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United States Army
February 17, 1982 - March 2, 2013
By Sherry McClure
Josh was my first child and only son. Two sisters would follow. He was born at 2:07 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in Shawnee, Oklahoma. After 32 hours of labor, he made his grand entrance before the doctor was able to make it to the hospital.
Josh was an enjoyable baby. He entertained himself easily. He enjoyed toys in the way they moved or came apart and went back together. When he was four years old, he surprised me one day by bringing me a picture he had drawn. No one had ever sat down with him and shown him how to draw. The picture was of a car. It was detailed with tires, windshield wipers, windows, a steering wheel, smoke coming out the back and a stick person driving in a seat.
In school Josh always did well. He made friends easily. His teachers always spoke of how polite he was. He was very smart, an honor roll student. He never studied for his tests and always aced them. He was very meticulous with his penmanship and drawing. I told him he may be an architect one day.
Josh always liked to tinker with electronic things and loved math and numbers. I remember dropping my remote; it came apart in several pieces. After many attempts, I couldn't get it to go back right. I asked him if he could figure it out for me. He used his seven year old mind and put the remote back together as if he invented it himself.
On Josh's twelfth birthday, I bought him a brand new bike and allowed him to ride it to a friend's house. That was the last time I saw that bike as I gave it to him. He and his buddy took their bikes apart, exchanged some parts, and put their bikes back together. I didn't get upset. He was doing what he loved. It was his bike after all. I didn't let him get by without letting him know it was a foolish thing he did.
When Josh got into high school, he took an interest in body building and joined Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps). He loved it and decided he wanted to join the Army. Josh said he wanted to go to college when he got out. I was so proud of him for his choice. He made it on his own. I didn't have to influence him or tell him what he needed to do. It was something he desired to do.
Sadly, during Josh's Senior year, he was involved in a tragic accident. His best friend hit a semi at a high rate of speed killing him instantly. Josh was asleep in the passenger seat. The force of the crash caused the doors to come off the car and send the car into a centrifugal spin, stretching the seat belts, flinging Josh out of the car. The engine was found 100 feet from the car.
Josh was unconscious and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The doctors told me it was a closed head injury. Since Josh was an avid body builder, his bodily injuries healed quickly. His neurologist told Josh that he could not play any ball or contact sports for one year. Exactly one year later, he joined the Army, acing the entrance exam.
Josh went to basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, graduating in June, 2001. He was allowed to take time off to relax, be with family and find a home so he could report to base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky in August of that year.
Everything was beginning to look up for Josh. He had gotten married before joining. He had a newborn son, and now he had a new home and new life with a new family.
Then, 9/11 happened. He was deployed soon after. When he got back from Afghanistan, he was a torn man. He was a changed man. He had seen a lot. I don't know what he did while he was there. He would never talk about what happened, except he saw some of his buddies die. Just like his best friend died.
Josh had been injured in the friendly fire that killed his buddies and flown to Landstuhl hospital in Germany. Soon after, he was flown to Fort Campbell, receiving medical care at the hospital there on base. Several months later he was given a medical discharge. I began to beg him to get help, but I didn't push it at that time. His first marriage ended in divorce.
Josh met someone else, remarried, and went on to aviation school and earned his Airframe and Power plant license. He and his second wife had a son after a couple of years of marriage during this time.
They moved to Alabama so Josh could begin his new job. He built Black Hawk helicopters before moving on to build Apaches. This is from which his interest in tinkering with toys that moved and came apart and went together began. Drawing intricately was something he enjoyed doing as a hobby.
Josh was brilliant beyond measure. He couldn't be outwitted or outsmarted. He was my go to person if I needed to understand complex things. His mind just worked that way, especially with numbers. Those who knew him well, knew that. It's one of the legacies he left behind. Sometimes when I thought I needed to read between the lines with him, it was always something simple. He had such a complex way of thinking.
Josh loved his family and his two boys, Noah and Nikolas. Both of his boys inherited the brilliant minds of their dad. Both are honor roll students and Nik is in a gifted class.
Josh enjoyed cookouts, going to the lake, hanging out with friends, and just simply relaxing. Josh didn't get to spend as much time with Noah as he desired being in a different state, but he was very involved with Nik. He enjoyed taking Nik to the park and the beach.
When both boys were together, Josh got down on the floor at their level and played with them. I have many pictures of these memories for them. I remember one Christmas holiday here at my home, Josh was laying on the floor watching TV. Noah climbed on Josh and used him as an artillery tank pretending to do battle. Noah was shooting over Josh's head toward the TV. I took a half dozen pictures of that blessed event.
Josh loved his sisters, Jenna and Jennifer. Nobody ever bothered my girls in school. Josh took up for the underdogs and did not take well to bullies. As did his sister, Jennifer. During their teenage years at home, Josh never fought with Jenna. She was never one to have conflict. Jennifer was his match. She is only a full grown 4' 10" woman. He was 5' 11".
Jenna had the mouth and he had the height. When she got close enough to him, he just held his hand out and placed it on her head and laughed while she gave him a piece of her mind. It was quite a show between those two; we enjoyed laughing about it years later. They seemed to have a deeper connection as adults, possibly because of the similarities.
Josh also seemed to have a close bond with me. He was very much a man's man, but he was still my child, my baby. I remember one of our arguments over being that he wasn't a kid. He wanted me to be clear on that. I had referred to him as "my kid" and it did not set well with him. I explained that I realized he is a grown man, but if he was 50 years old, he will always be my baby.
I always reminded Josh that there was never anything bad enough he could do in this world that would make me not love him unconditionally. As his mother, I knew he had been having some depression and needed to hear this. I never wanted him to forget how much he was loved. I never asked him questions about his deployment. I knew if he wanted to talk he would. I did ask him to get help.
In 2008 he attempted to take his life. He had written an e-mail to a friend and was working on one to me when medics arrived. They made in time to save him. His friend got his message and called for help. If it had been a few minutes later, Josh would not have made it then.
Josh had to go into treatment for the attempt he made on his life. At this point, I begged and insisted he open up and tell them whatever was troubling him. I also made him promise me he would never do this again. He promised.
In November 2010, Josh's second marriage ended. He had begun a path of self-destruction, and it was a burden on their marriage. Although they were divorced, Josh and his second wife remained friends and still loved one another.
The effects that had happened in his past seemed to catch up. Josh had a head injury from the accident, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and survivors guilt, then, PTSD and survivors guilt from the war, and depression. This was not a good combination. He had everything stacked against him.
A person can take his life from just one of these reasons alone. Josh had them all. His mind was sick. Just like any organ in our body, his brain was beginning to fail. We had no idea.
In October of 2012, his sister Jenna was having major car trouble. I called and asked for help. Josh dropped everything and drove the five or so hours to help his sister. He stayed several days before he had to return to Alabama. It would end up being the last enjoyable time we would spend together, my three children and me.
I took what I didn't realize would be a final picture of my three children together. Josh had Jennifer cut his hair, but he asked that we save it in a plastic bag. He had let the top part grow out to make a Mohawk and never had hair that long before. He ended up leaving it at my house. I had been saving the plastic bag of his hair to give to him the next time. It was never meant to be.
Josh's 31st birthday, February 17, 2013, was my last entry on his Facebook wall. I wished him a happy birthday. I hoped it was wonderful and to have a fun day. I finished it with, "I love you!"
Josh and I had a spat prior. He showed me some disrespect, so I was giving him a dose of tough love. I wanted him to know it wasn't okay. I was so spent trying to beg him to get help. I couldn't be his outlet for all those horrible things that happened to him. I begged him to get help for.
Unfortunately, there was no phone call that day. Just a message that I wanted him to have a wonderful day, I was thinking of him, and above all, I love him.
On March 2, 2013, my husband called me from work. My mom had been trying to call and said it was an emergency. She asked him to return the call. I was recovering from a bad fall with a broken rib and four broken vertebrae. His second wife texted earier that day and said she needed to speak to me about Josh. She said it was bad.
I wasn't sure if there was bad blood between the two or what happened. I told her I couldn't get upset, because breathing was difficult enough. If I got upset or angry it would really be hard. So, she called my mom.
I was alarmed at the news she called my husband at work asking for a return call due to an emergency without calling me. I knew something serious was going on. So, I called mom myself. She was upset that my husband told me, because she left instructions not to tell me anything before he got home.
I began to ask questions. I told her I knew it was Josh. "What happened? Is he okay?"
She answered, "Wait till Steve gets home."
"Mom, is he alive" I asked.
"Never mind answering. Your silence just told me everything. How?" I asked. "Mom, please tell me how," I pleaded.
"Sherry, you really need to wait until Steve gets home. You don't need to be by yourself," my mom said.
I felt all the life flow out of my body, my knees weak as I was resting my elbows on the sink to hold myself up.
Finally, my mom told me how Josh took his life. By his own hands, asphyxiation. At that point, I was stoic, numb, in denial. I felt like I was in a zombie state.
We were living in Michigan at the time having followed my husband's job. So, my husband handled the details of having Josh's body transferred to a funeral home and begin the necessary process for burial. I began going through photos, searching songs, working on his obituary and gathering documents for his military burial. Then, we began the somber drive to our home in Tennessee, so we could get with the funeral home in Alabama for arrangements.
By the time we arrived to the funeral home, we had already arranged to have his clothes brought by someone who knew him. I walked in with everything I gathered, and we began making the arrangements. For me, my mindset was in mother-mode. I was still numb. I knew I was doing something for my child for the last time.
I picked out a couple of things for the home to choose what would look best for Josh to wear. When choosing his casket, I kept my eye on a particular one that was him. When we finally were shown that casket, I immediately chose it. I had a way of how I wanted his sending off to be, and I was not disappointed.
We were back in our home in Tennessee when the funeral home called. They were having trouble finding someone to eulogize Josh at the funeral. I had given specific instructions on our religion, and that it should be a man. Josh had recently moved to that town and we knew no one.
My husband, Steve, was going through some things that were left in Josh's car when I received the call. A short while later, Steve came inside with Josh's Bible. I sat it in my lap and slowly glanced through things that Josh had slipped inside.
I noticed Josh had a lot of scriptures highlighted and the Bible was well-worn.
Inside the Bible, there it was. A business card that took me totally by surprise. From a minister at a church just five miles away from us. I could not understand how it got there. I never knew Josh went to that church. When? I was really puzzled.
Very recently, I learned Josh had come up one time to visit us in late summer 2012, and we were not at home. So, he went up the road and to church. After services, Josh tried to open up to the minister. There were some things on his mind he wanted to talk about. According to the minister, Josh began to choke up with tears in his eyes and said he needed to go. Before Josh had a chance to leave, the minister offered him the business card.
When I was able to reach the minister, he told me he remembered Josh. A member of the church is a friend of mine, and I had already asked her to send a picture ahead of time. As we began to talk over the phone, the first thing he wanted me to know is that suicide happens because the person has a mental illness.
Just as someone has cancer or any other illness, suicide is caused because the brain is sick. The minister assured me that Josh would not go to hell for having a mental illness. I found those words very comforting and asked the minister if he would mind going to Alabama to eulogize him. The minister said he would be more than happy to do it. What a blessing and a godsend. It was like Josh led us right to him.
After the funeral and on our way home, it sank in. I was hit with the reality that Josh was gone. It felt like it hit me like a sledge hammer. Stoic no more, I threw a fit in the truck with my poor husband driving through the mayhem. He remained calm and rubbed my back.
I cried out, "Why? I loved you more than myself" I was to the point of wailing. Something I had never done before. I had also never told Josh I loved him more than myself. Something I regret.
I still wish I hugged him . . . just because. Just because he was simply sitting in my living room. Just because we were rivals with each other over a football game. Just because I loved him more than myself.
In the days that followed, I went through a long period of isolation. I had always been a person who was outgoing. I always wanted to be out doing something, and I never met a stranger. I was changed after losing my son. I would not turn on the TV, spend time on social media, or go anywhere.
My routine was halted. I wouldn't answer my phone unless it was a close friend or family member. I did get on Josh's Facebook and started working on it and got to know a few of his friends. They were a lifeline to me. I felt connected to Josh through them.
Everyone who knew Josh had only good things to say about him. It was so comforting to me, because of the behaviors I had seen in him that had me so concerned about him. Everyone said he would give you the shirt off his back. If he had five dollars in his pocket, he would give you four dollars and keep one dollar just in case.
None of his friends saw it coming. Many said Josh was the last person they thought would do this, because he hid it so well. The most important thing his friends told me was how much he loved his mom, and he knew his mom loved him. I had been feeling so much guilt having not spoken to him.
I felt as though maybe Josh felt like I turned my back on him and he had no one to turn to. I still have days that I wonder what his feelings were and if he truly felt that way. Those days are my worst and hardest to overcome. There is no pain deeper than to wonder if you are responsible for your child taking his own life.
The time finally came that we were able to make it down to Alabama for the headstone. I wanted a headstone with his photo on it. Above the photo of Josh, I added the words Unconditionally Loved By Mom.
I kept my promise. I told Josh there is nothing is this world he could do bad enough not to make me not love him. Even taking his own life. I have never been angry for him breaking his promise. I know the factors that led up to it and that the odds were stacked against him.
Since losing Josh, I realized the hair he had forgotten was the only physical thing of him I had left. There was a lot of it. Enough to fill a small stuffed animal in a quart size Baggie. I clung on to it.
At times, hugging it. I had a thought about putting some in a locket to wear near my heart. I went online and found many websites that have all kinds of jewelry for ashes of loved ones, and to my relief, lockets of hair. I purchased a heart-shaped locket, and I wear it nearly every day. When I am missing Josh, or want to hug him, I hold on tightly to the necklace, close my eyes and just remember him.
Still, almost three years later, I can't go through all of Josh's things. I wear some of his shirts. I can't watch home videos. Many say they should be good memories. What others don't understand is that that's the problem. They are good memories.
If I watch the home videos, I will begin to cry wanting my baby back to share these memories with. Going to the grocery store and seeing his favorite foods can be challenging. I've had to leave and have my husband go back to finish the shopping. Even seen his name on an employees name tag was painful.
In April 2014 I was taking a nap and had a dream. It was Josh. He said, "Jenna's pregnant."
I never thought Jenna would have children. She seemed happy with her life working as many hours as she wanted and having her free time at home. It seemed as though she loved her simple life. I brushed it off as being only in my dreams.
One week later, Jenna called me and told me she had some news. Thinking it was work related, I asked, "What's that?"
She told me she was pregnant. I gave her a reaction she didn't expect. I gasped. After I told her about my dream, neither of us could believe it. We were elated. I failed to mention that Josh always had to be the first to tell me everything.
Jenna had her baby, Joshua Landon on December 5, 2014. We call him Landon. Now, the name on employee name tags are no longer painful. Baby Landon has brought me so much joy. He has helped to mend a part of my broken heart as I watch him grow and reach milestones. He is already showing signs of brilliance like his Uncle Josh.
On Josh's birthday we go to Alabama, put spring flowers on his grave, and send balloons off to the heavens.
I have special memories of him. Walking me down the aisle when I remarried, teasing me relentlessly. The way he told stories with a unique laugh. His hugs. I will always long for his hugs. Josh always held me tightly, but gently lifting me off the ground. I miss hearing his voice, and "Hey, Mom." Last, but not least, I miss being able to simply say, "I love you, Son." He was my one and my first true love.
This story is written in hopes that others will understand the effects PTSD has on military families. Our men and women in uniform not only make sacrifices on foreign soil, it's what they bring back home and what happens on American soil that are also sacrificed.
In addition, it is important we understand the importance of protecting ourselves, our children, and loved ones from concussions. A traumatic brain injury is another major factor that will alter a person's mind, sometimes giving the person suicidal thoughts. Either way, the aftermath is life altering and totally devastating to those who love them.
Now, I am committed to raising awareness of PTSD, working with anyone with PTSD who may be considering ending his or her life and families who have lost a loved one as a result of PTSD. Sherry is committed to taking what she learns from her professional care and pain endured to help others through this painful process.
About the Author
Sherry McClure was born and raised in Oklahoma. She moved to Columbia, Tennessee in 2001 and met her husband, Steve, marrying him in 2002. Sherry is a huge fan of the Oklahoma Sooners; her favorite season is Football. Nothing melts Sherry's heart more than hearing, "Nana" by her seven grandjoys; Noah, Nikolas, Lexi, Tristan, Aubrie, Wyatt and Landon.
The GRief After Suicide Support (GRASS) group first met on Dec. 1, 2005 and has met continuously since then.
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