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.”
“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!!
Justin’s Story that was shown at the Ball:
AHA Heart & Stroke Ball