A few weeks ago I was approached by Codie Oliver the Co-Founder of BlackLove.com. She wrote this piece and prepared this video of me as I speak my truth about being Justin’s Mom. Happy Mother’s Day to every woman. I know that in some way you have touched a child, young adult or adult in a mothering way. Please read Codie’s story and watch the videos. I’m good enough today as I honor and remember Justin 24/7 and so glad to be his Mom.
In addition, BlackLove.com sent out an Instagram post and over 38k people have viewed it as of this morning. Although I don’t recognize myself with makeup on I think my message is honest, loud and clear.
In addition, I am part of a project with Luna Peaks about living with loss. I was approached by a creative young woman Gracelyn who is with the sudden loss of her Dad and helping others who live with loss.
Well, the spirit has hit me on the eve of Justin’s Birthday, I had to put pen to paper as we celebrate a life we loved and honor and remember the love we lost— our pride and joy—Justin.
It was the 13th of September 1996. This day I always remember.That was the day that Justin Eugene Carr was born!! Justin would be 22 years old today.What would he look like?How tall would he stand? Would he have a mustache like his Dad aka “Darnell” as Justin fondly called him? Would his hair be in the trending broccoli style, mini dreadlocks, big afro or buzz cut?
MISSING THOSESIMPLE THINGS
Where would he be? What would he be doing? Onething I know for sure is that he should have graduated from college this past June albeit that never happened— along with all those other “ings” like going to the prom with his bestie Chanell, driving, applyingto colleges, graduatingfrom high school, goingaway to college, collaborating, enjoying THAT college experience, working, talking, strategizing, studying, playing, designing, applauding, acting, voting,helping, protesting or arguing for right or arguing with Darrell and me (if we were wrong in his eyes,) drinking libations? – although,I’m not so sure about that. The few times when he was in the presence of underage drinking he would tell people that he was allergic to alcohol. That stopped all enquires on the spot.Justin would be encouraging, helping others who are fraught or out of sorts, or just staying in the mix, sitting at our table for shared meals, eating Thai food, playing and engaging with his littlest cousins and surrendering to his older cousins even though he would be looking down on them— he loved that he was the tallest of the cousins.Justin would be building and creating with his Dad, rolling his eyes at his aunties, telling me I am Over the Top Olivia (OTTO), shopping with his uncles, dancing, singing, swimming, crying, laughing, loving, grooving to Beyonce marrying, parenting, and of course smiling a whole lot as he was living his best life and of course celebrating many Birthdays in real time.
Justin loved celebrating his birthday. He had surprise parties, family gatherings and so many unique birthday parties themed to whatever occasion was the highlight in his life from Gymboree to Disneyland, slipping and sliding with his “brothers” Sean and Miles, making volcanos that actually erupted, watching a marionette puppet show in the backyard to sleepovers, bowling, laser tag, sportsthemes, magic mountain adventures. He often had two parties. One with his friends and one with family. Once he told Darrell that all he wanted for his birthday was for the family to come over and interface and talk and NOT TURN ON THE TV.He hated it when the kids, women, and men were all interacting independently.He wanted everyone to talk to each other without distractions – even though it was FOOTBALL SEASON.It turned out really well and it was a beautiful gathering. Hours into it, Justin declared it was OK to turn on the TV.I think he got tired of talking to everyone.
And of course, we never strayed far from our childhood family tradition of being able to have your favorite food and cake on your special day.He had custom cakes. Justin loved the white on white famous Costco cake, and Violets custom cakes hit Pasadena. He had a swimmers cake and custom cupcakes he designed with Mickey Mouse hats. I even made a volcano cake that actually erupted (with dry ice). Once I made the mistake of putting his basketball ice cream cake in the freezer for so long that we could not cut it.He said “ Mom it really did not look like a basketball so we don’t need it anymore…
Justin did not really ask for a lot of stuff.He was grateful for the gifts and he was diligent about handwritten thank you cards for each thing he received.
Do things get better 5 years later after losing a child?In all honesty, the answer is No.Grief is the natural response to achange in the familiar. There is no timeline or method. What we had as a family, what Justin’s peers lost of having him in their lives on campus or just a phone call, text or Skype away, what a school community had or never had will never be realized beyond his last day on Earth. It was the day everything in the world changed.Justin was a gift to our family, to his peers, teachers and even strangers. Because of the intermittent touch points, we receive from people, the ripples of his goodness live on.
So will celebrate forever. Justin still lives with us. We carry him with us where ever we go. He is in my backpack. People don’t know what we carry. People carry Justin with them to places he will never go.His message of world peace has traveled to all 7 continents through JCWWP t-shirts, luggage cards, artwork, and bracelets.
Some of his friends engraved his initials inside of their class rings, wrote their college essays about him, placed pictures of Justin on their dorm room walls or in the Western Wall in Jerusalem, near Pyramids in Peru or recent in Tanzania. They made bedspreads with the JCWWP logo and even framed the logo on their kitchen walls.Justin also shows up in his friend’s good deeds when they help others struggling — in similar ways that Justin would have helped.And we were beyond thrilled when even during recent graduation ceremonies, his peers added their Justin” isms” on their graduation cap with butterflies, #JCWWP or the peace sign. Some added might and energy to the plight and fight for justice for others during their college days, some changed their majors in favor of what they wanted to be. Some of his friends wrote songs, poems, music, and others continue to put the power to pen, write, communicate with us through letters, phone calls, thoughts of remembrance, hugs or with words that touched us to the core. One of his friends left her purse in an NYC taxi cab by mistake.When the next passenger entered she looked in the bag and saw the JCWWP card and contacted me. I figured out who she was and the purse was returned in tack within a matter of hours!
Look at this amazing message that came when I needed it the most. A gift indeed!
So with each butterfly we see in flight dancing and floating in the air we pause for cause because we think of Justin our butterfly swimmer.
These are meaningful gifts and THINGSwe truly love as we honor and remember, our son, your friend, cousin, nephew, student, teammate, classmate or even if you learned about him after he died.Darrell and I are certainly proud that we allowed Justin to BE all that he wanted to be during his short life– and he was happy doing those things too.So, parents, I hope you place “happy child” above all things as your children try and are their authentic selves.Justin will forever be remembered as he coined his personal phase for the class assignment when he had to describe himself in six words:
S.A.F.E. HEART SCREENING will perform the tests for ALL AGES 12-24 YEARS OLD
WHERE: HOLMAN UNITED METHODIST CHURCH 3320 West Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90018
WHEN: SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2018 – 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.
Justin Carr wanted World Peace since he was 4 years old. He loved swimming, design and performing arts.
He was vibrant and a seemingly healthy 16-year-old Junior at Harvard-Westlake high school. He died during his usual swim team practice from an undiagnosed heart condition on February 22, 2013. Darrell & Susan Carr want to save other families from dealing with an unimaginable loss that can be prevented.
According to Parent Heart Watch, “Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is not a heart attack – it’s the sudden onset of an abnormal and potentially fatal heart rhythm that causes the heart to beat ineffectively or not at all. The underlying cause of SCA can be a heart condition you’re born with (often inherited) and/or can develop as young hearts grow. SCA can also be triggered from a viral illness, or a blow to the chest from an object or a person.”
Screenings are non-invasive (no needles or x-ray
exposures) and take about 20 minutes to complete.
Screenings include a health history review and ECG.
If the participant is under 18 years old and brings a
fully signed/completed screening packet, parents do not
need to be present at the event.
Female technicians screen girls in a separate area
from boys. Private screening areas available as needed.
Participants should dress in t-shirt and sweat pants
or sports shorts. Girls should wear a sports bra.
Instructions will be given if follow-up medical care is
recommended. Final reports will be sent after the
cardiologist formal review.
During the aftermath of the unimaginable loss of losing our only child—Justin, a very dear friend Lynette, sent me a link to a story titled: How Grieving With Gratitude Changed Everything” from Maria Shriver’s blog: “Architecture of Change”. Reading it changed me… I quickly learned about Kelly Buckley and her movement: “ Just One Little Thing” (JOLT). I read about her unfathomable loss when her son Stephen died unexpectedly. Despite this horrific loss, Kelly was still able to survive in the midst of misery. She found the lit candle in a room filled with darkness. Kelly has taught me (as I tuck away the pain everywhere I go, this companion and oxygen) how to “grieve with gratitude” and how to look for JOLT blessings every single day. For this, I am forever grateful.
“Just One Little Thing: Finding A Happy Life In An Imperfect World, One Moment At A Time”
The infinite trauma that Darrell and I have endured has recently catapulted me to a higher understanding of how I am going to live my life in the days and years to come. I can’t imagine living this new life as anyone other than a determined, loving, and accepting mother as it is in sharing my story that I have emerged with the reborn driving force behind whom I have already started to become. Also, even stronger than my own belief in myself, I have come to experience an indescribable “knowing” within my soul that I have many companions during this difficult journey from my chrysalis – a catalyst moving me toward finding my voice, and my wings, once again.
Over these past 4 years I have become stronger, braver, more courageous, humble and very grateful. And I know that I am strong enough to take the first steps, brave enough to speak for those who can’t, courageous enough to take a leap of faith during this pivotal moment in my life, humble enough to say a sincere thanks to those for reinforcing my transformational journey by allowing me a chance for discovery of life beyond tragedy, and finding my voice through words so I can help others find theirs.
I will always be Justin’s Mom and Darrell will always be Justin’s Dad. Justin is the gift that keeps on giving. We miss him every day and we will love and honor him forever with love.
Darrell & Susan at the American Heart Stroke Ball
Disney Concert Hall
Dancing is Not to Get a Place on the Floor- But to Enjoy Each Step Along the Way
A few people have asked me recently: “Why should I burden myself with the problems afflicting other peoples kids?” Trust me, Darrell and I are holding a heavy load that we bravely carry daily. But, I will ALWAYS be Justin’s mother—which also makes me a Mom. For those of you who know me—I will always instinctively give mothering guidance to others—just as I did for Justin and for my friends—this is my letting me BE!!!!!!!
Over the course of a few days I had the following conversations that have been on my mind and I wanted to share:
I have a friend whose son (was in Justin’s class) is away at college. I asked her: ” How is he doing?” She looked at me in astonishment and told me with gratitude that” I was the ” ONLY” mother /parent in the past 6 months who asked this question.” She said the usual question is: ” WHAT is your son doing?” She said the “Parents want to know his major, grades, and where he falls or fails on the social status on his campus??? ” She said “They have never been concerned about his wellbeing.” I was shocked…
I congratulated my friend whose child turned down what society deems to the HIGHEST TOP tier college. Instead he chose his passion of study at another great University that had the best academic rigor for his chosen field. “What’s wrong with that I asked?” He told me that his child got chastised by his peers/teachers/other parents for “settling” for what seemingly appears to be the “lesser college.” He also told me, that to date, I was the “ONLY” parent who congratulated him on his sons acceptance. I was flabbergasted!
When I asked a friend (whose son is a Sophomore in college) “How he was doing?” She looked at me and calmly said: “ He tried to commit suicide a few months ago… and I am trying everything to save him and to pull him out of this deep dark hole… “Not being a professional—but only a concerned “Mom”, I told her I was glad she was taking his condition seriously and doing EVERYTHING in her power to help. I was saddened.
Another friend told me that her son ( who is a Senior at a top Ivy League in the big city) told her he needed to get diagnosed as being ADHD so he could take medicine ( to survive college) like a lot of his peers. She told him that she did not feel that he had this issue and she did not agree with him taking any medicine under false pretenses—but would support him always for getting over any seemingly impossible hump. He felt better after they talked and was glad that he got it off of his chest and that she listened and provided sound advice. That’s what our job is as Parents. To give sound advice.
Paralympic Star #1
US Paralympic Track Star Blake Leeper recently spoke at the HW Middle School. He told the audience that when he was born, the doctors told his parents that he would be wheelchair bound and that he would NEVER walk—let alone DANCE! His parents thought otherwise and embraced and armed him with the ” Can do anything” attitude. He profoundly told the crowd that “People laugh at me because I am different, I laugh at them because they are all the same”. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and said:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Blake Leeper just played in the NBA Celebrity All Star Game. He competed for the RIGHT reasons…
For those fortunate students who have the opportunity to seek their higher education, going to college can be a BIG transition for MOST. Moving to a far away place, sharing a room with a stranger, being outside of their nucleus and thrust into a college atmosphere with a microcosm sampling of what the real world looks like. College days can be lonely and sometimes scary.
Today, it appears that the most popular motto kids/parents have for the pathway to success is BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. I do not need to list these in detail because everyone knows what they are. The kids these days have limited time to JUST HAVE FUN! They are dealing with (but not revealing) the major issues at hand that seem to be put on the back burner i.e. stress, failure (in the eyes of their parents/peers), isolation, confusion, depression,mental health issues or even having second thoughts about their choice of college/and or major.
I remember having so much fun at college—as my Dad said “Too much fun at USC!” —when my report card got home before I did and I received my first “C” ever! I can’t say that we were not faced with a few stresses and some failures—but not to the extent of sending us over the edge. We had random parties in our dorm rooms, in the cafeteria or campus halls. We Danced (thanks to Merle showing us the latest steps), we laughed, we talked to each other. We dated and collectively with groups we got together to socialize. I can’t honestly say that there were not any “vices” in the room, but that was not the focus either. When a friend was in need, we helped or directed them accordingly. We did not keep blinders on.
Today, the electronic devices and social media have taken over. They are our blinders. People don’t look at each other, talk, or engage without clutching and frequently checking their phones. Some kids have voiced their sentiments saying they wished their college/high school experience were like the years gone by—less competitive, that their peers would get together to really socialize sans the crutch of having to drink, get drunk or hook-up their way to happiness. They just want to connect and to have fun, and actually DANCE at a party… What happened? Justin loved to dance.
We would ballroom dance in the kitchen. He also spent many an hour teaching his friends how to dance so that they would be ready at the parties! I wish I could dance again with Justin.
I also knew (for the most part) if Justin needed help i.e. emotionally, academically or? Darrel and I did not take him for granted. We would often tell him that his only COMPETITION is with himself.
Today, I found my Dad’s college handbook from the 1950’s. It was a small pocket size book that spelled out how to dress, engage on campus, learn the school songs, and to have respect/assist their fellow peers/faculty/staff and how to seek help. As Freshman, they had to carry the booklet with them wherever they went.
They also gave each student a book on “ “How to Court” and “How to Fall in love.” So much for the good ole days.
I also found a picture of my Dad with my Mom going to the Junior Prom that was held in college… and the little keepsake booklet they gave out at the dance.
I hope that sooner than later collectively society grabs hold of the real issues that afflict OUR kids—who ARE the future. It is time to listen to them, talk to them and pull them away from their isolation as a “Wallflower” (a person who has no one to dance with or who feels shy, awkward, or excluded at a party) and take time to dance with them, engage, with them and just “Let them be!
People take heed (me included) OPEN YOUR EYES, Fall in love with your family and friends appreciate your life and those around you. It’s ok to stand out instead of trying to fit in. Life is not always a Party. Daily life should not be so competitive that we become more selfish, lack compassion; empathy and genuine support of most people around us– and it should not definitely be the Last Dance. This is my two cents for the evening.
Early last year I got a phone call from a representative of the AM 830 KLAA Radio Community Care show.
She stated that she had recently watched the CBS2 News “Justin’s Story”. Subsequently, they wanted to do a radio interview with us so that we could once again tell Justin’s Story and his hopes for World peace.
A few days later, we went to the station and met with Tammy Trujillo – who is a Greater Los Angeles Area – Award-Winning Broadcaster, Voice-Over Artist, College Media Professor, Animal Behavorist. Before we started, I shared with Tammy the audio recording that I found on Justin’s cell phone- of him casually singing the National Anthem.
Darrell then showed her images of Justin’s art. As she began the interview, Tammy could barely keep her composure as she fought back her tears. Everyone in the room was silent.
After she received her award tonight, Tammy said that she knew that Justin’s story and message would touch the ears, souls and minds of anyone who listened- just as it had done to her. She also said that although her extensive career has afforded her the opportunity to receive many coveted awards, hands down, this one really hits home and means something to her and she said she won it for us.
So when you’re down something just bring’s you up!! Tonight Tammy Trujillo won a Radio Television and News Associaiton (RTNA) 65th Annual Golden Mike Award for Justin Carr World-Peace Story! As noted on the RTNA ” The Golden Mike Awards® are Southern California’s most prestigious, and most coveted, broadcast journalism prize Unlike most awards contests in which winners are determined by selecting which entry is the “best” among all those submitted in each category, winners of the Golden Mike Awards®” must also meet the “Standard of Excellence”.
We smiled tonight a bit as the story of Justin continues to be shared. An Emmy for TV And now a Golden Mike for Radio. I wore the outfit and scarf Justin got for me and I felt him close to my heart. Thank you Justin… Thank you Tammy Trujillo for giving us a voice..
The ripples continue. In a few weeks Jensen McRae- one of Justin’s talented friends- has spearheaded an upcoming concert in honor of Justin. It will be held on February 22, 2015. See following link for details:
For those whose know me I really don’t have the passion anymore to shop or buy anything. A few weeks ago, as I looked down at my (Justin’s) old tattered and torn brown converse shoes that I wear most days, I thought to myself… You need to get some new shoes.! So, I hastily went on the internet in search of something turquoise and these boots came up. I purchased the last pair in my size.
I opened the box today and when I looked at the bottom of the boot, I was floored. Darrell asked me ” How much did it cost to get Justin’s name on them? I looked at him and said: ” This is the name of the boots. They came like this.!”
So, I am adding these pictures to say ” I can’t make this stuff up!” My “Rhinestone Cowboy” Justin was telling me to get some new shoes!!! As you all know I will continue to walk to the end of the Earth in honor of my beloved son Justin.
These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do…
I’m sure that everyone probably remembers the classic children’s tale: “The Little Engine that Could.” It is the story that teaches children the values of optimism and hard work. When a train carrying toys to kids breaks down at the base of a mountain, it hopes that one of the larger trains passing would help pull it over the difficult terrain. To his chagrin, not one of the bigger capable trains stopped to help as they each declined for various (selfish) reasons.
However, it was the smallest and happiest BLUE ENGINE that stopped on his own and assisted, without hesitation. Even though he had never traveled this road before, this littlest of the trains, believed in himself so much that he found the inner-strength to pull an impossibly heavy load up a steep hill (subsequently overcoming a seemingly impossible task) while repeating the mantra “I think I can.”
Justin loved this story and you know he had the “Thomas the Train Set” and he built cities (with all the accouterments) all around the tracks that he laid between rooms and dared anyone to mess them up. Since, I have wanted to share this story for awhile I guess there is no better time than now to write on this eve of my precious little ENGINE Justin’s would be 18th birthday.
This past year, Darrell and I have heard many wonderful untold stories that warmed our hearts- about how Justin (the boy who loved BLUE) in his selfless own ways managed to help and carry many people to safe passage on their various journeys during his short life. The good thing that has come out of this shift in our life is that we are seeing how his impact will last through the ages in various ways. These are the greatest gifts of all.
This story is also about the power of many other BIG ENGINES who are still on this planet traveling difficult terrains, willing to risk their own safety to save lives and property. They have the public’s trust and gratitude and they are empathetic and compassionate humans too. And, I’m sure many times they chant the mantra, “I think I can” to get through difficult patches. The key is they don’t give up.
BIG ENGINE STATION #78
One afternoon this past February, after I finished a brisk walk with a friend in the 90210 flatlands, I headed home over one of the canyon roads. As I reached the top near Mulholland Drive, I saw a Fire Station to my right. I must admit that in the prior months, very time I would pass a fire station or (stressfully) pull to the side of the road when an ambulance would pass, I often wondered were they the ones that responded to the 911 call when Justin needed them the most? As I sat daydreaming at the light- wondering if this was the ENGINE company that where the first responders, I decided to find out. I searched for the non-emergency number and found out that this station was not the one, but it was another one less than a mile from the school.
My heart was beating fast as I drove to Station #78. Initially, the place was abandoned and all locked up, but I decided to wait just a few more minutes near the back of the building by the garage. Soon, a Fireman driving a red pick-up truck drove up and as he was backing into a parking space, he nonchalantly asked: “ Can I help you?” I said: “Yes. Does this station handle Harvard-Westlake school calls?” He callously said: ”I don’t know, maybe we do?” Once again, I was about to do an “exorcist” move on him because he did not appear to be caring. Fortunately, after I gave him the address he clarified himself and got more brownie points when he said: “ Yes, we do. This is not my normal station I am here just to do some relief. ” So, I felt better because initially I thought he was playing with my already high strung emotions. I then told him why I was there and that I wanted to speak with anyone who may have responded to the call when Justin was in distress. He had not heard of Justin’s story. But, he quickly became compassionate, introduced himself as Roger and invited me inside to wait for the guys that were either out on a call or shopping for food.
I sat down and told him that I was surprised that I even had the gumption to come near any fire station let alone walk inside one because of my aversion to anything related to emergency vehicles. I told him that I usually cringe, plug my ears and cry profusely hearing constant siren sounds knowing that I was not there to help or ride with Justin to the hospital. But that day, as I sat there, for that moment, a calm came over me.
We sat in the uninterrupted station for about 30 minuets and I told him more about Justin. He asked me: “Was Justin was a believer in God?” I said” Yes he was, but at the moment, I am mad at God for taking my baby away.” He proceeded to tell me his own personal story about his son who has major health issues and has been near death many times before due to a serious heart condition. He said:“ You have to have faith Susan. Each and every time we take our son to the hospital for surgery, we do not know if he is going to come back home with us or go home to God. “ Justin would want you to be happy.
One by one, eleven different strapping and strong firemen returned to the station. Each time, Roger would gently introduce me saying: “ This is Justin Carr’s mom, the student who died swimming almost a year ago. Did any of you respond to that call?” One by one they all said,”No,” with unimaginable looks of sadness on their faces. Fortunately, Stephen, the last 30 something year old handsome fireman, came in and when Roger asked him if he was aware of the case and he said, “Yes.” He then sat down next to me and the rest of the guys all huddled around the large table. I stoically spoke about Justin, my only child – who died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition during swim practice minutes after concluding a happy call with me, a selfless Earth angel, Renaissance Man, scholar, singer, actor, artist, Junior Olympic BUTTERFLY swimmer, an underdog supporter who repetitively since age 4 prayed, “God, help us achieve world peace”, – an ebullient charming child… left them SPEECHLESS.
I then shared the CBS video with them and showed them pictures of what he really looked like and they got an intimate cursory snapshot of whom “that kid” who suddenly passed away really was. After I finished, they stood up in solidarity, hugged me and shed a few tears. Then, the Roger, the Paramedic, proceeded to tell me everything he remembered from arriving on campus, running to Justin’s aide and how they painlessly tried to save his life. His details were so succinct it was as if it was just yesterday. He said proudly, “all six of us who got there became paramedics and we tried everything before we took him to the hospital-even the Captain.”
I then asked them collectively as they tried to fight back their tears :“ How do you guys manage your jobs? What do you do? “In unison they said “We try and save everyone from the senior who inadvertently steps on the gas and not the brake and runs over their spouse, to the smallest of the babies. We try to save everyone. When we see kids, because we all have them, we want them to go home to their families we work hard and hard and hard to save them. The aftermath of each event we come back and we sit around this table and we support and help each other get through, we are humans too they all said.”
Then I sternly asked: “I want to see the vehicle that Justin was riding in.” I saw them look at each other in shock, like OMG, but I got my wish. A sense of calm came over me when I realized that this Big ENGINE Company #78 did what ever they could to try and save my little ENGINE. They tried hard hoping they could until they passed him over to the hands at the hospital ER. They were emotionally affected as if Justin was one of their own kids. They did their best but because of the suddenness of his condition, there was nothing that they could really do to change the situation. As I walked away from the truck, I thanked them for aiding my son, and they all hugged me again. Roger on the other hand asked me if he could walk me to my car and I agreed. When we got outside, he put his arm over my shoulder and asked if he could say a prayer. It was a beautiful calming moment and at that juncture, I found a little peace. A few hours later I sent the station an email saying:
“There are no words I can say but thank you for being patient with me today. To connect with you all has been lurking on my mind during this complicated grief for almost a year since the passing of my baby. Thank you for trying your best to save one of the best Earth Angels… Justin Carr.”
Later I got an email from Roger and he said:
“Susan I’m so glad you came by the station today and I thank God I was working and got to meet you. What an amazing mother you are and I was truly blessed by your visit. I pray that you and your husband will find peace and joy; I know Justin would want you to be happy and live with passion and joy as he did. Death is not the end but the beginning of a new chapter. I will be praying for both of you and may God give the peace and joy you deserve. “
These BIG FIREMEN who drive these ENGINES never give up on the helpless at the bottom of the hill. They help others try and get over the hump each and every day.
BIG MEDICAL ENGINE
Justin may not be here physically to be celebrated as we usually do it on earth, but his legacy lives on and his story is saving and changing lives. Earlier this week, I woke up to an email from a Nurse from a local high school who started testing their students soon after she saw “ Justin’s Story on CBS” The Subject line said: “ We Saved this one for Justin.”
“Dear Carr Family,
I have wanted to reach out to you to tell you about our August Screening event we had. You were on my heart that day as we were able to screen over 100 students through Cardiology and provide physicals. When I saw concerned Echocardiogram techs running down to catch a parent to meet with the cardiologist again, I knew we had found something significant. The screening captured a serious life threatening undiagnosed condition in this young man.
I have wanted to tell you of this and let you know that I was thinking of Justin that whole day as I do at every event. Sadly, I did not know you personally at that time and I am so sorry for your loss of such a great young man. But that day I also felt a sense of peace as I told Justin…”we saved this one for you.” There was a sense of immense emotion as we gave this child back to his mom and told her about your story. It brought tears to her eyes and she pledged to be praying for your family as well.
We are happy to have saved this one young man in Justin’s honor and memory and we will continue to move into the future to provide cardiac screenings for our students. Hoping to save families the terrible grief you have been through. May God bless you today and everyday.
This is a gift in Justin’s memory for saving the life of another. Although, receiving this wonderful message was bittersweet ,it is still a blessing that a story on TV changed others lives and how they do business…
MY LITTLE ENGINE
Time flies by and 18 is that milestone age when your child becomes an adult and you see the fruits of your labor… just like we wrote on Justin’s birth announcement back in 1996- when Darrell created a personalized “New Carr Registration.” In my wildest dreams, I never thought that Justin would not be here…
Justin was born on September 13, 1996.
I can honestly say that this past 1.5 year without him, my BUTTERFLY, life has not been easy. But, what I can say with a bit of joy is that he was the little ENGINE that could, and that did do his best! We have learned that this gentle giant of an ENGINE was happy and helpful just like the little BLUE ENGINE in the book “The Little Engine that Could.” Justin would often put people before himself, help when someone fell down (physically and mentally) and his signature smile would brighten up anyone’s day. He also had many special friends who took good care of him too! He even coined his character traits as being helpful, observant creative, sensitive and skillful. So, as I pay tribute to my selfless angel on the eve before his would be 18th Birthday, I have comfort in knowing that he never gave up, did his best and helped without hesitation so many people he came in contact with. This is a gift that I will cherish each and every day.
My dear butterfly Justin, the infinite and unimaginable trauma that we have endured has recently catapulted me to a higher understanding of how I am going to live my life in the days and years to come. I have come to experience an indescribable “knowing” within my soul that somehow during this difficult journey from my chrysalis – a catalyst will move me toward to find my voice, and my wings, once again.
Tonight my love, the choirs will sing loud for you and I hope you can hear them.
Happy Birthday honey! I love you forever, and I love you always. As long as I’m living, my baby you will be…
P.S. I Can’t make this stuff up…As I just finished this entry, this email with a poem popped up. It was from my cousin Burl who lives in Memphis, Tennessee…
Our Train Ride
“At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone.
As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of your life. Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum.
Others will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize they vacated their seats.
This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells. Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers requiring that we give the best of ourselves.
The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best way, love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are.
It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.
I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life.
Reap success and give lots of love.
More importantly, thank God for the journey.
Lastly, I thank you for being one of the passengers on my train”
*** Justin’s Great Grandfather Arnold Toler was a Pullman Porter and he worked on the trains back in the day…
**REMEMBER AS YOU READ THIS STUFF, I CAN’T MAKE ANY OF IT UP
JUJU IS STILL DANCING…
So, I wrote yesterday that I was trying to figure out how to respond to Justin’s little cousins who are now 4, 4.5 and 8 years old when they asked about him. Well, today I got my answer. Yesterday, I heard (on the floor above) the sounds of little pitter patter feet running in my house and the littlest voice screaming out ” Juju it’s me JJ, I’m here!” My heart skipped a beat. Then they ran downstairs into Justin’s room and they stopped. Mia the oldest has been the silent one and she just looks down when the questions come up. But my little Extreme sportsman JJ, the youngest of the trio, runs in and says. “Hi Auntie Susu, I’m here. Where is Juju?” As he gazes at trophies he also said proudly: “Juju likes sports like me!” I gather them all and we sit on the bed and we talk about what Justin would want them to do. Mia slightly smiles and says quietly “to have fun”, Dashton just smiles and sits and runs his hands across the bed and JJ crosses his legs starts bouncing on the bed and says “Have a good time” and starts trying to snap his hands like Justin did with his friends in the infamous impromptu video that was taken in January 2013. See video below of Justin and then the one we made of the kids in 2013 trying to copy the video they were watching.
This morning JJ comes into the kitchen and says: ” Auntie Susu, where is your “brother” Juju? I said ‘He is in heaven.” Confused JJ said, “Well, when is he coming back?” I gathered them once again and we went into the living room and sat next to a picture of Justin and we all said good thoughts. My siblings walked in and solemnly took a seat to see how we were going to handle this one. We all held hands, said a special prayer for Justin and then JJ stated us out singing again “It’s all right” and said : ” Hey guys, let’s have a good time!
Later,we took the kids to a water park. The clerk hands me a card listing the other park activities. I glance at the paper and the musical that is playing catches my eyes. OKLAHOMA! Justin’s last production that he performed in at school… Need I say anymore? It is true that my friend Felicia told us that “Wherever we go, Justin is with us, and that wherever Justin goes, we are with him.
So true and we dance on…
I WROTE THE FOLLOWING ORIGINAL JUJU’S DANCING IN JUNE 2013
I seem to have to make contact with Justin’s Art Teacher, Ms. Hall as often as possible. She said that Justin is sending us miraculous messages and his love connection is empowering this communication and keeping him close to our hearts and minds. Think about it, teachers spend more time in front of our kids during the week than we ever did. So I need to get from Ms. Hall all that Justin revealed to her under her tutelage.
The other day with short notice, Ms. Hall invited me to go to see a Dance Production of “The Day I Met Anne Frank”. Cynthia Winter was the Art Director. I said yes without giving it much thought because Justin had a connection to Ms. Winter. He was going to be in the H-W Dance Concert as a guest dancer. Although, he did not have any formal dance training, he was flattered when the Dancers invited him to lift, catch and dance with them in their upcoming production of “Colors”. Ms. Winter’s was also in charge of that show. Each day he would come home after swim and/or dance practice talking about how he was added to yet another dance. He was happy and proud that he was invited to perform. Ironically, the show was scheduled for March 2, 2013; the same day we put my baby to rest. In any event, the dancers dedicated that show to Justin. I know that even in the height of the aftermath of this emotional setback, each dance step they took, was truly in honor of Justin. Justin Carr World-Peace
Secondly, I went because Ms Winter’s husband is the Set Designer at school. Every chance Justin got, he would venture into his workshop, try and get a glimpse of the proposed sets for the upcoming school productions, and sometimes offer suggestions. Just a week prior to his demise, Justin had scheduled to work under his guidance to build the model of the proposed new parking structure for the Upper School. So, I felt that Justin wanted me to go. Going to performing art productions in recent days and months has been too painful for me to bear without Justin having at least an option to attend. So I have turned down many opportunities.
Prior to going into the theatre, we ran into Justin’s classmate Katie, her mother Teresa and her Grandma Doris (who is a holocaust survivor). Grandma Doris gave me a big hug and said she knew about my recent loss. She said “ Honey, in time, you will be able to get through this. My father and brothers were taken down in front of me when I was 11 years old! One day, you will be able to live again. “
After I sat down in my seat I looked to my right. I immediately saw Anna and her mother. Anna Witenberg was another close friend of Justin’s. We jumped up and gave each other the longest silent hug possible. Justin admired Anna from the moment he saw her dancing in middle school. He/we would often marvel at her poise and beautiful dancing skills. He would always insist that we go see the Dance Concerts at school. She was a true friend to Justin and they supported each other is ways that no one will ever know. Her Mom said to me, that Anna really needed to see me. I had been thinking about her too, and I guess it was Justin that encouraged me to go to the show.
The Day I Met Anne Frank, was Ms. Winter’s story of how she felt after she visited Anne Franks House in Amsterdam. It was an intimate depiction of a young girl whose seemingly happy life was stolen, altered and shattered in the blink of an eye. Sounds familiar… The 4 dancers where vividly and passionately able to show (with minimum words and a beautiful song) this story-her story. Even though Ms. Winter was angry and sad about Anne Frank, the Holocaust and how detrimental it was to so many people, things changed a bit during her plane ride back to the United States; her seat was next to a non- English speaking German lady who had a 2 year old child (w/o his own seat). So, you know how it is when you enter a plane and realize that you are sitting next to a small child, that it was going to be a long ride home-so she thought. The conclusion of the production revealed that Ms. Winter was able to connect with this lady and child, (even though their cultures were not compatible.) It became evident through non verbal communication that Ms. Winter offered to help care for the small boy on the long trip home while his mother slept. The part that prompted me to share and compare tonight was that as the plane was in the air, Ms. Winter’s looked out of the window and she said she saw a image of Anne Frank smiling at her for having compassion.
As I walked out of the show, my mind went into the rewind mode. My birthday was a mere six weeks after Justin passed away. My sister Jennifer came down with her 2-year-old son JJ to surprise me. (When JJ RAN into my quiet house, I could feel for a moment how Ms. Winters’ must of felt when she realized that her seat was next to a 2-year-old baby) Jeni came bursting into the house with JJ (who is full of energy 24/7) I remember smiling and asking: How many days are you guys staying? In the back of my mind I knew that this is going to be work, keeping him busy, no rest for the weary ☺) As soon as she came in she said JJ was looking out of the airplane window and he was cracking up. When she asked him what was he looking at and he said, “ Juju’s dancing, he said bye-bye”. She was not sure she heard him correctly and JJ repeated it again “Juju’s dancing, he said bye, bye!” As you may know, Justin’s younger cousins called him JuJu! Throughout the week, during their visit, I would ask JJ “Did you ride on an airplane? (Without even mentioning Justin’s name) and he would 100% of the time blurt out “Juju’s dancing he said bye-bye” I then got up enough nerve to ask JJ another question. What was JuJu wearing? JJ said, “He had on black.” I guess that was the tuxedo Justin was wearing??? I saw JJ last week and I asked him again about his plane ride. He did not hesitate and he blurted out with the biggest smile “Juju’s dancing, he said bye-bye!”
I feel bad for Justin’s younger cousins who are trying to comprehend why they do not see JuJu when they see me. Justin would always do face time with JJ and now when we call JJ he says, “Where is Juju?” After a moment of silence, I manage to say quietly “Juju’s in heaven”
I have come to learn that Ms. Hall was so in tune with Justin’s artistic abilities and that he is somehow directing what is going on and leaving us as many messages as possible. Accepting the invitation to attend the dance concert, meeting Grandma Doris, seeing Anna and Katie, Ms. Winter’s plane ride home seeing Anne Frank in the clouds, and reflecting on JJ’s vision of seeing Juju dancing in the sky are all messages of how one can continue to live after life altering tragedies, of loss, love between a family, a mother and child. Even with physical loss there can be a spiritual connection forever. Non-verbal communication is sometimes an effective way of communication. At least I can look up in the sky and have that vision of my JuJu Dancing. Just as JJ will always remember his cousin I can feel that spirit too. Jeffrey Fruit you have a jewel….out of the mouths of babes right?
JJ and JuJu face time, Justin’s last dance doing the wobble, Grease is the word!
Cristine is a new friend, who recently lost her mother. Since the aftermath of this dramatic change in her life, she told me that now she finally realizes- and can fully appreciate why some things were more important to her mother than others. As a child, she often felt that their home was not as tidy as she thought it should be because her mom used it as a staging/storage space for her classroom supplies and projects during her 30 years as an Art Teacher. Instead of constantly doing house chores, her mom’s priority was frequently ushering Cristine and her sister out of the house to explore museums, parks, beaches, exhibits and other areas of interest in and outside of their city limits.
Currently, Cristine homeschools her children, and she quickly has realized how much time it takes in a day, to manage all of the work/life/school balance issues, and she sees the importance of not sweating the small stuff and is now cherishing the things that are important in life.
This past Monday, Cristine shared a personal treasure that she found at her parents home. It was a handmade simple craft that her mother helped her create in 1977 (when she was only 3 years old). The beauty of this jewel that was completed while on a family vacation is that it only cost time and love.
This priceless treasure chest was made from an old egg carton that now will be cherished and coveted forever. The details of the park or beach visited are so well documented on the lid. Now Cristine can not only take her own children to each spot that her mother took her but they can make memory boxes filled with their finds on their childhood trip.
When you look at the attached pictures of the box, you can see that the outside of the egg carton is adorned with shells found on various beaches. Inside, each egg cradle holds a nonperishable memorabilia item that was found at the various spots. There is moss, a shell, pinecone, or flowers all secured with gobs of good old fashion Elmer’s glue. The lid has a detailed description of where each item was found i.e. Acorn (Passion Gulch State Park) or Pinecone (Napa Valley State Park). Now tell me that this piece of ART does reveal HISTORY! This is one that should be tried at home. Priceless memories that have withstood 37 years. In honoring the memory of her mother, Cristine said that she would now focus on the positive memories that she had with her as she moves forward in her life.
Last Tuesday, I dropped an earring on the floor next to my bed. When I got down on my knees in search of the small turquoise stone, I noticed a large plastic box underneath my bed that I had not touched for many years. I reached under to grab the container and I gently pulled it towards me. Initially, I had no ideal what was inside. However, shortly after I released the dusty lid, I knew exactly what lay dormant- and soon appreciated- why I had saved the wonderful treasures that were neatly stockpiled inside. Tears gently rolled down my cheeks because I knew that I was about to ride an emotional rollercoaster as I made a trip down memory lane through the eyes of Justin. Inside, I found an aggregate collection of some of his finest and priceless elementary school work from grades 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I said: Oh My!” as I frantically grabbed the phone and tried to call Justin’s Elementary Principal “Ms. Q” (who produced and directed 13 plays that Justin was in) so she could be a witness to my impromptu discovery. She did not answer.
After I quickly dragged the box into Justin’s old pre- teen bedroom, I sat down to explore. Inside I found a treasure trove of his beautiful sketches, detailed artwork, colorful and creative book reports, science projects, daily journals, letters from his classmates (written when he was the Star Student of the week), doodles, plays, scripts, autobiographies, a biography written about his father Darrell and to top it off, at the bottom of the stack was his 2nd grade report with detailed sketches of “THE LIFECYCLE OF A BUTTERFLY!! On the cover Justin used objects to depict the various stages of the development of a butterfly. All that remained in tack was a painted piece of bowtie pasta that was the shape of a butterfly. How creative is that!
All of Justin’s work depicted such skill and precision. It was again apparent and quite evident that from the young ages of 6,7,8, Justin had clearly defined the beginnings of his strong affinities for the arts. Regardless of the subject matter all of his homework assignments were completed like pieces of art.
I was a Room Parent for many of Justin’s classes throughout his life. The Public School lack of funds did not always have the resources. So my “Pasadena Public Defenders” as I call them now, Jeru, Lorraine, Linella. Etc. all helped the teachers with our time and resources to supplement and to provide the best for our kids. Whenever I did something special, Justin would MAKE his classmates write thank you notes to me. I found one and just shook my head marveling at the accuracy of Justin’s character images of his classmates. He nailed their expressions and hairdos even in 3rd grade on the cover sheet.
Justin’s homework, and the notes written by his classmates were all true testaments of who he was at an early age and once again affirm that he really never changed as he grew to become a young talented man. The scope of the work that I found revealed the value of having the tutelage of good teachers who infused creative syllabus and instruction that enticed the kids to yearn to learn and it made the work effortless and fun.
It was also a reality check in how Justin was blessed with the best of the best of teachers (Ms. Walker, Ms. Tataro, Ms. Kim, Ms. Yu, Ms. Hall) who loved their jobs, and most importantly loved their students. They were not lackadaisical in their jobs; TAUGHT every day, infused the ARTS and the kids all grew and learned tremendously as a direct result. Subsequently, Ms. Q also spent her own money and personal time on every musical that she produced. She also allowed each and every student in good standing to participate in every play.
Following are excerpts from the notes I found in the collections, I did not correct any spelling errors:
Year 2002 (6 years old) 1st Grade
Every kid in the class got a week to be the “Star Student”
When Justin was in 1st grade he wrote in his journal:
“ I am nice, handsome, cool, special, kind, helpful, sweet and caring. I am very smart. I am an incredible artist. I have pretty eyes. I am trusting and I am loveable, capable special and unique.”
His first grade classmate also wrote the following notes to him in his Star Student journal: I purposely did not correct the spelling errors to keep them authentic.
1st Grade 10/24/03
You are nice and a good artis. Justin, you are the best kid with art. I thing that you love and help out with anyone. You are a good friend with what you do. You are the best friend I have. Love, Natalie Sheng”
You are an excellent artist and a fantastic drawer. You’re capable, caring, unique and special. Love, Nolan”
I think you are the kindest, nicest and most caring student ever. I think you are a fantastic artist. You can be a fantastic basketball and football player. Love, Ravi
2nd Grade 3/19/04
“Dear Justin, you are nice, funny, handsome, cute, great singer and actor, Next time I come to your house can we do a show? And you are a very good artist.
From Berrie Tsang” “Dear Justin,
You are a good star student. You are a good artist. You are a good basketball player, you are a good friend. You are good at math; you are a great reader, actor, and writer.
You are an awesome artist. You’re a funny and goofy guy. You’re a great leader. Your great at singing. You are a great friend and helper. From Jade”
WHAT ABSOULUTELY TOOK MY BREATH AWAY WAS THIS HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT THAT I FOUND IN JUSTIN’S JOURNAL
5/23/04 (8 years old) Justin wrote in his journal
“When I get older I would like to be a great swimmer and an architect/engineer I would like to go to the Olympics and place in freestyle. After that, I would want to build movie and play sets and houses.”
“My ART Studio “I’d like to have my own art studio. I would paint pictures for weddings, parties and some just for fun” I am going to be a famous artist when I am dead.”
HOW PROPHETIC IS THAT!!!!
AND IN JUSTIN’S 2ND GRADE JOURNAL, HE WROTE ABOUT LOVING TO DO CARTWHEELS. I AM NOT GOING TO WRITE WHAT HE WROTE; YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO SEE FOR YOURSELF ON THE ATTACHED PICTURE. THERE IS A PICTURE HE DREW OF HIMSELF IN 2ND GRADE DOING A CARTWHEEL. I ADDED A PICTURE THAT I FOUND ON JUSTIN’S PHONE OF A CARTWHELL HE DID ON A FIELD TRIP TO “DEATH VALLEY” A MERE 3 WEEKS BEFORE HE DIED… HIS BEST FRIEND ERIC TOLD ME THAT HE WAS INSTRUCTED BY JUSTIN TO TAKE A SERIES OF PICTURES OF JUSTIN DOING THE CARTWHEELS.
I HAVE NO WORDS.
This evening, I decided to take a stroll after I parked on a random street in Pasadena. I have a hard time going near places of interests that Justin loved so I usually detour. However, today I could not avoid walking down the back street behind his old elementary school. The playground and gym that once were is now a major construction site; Measure Y dollars at work! As I peered through the fence, I shed a tear, because I knew if Justin (my little Architect) were here, he would have loved to see this project in progress and review the proposed plans.
I also visualized that on a few occasions (when Justin was in 1,2,3 grades) I would drive down this street during recess, just to see if I could spot him and hopefully see him engaged with friends and having a good time. Yes I did! The truth has to be told. He never saw me, but sometimes his friends would. 🙂 As I walked away from the school, I dialed Ms. Q’s number. This time she answered. I tried not to break into tears, as I told her I was standing near the school that she transformed into a Blue Ribbon School, near the same corner that she last saw Justin when he came for a visit after he left. She told me she remembered that day too. Then she said: “I just sent you a picture of something that reminded me of Justin today.” After I hung up the phone, I looked at my text and it was a picture of a turquoise butterfly.
Like Darrell said ” Justin asked for World Peace when he was 4 years old.” He also wrote it in a Santa when he was about 9 years old. This was a consistent theme and not to far from Justin’s thoughts because I also came across his holiday wishes in this treasure chest of memories and found it in a homework assignment when he was 8 years old. My baby…..
I had to write tonight, all of these things and images on the attached pictures are true. I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!!
Justin’s High School Art Teacher Ms. Hall told me: “ Art is one way to keep a person Immortal. It will live on through the ages.” All of the art treasures that Justin left will last forever. Justin will forever live in my heart!!
FINDING THESE TREASURES REVEALING THE BEGINNING OF JUSTIN’S AFFINITY WITH THE ARTS, DID MY HEART GOOD.
In 11th Grade, Justin listed his character traits as being Helpful, Skillful, Creative, Observant and Sensitive. He was right again.
He also called me a Hoarder. Like my friend Marjorie said “Being a Pack rat has its benefits. Deciding what to throw away has always been a struggle. ” It looks like I chose well. I think I did!!
Was this all Gods plan? It is still hard for me to get to this point of reason. I still have questions each and every day. How could Justin have impacted the world if given more time???????????????????????
In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr