After the P.R.O.M “Voices from Within”

AFTER the Please Remember Our Man (PROM)

“Our Voices from Within”

This past Saturday night Darrell and I where given the honor to tell “Justin’s Story ”  at the American Heart Association (AHA) Heart & Stroke Ball that was held at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Almost every place I go the surroundings seem to stir up some kind of memory from a previous precious encounter with our life with Justin. That’s all that was on my mind as we were driving towards this famous city landmark, the Disney Concert Hall. I thought about how many times  Justin spoke about this building, this unique Frank Gehry architecture design and the acoustic rhythms enveloping the interiors. Who knew that at the young ages of 10, 11, 12 and 13 he would be ask to come back each Christmas season and sing along with a few other young magical voices with the LA Master Chorale (LAMC) program was called the “Voices from Within.”

As soon as we drove in clear view of this landmark exterior, I vividly remember Justin telling me many times how the building had to be modified after it was constructed because the reflective stainless steel panels made excessive sunlight glare; causing many problems to the adjacent tenants.

After we parked the car and proceeded up the escalator, my mind started working backwards. I remember rushing up these same escalator treads  many times to take Justin to rehearsals and then to the actual performances. Somehow, in short order he new his way around the backstage maze. He marveled and was inspired that he was able to see the magic of this building behind the scenes, practice in the rooms, and meet other musicians. Often he discussed how one day, he would have a  similar building for his students  to help them  master their visual and performing arts talents.

Justin’s 5th grade class wrote songs about various cultures coming to America.   The words were brilliant and passionate about what it would be  like for foreigners to step foot in America for the very first time. Subsequently, the LAMC professional composed the songs. These young minds under instruction of Ms. Hall were exceptional.

Upon walking into the foyer, I had to take yet another pause for cause because Justin attended the Bar Mitzvah of his friend Martin in the same space where the AHA event was, when he was 13 years old. So, as I first walked up to on stage to practice my speech,  I could not help but visualize my baby, happy wearing his formal suit dancing, singing, and playing the games while enjoying the good food and libations in honor of his friend Martin. I let my imagination go and I was able to smile.

After Justin’s first year anniversary we were approached by representatives from the AHA who were at the  beach service. They were able to connect with Justin’s life and the copyrighted Origami Heart Story that was unveiled.  (More information will be available soon about this  under construction website: www.origamihearttrust.org/ , http://www.origamihearttrust.org and learn more this amazing program that was created by Kristen as she remembered what Justin did when he was just 9 years old!   Subsequently, the AHA invited us to tell Justin’s story at their major fundraising event the, 2014 Heart & Stroke Ball.

The video (link below) rolled minutes before we took our place on the stage where three seats were strategically placed. One seat was for me, one for Darrell, and the empty seat was was for Justin.

In front of 400 people, Darrell and I found our “Voices from Within” as we passionately retold the story of our beloved son. We spoke for about 10 minutes and here are a few partial excerpts:

I spoke about the untimely demise of “our beautiful son Justin- a young Renaissance man, a Visionary, and a kind and gentle soul. From day one, Justin loved the visual and performing arts. He loved to draw, sing, act, and dance, to write poetry, to design buildings, to create enthusiasm, and to lead and orchestrate. He was always smiling and wanted to make sure others enjoyed life the way he did. He always saw the best in others, rooted for the underdog and stood up for the lonely. He was a connector, full of understanding and empathy.”

I then told the audience “Tonight was suppose to be his Senior prom, instead we are wearing our formal wear to honor him. ….. Every time I see a butterfly, I will think of him and I will wear his favorite color turquoise as often as I can.”

Darrell said:

“Justin was on his way. He was an honest and forthright young man. I taught him how to work with his hands, to build things and to be prepared in any given situation, to be a proud young man. I often told him that he could also become the President of the United States, and I meant it. Our son, the boy who could have changed the world, will not be able to do it the way we dreamed for him. We will never see him sing, dance or laugh again. He will not walk on the stage to get his a diploma, down the aisle to marry the love of his life, grace us with grandchildren or take care of us as we age. I won’t ever hear him call out for his Dad again and I can’t tell him how much I will miss that and not being able to tell him how much I love him.”

I then said, “Because of Justin we are here to ignite change. While many advancements have been made, this fight is far from over. Heart disease continues to be the leading killer in our nation and it’s time we all stand up and fight back. Heart disease took our son from us. It robbed us of the opportunity to watch who Justin would become someday. It robbed us of our time together and so many future promises. There is an empty seat up here tonight in memory of our son Justin. We are not alone, there are thousands of families who are eating dinner tonight with an empty chair for a loved one who unfortunately died because of heart disease.”

The audience was moved to tears, and a lot of money was raised for the AHA.  After, we were approached in droves with hugs, handshakes, and words of wisdom, looks of sorrow, and smiles with offers to help our cause, all in Justin’s name. It was not necessary for me to ask them after to Please Remember Our Man, because they heard Justin’s story, loud and clear. It is one of those stories that will be hard to forget.

Darrell and I will continue to find our “Voices from Within” as often as we can to tell our story, Justin’s story in order to help others.  There is not one single doubt that Justin would not want us to tell his story to help others.

Sunday I decided last minute  to go to the  Compassionate Friends balloon lift off, for families to remember their lost children. I sent up a turquoise balloon for Justin and a purple one for all of my friends who also have lost a child. You are not going to believe the type of notecards that they had for us to write on… they were butterflies in all shapes and colors. I picked a brown one because that was Justin’s second favorite color. I watched it soar up above us and travel towards the heavens.

I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!

Goodnight…

 

Video Clips:

Justin’s Story that was shown at the Ball:

Darrell & Susan at the American Heart Stroke Ball Disney Concert Hall
Darrell & Susan at the American Heart Stroke Ball
Disney Concert Hall

AHA Heart & Stroke Ball

http://laheartball.ahaevents.org/site/displayPage.do?siteIdCode=DAD4R0EN&pageId=5848

 

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PROM (Please Remember Our Man)

Oh the Fun they had this dashing young couple
Oh the Fun they had this dashing young couple
Lunchtime in Kindergarten
Lunchtime in Kindergarten

 PROM (Please Remember Our Man)

I can’t help it tonight… It’s in the air it is everywhere PROM, Graduation, futures. Internal thoughts are coming through me.

There was a reason that I was supposed to get up and move today. We were invited to attend an Inner City High School Film Festival by a friend. She told me that Justin’s Story and life had inspired her family to give back their filmmaking industry talents to the underserved. They have mentally, physically and emotionally adopted these kids from the other side of their usual city limits. They have also realized that their small gestures to work with these kids weekly and guide, nurture and just listen to them can be the difference needed that could change their lives in a BIG way.

As we pulled up to the historical campus in South Central LA, I realized that when I was just starting my Engineering career, over 20 years ago, I would come to this same campus and speak with the students annually at their Career Day. The school was hardly recognizable. Before, you could see the beautiful landscape surrounding this massive historical campus. However, it is apparent with the high metal fences that surround every inch of the property ( to protect the innocent and keep out the undesirables out) that the times have changed. The fabric of the student body was no longer as varied, the colors were the just the blended hues of browns and black that seemed evenly split depicting the Hispanic and African American population of kids. The campus walls buzzed hot with the sounds of the children moving, eating, yelling, whispering, feeling, growing, becoming.

As soon as we got inside the reception area, we were introduced to some of the students who were being honored in the festival for their works of art. A tall, beautiful ebony girl sat down at our table and extended her hand and introduced herself by saying, “ Hi my name is Ashley”. My friend came over and said “ Ashley is going to go to college up in the Bay Area. When she told me which campus, I told her that my older sister lives a mile from there and I subsequently, gave her my sisters number. I then asked Ashley what was her major was going to be and she said “ Nursing”. I immediately exclaimed that nursing was my sister’s profession for 24 years! When my friend asked her “ Are you going to the PROM?” Ashley put her head down, tried to hold back her tears and mumbled something. When asked again, she said, “ No, my mom used the money to fix her car”. I looked over at the hidden pain that this promising young woman was trying to hide and the question came out of me without thinking otherwise “ How much does it cost? She said, “$95.00.” I quickly reached for my purse, pulled out my checkbook and wrote a check out to the school so she could get her ticket. She was shocked and really tried to hold back her feelings. She did not know what to say, but the first words were THANK YOU! I told her that I’m sure she could wear something that she already has in her closet and she smiled and agreed. I also asked her if she had siblings, she said yes, there are nine of us and I am the oldest, I am 17 years old. Darrell told her that when she is able she will be able to help someone one day and “Pay it Forward” He also told her that she needs to take advantage of all of the offerings that this world has to offer, and not to take “No you can’t “for any answer.

The films were incredible and depicted life as they know it from tales of gangs, social injustice, Sexually Transmitted Disease, friendship, bullying, romance, gender association, diversity and education. They depicted their life, as they know it in these shorts on the big screen. Amazing. Kudos to my friends who have put their thoughts into production and not just talking about it. The enduring love for you and your work with these kids was evident.

I could not help but think about witnessing Justin bustling around his high school campus in days before he is set to graduate. He would be so happy to pick his date, plan for the events of PROM night and just have a good time celebrating his accomplishments with his fellow seniors. There is nothing wrong with that.

Honestly, I get sad thinking about how Justin will not experience going to his Sr. PROM. At the same time, I have to admit that we did witness him having so much fun in the 9th grade when he went to the school Semi Formal with his good friend Kelly. They had been friends since Kindergarten. After Justin passed, she told us “ I guess Justin and I did get to go to our PROM”. I must now accept that in my heart and mind he actually did. That night he was so happy, and proud. He enjoyed all the attention he got from his peers who admired his date. He introduced her to all of his friends. He said some people were surprised that he even had a date! Ha!! They had fun at the Wax Museum, meeting friends and enjoying the overall event. They also always had a mutual respect for each other and their friendship was always special. That in itself is worth the price of gold.

So, today I told Ashley, what I would have told Justin if he was still here, and going to his Senior prom tomorrow night, and that is to be safe, look out for each other, have fun, and don’t find any trouble and send me a picture. I then gave her one of the pocket cards with Justin’ s art and website. She looked in awe and asked me “Who is this?” At that juncture I solemnly said, (now fighting back my tears) “That is our son Justin, who passed away last year. ”She looked up in amazement and said: “He drew this artwork? Is this him flipping a perfect cartwheel? I said yes! She said “OMG”. I told her to visit the website that was set up on his behalf and asked her to spend some time seeing who Justin was. Then I said to her, “and one more thing honey, as you move forward in your life:

Please Remember Our young Man Justin” and have an amazing time at your PROM honey. She smiled and said “ I sure will, thank you.”

***To all of Justin’s friends, this message is for you too as you venture out to your PROM tomorrow night.  Be safe, look out for each other, have fun, and don’t find any trouble and send me pictures and SMILE for Justin!!

 

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Every Day is Mother’s Day for Me Turquoise, Butterflies, Random Acts of Kindness, are all that I See

The Color Turquoise

Justin loved the vibrant color turquoise. It meant so much to him since he often used this color in his drawings, paintings, and sculptures and it was often his choice of color in his tee shirts. Today, after looking up the various meanings of this color, I can see why it meant so much to him, as it now does for me. “Seeing turquoise recharges our spirits during times of mental stress and tiredness, alleviating feelings of loneliness. You only have to focus on the color turquoise, and you feel instant calm and gentle invigoration, ready to face the world again! It also means: refreshing, calming, sophisticated, energy, wisdom, serenity, wholeness, creativity, emotional balance, good luck, spiritual grounding, friendship, love, joy, tranquility, patience, intuition, and loyalty.”

The Butterfly

Butterfly is the symbol of change, the soul, creativity, freedom, joy and colour. Their power is transformation, shape shifting and soul evolution.

Mothers Day, The Day of the Turquoise Butterfly

I had to remind myself that every day is Mother’s Day! I will always be known as “Justin Carr’s Mom” and I will love and cherish forever the memory of all the precious moments we shared together and as a family. Daily, I will mention and remember the sweet sound of music that resonates with his name.

Today, more than most days, my heart is heavy, trying to block out all the commercial advertisement that comes along with this day to honor all Mothers. But I also know that once a mother, you are always a mother. I must somehow face and embrace the flurry when all future holidays and celebrations come and go. Thankfully, I don’t stand-alone. I have Darrell lifting me up and a feast of friends and family who willingly have erected themselves around us to protect, reinforce and envelope us with love. These are indeed blessings.

I was taught early on from the best of the best, my beloved mother, Melvia Toler. She taught me to “be a little lady, to be skillful, creative and helpful and literally how to make lemonade out of lemons. When she left this earth, my siblings started calling me “ Mama Sue.” When I attended college, my friends also enduringly calling me “Mama Sue” I guess because I watched out for them, made sure they had food, made sure they came home safely from dates, and gave them advice (as I had to learn) on how to survive away from home. I guess, I can’t help having the spirit of caring and giving; it’s the maternal instinct in me. So, I now must claim it. Thank you Mom.

I also realize that you don’t have to birth a child to be a mother, nor does your child have to still be on this earth to claim the title. Any woman that gives her love, support and nurturing ways to any child, is a mother from the heart. Justin had a lot of mothers outside of our home that took him under their wings and watched over him wherever he went. I am grateful for all of you.

I tell you, it has been hard for me to find the words from within over the past few weeks and I have been unable to communicate my feelings. Should I call it writers block or just keep it real and just say that it is infinite heartbreak? I am writing now because I felt compelled.

Just a few minutes ago, I opened a gift that was given to me by my “new” friend Diane who just came into my life. She unfortunately has suffered a major loss in her life. Her beautiful daughter Katherine also prematurely and suddenly left this earth. Without warning I have leaned on Diane (and other sisters who have lost a child) for her wisdom and strength on how to get up and move each day and to walk in faith, live in love and never ever forget our precious angels who must now live through us.

The outside of the card Diane gave to me said in turquoise letters:

“ Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”. Justin’s favorite stroke in swimming was the butterfly, the hardest no doubt.

The quotable magnet that also came with the gift said: “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder”… (Thoreau)

Inside the box was a beautiful turquoise baccarat crystal butterfly. The sight of this precious masterpiece of art set me back a notch. The tears rolled down my cheeks and I had to retreat and take a breath. It amazes me how someone else can step away from their inner pain and selflessly reach out and make someone else smile. I have no words. What a way to make my day. Thank you Diane for such a thoughtful gift of love for me. A few weeks ago Diane and I realized that the turquoise butterfly now has deeper meaning for both of us.

Note that all the following events are true, and came to me in the exact chronological order. I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!

1. Shout out Request from Mary

Mary Martin, my best friend since 1st grade, and fellow Girl Scout called me a few weeks ago. When we were 9 years old, Mary and Sharon McInerny and I went to a neighborhood in San Francisco called St. Francis Woods, to sell cookies. I went to this house, knocked on the door and an old Caucasian woman opened the door. I politely asked, “Do you want to buy and cookies?” She meanly said, “No!” and slammed the door in my face. Minutes later, I saw Mary about to knock on the same door and I said, “Mary, don’t go there, she does not want to buy any cookies.” To my chagrin, the woman opened up the door and with the brightest smile said to Mary: “Sure honey,” When Mary came hopping joyfully down the stairs, I told her what the woman did to me, and we quickly went home to Mary’s house where we cried together along with her mom due to the aftermath of this blatant racism which for me was my first encounter.

Mary called me on April 16, 2014. She told me that the night before, she was out in her yard watering and she looked up to the heavens and shouted “Justin please give your Mother a sign”

2. Justin and the Universe

Later that day, I received an email from Denise, a mother whom I met when Justin was in 6th grade. I have not seen her in 6 years. Her son and Justin briefly attended the same middle school together. She wrote me the following email in response to an invitation to attend the upcoming concert in honor of Justin:

 

“Hi Susan,

Thanks for your note. I don’t know if I will be able to attend the concert, but here’s the strange thing: I was just about to write a note to you after a very long time. Based on what I was going to write, and now hearing from you, I’m reminded that there are some beautiful mysteries in our world, that’s for sure.

Yesterday evening I was walking my dog through the neighborhood. He is a pit bull, probably the friendliest pit bull that ever lived, but I’m used to people stepping away from him as he tugs at his leash. Usually, his whole body is wagging, hoping to get a pet from anyone we pass. But I always hold him back, out of courtesy.

I must have been lost in thought as we walked, because I didn’t see the boy sitting on the curb texting. Before I knew it, my dog was a few inches from him, about to lick him on the side of his face. The boy looked up silently and smiled at me (not at my dog). My heart skipped a beat and in my head I said “Justin?” It was his face, his smile, and his expression. I almost cried in those few seconds until he looked down again at his phone.

I hadn’t seen Justin since he was about 12 and this boy was about the same age. Back then, Zayn and Justin were both big boys, they hadn’t yet grown tall and thinned out. So this boy’s body was smaller, and seemed even smaller since he was sitting and curled over his phone. But the face, the expression, and the way he looked right at me … it was just amazing.

Instead of going around another block, when I got to the end of the street I turned around to go back the same way, to pass him again – but he was gone. On the one hand, it feels like a blip, a coincidence that I saw Justin in this boy. But however, it reminded me of the connections we all have to each other, to all life and to lives we have known, connections across this universe that we don’t fully understand.

Denise

I know it’s not the miracle your heart aches for. I don’t know why I saw that boy and saw Justin in him. Why me? Why Justin? Why yesterday and then you write to me today?

It is unknowable, but it IS something wonderful.”

3. The Turquoise Butterfly

Around noon that same day, I happened to call Diane. I left her a message because I had to go to a hair appointment because I was going to the school in celebration of the seniors on the Swim Team. She texted me when I was in the salon and this is the message she sent:

“Saw this on my daughter’s closet this morning.  Never saw it before today even though I walk by this spot almost daily. Notice the turquoise! ! I felt like she was acknowledging that you and I needed something a little special today.  We are loved.  Xoxo Diane “

Next to the email was a picture of a turquoise butterfly that her young daughter had once drawn on the wall in her closet at some time gone by. I was speechless, I texted her that my friend Mary had just called me that morning telling me that she asked Justin to send me some signs.

4. Hair Salon

After looking at the text from Diane over and over again,  I sat there stunned, in a place I had never been inside before.  The hairdresser asked me was I going somewhere special and why did I seem so uneasy? I told him briefly that Justin was being honored along with his teammates on the swim team. He said great. But his expression quickly changed when I told him the backstory on the demise of Justin. After he finished my hair, he embraced me and walked me to the front cashier turned and walked away. When I tried to pay for the service, the attendant said. “ Oh, Michael did your hair for free.” I started crying and said, “OMG, Where is he”, she said, “ He is gone, he left for lunch” just that quickly. “ This has never happened to me. I went looking for him and he had left the building. A random act of kindness

5. Flowers from the best Florist in town delivered to my Door

 At the end of the day upon returning home with my heart so full there was a knock on the door. It was a delivery from Jacob Maarse, Justin’s favorite florist and the best in town. To my surprise, the beautiful orchid was from Lisa, a class mother whom I have shared a few conversations with over years. I immediately wrote to her:

“Lisa,

I cried on my way home after I saw you a few days ago. Do you know why?

I was grateful that you greeted me with a warm embrace and a smile (When I know how hard it is for people to find the words) I can write a book about all the people in our life who have run the opposite way when they see us or even neighbors who live mere blocks away who have chosen to stay away because the loss of my precious baby Justin is too much for them to bear…  But, I can also say that we have so many people like you, who have chosen to walk with us and embrace us during this life long journey.

I was so glad that your friend who was with you whispered Justin’s name and told me that she thinks of me often even though she did not know me.  I need to talk about Justin every day.

It’s that universal love of a lost that is so impactful and the infinite love a mother will always have for her child.

Today, the doorbell just rang and I was greeted with a beautiful orchid plant from our and “Justin’s favorite Florist”  Jacob Maarse.  He brought his date Kelly’s corsage for the semi formal a few years ago, he was planning on buying his date Channel who graduated from HW last year her corsage from there.  Instead she decided to go solo, so I had to get her corsage and had them add a picture of Justin on it. Oh the memories…

Thank you my dear friend. We will keep this orchid alive. Justin would water the plants and told us how to keep them going. I will certainly try.

All my best to your son Ross as he makes his college choices. You should be proud! I am smiling. You made my day. Love, Susan”

Lisa told me she knows how days could be without your departed loved ones and she wanted to just brighten my day.  She said I was thoughtful that I cared enough to ask about her son.

The turquoise butterfly landed this Mothers Day and Every Day!

These pieces of joy help me get through the day. It’s the thought that people, even strangers, feel and empathize with my state of mind and try in their own way to make my seemingly sad day brighter.

It is true, every time I see a butterfly or the color turquoise, I think of my baby Justin, my pride and joy. Seeing these brings me some relief in the moments of the day.

So for me, every day is Mothers Day. I have no regrets on how I mothered Justin. I gave all that I had to him. Most days were joyous and on the days that were too much, I’m glad that we got through them with the unconditional love and respect that would  always supersede anything else.

At this juncture, I can’t ask for much more than that.

I will try to be as happy as I can, as I wake up each morning and try to put my feet on the ground.

Justin, my butterfly keep soaring and guiding me in all the days of my life. I will love you always, and I will love you forever. As long as I’m living, my baby you will be.

Justin, I will love you today, and tomorrow and all the days of my life. Someday, my days will not be as cloudy and the Sun, you my vibrant Son will come out and live through me.

I listened to your beautiful voice today as you sang “Tomorrow”

I love you Justin..

The Turquoise Butterfly and Justin soar among us…

 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved

Real Butterfly Flew on Darrell in Arizona
Real Butterfly Flew on Darrell in Arizona
Precious Katherine's Butterfly that her mom Diane just noticed
Precious Katherine’s Butterfly that her mom Diane just noticed
Justin kissing his Mom on Mother's Day 1998
Justin kissing his Mom on Mother’s Day 1998
Justin swimming his favorite butterfly stroke in a meet
Justin swimming his favorite butterfly stroke in a meet
Justin wanted to get her flowers from his favorite Jacob Marse Florist
Justin wanted to get her flowers from his favorite Jacob Marse Florist

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