Joshua Hansen

Joshua Hansen


My beautiful boy, Josh, was deeply spiritual and to everyone around him seemed grounded and loving life.

Tell us about your loved one.

"Josh, gone but not forgotten"..a beloved child, brother and friend, Josh made a home in the hearts of all who knew him. Simply unforgettable, he was endearing by the strength of his smile, gentle manner and playful spirit. He was a talented writer and musician, keenly intelligent, admired and spiritually connected to the world around him. He was one of the most genuinely kind people you could ever hope to encounter. Josh was also an addict.

As a youth, Josh grew up in the wine country north of Napa Valley. He and his brother Jared were constant companions; playing sports, serving the church as youth leaders and participants in many community service projects with the family. Josh always enjoyed the simplicity of the small things in life, and in keeping with the mindset of a child, he engaged in delightful play and interaction with his younger two brothers and two sisters.

He began talking before he could sit up and early in life Josh found a passion for language and writing. He was an avid reader and grew to have a unique ability to express himself through his own writings and music. In middle school, and as high school historian, his weekly articles in the local newspaper were a whimsical combination facts and folly. He was a leader in school, in his church youth group, and amongst his peers. He memorized his piano lessons for six years, to the dismay of his teacher (rather than learning to read music), and made our piano sing totally from ear.

Josh was a communicator and thespian at heart. He was known for the passion and enthusiasm for his roles in high school musical productions of Brigadoon, Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and several other award winning performances in dramatic competitions.

After high school, Josh focused on studying history and social sciences. He continued his passion for writing which included poems, short stories and screenplays, leaving behind boxes full of journals. He was an articulate writer and eloquent speaker. He could engage in intellectual conversations with anyone, on any topic, and, at World Youth Day 1997 in Rome and Paris at age 16, he led prayer with young people from all over the world with ease. The staples in Josh's backpack always included a book, journal and pencil. Though he enjoyed video games and movies as a youth, in his 20's he would rarely watch television saying, the television mostly watches me. He read the newspaper daily to keep up on the world and current events. As a student of world religions, Josh always wanted to learn more because he truly believed in the human spirit and infinite possibilities of things.

His life-long friend, Ian, best described the man they all knew and loved, “Josh didn't concern himself with many ˜things of this world, amassing consumer products or accolades for his talents. Josh collected relationships and experiences; self-actualizing conversations with anyone who would sit there long enough to really get deep. Relationships are what made Josh rich a collector's collector. No one was turned away. To the chagrin of his roommates in San Francisco, he forged sidewalk friendships with the homeless and often brought them in for a shower or to get off the street for a bit.” Another friend said that the homeless knew Josh by name. He was fascinated and concerned about people all people.

The troubles of the world affected Josh deeply, and while many of us can remain apathetic, shrug and say that's life they seemed to offend Josh down to his very soul. World politics, war, and hostile occupations hurt his feelings, made no real sense at all. Josh's favorite quote was from a book by Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days, “How will you live your life so that it doesn't make a mockery of your values? That last question set me afire – it rattled my heart and my head for years to come and at that moment, I was recruited. The question assumed so much: that we could choose to live purposeful lives, reflective and deliberate, that we could develop and embrace a morality for daily living, that we could choose to act upon whatever was thrown at us, whatever the known world demanded of us.

A remembrance from a teacher/friend during a trip to London, Westminster Abbey, I can still see Josh lingering at Poet's Corner, standing before Wordsworth's memorial recalling the poet's words, 'That best portion of a good man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.

Oh, how that speaks well of our beautiful boy, Josh, who left us much too soon."

Tell us about Joshua's struggle with addiction
"The intruder called addiction enters our home.

My beautiful boy, Josh, was deeply spiritual and to everyone around him seemed grounded and loving life. That said, he set his bar high and could not easily forgive himself for perceived shortcomings. He lived a secret life of fear beguiled by feelings of failure which would often thrust him into the depths of despair. His challenge was to live in a world he thought expected so much more than he felt he could give. His struggle with this internal conflict led him to substance abuse – to self-medicate followed by extreme alcoholism which, in the end, led him down a destructive physical path resulting in his accidental death - at the age of 27.

As a child, Josh was a sweet, sensitive, silly little boy. He was a deep thinker who often got lost in this own thoughts. Josh was very content to spend hours by himself creating little books and cartooning about things that interested him. His comical antics entertained his buddies and his brothers and sisters to no end.

As a middle school student Josh became very interested in the 60’s culture; beginning with the music of the times, then going deeper into the free spirit movement of love and the expanding of one's mind by the use of drugs. This influence intrigued him and, in hindsight, he seemed to be on the road to adopting many of the cultural ideals of that time as he grew into his teens. Josh was a delightful child, well mannered and a focused student who achieved academic success. He was a leader among his peers and a good example for his younger siblings. Though he had been an athlete, playing baseball, football and soccer; by high school there was just something about competition that disagreed with Josh and he did not feel it was worth his time anymore. He dove into student government, community service, creative writing and dramatic arts. He was able to cheerfully balance his studies with a job and the demanding schedules of drama and his newspaper column. It was during high school in the 90's when he first became an advocate for people's rights. To him it appeared that judgment by others toward some of his peers was unjust and hurtful. He began to take steps toward not standing out from the crowd because he felt it was blatantly unfair to judge people - whether by the clothes they wore, the grades they achieved or the homes they came from. Josh was a leader and he responsibly took a stand for equality.

We truly did not know about any drug use during those years. Like many parents of our generation, if they were to be honest, we suspected that there was some use of marijuana or alcohol going on at times; however, we truly did not see any signs of abuse and we did not see any indication of use around our house. We took steps to know where he was and who he was with whenever possible and we networked with other parents to do the same. After all, we just wanted the kids to be safe. Not unlike other parents, our concern was focused on safety and not on the danger of our child becoming either an alcoholic or drug addict. We counseled our children and tried to teach by setting boundaries and a good example; not ever considering that a child of ours would ever become an addict.

Later, of course, we would come to know that Josh was one of those people referred to as a functional user in that he could turn his use on and off and be successfully employed, achieve academically in college and maintain a life, despite the secret use of drugs and alcohol. He would use so that he could stay awake long hours to accomplish everything that was on his plate. Josh seemed to know when he was using too much and he could find resources to aid him in either cutting back on use or ceasing to use for periods of time. He would run, ride his bike and enjoy being out in nature at times when he would try to stop smoking as well. He said that addicts need to substitute one compulsive act with another.” He was hoping that fitness would be something he could substitute for drugs choosing a healthy lifestyle over substances. However, he expressed his fear of leaving drug use behind as alcohol was beckoning him to use.

Sadly, Josh was right, alcohol got him good. It was during that last year when he was in the throes of alcoholism, before he went into residential recovery that he told me, you know Mom, I have tried almost every type of drug, and alcohol is the worst, nastiest, and deadliest one of all because it is easily accessible, expected socially and over-use is generally accepted.

Josh knew he was an addict, that substances had long taken his power away and were controlling his life – not the other way around. Before he went into a recovery program he said, Mom, please understand that I am 99% there, but you need to know that I have to be 100% sure I can be successful before I do this.” Already, he had placed an unrealistic expectation on himself. Once on a visit to see him in residential care, he said these people are lost, that one has suffered incest, the other rape, another prison and so many come from dysfunctional and angry homes. How did I get here Mom? I have had a charmed life full of love and nurturing.” Based on his own faith and beliefs his dismay continued, and these people are being asked to connect with their higher power and they do not have a clue what that is!” He was truly baffled about how he got there. Yet in spite of what our intellect tells us, some people will become addicts after abusing drugs and/or alcohol, and others, given the same set of circumstances, will not.

Josh put undue pressure on himself to succeed the first time in recovery. He did not want to cause anyone pain – which is why he hid his use from us. Being an addict is not fun. The shame and stigma of addiction runs deep. I read after Josh’s death from a former addict that when you support someone that you love with encouragement and affirmations for their progress, sadly, sometimes the only thing they hear is Mom and Dad love me so much..and I am a failure.” The pain of their burden is in many cases too difficult for them to bear. It is an excruciating position to be in – for family and also for the addicted. Of course we worried and of course we were watching. Parents just do that. What pressure that created for Josh. Being supportive and encouraging the people you love is the right thing to do to help them on their journey, isn't it? I had not looked at this disease through his eyes. I understand now that in some ways my continued affirmations may have had the effect of making Josh feel even more ashamed.

ADDICTION IS A DISEASE It should be treated as a disease and there should not be shame and stigma associated with it or with the treatment or recovery for the disease.

Mistakenly, you cannot just love your children through this disease. Love is not enough. If you could simply love people through diseases, we could do the same to cure our families of cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Addicts are not having fun. They are living with the destructive physical, emotional and mental ramifications of their painful disease. They need compassion and treatment just like others receive when they succumb to disease.

I thought Josh was doing well that last day when twice we spoke. He was a bit anxious about coming home that night. He said “I don’t have anything to offer the wedding festivities (for his very best friend) because I haven’t found a job yet.” I assured him that we would take care of the expenses and that we were all looking forward to having him home for a few weeks. You see, Josh was coming home for his friend’s bachelor party and he told me he was going to be the designated driver that night. Instead, he never arrived home – having accidentally overdosed the night before. His bag was packed, coat and keys by bedside waiting for his ride. The shame and stigma of having gone through months of residential rehab and not “being okay” was more than he could bear. It was clear, Josh did not want to use, he did not want to disappoint the twelve men waiting for him, and he did not want to hurt us anymore. Tragically, sometimes there are no do-overs.

Sadly, Josh’s story is not unique. Residential treatment programs are only the beginning in a difficult journey to sobriety. A residential treatment program is not enough. The right program – a comprehensive scientifically proven method of trained professionals, at a cost families can afford, with follow up and consistent extended care - is the key. Josh had every promise for success; only to die of an accidental overdose three months, to the day, from his entry into the program.

Josh thought he was ready to overcome his challenges and stay clean and sober on his own. It was too soon. What Josh needed was a place go that provided a continued sober living environment, in the company and support of others, who, with like experiences and understanding, face the same struggles with substance abuse. What Josh needed was more time and a place to bridge the path between treatment and a sober life. It is time for parents and society to look at addiction with a new set of eyes – this nightmare has to end for young people and for families like ours across the country. I believe that Shatterproof * Stronger than Addiction is the way."
What made Joshua smile?

"Josh smiled a lot. He was known for the gentleness and authenticity behind his smile. As you can see from his photo, his beautiful blue eyes glistened when he smiled. As an adult, Josh loved to dance and he could really bust a move getting lost in the beats of rhythms that could annoy his friends to tears. Yet, when Josh took to the turntables no one could deny the complexity and tact of his set, even though it might upset some in the crowd with the way he blurred lines between the subgenres of electronica. He would not settle for the status quo, he had to take you on a journey, something complex, dynamic and visceral. Josh was compelled to create and music seemed to relax his mind and sooth his soul. He received notoriety as a DJ in the San Francisco Bay Area and he wrote and produced music soundtracks to market for film and advertising purposes. Josh would say that music touched emotions words could not.

Josh found his greatest joy being in the presence of those he loved and in the company of friends. His playful personality, sense of humor and honest charm made him unforgettable. He was unselfish, friendly and authentically showed compassion toward all people. He did not want to stand out from the rest – and insisted that his clothing come from a thrift shop as it was the ethical choice for comfort and the planet. He never had a need for stuff. A favorite English teacher once said “Josh didn’t see differences between people – he just saw people. He heard ‘whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me’ and instead of an abstraction, he heard a call to action. Josh always had a beautiful smile and an ear to listen for everyone – even when he was feeling low.”

Josh was very sensitive to the complexities of life. He was a brother to not only his siblings but to everyone he met. The lyrics to the song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” is a perfect tribute to this wonderful young man. His genuine intrigue for the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of life was evident in his writings. Josh loved the nature of simple pleasures and honestly he expressed the greatest joy when he would describe to me the perfect day “just being with friends, preparing a meal together, and afterwards playing music and dancing under the light of a full moon.” That is what made him happy.

As a writer, Josh expressed his depth and concern for the gifts and beauty of life as well as the sadness he held within. The following are two of our family favorites because they show the optimism and gentle spirit of our Josh who loved life and who deeply wanted to connect in a special way with everyone he met.


It lacked intent and it meant nothing. it was just a reaction that happened and caught someone else's attention. the ears met the mouth for the first time. The first line in language most likely was born out of some kind of anguish or pain, with a natural cause and effect like relationship ancient in time, The mind learns to memorize, mimic and master more modes of manipulation with the lips, nose and tongue from where voice first emerged........ and soon merged with the movement of body - as actors were born in each person. The birth of the word: It was not just the first time we heard a sound made by our own mouths. it's the first time we captured the most sacred moment of all - - the connection. * 5/27/2005 J. Hansen PRAYER

Every day is concluded with a prayer, …… looking to the stars, I thank the great Creator for providing me this life to live. We are all blessed to get this chance to romance all the elements. And no matter how stressed I often get from life's signature curve balls.... We're all playing the same game, and win or lose…'s beautiful.

*Joshua Miles Hansen (2007)

[ I would like to think he might also smile that we have continued his tradition of holding annual full moon parties in his memory; friends, good food and dancing under a beautiful full moon on our lake each fall. Our ‘Full Moon 4 Josh’ benefits the award of scholarships each year to budding new artists in every creative medium from his former high school. Josh would appreciate that we are able to acknowledge artists for their work at graduation, an area of achievement that is often under appreciated. ] "

What do you miss most about Joshua?
"What do I miss about Josh?

Everything. I miss everything about Josh. He was my touchstone. I never knew that a broken heart actually hurts inside your heart.

To be loved is to live forever in someone’s heart.

He once told me at the age of 13 that ""challenges purify our souls for heaven."" What? I mean I know you were right. But really Josh? Did you have to suffer the internal pain that led to secret drug abuse and alcoholism? Did I really have to suffer the rest of my life without you to accomplish that?

The void left by Josh's death is still, five years later, not something that I can truly describe. The love you feel for your precious child never dies, it shines through in your memories and how you choose to live your life to honor theirs.

Every day I miss him. He is the person I long to call to share family news and to get his perspective on current events of the day. Of course, family celebrations are hard without him. But he is always a part of our conversations and we enjoy reminiscing over the fond times we shared. We still have a place for Josh at our dinner table on special occasions and holidays, only now there is a candle burning there as we remember when our happy “Mad Hatter” sat in that spot. It is not sad – it is joyful to remember those wonderful days when we were all together. The usual days are hard to bear; birthdays, holidays, his angel day, all bring tears; but for me, I find that the quiet days, when I am alone with my thoughts are the worst. Those days I long to hear his voice. Sometimes, when I am alone, I close my eyes and watch him dance to the beats as I play selections of his music left behind.

Josh did not like his photo to be taken, and was a bit of a stinker about it at times (just to tease me). I am so very grateful for all the photos I insisted on taking through the years. These pictures capture the essence of the adorable baby, cheerful child, playful adolescent and inspirational young man. Who knew how much joy those photos would one day bring?

The day before Thanksgiving is a tough one as we all looked forward to his coming through the door and the laughter and antics of having all the kids for the holidays began when Josh was back in the house. It has been five years and it seems just like yesterday. When his friends, guys and gals, turned 30 - that was a tough year for me. Jared and I decided to celebrate Josh’s 30th with a gathering at a local pub. Friends came from far and wide to celebrate his life together.

After Josh died, I gathered his friends around to ask them to take me along on their lives – and bless their hearts – they have. I think that it is as comforting for them as it is for me.

Of all the things I miss about Josh, it’s the little things I miss most; the gentle squeeze on my shoulders as I stand in the kitchen preparing meals, the intriguing conversations about everything under the sun, the astonishing honesty as he told me about his adventures, and his genuine goodness and faith in the human experience - and not the least of these was his infectious giggle when I would tease him about my efforts to become a minimalist that would ignite a litany of reasons from him on why that would never happen.

What a family truly misses is being all together – everything is measured on either before or after Josh died. I miss our life, my life, because we had such a lovely happy rambunctious home – full of activities, love and laughter. Each child, so different from the other, yet joined by precious love and companionship. That is what I miss most because without him we are not whole and will never be again. . There is no manual for raising a family that is full proof. Even when you do your best, addiction crosses into every scenario of family life.

Haleigh said it best the week Josh died, “our hearts have been broken open and we will never be the same.” She is right – it will not be the same but we have learned over time that it can still be good. We have weddings and babies ahead in our lives and we look forward to our family growing. Josh will not be there – but we will continue to bring him along into our future.

I was truly blessed to have the kind of relationship that Josh and I shared. Though we did not have more time, I knew my son very well during his short life and for this I am deeply grateful. I made a promise to him the day he left that I would live my life. In doing so, I will celebrate the passions in life that he held dear. With the inception of Shatterproof * Stronger Than Addiction, I will dedicate myself to this mission to change the way society views the disease of addiction, work toward stamping out stigma and the shame associated with it, and work toward promoting proven, scientifically based treatment so that others do not experience the tragedy of loss from this unrelenting disease.

This has become my mantra dedicated to my beloved Josh, gone too soon, but only a breath away…… “A broken heart still beats - so I will smile because that was one of Josh’s golden gifts. And I will never let the pain of losing him to the disease of addiction run deeper than the remembrance of a love so deep; for if it did, cherished memories would be lost and eternal purpose would be forgotten.....and he deserved oh, so much more, than that.”"

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