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, 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.

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

Mom

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.

Love,
Mom

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: recover-from-grief.com 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

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

Understanding
welcoming
compassionate mob

Frozen as infants, 
   toddlers.
   teens, 
   adults and
   seniors

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.

When?
How?

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...


RIP JOSH
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.

Mom

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.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January 18, 2014 - 4 Years and 10 Months - Afterlife?

A lot happens in a short time frame: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Josh's birthday and another month anniversary that now brings us ever closer to the 5th year anniversary on March 18th.   In years past, these months were very hard as each holiday was a blistering reminder of our loss.

But this year, instead of feeling constant grief with the occasional respite, I felt more at peace with the occasional grief flare-up.  Maybe it is because of some new thoughts regarding the afterlife, the reality of heaven, and the idea that Josh's spirit is very much alive.

Last month, while in Dulles airport waiting to board a flight, I wandered into a bookstore and came across the book, My Son and The Afterlife by Elisa Medhus, MD.  After reading the blurb on the back cover below, I had the strong feeling that Josh led me to it.  So not only did I get the book, but devoured it within a couple of days.
Dr. Elisa Medhus never believed in life after death.  As an accomplished physician, she placed her faith in science.  All of that changed after her son Erik took his own life and then reached out from the other side. 
Intimate, heartbreaking, and illuminating, go on an incredible journey from grief and skepticism to healing and belief.  Based on Medhus' wildly popular blog, ChannelingErikMy Son and the Afterlife provides answers to the most universal questions of being human. 
At once tragic and uplifting, Erik speaks from the other side with candor, wisdom, and depth as he describes his own experiences and provides new answers about the nature of souls, death, and the afterlife - answers that have the potential to change our lives forever.
Erik died on October 6, 2009 - almost 7 months after Josh.  Have they met?  I wonder.

The book is essentially a transcript of her questions and his answers (via medium).  It is information overload: strange, surreal, and difficult to process.   The following bullet points are what I wrote in my book journal:
  • Afterlife is a reality
  • Our two-dimensional (space and time) are a very small part of the overall reality
  • Souls depart the physical body upon death but retain their essence, memories, everything that makes them unique.
  • Souls want to remain connected to their loved ones on earth and are able to give signs, play pranks, show themselves and communicate - click here to read about our signs from Josh.
  • Reincarnation exists
  • Unconditional love for ourselves and others is the ultimate goal of being human
  • This energy, life-force, soul, spirit exists in all living things: humans, plants, animals
Along with Dr. Eban Alexander's book, Proof of Heaven that I read last summer, there is much to ponder.

Then last weekend, when Tim and I went to see Savings Mr. Banks, we saw the preview of Heaven is for Realbased on a true story in which a young boy experienced heaven in a NDE (near death experience) - see their web site for a video interview with Colton and his parents.   It is amazing.

As I process this information, I find the bitterness and anger lessening, being replaced with nascent...unusual feelings of hope and peace.  I feel more assurance that Josh is in a better place and is hopefully doing just fine.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Happy 22nd Birthday Josh

Josh would be twenty-two today.  I spent some time over the weekend thinking about 22 things that I remember and miss most since he's been gone.   Some made me smile, other memories brought tears.

Written to him in my weekly letter:

Josh,
In honor of your upcoming birthday, here are the 22 things that I remember and miss about you…

  1. your smirk
  2. your well-timed, funny, zingy comments
  3. the sound of your slippered feet shuffling on the floor
  4. your deep, manly voice
  5. waking you up in the morning for the 1st time
  6. …and 2nd time
  7. …and 3rd & 4th time (it was actually very annoying but I miss it now)
  8. your humming while in the shower
  9. how you looked over my shoulder while I was preparing dinner…sniffing and commenting on how good it smelled
  10. how you liked to eat grilled cheese sandwiches with salsa
  11. your go-to after school snack - 2 packages of ramen
  12. my weekly washing of your nasty football practice uniform
  13. my washing of your game day uniform by which I could tell what happened (where you fell on the ground, etc)
  14. teaching you how to drive
  15. going shopping together for clothes, shoes, sports gear
  16. how if I took you to the grocery store, all sorts of miscellaneous, random items would end up in the shopping cart
  17. you sleeping on the couch with Buddy and Benji
  18. you sleeping on car rides, listening to your iPod
  19. watching Patriots games together
  20. the marathon watching of 24 we did one summer
  21. chilling in the pool
  22. and even your reprimands of "chill out mom!"
RIP.
Love,
Mom





Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

Hard to believe it is our 5th Christmas sans Josh.  All the boxes of Christmas decorations stay in the basement - I only have the motivation/energy to put up a tree and wreaths on the front door.

The 5th year of our white Christmas tree - in memory of Josh




I found this ornament while organizing my closet a couple of months ago and put it next to his initials….right in the front of the tree




RIP Josh.  We love and miss you.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

4 Years and 9 Months Later - Dec. 18, 2013: Song "Into The West"

I am still in the habit of visiting Josh every Saturday - last weekend, I put up his wreath and hung up some ornaments on the tree near his final resting place.  A new part of my weekly ritual is listening to a beautiful song called "Into the West" by Annie Lennox.  It is featured in the third Lord of the Rings movie, Return of the King.

It was sent to me by Gillian shortly after Josh died but for some reason, I was not ready to listen to it until a couple of months ago and now it is what I listen to while clearing his stone and getting ready to write my weekly letter.  


"Into The West"
by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore and Annie Lennox

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey's end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping

[Chorus]
What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All souls pass

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don't say: «We have come now to the end»
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again

And you'll be here in my arms
Just sleeping

[Chorus]

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West


RIP Josh - we will be together again one day. 

Love,
Mom

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 - Original Poem: His Eyes

Our 5th Thanksgiving sans Josh.  It was a quiet one with just our immediate family.  I guess you can say that we are getting used to his absence - in the past, especially the first couple of Thanksgivings, Josh's death filled the house.  There was no getting around "it", ignoring or denying "it" - you just had to endure.

In quiet moments, it is still very sad.  Like when contemplating what to write on this post or when writing some lines of poetry at Starbucks.  I wonder what the young, chatty girls with their pumpkin lattes think when their glances fall on a middle-aged woman, sitting alone, wiping her eyes with a tissue. 

Over the last couple of days, I worked on a short poem about this particular picture, taken by Gillian at their brother's college graduation in 2007, less than two years from his death. 



His Eyes
by Sue Anderson

His eyes twinkle in two-dimensional form,
with a merry thought or private joke
or just plain teenage silliness.

Pictures capture a person's soul,
said my friend 
after my son died.

Which explains the photos
all over my house.

Monday, November 18, 2013

4 Years and 8 Months Later - Bar Fundraiser for JAF

Last Thursday, at our 2nd Annual Fall Bar Fundraiser, where many came to provide financial support for the Josh Anderson Foundation, I experienced dichotomous emotions - like oil and water in the same container but maintaining their own separate space, was joy and sorrow, bitter and sweet.

Joy at seeing the tremendous number of friends and colleagues whose generous donations allowed us to exceed our $10,000 goal by almost 50%.  Emails and letters of those who could not attend as well as conversations at the event underscores the support for our crucial mission - to provide teenagers with the mental health education, resources and support so that they will never turn to suicide.

This article, Giving Teens Strength to Keep On Living, published in our local community paper the  day before the fundraiser, exemplifies what the money is being used for.

Sadness, of course, as to why we were there - a reminder of our personal tragedy.  But the next night is when the grief really bubbled over.  I was home alone, walking around our silent house, looking at the myriad of pictures chronicling the growth of our big family, each photo bringing back memories of vacations, sporting events, weddings, and holidays - all the precious moments that us moms treasure, and it hit me once again, as if it happened last month and not over 4 years ago, that our Josh is gone.

Being alone, through tears, I started talking to him.  "Why did you do it Josh?  Why did you do something that we cannot fix or change?  Why did you do something so permanent?  Why didn't you say anything?  Why didn't you tell me?  I would gladly trade places with you if that would mean you could be here…..I would've taken all your pain upon myself if that would keep you alive.  If someone in our family had to die, I wish it were me, not you."

In my mind's eye, he is equally sad and remorseful in response, "I'm sorry mom - I didn't know what I was doing.  I wish I could take it back and come home."

For us, it is too late.  But hopefully not for other kids and their families.

Getting ready to sell drink and raffle tickets


Josh's picture and the JAF banner


What makes this event special is the support by young adults…..


…..and not so young adults


Tim showing a supporter the big screen TV which was showing pictures of Josh and JAF events


Two moms of Josh's friends manning the table


Our new JAF T-shirts


Friday, October 18, 2013

4 Years and 7 Months Later - Out Of Darkness Walk in DC

On September 28, 2013, Gillian and two friends participated in American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's (AFSP) Out of Darkness Community Walk in Washington DC.  There were close to 2,000 participants and over $100,000 was raised. 











.......RIP Josh......