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, 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.