear paralyzes any chance for pleasure. This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.

10.  … Doesn’t kill you.

Living through trauma may teach you resilience. It may help sustain you and others in times of crisis down the road. It may prompt humility. It may make for deeper seasons of joy. It may even make you stronger.

It also may not.

In the end, the hope of life after trauma is simply that you have life after trauma. The days, in their weird and varied richness, go on. So will you.