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.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Karma, Waves and Josh

I've been doing a lot of reading on mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism as evidenced by the books read in January 2017:
  1.  Looking At Mindfulness: Twenty-Five Paintings to Change the Way You Live by Christophe Andre translated by Trista Selous (2011)
  2. Mindfulness is Better Than Chocolate: A Practical Guide to Enhanced Focus and Lasting Happiness in a World of Distractions by David Michie (2014)
  3. Buddhism for Busy People: Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World by David Michie (2004)
  4. Train Your Mind Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves by Susan Begley (2007)
  5. A Buddhist Grief Observed by Guy Newland (2016)
  6. Buddhism Without Beliefs: Contemporary Guide to Awakening by Stephen Batchelor (1997)
  7. Re-read Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle (2003)
  8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012)
Karma is a concept from the Buddhist tradition that I've been mulling over in my head for a while. In fact, my daughter gave me a "karma" necklace that rarely comes off - a thin, almost non-descript strand with three small gold rings. The message: "as with these circles, we are all connected...what goes around, come around. you live what you give so remember to keep the circle positive, peaceful and loving."

We joke that our dog Benji was a grumpy old man in a former life and since his karma is not changing, he may come back as a snail or bug. 

What goes around, comes around
You reap what you sow
The law of cause and effect

In Buddhism for Busy People, David Michie learns from his teacher that"karma" is translated from Sanskrit as "action". That with each action, including thought and speech, comes a consequence. It is like planting seeds: good karma seeds cultivate good consequences and negative karma seeds cultivate negative consequences.....we are the authors of our own destiny. He offers this quote from the Buddha in Dharmapada:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and ways with care,
And let it spring from love born out of concern for all living beings.....
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think so we become.

But how does this answer the haunting question - why do bad things happen to good people?  Or said another way, why do bad things happen to those who plant good karma seeds and good things happen to those who plant bad karma seeds?

According to Michie, Buddhism's answer is that we should look not just to circumstances in this life; in fact, "a seed that may have been planted two lifetimes ago can ripen to produce an effect which may have no bearing at all on our current behavior." In other words, negative karma seeds planted in former lives may come to fruition in the present life. So at the end of the day, karma says that one always gets what one deserves.

So did Josh have some horrible karmic debt from another life that had to be paid? Even worse, did I.....that he had to atone for? Or as bad, does the action of taking his own life create a karmic debt for future lives?

It is good to know that I am not the only one to find this teaching hard to accept.

In Newland's slim but profound book, A Buddhist Grief Observed, he, who is a Professor of Religion and a practicing Buddhist, questions Buddha's teachings in light of the death of his beloved wife's from cancer.....considering what was helpful, not helpful and why. Similar to C.S. Lewis's grief memoir, A Grief Observed, also written as a way to come to grips with his wife's death and the Christian faith. Consider the epigrams at the beginning of the book:

It is nothing strange that human beings should die.  (The Buddha)

Don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.   (C.S. Lewis)

Newland also struggled with what he calls "strong karma" - the idea that people get what they have coming: "Was Valerie's cancer the moral consequence of some past action? To me, this seems outrageous. There is no evidence for it, and it inflicts more pain on those in pain."

So as a practicing Buddhist, how does he reconcile himself with this fundamental teaching of karma?

Newland agrees that actions matter and directly affects our lives but rather than the traditional metaphor of karma as a seed, he postulates that we should think of our actions as waves, impacted by other waves, outside our control:

A choice, an action, is like a wave in a field of energy, a ripple in a pond. It affects the next moment of our mind; it affects other people; it affects the world at large....Our choices are one set of waves in a vast, churning sea....Sometimes we get rocked by the wake of another boat. It's a fact that we all get whacked by forces we did not set up....So our choices matter and cocreate the future, but they are not always the main causes of what happens to us....What we do makes a difference, but it does not uniquely determine our future; no one has that much control.

This analogy makes more sense.  Just as his wife's unexpected force was breast cancer, diagnosed and successfully treated in 2004, but back with a vengeance eight years later, moving through out her whole body, eventually killing her, so Josh's unexpected force was undiagnosed and untreated depression, a cancer of the mind that overcame him as well. 

Definitive answers about karma are unknown. What I do know is that Josh is gone and nothing we do can bring him back.  But we can honor his life by working to prevent other teens from getting to such point of anguish and despair they do not see a way out. By working to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.

If there is a karmic debt, hopefully the work of the Josh Anderson Foundation can pay it off.

RIP Josh

Monday, January 16, 2017

25th Birthday - January 16, 2017

Happy 25th Birthday Josh! It has been a long time since I've written on your blog - the last post was April 2016.

Today was Martin Luther King Jr. Day which meant that I had the day off - very fortuitous as the motivation to sit, concentrate and work was non-existent.

I went to the store near your park hoping to buy a 25th Birthday balloon but no such luck. But as the woman was blowing up the balloons I did choose, and saw me grab a bouquet of red roses, I wondered if she wondered who the balloons/flowers were for, and why the two incongruent balloon messages. She didn't ask and I didn't volunteer.

It was cold and blustery at the park, so after securing your balloons and scattering rose petals, it took a while to get a picture in which the balloons were legible - my fingers were numb when I got back in the car. Once thawed, I sat and wrote my weekly (most times) letter to you....a small section shared below:

I am grateful for your life, Josh, and in a weird way - never thought I would say this - for your death. JOLT - like being hit by lightening bolt....SHOCK - like those pads on chest that shock the heart to beating again. Your death put me on a journey...on a awareness and awakening. Why does it take tragedy or crisis to wake up? Why take tremendous suffering to become a seeker?  

I feel there is something I should be doing with this life but don't know what. And running out of time at 55 years old. What am I supposed to be doing?  Show me.  
After the park, I went to see a movie that he would've wanted to see....Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie which was surprisingly good. Gillian is working in China now (time difference is 13 hours ahead) so when we FaceTimed yesterday, it was already January 16th and she was feeling sad. I mentioned the idea of seeing the movie which she did as well. So if Josh was hanging around us, he saw it twice - at the Tysons Mall in Virginia and in Guangzhou, China.

Throughout the day, I received texts from friends/family as well as from Josh's friends.  It has been almost 8 years and he is still remembered by his friends who are all now mature adults, moving forward in their lives and taking Josh with them. This thought brings much comfort.

Posting this picture on Facebook brought more comments - it still surprises me how connected we can be through social media. Which reminds me of the awful day and how most people found out - it was via Facebook and text messages on phones. By the time school let out mid-afternoon, all of his friends knew - many of them came to our home as soon as they could.

But as connected as we are, and even more so now with Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, imessage, FaceTime, wechat and who know what else is out there or will be invented, why are kids still taking their lives?  Josh had many friend's numbers in his phone - why didn't he or couldn't he reach out?

I will end this post with one quote from a dear friend we knew while living in Australia.  She never knew Josh as we were back in the US when he was born, but she is a mom so knows.

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.

RIP Josh
Love Mom xxxooo

Monday, April 18, 2016

April 18, 2016: 7 Years and 1 Month Later

The last post I wrote was six months ago (October 18, 2015) and before that, three months (July 18, 2015). To not write anything over the holidays, his birthday (Jan. 16) or his death anniversary (March 18) would've been unthinkable two years ago.  Similarly, I'd never thought that weekly visits to the park (his gravesite) would cease but they have.

It has been a full seven years since Josh left us and while he remains frozen in time as a 17-year old teenage boy, I continue on the conveyer belt of life which has a way of filling the gaping hole of loss, and softening the sharp, ragged edges which once cut incessantly.

And while his absence is always with me, it is more like a shadow rather than an "in-your-face" punch.

So in my experience, the adage is true: "Time heals."

I am careful to say "in my experience" because I can only speak for myself. Everyone's experience is uniquely theirs, not subject to critique or judgement.

But sadness hovers, especially when twice today, I've been asked if my contact information could be given to newly grieving moms. "Yes, of course," I say, "along with the URL of this blog."

And my heart breaks for them.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October 18, 2015: Six Years and 7 Months Later - Patriots fan

I've been writing faithfully on this blog for the past 6+ years so why has it been three months since the last post?  I guess because it felt like I didn't have anything to say: the glass was empty, the still had run dry, there was nothing within to share.  This blog has been the recipient of enormous feelings that seem to have petered out. That is not to say there aren't moments of intense grief/sorrow that arise without provocation and re-open the still painful wound but they are now far and few between.

I never thought that peace and calm would ever come, not in a million years.  Perhaps it has been a result of an intense, inner spiritual journey that I find myself on and for some reason does not seem appropriate to share on this blog. This journey has led to an acceptance and reconciliation of Josh's actions and our profound loss. My regret now is that I had not found this path while he was alive - would it have helped me to be more in tune with him? More connected? More able to prevent this tragedy? I don't know.

A voice inside (and I believe it to be Josh) says you did the best you could and it is not your fault. I still have a hard time accepting this; I still believe that as a mother, I should've known and prevented his death. In typing these words, I realize there is still more inner work to be done, that I have not fully forgiven myself, that I still hold myself responsible.

Yesterday, I had nothing to write.

This morning, I woke up with memories of Josh as a Patriot's fan - see below. Maybe because it is the 18th which signals the passing of another month and tonight, the Patriots are playing.

Halloween 2002 - Josh is 10 and is being painted as a Patriot's fan by Lauren

Christmas 2003 - Josh (11 years) sporting his Patriot's cap

Christmas 2004 - the boys wearing their new Patriot's jersey's and caps.  I have Josh's Bruschi 54 jersey now. 

Christmas 2005 - Josh (13 years) holding up a Patriot's rug 

Christmas 2008 - our last with Josh (16 years) with his new Seymour jersey

RIP Josh.  Fall and football always reminds us of you. 


Saturday, July 18, 2015

July 18, 2015 - Six Years and Four Months Later

It is the month of summer family vacations - our 7th without Josh.

First, my side of the family gathered for July 4th weekend. Our last summer all together with Josh was in 2007.

Cousins eating together

Josh, being the youngest in our family, enjoyed being looked up to as an older cousin 

Josh and youngest cousin (who remembers playing a lot of video games together) and Benji 

And we just got back from a family summer tradition - a week with Tim's family at Cape Cod. He would've enjoyed this trip: chilling at the beach, playing with the dogs (between all the families, there were 5: Buddy, Benji, Huck, Cooper and Sydney!), nice meals at the club, playing Catan, taking dogs on beach hikes, partaking in a myriad of beers and cocktails - the favorite was the Dark and Stormy, made with ginger beer and dark rum. 

Josh's last trip to the Cape (summer 2008)

RIP Josh - missing you this summer….

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Six Years and 3 Months Later: Thoughts from "Heaven's Coast" by Mark Doty

Mark Doty's work as an award-winning poet and memoirist is impressive (see biography on

His first prose work, Heaven's Coast (1996) is a grief memoir, written after the death of his beloved partner, Wally Roberts.  Having been on my wish list for a long time, I finally ordered from Amazon at the beginning of the year and read it last month.

Heavily dog-eared and underlined, I related to many of his descriptions of death, grief, sorrow and the slow business of recovery.

Wally died in 1994 from AIDS. Mark was with him to the very end and vividly describes the body, post-death:
Without spirit, the body closes back into itself like an old piece of furniture, an armoire whose ancient wood is still fragrant, resinous, whose whorled grains and steady sleep refer back to the living tree. The cabinet is an elegy to the tree from which it arose, the body a brief unkeepable elegy to the quick and shining self.
Apt analogy of the indescribable - the non-living body of a beloved.

While waiting for the ambulance to arrive on that horrible day, Josh's body was more a shell of him. And seeing his body again several days later at the funeral home, I remember thinking is this really my son? It does not look like him.  The essence - that which made the body Josh, was gone.

The funeral director encouraged us to have an open casket saying that it would be better for his friends if they saw his body - a concrete, visual evidence of his passing would help with closure. So we did have a viewing period before the service began. I spent that time in the lobby, accepting condolences but in hindsight, I would rather have been at the casket to see friends and family say good-bye.

Another moving part of the book was the search for the right word to describe his feelings - I will quote the whole passage as paraphrasing would not do justice:

Grief is too sharp and immediate; maybe it's the high pitch of the vowel sound, or the monosyllabic impact of the word, as quick a jab as knife or cut.
Sadness is too ephemeral, somehow; it sounds like something that comes and goes, a response to an immediate cause which will pass in a little while as another cause arises to generate a different feeling.
Mourning isn't bad, but there's something a little archaic about it. I think of widows keening, striking themselves, clutching at handfuls of dust - dark-swathed years, a closeting of self away from the world, turned inward toward an interior dark.
Sorrow feels right, for now. Sorrow seems large and inhabitable, an interior season whose vaulted sky's a suitable match for the gray and white tumult arched over these headlands. A sorrow is not to be gotten over or moved through in quite the way that sadness is, yet sorrow is also not as frozen and monochromatic, to my mind, as mourning. Sadness exists inside my sorrow, but it's not as large as sorrow's realm; it comes and goes without really touching the overarching whole. This sorrow is capacious; there's room inside it for the everyday, for going about the workday stuff of life....Sorrow is the cathedral, the immense architecture; in it's interior there's room for almost everything: for desire, for flashes of happiness, for making plans for the future. And for watching all those evidences of ongoing life crumble in the flash of remembering, in the recurring wave of fresh grief.
In this quote, I love the poet in Doty trying to match word to feeling, and the reasons why grief, sadness and mourning are discarded in favor of sorrow.  This rings true and I find comfort in having a word that can encompass all the feelings one may have in a given hour, day, week, month or year(s).

So we are in our 7th summer without Josh. The girls have moved back home and once again, our home is full of energy. And in addition to our two Shih Tzu-poos, Buddy and Benji, we also have Gillian's dog, Huck (formerly Tyler and Em's) and Sydney, Lauren's dog.

We can re-name our home "The Anderson Hotel and Kennel" - which Josh would've loved.

RIP Josh
Love you and miss you....

Monday, May 18, 2015

May 18, 2015 - Six Years and Two Months Later: A Poem by Edward Hirsch

As noted in prior blog posts, poetry has become an unexpected source of comfort. And with a few clicks I recently searched, found and bought a book-length elegy by a grieving poet who lost his twenty-two year old son in August 2011.

I read Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch in one sitting.

I also found this New Yorker article in which Hirsch speaks about his loss and the genesis of the poem.

The front jacket says this:
Never has there been a book of poems quite like Gabriel, in which a short life, a bewildering death, and the unanswerable sorrow of a father come together in such a sustained elegy. This unabashed sequence speaks directly from Hirsch's heart to our own, without sentimentality....Hirsch's account is poignantly direct and open to the strange vicissitudes and tricks of grief....Hirsch mixes his tale of Gabriel with the stories of other poets through the centuries who have also lost children, and expresses his feelings through theirs. His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer's act of witnessing and transformation. It will be read and reread.
I agree.

Hirsch chose to write this tribute of his son's life and simultaneous exploration of grief in three-line stanzas without any punctuation, not even a period at the end.  It is highly accessible, even to a poetry novice like me.

While the poem is not divided into sections, it reads as though it were. For example, I did not read the section that went into detail about Gabriel's autopsy report as I could not, and still have not read our son's report.  It stays folded in the envelope from the coroner's office in a large trunk which sits in our family room, holding Josh's keepsakes.

Below are the stanzas that speak to me and why.

I like how he describes certain memories of Gabriel....
When he learned to crawl he pulled himself
Forward on his arms a little at a time
As if he were climbing Arizona Beach on D-day
When he colored his hair blue
The sink was covered with blue dye
As if the sky was turned upside down in a bowl
Gabriel was not an easy child to raise which Hirsch acknowledged...
Chaotic wind of the gods
He was trouble
But he was our trouble
Some nights I could not tell
If he was the wrecking ball
Or the building it crashed into
Getting ready for the funeral....
Not knowing who I am
I was lying beside him
In the coffin I still couldn't breathe 
And so I woke up in the shadow
Of morning black light
And put on my mourning clothes 
His mother also slipped into black
Treachery of the parents
Who outlive their son
How I felt when viewing my own son...
The funeral director opened the coffin
And there he was alone
From the waist up 
I peered down into his face
And for a moment I was taken aback
Because it was not Gabriel 
It was just some poor kid
Whose face looked like a room
That had been vacated
I leaned over and kissed him
On the forehead
It was chilly and hard 
I kissed him on the lips
They were stone cold
It was like kissing a corpse 
I started keening and wailing
A sob came out of my body
A sound I had never heard before 
It was animalistic primal
The wailing the terrible keen
Kept bursting out of me
On grief and mourning....
Grief broke down in phrases
And extrapolated lines
From me without myself
I did not know the work of the mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night 
The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief
Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders 
That's why it take courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day
Lord Nothingness
When my son's suffering ended
My own began
He ends with a question that echoes in my heart...
It was Gabriel it was not Gabriel
Wild spirit beloved son
Where have you fled

RIP Josh and Gabriel

Saturday, April 18, 2015

April 18,2015: Six Years and One Month Later

We are now in our 7th year sans Josh. His absence is in the fabric of our lives, felt every day.

Today I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to get my hair cut. I told the receptionist to give me anyone who was available. When I walked in, a tall young girl met me. After chatting the usual, "how did I want my hair done?"etc., I sat down at her station and she asked about my T-shirt.

On the 18th of every month, it is my practice to wear a Josh shirt.  Today, I wore the black one that Gillian designed within a few months of his passing.

It turns out, she went to high school with Josh! And while she did not know him personally, she knew of him. After saying I was his mother, the compassion just poured out.

In my weekly letter to him, this is what I wrote:

She said you were a well-like boy and rattled off all the reasons why someone like you would NOT take his life: popular, good student, had everything going for him. And as I sit and write, it begs the question - the unanswerable question - of "why?"  
Why did you take THE route of no return? And as I look at your pictures, you were...are....a special soul, one that others do not forget. Why deprive the world of your light?  
I don't probably don't know..... 
Of all days, it was an unexpected blessing to meet someone who remembered Josh. I take it as another sign that he still lives.  

RIP beloved son

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March 18, 2015 - Six Years Later

Our son Josh, died by his own hand 6 years ago. It was a Wednesday, just like today and just like any other day. It is 7am now and six years ago, I awoke, showered, was in my office preparing for a client meeting, saw Tim leave for his own meeting; naive and oblivious to what I would find three short hours later.

Anyone close to Josh can probably think back and remember exactly where they were, what they were doing and what they felt upon hearing the tragic news.

Death, grief, sorrow, pain, heartache, memories, living with loss, living in spite of loss are very difficult to navigate early on and even six years later. Emotions are unpredictable as I do not know how I will feel or react today. I know there is numbness as last night, I heard of another teenage suicide in our area which could've put me in a tailspin but instead, I felt nothing except sorrow for the grieving family.

I want to share another "blessing" from John O'Donohue's book, To Bless The Space Between Us which has been a recent source of comfort to me.

For The Family and Friends of a Suicide
by John O'Donohue

As you huddle around the torn silence, 
Each by this lonely deed exiled,
To a solitary confinement of soul,
May some small glow from what has been lost
Return like the kindness of candlelight.

As your eyes strain to sift
This sudden wall of dark
And no one can say why
In such a forsaken, secret way,
This death was sent for...
May one of the lovely hours
Of memory return
Like a field of ease
Among these graveled days.

May the Angel of Wisdom
Enter this ruin of absence
And guide your minds
To receive this bitter chalice
So that you do not damage yourselves
By attending only at the hungry alter
Of regret and anger and guilt.

May you be given some inkling
That there could be something else at work
And that what to you now seems
Dark, destructive, and forlorn,
Might be a destiny that looks different 
From inside the eternal script.

May vision be granted to you
To see this with the eyes of providence.
May your loss become a sanctuary
Where new presence will dwell
To refine and enrich
The rest of your life
With courage and compassion.

And may your lost loved one
Enter into the beauty of eternal tranquility,
In that place where there is no more sorrow
Or separation or mourning or tears.

RIP Josh
January 16, 1992 - March 18, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

5 Years and 11 Months Later - "For Grief" by John O'Donohue

I recently read Tara Brach's book, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart and was intrigued by some quotes by John O'Donohue, an Irish teacher and poet.  I bought two of his books: To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings and Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

This "blessing" really resonates....  

For Grief 
by John O'Donohue

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that 
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

RIP Josh

Friday, January 16, 2015

Happy 23rd Birthday Josh!

Sad today as it would've been Josh's 23rd birthday. My parents went with me to the park to put some balloons on his stone.

Today hits home (yet again) why the loss of the child is so devastating for it is not only the physical absence a mother grieves but the loss of everything in the future. Birthdays are an especially painful reminder of what should be but isn't.

Josh should be in his early 20's, figuring out who he is and what he wants to do with his life.

He should've been with us at our Thanksgiving holiday in Asheville, NC - eating, chilling, playing Cataan and poker, watching sports with Tim and Tyler - everything a kid would do during a week with the family.

He should've been home with us over Christmas and New Years.

He should've come with us to NYC this week to see Gillian perform with her new band of which she is the lead vocalist and Uncle Steve (my brother) is the guitarist. He would've been amazed and proud.

He should be his little cousin Keilani's # 1 fan - and vice versa. There are times when she smiles that she reminds us of Josh.

Tears have flowed intermittently as I remember the day he was born and the joy he brought to our family. 

Happy to have a healthy baby boy - a little surprised too as the doc said he was supposed to be a she!

Poor Tim - so tired taking care of the other three at home and getting ready for our arrival....

Josh completed our family....

RIP Josh.
Happy Birthday.
Love you and miss you.

Monday, January 5, 2015

For A Parent On the Death of a Child - by John O'Donohue

For the Parent on the Death of a Child
 To Bless the Space Between Us

No one knows the wonder
Your child awoke in you,
Your heart a perfect cradle
To hold its presence.
Inside and outside became one
As new waves of love
kept surprising your soul.

Now you sit bereft
Inside a nightmare,
Your eyes numbed
By the sight of a grave
No parent should ever see.

You will wear this absence
Like a secret locket,
Always wondering why
Such a new soul
Was taken home so soon.

Let the silent tears flow
And when your eyes clear
Perhaps you will glimpse
How your eternal child
Has become the unseen angel
Who parents your heart
And persuades the moon
To send new gifts ashore.

RIP Josh

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.