Reflections on Justin’s Birthday “Thanks for the gifts and for being present”

Reflections on the eve of Justin’s Birthday 2015

Thanks for the gifts and for being present…

When time elapses for each waking hour, day, month, year, holiday or any major milestone—without Justin within our reach, Darrell and I still look at each other in pure disbelief and say; Is this for real? Is this forever? Unfortunately, the answers are, Yes it is for real and Yes it is forever.

But fortunately, because of our village of friends, who constantly seem to hold us up, we are grateful for your listening ears, and the many unexpected gifts we receive. The main one being your presence.  These gifts  come in a variety of ways. They include verbal or written words of remembrance, or reflections or personal changes that individual’s see when they teach, work, shop, study, vacation, sing, smile, play, listen, or even help someone. The pictures of the worldly travels with the JCWWP luggage tags are breathtaking, Sometimes I wished that I could stow away on the ventures with people. They all have special meaning and are the things that make it easy enough for us to still rise out of bed (most days) and plant our feet on the ground and just try and do what Justin would want us to do. So thank you.  Thanks for the gifts and for being present in our life. Following are some of the wonderful gifts that are apropos as we once again celebrate the birth of Justin.


The Gift of Words…Expressions from a Day Camp Counselor

When Justin was 4 years old, he started attending his first day camp—Summerkids An old-fashioned summer camp nestled in the in hills of Altadena, mere minutes from our home. They believe in the power of play and the spirit of fun. He attended until he was 10 years old and he loved each and every day. So, this past summer, I came across this letter we received from his camp counselor that is worth sharing. We could only picture Justin in action and the picture speaks for itself. The words (gift)  from a stranger brought joy to our hearts.

“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Carr,

I was sadden to hear of Justin’s passing. I knew him many years ago when I was his counselor at Summerkids Camp. When I saw his photograph on the news, I immediately recognized the bright eyes, and sweet smile of the camper I once knew. He was charming, lovable, funny and oh so talented. I clearly remember a moment when he got up on the little wooden stage and in front of the entire campfire and sang the Jackson 5’s “ I want you back”. He captured the crowd. I shared the news with several friends; also former counselors and everyone remembered him. I’d like to say that we’d remember every camper who shared our summers, but it’s just not the case.  Your son however was one of those campers-the unforgettable ones.  I know you know this already, so the real reason I’m writing is to let you know that there are a few more people out there remembering Justin with you.  He touched our lives in the brief time that we knew him. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and Justin’s friends.”














Justin as Michael Jackson
Justin as Michael Jackson







The gift of Friendship…A change in vacation plans

A timely visit with a friend from the Past

It was a late night FB message from my FB friend Lisa. I had not seen or heard from her since we graduated in 8th grade. The message read something like this: “Susie, I am on my way down to stay in Venice Beach. How far are you from there? Maybe, we could meet?”  I rushed to respond and told her that we would actually be in the area the following afternoon in support of our friends Mary and Jay Faganano as they celebrate the anniversary their son Nick’s passing  and “Thrive in the Joy” as his life continues to impact others. The next day, my anticipation for seeing Lisa was intense. Since we still looked the same as we did in 8th grade (lol) it was were easy to spot each other . Lisa saw me. I saw her. We darted towards each other and we hugged, cried and would not let each other go. Darrell patiently watched us. The thought that Lisa was eager to spend her vacation day with us at such an emotional occasion was profound. But she gets it. She felt a deep empathetic connected with both families. She said I have only one son and she could not even remotely imagine what it would feel like to lose him. But, she was a fearless warrior and she embraced the moment and was truly honored to be there. Now how many people would give up a Beach vacation to attend a memorial event for a stranger??? Lisa would and she did. This is a gift of pure unconditional empathy and love.

Lisa, Susan & Mary Mom's who love their boys
Lisa, Susan & Mary
Mom’s who love their boys



Susan and Lisa Reunited
Susan and Lisa reunited











The gift of action…College Life; Choosing Passion vs. Prestige

I must say that our only chance for thinking about what college life might have been like for Justin is by living vicariously through contact with his peers. Following, is part of a cursory interface that I had with one of Justin’s dear friends this summer. She gets the Gold Medal Award for Excellence!! Hands down!! She adamantly told me: ” I want you to know that people will never loose sight of Justin or his impact and imprint that he made in our lives. His reach is beyond the walls of Harvard Westlake. You know, I have always been an introvert. But this year I decided that since Justin could not go to college, I would take on the super traits ofJustin. So from day one at college,  I did just what Justin would have done the first weeks of school. I met everybody. I helped people in need. and I introduced myself by stating my name and my passions. When some of my classmates responded with the ordinary answer: “ Hi my name is Michael and I am majoring in Economics and Finance!” I would respond to them and say: “ This does not tell me anything about who you are as a person, or what you are interested in …” It made them start questioning themselves and their disconnected drive for academic success. By the end of the school year, so many of my friends thanked me for helping them see the light or picking them up when they literally fell. Like me, many of my friends also changed their majors to what “they” wanted to do, not what their “parents” wanted them to be!! I told them to “Thank Justin, don’t thank me…”

This realization was a huge gift of knowledge

A thoughtful gift…A chance visit to the International Peace Park

This past Friday, our friend gave us a memento he purchased on his summer vacation. Fighting back his emotion, he told us that usually, he and his wife travel East to visit the grandchildren. However, this summer, they found themselves (in a round about way) touring the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Montana. It was designated In 1932 when the Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada) was combined with the Glacier National Park (Montana, United States) to form the world’s first International Peace Park. At the time of inscription, the Peace Park commemorated the peace and goodwill our two nations share. He said that when he saw this fragile gift, a turquoise origami crane, it reminded him so much of the spirit of Justin that he had to figure out how they could carefully packed it to assure that it would not get crushed. Well their method worked. What a prize peace of art.

The card attached to the crane stated:

“ I will write peace on your wings and fly all over the world” Sadako Sasaki. Jim said that he could not leave that store without getting it!! He said it had Justin written all over it.







Ironically, this is the same quote that Felicia (artist extraordinaire) inscribed  on a mosaic farme that she created for us.

I Gift from Felicia
I Gift from Felicia









In case you don’t know the story behind the International Peace Crane is:

As noted in wikipedia “Sadako Sasaki (佐々木 禎子 Sasaki Sadako?, January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955) was a Japanese girl who was two years old when the American atomic bomb Little Boy was dropped on August 6, 1945, near her home next to the Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan. Her Grandma rushed back to the house and was never to be seen again. Sadako is remembered through the story of a thousand origami cranes before her death, and is to this day a symbol of innocent victims of war.”


Origami Crane from Peace Park
Origami Crane from Peace Park













The gift of dedication…A Message from the Stage Manager and Producer

When Kat first invited me to come see the off Broadway musical production of the Last Five Years that she was producing and stage-managing, I was hesitant. Justin and Kat were two close thespian comrades, who supported each other in high school. I did not think that I could handle it. But through the encouragement of my cousin Colleen we went and saw the fabulous musical production. The story explored a five-year relationship between a couple. After the show, before Kat spoke to anyone else, she sourced me through the crowd ran over in tears and said, “ So what do you think? I did it for

Justin. I was so overtaken with emotion but I managed to say:”Well Kat, you know what I thought, it was a “10”!!! Justin would be proud and always thought that you will soar.”









Look at the dedication for Justin that was written on the playbill… Too much.

















The dedication is:

“play/ground theatre is proud to present The Last Five Years with the generous support of The Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation   (

“Justin Carr was a beautiful, promising, young 16-year old whose life was cut short on February 22, 2013 when he died  during a swimming workout   ( from an undiagnosed heart condition )  at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, California.

Justin’s greatest wish was for World Peace. With a myriad of passions and talents, he loved to draw, sing, act, and dance; to write poetry, to design buildings, to create enthusiasm, and to lead and orchestrate. He was passionate about visual and performing arts, with plans to explore  Architecture, Technical Theatre Design, and Art History in college.   Justin was kind, passionate, and committed to participating in the creation of powerful, honest art. He was  humble, patient, and vibrant.  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.

Justin Carr was the cousin of play/ground theatre’s Co-Managing Director, Kat Chevalier. This production is dedicated to his memory.” 


The Gift of Hope because you never know someone else’s struggle or story.

My sister Jeni came in eyes wide open after she took the kids to a water park. She said as she waded in the pool watching the kids play she struck up a conversation with a woman named Mary Ellen Suey. The woman told her that she was with her grandkids trying to have a decent time because last year, her 12 year old grandson Christopher (aka Bubba) collapsed and died on the first day of try outs for the soccer team. Bubba was an authentic kind and loving boy she said. Jeni could not believe her ears. She hugged Mary Ellen.

Mr. Bob. Mary Ellen and Bubba (Chris)
Mr. Bob. Mary Ellen and Bubba (Chris)


She told Mary Ellen Justin’s Story. They exchanged contact information. That night I made arrangements to meet her the next morning. She told me she was looking forward to a hug. she wrote “We may shed a few tears, that shows are love.”  The next evening we got together and we talked while her grandson played with my nephew JJ. She told me another deep story that she was abandoned at birth and was left wrapped up in a blanket out in the woods. Miraculously,  a 14-year-old boy, who was hunting with his Dad, found her!!! Last year, 60 years later, she was reunited with this now 74-year-old man.  He wanted to find and  to meet that baby he found in the woods.


Mary Ellen said that she is grateful for the life she has. She said: “If he did not find me, I would not be here today. I would not have the gifts of family or grace from God either. So, I am grateful for all of my blessings, I am grateful for my life and for all of children and I am grateful for the time I had with Bubba because he still rides with me each and every day. She also said to me as we departed– and it is not by coincidences that we met!!”

I wrote a brief entry about  my infamous nephew JJ playing with Mary Ellen’s grandson AJ.


The Greatest Gift of All is Love

So the greatest gift of all is why I must write tonight.  I just had to celebrate Justin and his birthday and about the things that matter most. You see from all of the above mentioned “gifts” love does shows up in unexpected ways. My love for Justin goes deep. I am especially remembering him from that first days he graced this earth when he was placed in my arms back on September 13, 1996. I will never forget. And you know by a fluke Soledad, my dear friend from high school just happened to be on call at the hospital and she delivered Justin.

Well, you all also know Justin’s little cousins, Mia, Dashton and JJ are growing up fast.  I guess they think that it is tradition for them to spend the last week before school with Uncle Darrell and Auntie Susan. This year I heard Dashton shout out when he saw a butterfly… “There goes Juju.” Mia the oldest, still can’t grasp the thought of visiting us without seeing her big cousin (whom she coined the name) Juju, so she just continues to look away and not discuss.




Then, there is “50 questions JJ”— the youngest of the trio who walks in, closes the door to Justin’s room, comes into the breakfast room and out of the blue asks me: “Auntie, How old is Juju?” My sister Jeni and I looked at each other and tried not bursting into tears.  I thought to myself—what do I say? How do I answer this?  Is he 16 or 19? Well, according to my support sisters, I responded correctly. I told JJ that Juju would be 19 years old on September 13, 2015. JJ then says: “Mom, where is the gift I got for Auntie?” She directs him where to find it. JJ comes running back and hands me a bottle of turquoise finger nail polish, and with his “kool aide smile” he says” “This if for you Auntie.”  Jeni looks at me and said: “We were in Target and he told me he wanted to buy you something.” He picked it out—on his own accord.” How did this 5 year old know that turquoise is my color???

JJ standing by his cousin
JJ standing by his cousin


What does all of this mean??? I can’t make any of it up!!






So, happy 19th Birthday, Justin aka Juju, Champ my baby, and the greatest gift from God of all times.

This swim cake was one of your favorites!
This swim cake was one of your favorites!


Love, Mom




And Still I Rise

Still I Rise by Yolanda Adams.


“Still I Rise”

Shattered but I’m not broken

Woudned the time will heal

Heavy the load the cross I bear

Lonley the road I trod I dare


Shaken but here I stand

Weary still I press on

Long are the nights the tears I cry

Dark are the days no sun in the skys


Yet still I rise

Never to give up

Never to give in

Against all odds

Yet still I rise

High above the clouds

Yet times I feel low

Yet still I rise


Sometimes I’m troubled

But not is despair

Struggling I make my way through

Trials they come to make me strong

I must endure I must hold on


Yet still I rise

Never to give up

Never to give in

Agasint all odds

Yet still I rise

High above the clouds

At times I feel Low

Yet still I rise


Above all my problems

Above all my eyes can see

Knowing God is able

To strengthen me

To strengthen me


Yet still I rise

Never to give up

Never to give in

Against all odds

Yet still I rise

High above the clouds

At times I feel Low

Yet still I

I need to know which way to go

Yet still I

At times I feel Low

Yet still I

I rise

Yet still I rise


Oh yes I do



With Liberty and Justice for All (911 Connections)

With Liberty and Justice for All

(911 Connections)


We had planned months  in advance our special trip to New York for the end of the summer of 2001—to attend our cousin Leslie’s wedding. She was marrying Maurice Bernstein. The event was set to take place August 26, 2001, on the grounds of an  up state mansion in Rhinebeck, NY on the Hudson River. But, before we ventured up the interstate, we wanted to spend a few nights in the big city, so we found a place right in the heart of Times Square. We scheduled  our trip carefully-not to tire out the seniors (Papa and his companion Rena) who both had bad knees.  Therefore, we did not do any of the usual hustle and bustle tourist things. However, it was Justin who kept asking me:“ Mom, when are we going to see ___? “ No descriptive words followed his unfinished question.  He  only described where he wanted to go by lifting up his arm to make a fist—with his usual animated and joyful way of expression. Then it dawned on me that he was making the gesture similar to the Statue of Liberty raising the torch.  I quickly responded:“ Oh, the Statue of Liberty you mean?” He delightfully smiled and said: “ Yes Mom!”

So, on the dawn of the next morning,  I made good on my promise and told Justin that we would go to a park to see the statue from a distance, because time would not allow us to go over to the island. He was content. Subsequently, We hailed a cab, and headed down to Battery Park. As we passed the World Trade Center, Justin saw the banner of colorful flags flying in the air. He wanted to get out “just for a second“ he convincingly asked.  I knew he wanted to feel the strength of these structures protecting him from both sides as he gazed as high as his eyes could see. I’m sure in his mind he wondered… How could these structures be?? Since we were in a rush, I encouraged him to jump back in the cab so we could be on our way. When the cab stopped at the park, I hurried Justin over to the railing to take a quick picture. Even as a 4 year old,  there was No prodding necessary for Justin. He proudly stood there and extended his clinched fist up in the air…

Justin in NYU 8/25/2001
Justin in NYU 8/25/2001









Justin always had a strong affinity for architecture, buildings and design. He often marveled at the picture of one of the towers that Darrell took that was hanging in his office.

Darrell Carr's Photo of one of the towers at the World Trade Center
Darrell Carr’s Photo of one of the towers at the World Trade Center







Justin also  loved to build things and his favorite book was

Iggy Peck FullSizeRender-13Architect. It is a story about Iggy Peck a kid who was—creative, independent, and not afraid to express himself!

Ironically, just a few days ago, my friend Emilie sent me a copy of what Justin wrote in the same book that he gave her when she was pregnant with her eldest son. She said that this book is now her son’s favorite too. I never knew what Justin wrote before he wrapped the gift!!

Justin's gift to my friend Emile in honor of her newborn son 2009
Justin’s gift to my friend Emilie in honor of her newborn son 2009


Honestly, the congestion that weekend in 2001 in  NYC was too much to bear. I was ready to leave. The air was hot and humid, and it was hard to navigate the crowed streets with two casual seniors in tow. Something also seemed weird. I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I could not wait to get out of the city. As we headed away from the chaos,  Justin looked out of the window and marveled at the changes in design of the buildings and the abundance of greenery and beautiful landscapes that hugged the roads.  We stayed in a 4-story mansion (about 100 miles outside of the city) that was built in the late 1800’s. Justin was besides himself, when he walked in and realized how the massive entry dwarfed him. He quickly made fast friends with the innkeepers young son.  They played hide and seek. He inquired about the intricate designs of the staircases and loved the fact that he could walk under the mantels into the huge ornate fireplaces without ducking or crawling.

The wedding was held at what remained of the Astor family  Rokeby gilded age estate.  The backdrop was the Hudson River.  The views  were breathtaking.

Rokeby Estate
Rokeby Estate
Mr. & Mrs. Bernstein 8/26/2001
Mr. & Mrs. Bernstein

Justin especially took notice of the traditional Jewish ceremonial events. He jumped out of his seat when it was time to join in the circle dances, and he was in awe when Maurice stepped on the glass and the crowd shouted “mazel tov!”   After they did the Hora dance, Justin quietly walked over and asked Maurice if he could have a “ride” on the chair—just like the newlyweds. Within seconds Justin was beaming as a group of men hoisted him up on the chair as they danced to the music.  My little man was beaming from ear to ear. All of these traditions stayed in Justin’s head forever. When he attended  his middle and high schools, he was able to celebrate other Jewish traditions with his classmates. I’m sure in his sophomore year, he probably told everyone (when they practiced for “Fiddler on the Roof” )  that he knew first hand all the traditions for the wedding scene, including how to stay focused when doing the “bottle dance”.

Justin and Alex







After the festivities where over, we headed south toward the city to take our respective planes home. Some of us were flying American Airlines back to Los Angeles, and Dad and Rena were on the United Airlines flight to San Francisco…. (The same ill-fated flights from 911)!!!

Do you know that it was one week to the day (before 911) when Justin posed for his “ Statue of Liberty “ photo? A mere 7 days later,   the world changed! FOREVER!  911 hit without warning… I will always remember how helpless I felt after I answered the early morning call from my friend Yvette (who lived in a different time zone) as she screamed  hysterically through the phone “turn on the TV”!!!!  Then  I saw  the second plane hit the tower and the spot that we had literally stood between  just days before. The sight brought me and Darrell to our knees… The magnitude of destruction was infinite. Being the Engineer that I was trained to be, I told Darrell in utter dismay that: “ The buildings are going to collapse”… And so they did… as the world watched in horror.

Leslie and Maurice have now been married for 14 years.  And, even though it was not tradition that first brought them together,  collectively they have shown us that two people who come together from completely different backgrounds and religions, can honestly, love and honor their families and commitments to each other and create two handsome boys- Isaac and Miles, and live happily ever after…

Meet the Bernstein's
Meet the Bernstein’s


Fourteen years ago I did not personally know anyone who perished in this tragedy—but I also know that it really did not matter. The world grieved from the aftermath of this horrific event. The loss of life also had a domino effect and impacted millions.  All of us.

So, here is the twist to this story. Now, I am connected to a mother who unfortunately lost her daughter in the 911 events.  As fate would have it, a few months ago, I inadvertently ventured to Monarch (butterfly) Grove park (and no I did not know the name of it before) near the Pacific Grove, CA shoreline. It was a place that I had not been to in over 15 years. I was last there when my brother Greg got married to Delana. I glanced over and saw the statue that Justin (on his own)  once jumped on as he again playfully mimicked the little boy statue.





Then I noted a butterfly statue (why of course) !



Then, my eyes caught sight of a note that was carefully placed on a memorial bench with the inscription: “ Suzanne Marie Calley 9/17/57-9/01/11 “ Dedicated to the victims and those touched by the events of 9-11-2001”.


The adjacent protected hand written note read:”







“Hello Dear One,

I am thinking of you on this special day as I do every day. I remember how we laughed and enjoyed life. You were so beautiful and the light of my life. You are always with me.

I love you, Mom”

Well, you know me I did a search on Suzanne. And here are a few things that were written about  her: She was aboard the AA flight 77 in Washington, DC on 9/11/2001. She was from Pacific Grove, CA.

Suzanne M. Calley
Suzanne M. Calley

“She had a zest for life.

She was  a strong swimmer in high school.

She was a loving daughter and a wife.

She held a high tech job with Cisco.

She taught scuba lessons.

She was a very giving person.

She touched many people’s lives.

Everyone remembered her smile that lit up a room.

She was a very giving person, never expecting anything in return.

She touched many lives and influence countless more…”

 Some of these traits sound all to familiar to a fantastic young warrior (Justin) that we knew too.

I really can’t make this stuff up. See for yourself…

Soon after upon returning home, I found her mother, Norma Keleher’s, contact info and I wrote her a note—and she wrote me back.   I told her that I saw the memorial bench in honor of her beloved daughter Suzanne. I told her that I read about her and that she seemed like a wonderful person. However, I could not tell her that I knew how she feels (even though we both lost a child)—because EVERYONE deals with his or her unique loss and grief differently. But, what I did tell her was that she and her daughter now have a special place in my heart and that I know that her love for her daughter is strong and will be embedded in her mind forever—just like Justin will be for me.

JCWWP Tag at the 911 Memorial
JCWWP Tag at the 911 Memorial
Haley and Duane in NYC 2015
Haley and Duane in NYC 2015

So what is the take away for my brief 911 connections??? My take away is that we do not have to wait for the next disaster to hit for people to be kind, helpful, respectful considerate, compassionate and selfless towards each other-irregardless of their background. Right????   History reveals that universal kindness is usually short lived and people soon forget about the cause and the effect of a tragedy and within a short period, they get back to business as usual. You know, we can change things if you place a value of loving at all times.

On 01/13/2014 Catherine Woodiwiss, a blogger, wrote: A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma

“Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.This is a tough one. In times of crisis, we want our family, partner, or dearest friends to be everything for us. But surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. In my experience, it is extremely rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. “

Hundreds of firefighters and first responders lost their lives that day while saving thousands of others lives. They did not pick and choose who they were going to save. They  just did their job trying to help…

 Is Justin’s wish for world peace such a daunting task??? We should not just talk about it or look at possibilities– but instead join together and do something toward building better relationships in the right direction…

Created on UC Berkeley's campus by Justin's cousin Laureina and friends 2013
Created on UC Berkeley’s campus by Justin’s cousin Laureina and friends 2013


What would this world be like today  if there was Liberty and Justice for All??




Let’s put our hands together and do something about it..

Justin's friends at School 2013
Justin’s friends at School 2013