Picking up the pieces after her son’s murder

Picking up the pieces after her son’s murder

But, even surrounded by the love of so many since the murder of her 29-year-old son, she felt alone. Nothing is more isolating for a mother whose son was shot and left for dead after his friend asked for directions than grief. And no one can make hearing his dying words and seeing his last moments played over and over for a jury any less painful.

The trial ended with one man acquitted and the other, Kyle Sparks MacKinnon, convicted of second-degree murder for the Jan. 31., 2016 shooting deaths of Taylor and his friend David Eminess, 26, on Spadina Ave. on Jan 31., 2016.

MacIntyre, 53, had the chance to speak about the impact her son’s murder has had on her life at the sentencing hearing for Sparks MacKinnon’s earlier this year.

She chose to express her grief in song, her voice soaring over the beating of her hand drum.

The song is what Indigenous people call vocables, she told the court. “None of the sounds are words. The song is a cultural expression of my grief.”

MacIntyre will sing about her loss again May 30 at the first forum for survivors of homicide loss, organized by the Distress Centres of Greater Toronto, where MacIntyre sought support from people who had been through similar losses. She found it a valuable resource that should be more widely known and available.

“There were things I could talk about there that I couldn’t have said to my daughter or to my friend or to my brother … They get it.”

MacIntyre plans to share her music at the forum to let others going through a similar trauma know they are not alone in their pain, fear and confusion. She will perform, for the first time, a rap song she wrote about the death of Taylor. The lyrics begin:

This is my dedication. To all of you who know the devastation. Of a life of a loved one taken. Shot down never to awaken.

It is from her album “Picking up the Pieces,” about the impact of murder, gun violence and the healing process that she has been working on for the past three-and-a-half years. It is, she says, where she has been channelling her love for her son that now has nowhere to go.

Alex Shendelman, the manager of the traumatic loss survivor support program at the Distress Centres, said the forum is a chance to alleviate the isolation of homicide loss. While this is the first time one has been organized for homicide loss survivors, there has been a forum for survivors’ of suicide loss for the last five years.

“One of the most important things (after a traumatic loss) is having a safe place,” he said.

The idea behind peer-support and group sessions is to create that safe place for those who have been through similar losses and who may be able to eventually offer a sense of hopefulness, Shendelman said.

MacIntyre was born in Calgary and grew up in a small town in British Columbia with her adoptive parents. Her mother died by suicide when she was 15 and her father died two-and-a-half years later of a heart attack — really of a broken heart, she said.

She moved to Toronto shortly after, pursuing her dream of being a singer and musician. She moved from rap to reggae. When she was in her 30s she discovered she was Ojibwe and Odawa and began to perform hand drumming. Her current album is a fusion of all the musical influences in her life — “half Indigenous hand drumming and half ‘Indigenous reggae.’ ”

She said her funny, stubborn, charming son, shared her love of music and was an up-and-coming music producer.

“He is part of the music,” she said.

MacIntyre was just shy of 21 when she gave birth to Taylor, her first of two children.

“I was really naïve,” she recalled. The doctor on call that day said she couldn’t have anyone in the delivery room, so “I was on my own for the whole labour … the birth of Quinn was terrible. But then, of course, when I had him in my arms I loved that little boy so much. It was amazing.”

As she recounted the “golden moments” from Taylor’s childhood, she paused because those are moments he will never get to have with his own young daughter, she said.

In the three decades since she lost her parents, MacIntyre learned to care for herself and has spent years teaching and mentoring others. But that did nothing to prepare her for what came after the murder of her son.

This grief changed her. Her once sharp mind dulled and she was unable to remember simple things. She put on weight and is now in constant pain. She started having panic attacks. She caught pneumonia and a lingering cough has never left. Her life is devoid of joy, she said.

She could not be a mother to her daughter, Taylor’s half-sister, who is now 21. She is still affected by the aftermath of Taylor’s murder— media stories, police updates and the trial — and not able to grieve in peace.

“It actually gets worse over time,” she said. “It doesn’t get to be over.”

She avoids networking events because she dreaded the interactions. When your child is murdered, people don’t know how to react, she said.

MacIntyre did find some relief through the Distress Centres support sessions and groups, specifically those for people whose loved ones have been murdered. She was able to share her experiences as she went through the court process with other survivors in the group, letting them know what they could expect. Things such as, before the trial began she was permitted to go into the courtroom to orient herself to the space and perform a drum ceremony.

She also found out what she could bring into the courtroom, where to get coffee or lunch without running into the defendants or their supporters. She learned to avoid the elevators and the courthouse cafeteria.

After a five-week trial, Sparks MacKinnon was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder. He will be sentenced in June.

MacIntyre says her feelings have vacillated between wanting to kill Sparks MacKinnon and showing him compassion. Now, they have settled on wanting him to undergo an effective rehabilitation process so he can stop shootings like this from happening in the first place.

“Nobody is born to be a killer,” she said. “That comes after.”

Shendelman said at least 10 people are impacted by each homicide in the city and the demand for support services is growing. The Distress Centres are looking for peer support volunteers and have started monthly drop-in sessions to provide ongoing support.

MacIntyre hopes to volunteer one day, when she feels ready.

In the meantime she hopes to help others in their healing process through her songs.

“I can harvest the teachings and blessings out of that and I can be the blessing out of that too,” she said. “People need hope, that is what I like to bring with my music.”

The 24-7 Distress Centres of Greater Toronto helpline is 416-408-HELP (4357)

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