Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Year.

As I look back on 2015, I have to admit most of the good things are washed away with the memory of what we have lost. Stumbling through the days following Joshua's death; the calls to the sheriff, the calls to the medical examiner, authorizing his body to be transferred to a funeral home, seeing him for the last time, collecting his belongings from Taos, picking up his ashes, picking up his death certificates and reading his autopsy report. Those are the things that I so keenly remember. As the end draws to a close, my hope is that I am able to recapture some of the joy I have always had for life; don't get me wrong, I do still feel joy in many, many things. But, it is different now, and I think, 174 days later, I am finding my new normal. The year 2016 brings many wonderful things to look forward to, so I will begin to refocus my energy on the good, and hope that it continues to bring me healing. For now, I will share a poem I wrote.

Now That He is Gone

I can cry because he is gone,
Or I can smile because of the life he lived.

I can close my eyes and hope he will come back,
Or I can open my eyes to see the beauty he left behind.

My heart can feel empty because I can’t see him,
Or I can be full of the times I feel him around me.

I can turn away from my future,
Or I can live on and honor his memory.

I can wish for yesterdays,
Or I can look forward to tomorrow.

I can remember only that he is not here,
Or I can cherish each day I had with him.

I can close my mind to new things, and turn my back on what’s next,
Or I can live on, smile about him and keep my eyes wide open as I walk into my future.

I choose to remember. I choose to walk forward. And, I have to teach my heart that my walking forward is not leaving him behind.

Peace and Love for 2016


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmastime is here.

Never in my life did I think I would utter these words; I'm finding very little joy in Christmas. I've had a nasty viral infection which isn't helping, but my emotions have caught me off guard. Our home looks beautiful; it is filled with love, light, music and tradition. However, my heart just aches with grief, loss and emptiness. Just going through the motions. Music sounds different. Food tastes bland. Colors are a little dim. I am sure this is a normal part of grief.

I know life will never be the same, and I know so many others have and are experiencing far worse loss than me; a dear friend just marking the 5th year since losing her daughter in a terrible tragedy, a young couple with toddler twins who suddenly lost their other child to an unexpected and rapid illness, there are countless children struggling with cancer, a family still searching for their daughter missing for 10 years in Aruba, presumed dead but no closure for them, 20 innocent children killed in the safety of their school three years ago will never celebrate anything again, and recently so much violence in the news. It's all so unspeakable.

But I miss MY son. I want MY son here. I ache for ONE more memory to make with him. To have him near me, where it matters. Right now, I have so many wonderful things and amazing people in my life, but it's so difficult to feel anything but sorrow. I hope to regain some of my love for the season again.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Star of wonder, star of light. Where is my bright light? It has been extinguished for all time.

Maybe next year...maybe not.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

160 Days.

How has so much time passed; yet it feels like yesterday you were here?  And many times, it feels like a lifetime has passed since you left me. I find my mind wandering to your last moments, and wondering what were you thinking at that exact moment? Did you pause? Hesitate? Or was it another of your intensely impulsive actions that was over more quickly than it began? I can't help but wonder what might have been if that weapon had not been there; loaded and readily accessible. I can't help but wonder if that moment might have just passed, and you would have moved on from it like you had other times.

I can't help but place some blame on the person who made that weapon available to you, even though she knew about your moods and behavior. Due to legal circumstances, she was not allowed to own or possess firearms or ammunition. Yet, she had both. And somehow, after multiple investigations, she is not going to be held to any type of responsibility, and you were just "another kid" who killed himself. No one really seems to care that your life is over, and she still has her life. She had 83 days of you. I had 8262. She had no idea who you really were. And now…..

She gets to live.
She gets to breathe.
She gets to grow old.
She gets to keep going.
She gets to make music.
She gets to have memories.

You do not.
You are quiet.
You are still forever.
You are now dust in a box. 

I try to keep my contempt towards her under control, but some days it is very, very difficult.

Those are mine to explore. 

But one thing that no one can take from me are the memories I have of you.
The precious videos, pictures and mementos.
As you walk away from me forever.
Those things belong to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Having a really rough day. Oddly, worse than yesterday. But there have been some wonderful signs given to me today.

Earlier, Mark ran into a couple at the gas station who were panhandling. They had two dogs and told him they were off-the-grid people from AZ, heading to Taos. He filled their tank and told them about Joshua, how much peace and love he found in Taos during the final months of his life. He told them the gas was a gift from me and Joshua. Things in life certainly do align at times; don’t they?

Today has been so hard as I begin to prepare for the holidays. Crying most of the day, but as I finished doing a load of laundry, I looked down and saw something really remarkable on the floor. He left me this treble clef, and knowing his love and passion for music, it is so amazing. It's a thread from a pillowcase.  I'm overcome once again. Thank you Joshua. Your timing was perfect.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy 23rd Birthday.

Twenty-three years ago today, at 5:43 pm EST, I gave birth to my first son, Joshua Gilbert McKinney. I sort of remember the day, but honestly most of it is a blur to me now. I sort of remember the early parts of the labor that was induced. I sort of remember the bliss of the epidural. I sort of remember the itching reaction to the drugs. I sort of remember the drowsiness of Benadryl given for the itching. I sort of remember starting to push…. but what I do remember with utter clarity is the first time I saw my son! He was 8.05 lbs. of fuzzy blonde perfection. I had him on a Tuesday, and we brought our little boy home on Thanksgiving Day. We went right to my parents’ house for dinner, and I felt so content and happy to have my new little baby home for the holiday. Having a second Thanksgiving baby made the holiday even more my favorite than it was before. I remember his outfit very well; he had a light blue and mint green one-piece fleece jumper with a little lion, monkey and giraffe on the front. His blue eyes stood out against the blue of the fabric; his blonde hair sticking up all over! How I remember that part very well. Sitting and holding him, I don’t really think I ate much of my meal. I was too full of love for that little boy. Over the years, through the many wonderful ups and terrible downs, Joshua and I always held a very special bond. He called me for everything. He called me to tell me about his problems and triumphs, his joys and his sorrows. He called to play me music. He called to ask for money. He called to share recipes. He called to see what I was cooking. A few times we even “cooked” together over the phone. No matter where he was, or where he traveled, we were always not more than a day or two from a conversation. This week, as we move into the Thanksgiving holiday, and upcoming holiday season, I stop to reflect on the day of Joshua’s birth. I miss him so much, now 137 days since his death. Some days, it is still so surreal and hard to believe. On those days, I look at the pictures I took of him before they took him away from me forever; the last time I saw his face, touched his hand, and kissed him goodbye; the day they cremated my son. Now he rests in a box, deep in the back of my closet, so I can try to forget that it all really happened. This dream I never can seem to wake from. And, I can just remember my son. My little boy. My fuzzy blonde perfection, now forever 22 years old. One Hundred Thirty Seven days ago, a part of my soul died with you. A part that will never heal. I will miss you always Joshua.

Happy Birthday; my heart will always sing for you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

90 days.

He had my hands in shape and form, but they were large and strong. I loved his hands. I held them for as long as they allowed that last day. I transformed the picture into the sketch, because I seemed to make the reality of the photo more subtle. He bit his fingernails; something I don't do, but it was an identifying character. He was left handed, but strummed the guitar with his right hand. The right fingers were marred with gentle callouses and wear from the love of the guitar strings. He had a finger infection last summer, so there was a faint, pink scar on his left index finger from the cuticle to the top of his hand. There was a small, healing scrape on hand that day, and ironically it was heart shaped! You can see the shape of you look closely. I had my fingerprint charm made from the impression of that left index finger. I still have the hand prints he made for Mothers Day when he was just four years old. I loved his hands and would give anything to touch them again.

Friday, October 2, 2015


The errors on the report were all basically sloppy documentation, and all was clarified to my satisfaction. To my relief, and to my disappointment (how confusing is that?), Joshua's autopsy and toxicology screen were relatively normal. His injury was the immediate and instantaneous cause of death, which was a huge relief. And, he was clean....for the most part. He had not used any drugs in a very long time, except for some mild marijuana use. Contrary to what some family members have assumed for a long time, Joshua never used IV drugs; or at least there was no indication whatsoever to this effect. If he had ever used IV drugs, it was "very brief, and very remote". While this was a relief to me, I have to admit, in my darkest part of my brain, I had hoped he was completely intoxicated or otherwise impaired, which means he didn't know what he was doing at the moment of his death.

While he was not under the influence of any substances; he was acutely affected by one very deadly drug; Risperdal. Risperdal is an antipsychotic drug, and it was prescribed for Joshua by the local mental healthcare clinic on June 25. On June 26, he called and asked me to help him pay for his prescription, and I of course did. I was a little concerned about the choice of medication, because this particular drug has a history of causing severe psychosis and suicidal ideations, specifically in young men. I do not understand why they chose this drug, considering the fact that this drug is supposed to be very carefully monitored by a healthcare provider during it's early use. A guy living "On the Mesa" is not a guy who is going to get careful follow up and monitoring during the initial phase of the drug. For those of you who do not live in New Mexico, the Mesa is basically an off-the-grid alternative lifestyle; close to camping, squatting, or living off the land. The people who inhabit the Mesa are peaceful, free-living, free-loving kind of people; but they are probably not the first ones in line for their annual check up and flu vaccine.

So, Joshua started Risperdal on June 26. On July 3, he sent me a text that he was really struggling with some of the significant side effects of the medication. He said he was having really vivid and bad dreams; some waking him from a deep sleep, with the feeling that someone was hovering over him, trying to harm him. Waking up paranoid, some mild hallucinations, and some other adverse affects that are common. He said he wanted to stop taking the drug, but I urged him to call the mental health to get some guidance, and I told him, no matter what, DO NOT stop taking this drug abruptly. Does anyone know of a 22-year old who listens to their mom? Of course not. So, it is assumed that Joshua stopped taking the drug abruptly after taking it for 8 days. This is not my opinion; it is based on the amount of medication he had left in the pill bottle when they processed the crime scene.

On days 5-10, after abruptly stopping the drug Risperdal, many people, again especially young men, have severe paranoia, severe psychotic episodes, hallucinations, and other really bad side effects. Joshua had spoken to his sister the morning of his death, and he had spoken to his friend Rose. He was making plans for the weekend; making mango salsa, planning for a bonfire with friends, and planning for Mark and I to visit the next week. The morning of Joshua's death was Day 6 off Risperdal. The medical examiner talked to me extensively, and it is his medical and professional opinion that Joshua suffered some type of severe psychosis that morning, after his phone calls. No one is sure what the trigger was, but between the medication, and external factors (an argument with the woman he was dating), it was obviously enough.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015



The autopsy report arrived this week, and I am very upset because it is literally filled with inconsistencies. I don't understand! I have a call in to the coroner, but so far I have discovered the following errors:

1. Weight - listed him about 20-30 pounds lighter than he is.
2. Height - listed him about 8 inches shorter than he is.
3. Hair color - listed as "red". Yes, his beard was red, but his head hair was blonde.
4. Eye color - listed as green. They are blue.
5. Remarkable identifiers - listed him as having no surgical scars; he had three:

  • One on his hand (2014 debridement of a wound, goes from cuticle up to mid-hand)
  • One on his abdomen (2008 appendix)
  • One on his chest from under the left nipple all the way around to his scapula (2012 thoracotomy...not a small scar).

6. Tattoos - does not mention the one on his left temple that was used to identify his body.
7. Exit wound - sorry to be graphic, but I was told by both the detectives and the funeral home that he had a large exit wound on his head. Yet, the autopsy report says "no exit". When I saw my son, I know he had a large suture line across the back of his head. That may have been from the actual autopsy, but I was told he had an exit wound, which is why they needed to wait to see if he was "viewable" for me.
8. DOB - listed correctly on some pages; incorrectly on others. A difference of 4 months.
9. Nose - "normal", his nose was severely broken and distorted with the impact of the injury, and had a large abrasion on it that occurred during his death.

I am confused
I am angry
I am upset

Is this even the right person? I know who I saw on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 WAS my son. I have no doubts about that; none at all. But this report is not about my son. It is about another person who died in the same or similar manner. Either that, or the Office of Medical Investigations is extremely sloppy with their documentation. These are not insignificant discrepancies. These are NOT just words on a piece of paper; it was supposed to be a concise and accurate account of the manner of my son's death, a description of his fatal injury, and a final characterization of his physicality on this Earth.

My hope, by reading this report, was to be able to mentally gather up all of the details of his death, wrap them up in a neat package, put a bow on them, and emotionally set it aside for good. My goal was to be able to put this part of the event behind me, so I could start to heal and move forward with my grief. Not going to happen this week!

I don't have a picture to go with my emotions this week.

Monday, September 14, 2015


I'm feeling pretty blah this week. I love my home and love being home, but lately, when I am here, I


So, I'll just keep listening to music. Won't you join me? In the mean time, we are going to get out of town for a few days to clear our heads!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

National Suicide Prevention Week.

This is a post from my cousin's niece, and sums it all up pretty well. Thank you for letting me share Catherine!

facts, truth, and the liar

Imagine this:  You are lost, and trying to get home.  You don't know how long it's been.  Your feet hurt, your knees hurt, your back hurts, your head hurts.  You are exhausted.  You are physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.  There is nothing left.  It's just you and the fog.  You have no idea how long the fog has surrounded you.  It seems like it has always been there.  You don't really notice it anymore.  And then there are the voices.  They slither through the fog, insidious.  They whisper of fear and sadness, anger and despair.  There is no reason to go on.  There's nothing to go on for.  It's just you and that damn fog.  The fog is worse than the voices.  The voices speak helplessness, but the fog shows it.  Because if the fog would lift, you would see that you are almost home.  But it doesn't lift, you can't see where you are, and you give up.

That fog is what depression is like for me.  Luckily for me, through Grace and Mercy, it lifted long enough for me to hear a friendly voice and get treatment.  The fog doesn't lift for everyone, and not everyone has a friend who will take them by the shoulders and tell them to go to their doctor and get on Prozac or something.

It has taken me a long time to write about this.  It's hard, to find the right words and to get the courage to post.  It's especially hard to do both at the same time.  But today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and I needed to do something.  To be the friend who takes you by the shoulders.  To let someone, anyone, everyone know that is it okay to ask for help.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  There are other people like you out there.  You have worth and are loved.  And it's hard.  I know.  It is still hard for me and it's been twenty years.  That damn fog still follows me around.  Most of the time, it's just a wisp of a reminder.  And sometimes, it's dense enough for the voices to start up again, telling me lies.  But I struggle and fight, because while the fog is dense, now I can see home and I know I can make it.

Facts, Truth, and the Liar
by Catherine M Braun

In this world, we know, there is Fact and there is Truth.

This is Fact: there is a serotonin deficiency in my brain.
But this is Truth: there is a Liar in my head.

And the Liar tells me, “Of course, the sky is blue.”
And, “Of course, the sun is shining.”
And, “Of course, your family loves you.”

But also, “Blue is really gray.”
And, “Sun is really rain.”
And, “Everyone would be better off if you and your moods were gone.”

This is not a piercing grief or a glancing blow.
This is a smothering, a sinking:
an avalanche of despair and all I see is snow.

I think, Maybe there is too much blood in my chest, and that is why it aches.
And the Liar says, “Yes, yes – if you open your veins the pressure will ease.”
And I think, Maybe.

In this world, Fact is not necessarily as important as Truth.

This is Fact: I'm treating my depression.
But this is Truth: I'm silencing the Liar with every breath I take.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

60 days.

Sixty days.
1441 hours.
86,460 minutes.
5,187,600 seconds.

Yet, it feels like a lifetime has passed, and it’s so hard to process that I will never see him again, in this life. Time stands still, and goes so fast. It is National Suicide Prevention Week. Why didn’t I see the signs this time? They were there before, but not this time. This time, it came as a complete surprise. I still can’t believe this is real.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


It is said that each person's fingerprint is unique with individual qualities, patterns, and configurations. Much like a personality; no two are alike. I really love the sound of that; it reminds of the kind of person Joshua was. Never defined by his illness; always known for his wonderful and charming qualities.

A few weeks ago, some of my friends from the Hospice department at work gave me gift money to purchase a fingerprint charm.  Before he was cremated, fingerprints were taken of Joshua. After a lot of online shopping, I picked a simple, polished silver style, and it arrived today. It is lovely, and I will treasure it always. I had been wearing the urn charm with a bit of ashes in them, but found that they were causing me a great deal of anxiety and grief, so for now, I put that one away. Strange how things affect us when we least expect it.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Frazey Ford "Firecracker"

So much of this reminds me of Joshua. The raw voice. The look. The ambivalence of the words. I have loved this song for several years, but now the lyrics resonate.

I was a sailboat, I was a sailor
I was a son of a gun of a gun
I made it happen, down in the schoolyard
I was a firecracker explodin'

Hallelujah, the sparks flew up to heaven
They saw my smile, I was laughing so hard
Hallelujah, the sparks flew up to heaven
And I left the sober people with their cold hearts

Sometimes there is someone
Someone who knows you
But when you are sad there is no one
But I'm a red bicycle
Rolling and rolling

I'm a quick silver, I'm a deal maker
Don't you cross me once

Hallelujah, the sparks flew up to heaven
They saw my smile, I was laughing so hard
Hallelujah, the sparks flew up to heaven
And I left the sober people with their cold hearts

And nothing can hold me
To this earth that don't roll me
And I don't know if I'm dirty or clean
But I was a sailboat
I was a sailor and I was a firecracker exploding'

And oh why do you cry, sister (momma) cry?
I been talkin' with angels and its gonna be fine

‘Cause hallelujah the sparks flew up to heaven

And I left the sober people with their cold hearts

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Milk Carton Kids - Michigan

"What am I supposed to do now...without you...without you?"

Missing you so much Joshua. Come to me in my dreams...please. You are so far away now.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Life. Alive. Live.

As grief continues to consume my soul, a sweet picture was sent to me yesterday that softened the pain. It fed my soul and filled an empty spot for a while. 
Joshua's Taos garden is beginning it's harvest. These are his tomatoes. Brimming with energy. They represent life to me. A tender bloom. Warmed by the sun. Fed by the earth. Filled with color. They are so alive. I think they are magnificent.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Birds on a wire.

Funny how small things can mean BIG things in your heart. These little birds sitting by the feeder at sunset....they make me happy. Can you hear me, Joshua....

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


I have received so many gifts...and I am sorry I am so behind on my thank-you cards. That aside, I wanted to share something very special that was sent to me. I have been friends with so many of you, for so many years, and Debbie is one of my oldest friends. We met in 11th grade, at a party, and we have been friends ever since. Weddings, babies, name it. Debbie has become quite an artist over the past few years, and she made this memorial sketch for me. It is Joshua, and me in mirror image (my interpretation is I am standing in front of him, looking at his soul), a guitar, and the C scale, which represents early childhood learning of music. So many meanings in this piece. It, along with a hummingbird watercolor from a newer friend, Antoinette, and a canvas print from some friends I've known also for many years; they will create a memorial art wall for my Joshua.


I am constantly amazed all of the people I know, who have extended their sympathy over the past five weeks. People I've known for years, and people I've only recently met. Gratitude does not begin to express my feelings. But what leaves me almost overwhelmed with emotion are the complete strangers who have touched me over the last few weeks. I had to share this with everyone: 

I recently had to speak with customer service from my auto loan company to get a certain tax form. During the conversation, for some reason Joshua's death came up. The woman was so kind to me, and said she hoped I was doing okay. Well this morning, I received a surprise package from FTD, and inside was a lovely note, and a dozen beautiful roses from DeMetria, the woman who helped me. I am 100% sure this was done completely on her own, at her own expense. I am not sure I can ever find her to thank her, but it is just amazing to me how people make the kindest gestures. The world is a wonderful place filled with fabulous and caring people.

Monday, August 17, 2015


What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose,
For all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.
~Helen Keller

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Half Moon Bay in California. Some of Joshua's ashes were placed here today by his dad and stepmom.

They said whales began to surface off the shore, just after. I smile, as my heart breaks a little more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

There is light in unexpected places.

This is how it goes. Feeling so very low tonight, and just deciding to go to bed since nothing else feels right. My husband was double checking the locks, and he came into the bedroom and said, "you need to see something", so I follow him downstairs and out the patio door. A few days ago, an old friend from nursing school sent a gift, as so many of you have. I put this little solar hummingbird in my jasmine, and then spent the next few days at work, honestly forgetting this hummingbird ornament was there. What a welcome surprise tonight when I needed it the most; watching this adorable little bird light up and change colors brightened my day. I have not been successful in writing thank-you notes quite yet, but I want each of you to know your words, cards, generosity, gifts, hugs, and even thoughts from a distance have sustained me through this dark time.

Miss Me - Joshua's Version

3:25 - Yeah, some things don't turn they should. So, do you miss me?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Ugh why is EVERYTHING so hard?
Or sad?
Or blah?
Or mediocre?
Or upsetting?
Or depressing?

Monday, August 10, 2015

One month.

Seems like a lifetime since you left us. It's still so hard to wrap my heart around this. I miss you so much Joshua.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Now what?

Two of Joshua's favorite bluegrass performers were featured on Austin City Limits tonight. Milk Carton Kids and Sarah Jarosz. She sings a version of "Shankill Butchers", the rather dark song featured on the video I posted the morning after his death. The song plays over and over in my head, along with a few others. Tonight, MCK performed "Michigan", another of his favorites, and the lyrics at the end of the song resonate. 

"What am I supposed to do now, without you?"

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


All around me, there is natural beauty. Summer bursts with color, fragrance, sounds, and flavor. Yet, through my profound grief, there has been an overpowering blandness that shrouds all that I see, feel, and do. Your pinks and purples are my muted gray. Yesterday was by far the worst day yet. No reason. No catalyst. I could barely breathe through my sadness. Today, the day was a little bit easier to bear, and tonight I saw a vacant house on an evening drive. The earlier storms lit the sunset sky with brilliant color. And tonight, it looked a tiny bit brighter. The was completely empty; but tonight, for a moment, I could see the beautiful color surrounding it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Back to life.

Tonight, my life marches on. I return to work. It feels so strange to be resuming my life right now. I love my job, and I love the people I work with. Going back is important to my healing. The normalcy I crave. It's still a very odd feeling to be picking up from where I left off on July 10. I still feel his hand in mine. I wish I could feel it.


But that part is gone, and it's time to see what comes next.

Technology wow.

I have an entire thumb drive full of videos of my son, given to me by his dear friends Lani, Orrin, Rose, and Daniel.