This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let Him Shine
As most of you have witnessed over the past 3.5 years sans Justin, Darrell and I tuck away the pain in our heart—every waking hour—every single day. We cycle through the days, week’s months, holidays and milestones and we hold each memory of our joy with Justin close to our hearts. This will continue for a lifetime and will repeat, day after day, and month after month. So, it’s not unusual that for over a year, I have been cautiously anticipating this day—Justin’s birthday—September 13th. He would have been 20 years old… Justin was and will always be our greatest gift. He is our guiding light!
Happy 20th Birthday honey!
The other day, I went to my usual nursery—where I am known as the flower lady. Before I got out of the car, I spotted a pot full of flowers that were almost in the shape of a round cake. I knew at that moment that I did not have to look any further. I motioned to the gardener to pick out the two prettiest plants. I asked him: What type of flowers they were. He cheerfully said: “mums.” I thought to myself, how appropriate— because in England “mum” also means mother and we know that “Mother’s knows best” and I will always be “Justin’s Mom aka Mum.”
After he loaded the flowers into my car, I started up the engine. The song blasting over the radio was: “ Tears from Heaven.” I know you all remember that song by Eric Clapton. Well, I don’t have to tell you what I did next … I first wanted to switch stations right away to spare the tears, but then I caught myself as I bravely listened intensely to the words. Subsequently, I let the tears flow. That was a good thing.
Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven
Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven
Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging, please
Beyond the door, there’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven…
We are so grateful that we have so many people who are wrapping their hands around us. We have learned that there are many things and encounters that help give us hope—hope for a future that includes embracing life again. So as we celebrate my baby, with the well-received gifts… Don’t just read, take heed following is a life-saving message…
GIFT #1 “The Good Samaritan”
Last year, a brave and determined stranger, Laurel Travis, approached me at a seminar. She said: “ You do not know me, but I know all about your great loss. I work for a Cardiologist and we saw Justin’s Story on television. To spare other families from going through an unimaginable loss of losing a child, I started “Safe Heart Screening ”, a heart screening foundation, in honor of your son. I was dumbfounded. Through Laurel’s dedication, research, and good work, she introduced us to the new state of the art life-saving ECG/EKG machine. It’s a handheld device (blue no doubt) that can identify young athletes who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. “CardeaScreen is a convenient, hand-held electrocardiographic (ECG) device, a diagnostic tool that measures and records the electrical activity of the heart. Specifically attuned to the normal characteristics of the athletic heart, CardeaScreen helps physicians who are conducting Pre-Participation Exams (PPE) identify athletes with abnormal heart conditions who may be at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. CardeaScreen helps identify young athletes who are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).”
In hindsight, Darrell and I wished that we had this knowledge in our hands so that we could have possibly known about Justin’s condition and spared his untimely death…
GIFT #2 Save the Date; Save a Life
Justin attended St. Marks School for Kindergarten and he was also an acolyte and in the choir up until 6th grade at the church. They are opening up their doors for this special event. Thank you.
Safe heart Screening http://www.safeheartscreening.com
will be doing ECG screenings for girls and boys age 12-25 in honor of Justin. It will be hosted at Saint Marks Episcopal Church in Altadena, CA on Sunday, October 16, 2016, from 10:00 to 4:00 p.m. Please go to the SafeHeart Screening website to sign up !
The actual test takes about 16 seconds with an allotment of 15 minutes for the process with each person. $25.00 donation for screening.
Gift #3 Keep Smiling for Justin
Debra Johnson aka the SMILE Lady is a member of our Community. She knew Justin very well. SMILE is her acronym for Support, Motivate, Invest, Love, and Educate. And Johnson is on a mission, one “to promote all aspects of SMILE and to spread a little joy,” she said. Tune into the Pasadena Community Network Channel 32, Arroyo 32, for more about the heart-testing event. “I want to help your child tap into their inner SMILE and purpose. After all, we were all born to SMILE and we’re all destined to leave this place better than we found it,” Johnson said.
This journey that we are on is sometimes difficult, but as I looked at the homework assignment that Justin did in the 3rd grade tonight,
I know that I too will continue to transform from a chrysalis and find catalysts that can move me towards finding my voice and wings once again.
Justin is my butterfly. I will never forget him. I know he wants me to accept his metamorphosis and to find new ways to live. As we emerge from the darkness and seek inner peace, I will continue to try and love this life, and live bravely, faithfully and as cheerfully as I can with Justin—our guiding light you along the way.
“This little light of mine, I’m going to let him shine, let him shine let him shine…”
Miss you always and love you forever!! Happy Heavenly Birthday Justin.
Visit our website to make a donation to help kids or to learn more about Justin
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…
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???????????????????????
Saturday, I woke up in the middle of the night (I guess during my REM stage of sleep) and typed in the words “Still I Rise” into my phone, then I went back to sleep. When I woke up hours later, I recalled that our beloved Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou had written the poignant poem “STILL I RISE.” I read it and quickly noticed how so many of the couplets in her poem related to the life Justin led. Maybe that’s why the words came to me so clearly in my sleep.
Through the pain of this unimaginable loss, it is heart warming to take notice on how the legacy of Justin, our Phenomenal Young Man, has created a new life of its own—one that will help us RISE out of bed and try to put one foot on the floor. Yes, the blueprints of treasures that Justin left behind—his songs, his dance, his words of wisdom, his art, his messages of hope, and his self proclaimed character traits—of being skillful, observant, sensitive, helpful and creative will continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of so many, even those who never met him and those that only knew him briefly. But, I must say that often it is still hard to RISE up each day without his physical presence within arms reach.
STILL I RISE
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise?
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
It is apparent, even with the stretch of my imagination, that I take Justin with me everywhere I go. Last week, at a whirlwind of unconnected events, somehow they all mentioned the sweet sound of Justin’s name. From the pomp and circumstances of a Catholic wedding, a Non-sectarian school wide awards ceremony, a Jewish B’nai Mitzvah, and an Episcopal Sunday Sermon, unexpectantly these inter-faiths all came together by including blessings and honors for Justin. And as my infamous phase goes “ I can’t make this stuff up!” It propelled me to write. I have to get it out.
RISING OUT INTO THE VISTA’S OF SAN FRANCISCO
A few Saturday’s past, we proudly witnessed the wedding ceremony and beautiful personal vows of Soledad (my dear high school friend) and her best friend Marshall in our hometown of San Francisco, CA. As we looked out into the vistas of the San Francisco skyline from the tiled terrace of the historic Fairmount Hotel Penthouse, and listen to their spoken words, we were caught off guard when Justin’s name rang out during the Prayers of Remembrance along with Soledad’s parents and Marshall’s father who, too, have gone before us. Later Soledad told me: “ I consider Justin right up there with the love I had for my parents. He will always have that special place in my heart.” It was so thoughtful of them to include Justin in their sacred covenant and personal day of celebration.
Soledad’s connection to Justin is far deeper than many people know. She and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time when it was time for Justin to come into this world. Ironically, it was Soledad who delivered Justin. I had not planned to deliver Justin at the hospital where she worked. It just happened to be the nearest hospital since time was of the essence. Need I say that when she delivered Justin, she was also pregnant with her youngest child Shaylyn who was born just two weeks after Justin. She is also Justin’s Godmother.
So, even during the holy matrimony of a couple,
Justin name STILL RISES and was included in the love shared between two.
RISING TO ACCEPT AWARDS IN JUSTIN’S HONOR
Top Senior Honor Awards were given out to a about 10% of the graduating class. The Faculty voted on most of them. The student body voted on one. Darrell and I painfully, yet with pride, received the awards on Justin’s behalf. These awards given to Justin were not out of circumstance: he would have received them even if he were still standing and some said that his name could have been placed on them in the early days when he first set foot on the campus.
AWARDS JUSTIN RECEIVED
1. Performing Arts Award
“Contrary to what some may imagine, the Performing Arts Award is given not to the student with the most outstanding talent, nor to the most-improved student during their time with us– but to the student who best demonstrates through his or her engagement in our program, that which we, as a faculty, value most in a performing artist. Above all, this means that the student is an excellent collaborator; that they ask much of themselves and in so doing, raise the expectation of the group. As leaders, they are supportive, generous, and devoted. Their focus first, is on what they can do to learn, grow and improve, and second, how they can help those around them to make the production better. Performing arts (Shared with his BFF Molly Chapman)
2. David Justin Rascoff Award
“David Justin Rascoff, was a co-editor of the school’s paper, the Harvard News. He passed away in a car crash in June 1991 (just days before his graduation). He was well known for his vehement opposition to the merger between all-male Harvard and the girl’s Westlake school. Rascoff, who had been accepted to Princeton University, played tight end on the football team and was a member of the student government. This memorial award presented to the senior “who has the courage to stand up for his beliefs” He always had the courage to say what he believed no matter how unpopular that made him.
3. The George Coleman Edwards award is given to a senior who has “best served the School and his/her fellow classmates.” There were 10 students from the class on the ballot which was put together by the Faculty. The whole student body voted on this award.
4. Humanitarian Art Award “This Culminating Award is for the Student who most inspired us as Artists”. Justin did not have any formal art training. Most of his masterpieces were just homework assignments.
As the names were called for the 25 awards, I was elated to have personally known most of the recipients. They were Justin’s friends. For years, five of them even road the bus with him each morning. They all have been accepted into top colleges and have promising futures ahead of them. Many of them have shared with me their wonderful, idiosyncratic “Justin encounters” which helped shaped them. Whether it was:
• His warm personality or his smile
• Looking up to him for inspiration
• His genuine and funny personality
• His enthusiasm that made people happy
• His comforting nature during stressful times
• His nurture and support to help build self confidence
In some way or another, Justin impacted their lives. I know that their true friendships with Justin also impacted him as well. Friendships go both ways.
THOUGHTS OF JUSTIN STILL RISE IN THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF HIS SCHOOL COMMUNITY
B’NAI MITZVAH (VILLAGE OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY RISE TO SUPPORT THEIR YOUNG MEN)
Mikey (my Jewish nephew), had his Bar Mitzvah with another young boy. At a mere 13 years of age, I can see Justin’s traits shining through him. As we walked up the steps through the Temple doors, I had to pause and reflect on the many times Justin attended Bar and Bat Mitzvahs there. I remember he took pride in getting invited to his friends’ rites of passage. He made a point to always attend the service to honor his friend and then make plans to go to the fun after party. Justin would always stay and support his friends until the end of the festivities. He did not like to see kids come and leave a party before it was over. He wanted to make sure his friends were surrounded in joy to the end. We gave Justin his surprise “Bro mitzvah” as some of his friends called it, when he turned 13. No formal ceremony, just fun times at LA LIVE bowling alley. He was shocked and surprised.
As I read in the program and what Mikey’s parents Lori and David’s personal statement of love to him, my heart began to beat fast. The words brought me back to the love we had for Justin. They wrote: “Our friends and family have called you an ‘old soul’— a child who can have a conversation with a person of any age. Your interest in photography, technology, and stage mirror your understanding of what is beautiful in the world and what makes people and things tick.” Darrell and I are totally aligned with Lori and David with their unconditional love for Mikey, and their unyielding will and desire to support all of his curiosities. A true blessing when parents let their children “be” who they want to “be”. Mickey is spirited, intuitive, creative, sensitive and willing to lend a hand. Last year, he took the time and made a personal phone case for me with a turquoise butterfly inscribed with Justin Carr Wants World Peace. Now what 7th grader do you know would take the time to even think of designing such a gift? I am so glad that Mikey was able to spend time with Justin.
Louie was the other young boy who was also celebrating his Bar Mitzvah whom we did not know. However, we got to know him quickly. We learned that he was and only child, who stood strong during his fathers illness and he wanted to be an Architect and an Engineer. His parent’s message to him was: “Wee have gotten to watch and see you become a kid who thinks ‘outside the box.’ Your imagination is incredible. You began to build first with blocks, then action figures. You saw and created things in such a unique way.”
So as you can see, both Mikey and Louie both had similar traits and passions just like Justin. I could not believe it nor can I make this stuff up.
What also caught my attention was when Louie’s Father Jeff shared his love to his son by citing a verse form Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance”. He encouraged Louie to continue to trust himself.
“Emerson, who is known for his repeated use of the phrase – “trust thyself” which means to have faith in yourself, has woven it into his work – “Self-Reliance”. It is his explanation of what he meant by the repeated use of the phrase – “trust thyself”.
Emerson wrote that every individual has a genius in him which comes out when one trusts himself, has faith in himself, when one can trust his thoughts, feelings and his desire and passion even after all disapprovals.
I thought of Justin the whole time I was hearing Emerson’s words. These words reminded me of the meaning behind the David Justin Rasnoff award that Justin received just a few days earlier. Justin (like David) stood up for his believes, even if his ideals were not popular. I am so glad that Justin trusted himself and his beliefs and relied on his self worth. He was often able to RISE above adversity.
Justin’s name was also mentioned in the program for the Kaddish prayer along with both families revered departed. Saying Kaddish for a deceased loved one is an ancient Jewish tradition. Kaddish is an act of loving-kindness towards the departed’s soul, enabling that soul to ascend to the higher realms. Darrell and I were so touched by this love for Justin shared during the rites of passage for Mikey. It was our honor to witness this special occasion with Lori and David’s closet family and friends.
AFTER THE TORAH WAS PASSED, JUSTIN’S NAME WAS REMEMBERED WITH THE HONORED KADDISH NAMES
LORA ROSE TO SHARE HER SUNDAY SERMON
Weeks earlier I had received a message from a young lady whom we met after attending the 2013 Student Diversity and Leadership Conference (SDLC). She is a graduating senior at a local high school. During this past year, she has come to know about the spirit of Justin. She met him briefly in December of 2012 at the SDLC conference. They were standing in line to meet the Astronaut ,Dr. Bernard Harris. Justin let everyone go ahead of him because he wanted to be the last one to speak to him. He was so excited about meeting him that he sent me a picture of them together. Justin loved this conference. He came home and said “ Mom, it is ok to be me!”
Lora told me that she was selected to give the sermon at All Saint’s Episcopal Church on Sunday as part of the Youth Day Program. She wanted to know if it was ok to reference Justin when she spoke. I agreed, and told her that I did not think I could come into the church (where we held Justin’s service) but I would watch it online. When I mentioned it to Darrell, he said he wanted to go. So we surprised her. This girl is brilliant and the way she weaved Justin into her message was beautiful. I could not see clearly see at all through the tears after she finished. The Rector Ed Bacon gave Lora a blessing since she was graduating and also gave a blessing for Justin, because he too should have been a graduating senior. I was so glad that we were there to witness this young mind speak so passionately about her life, beliefs and goals. Here are portions of her Sermon:
“I Dream A World Of Eternal Life
“I dream a world where one/No other one will scorn, /Where love will bless the earth/And peace its paths adorn” These words, based on the Langton Hughes poem, I Dream a World, are part of a piece we sang in Trouvéres my eighth grade year. This utopian world that Hughes dreams of is the same as the eternal life Jesus refers to in today’s gospel. In today’s gospel, Jesus turns to God and begs, “Give eternal life, to all you have given to me. ” This eternal life that Jesus is referring to does not mean immortality, but rather he is describing a quality of life, to be able to truly live, a joyous life, a peaceful life, a purposeful life that begins here and now, in this lifetime. Furthermore, eternal life is not only experienced on an individual basis–Global eternal life is all about the interdependence and interconnection of all of humanity. In this oneness nobody is excluded; everyone belongs, everyone is always welcome.
In that room at the SDLC conference, I found eternal life—that unquenchable drive to soar—within me and around me. In this context, eternal life is not so much a lifestyle or mindset, but an atmosphere. Just as a chrysalis incubates a young caterpillar as it transforms into a soaring butterfly, this conference was like my chrysalis. This transformational experience marked my re-emergence into this world as a new and revitalized person and set the tone for what I see as my purpose in this world. I finally understood who I am and learned how to accept that. Living this purposeful life, doing what I have been put on this earth to do, is bringing the kingdom of heaven into the here and now.
Two years ago, while standing in line at the SDLC to take a picture with Dr. Bernard Harris—the first African American astronaut—I met a young man named Justin Carr. Justin understood global eternal life better than anyone I had ever met before. Since a young age, his dream had been to achieve world peace and he had done far more than the average 16-year old to reach this goal by ensuring that everyone felt included and cared for. This past year I learned that Justin’s dreams had been curbed when he passed away from idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. But Justin’s eternal life did not begin posthumously. Through small actions, like the way he constantly looked out for his friends, treated everyone with respect, and boldly refused to fall victim to a society that tries to put everyone into boxes, Justin lived an eternal life that continues to inspire all of us to do the same. It is not always the monumental, heroic acts that define one’s eternal life. Sometimes it is the smaller acts of goodness and authenticity that are the key to a true, genuine, eternal life.”
Justin, on your would be graduation day, we will RISE UP proudly and accept your diploma for you honey. You are an angel in the heavens across the faiths from Catholic to Jewish to Episcopal. This is what world peace is about. When others can state their love, show their love and welcome you into their place of worship without hesitation
These experiences were true and really happened. Justin is in the hearts and minds everywhere, not just within me. JUSTIN’S NAME HAS RISEN WITHIN THE WALLS OF VARIOUS RELIGIOUS FAITHS’.
As Molly sang in her song she wrote for Justin “Butterfly,” “You were the best, and you did not know it” I hope you know it now baby…
Love you… Miss you always. You were one PHENOMONAL YOUNG MAN! YOUR LEGACY WILL CONTINUE TO RISE!
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 help it tonight… It’s in the air it is everywhere PROM, Graduation, futures. Internal thoughts are coming through me.
There was a reason that I was supposed to get up and move today. We were invited to attend an Inner City High School Film Festival by a friend. She told me that Justin’s Story and life had inspired her family to give back their filmmaking industry talents to the underserved. They have mentally, physically and emotionally adopted these kids from the other side of their usual city limits. They have also realized that their small gestures to work with these kids weekly and guide, nurture and just listen to them can be the difference needed that could change their lives in a BIG way.
As we pulled up to the historical campus in South Central LA, I realized that when I was just starting my Engineering career, over 20 years ago, I would come to this same campus and speak with the students annually at their Career Day. The school was hardly recognizable. Before, you could see the beautiful landscape surrounding this massive historical campus. However, it is apparent with the high metal fences that surround every inch of the property ( to protect the innocent and keep out the undesirables out) that the times have changed. The fabric of the student body was no longer as varied, the colors were the just the blended hues of browns and black that seemed evenly split depicting the Hispanic and African American population of kids. The campus walls buzzed hot with the sounds of the children moving, eating, yelling, whispering, feeling, growing, becoming.
As soon as we got inside the reception area, we were introduced to some of the students who were being honored in the festival for their works of art. A tall, beautiful ebony girl sat down at our table and extended her hand and introduced herself by saying, “ Hi my name is Ashley”. My friend came over and said “ Ashley is going to go to college up in the Bay Area. When she told me which campus, I told her that my older sister lives a mile from there and I subsequently, gave her my sisters number. I then asked Ashley what was her major was going to be and she said “ Nursing”. I immediately exclaimed that nursing was my sister’s profession for 24 years! When my friend asked her “ Are you going to the PROM?” Ashley put her head down, tried to hold back her tears and mumbled something. When asked again, she said, “ No, my mom used the money to fix her car”. I looked over at the hidden pain that this promising young woman was trying to hide and the question came out of me without thinking otherwise “ How much does it cost? She said, “$95.00.” I quickly reached for my purse, pulled out my checkbook and wrote a check out to the school so she could get her ticket. She was shocked and really tried to hold back her feelings. She did not know what to say, but the first words were THANK YOU! I told her that I’m sure she could wear something that she already has in her closet and she smiled and agreed. I also asked her if she had siblings, she said yes, there are nine of us and I am the oldest, I am 17 years old. Darrell told her that when she is able she will be able to help someone one day and “Pay it Forward” He also told her that she needs to take advantage of all of the offerings that this world has to offer, and not to take “No you can’t “for any answer.
The films were incredible and depicted life as they know it from tales of gangs, social injustice, Sexually Transmitted Disease, friendship, bullying, romance, gender association, diversity and education. They depicted their life, as they know it in these shorts on the big screen. Amazing. Kudos to my friends who have put their thoughts into production and not just talking about it. The enduring love for you and your work with these kids was evident.
I could not help but think about witnessing Justin bustling around his high school campus in days before he is set to graduate. He would be so happy to pick his date, plan for the events of PROM night and just have a good time celebrating his accomplishments with his fellow seniors. There is nothing wrong with that.
Honestly, I get sad thinking about how Justin will not experience going to his Sr. PROM. At the same time, I have to admit that we did witness him having so much fun in the 9th grade when he went to the school Semi Formal with his good friend Kelly. They had been friends since Kindergarten. After Justin passed, she told us “ I guess Justin and I did get to go to our PROM”. I must now accept that in my heart and mind he actually did. That night he was so happy, and proud. He enjoyed all the attention he got from his peers who admired his date. He introduced her to all of his friends. He said some people were surprised that he even had a date! Ha!! They had fun at the Wax Museum, meeting friends and enjoying the overall event. They also always had a mutual respect for each other and their friendship was always special. That in itself is worth the price of gold.
So, today I told Ashley, what I would have told Justin if he was still here, and going to his Senior prom tomorrow night, and that is to be safe, look out for each other, have fun, and don’t find any trouble and send me a picture. I then gave her one of the pocket cards with Justin’ s art and website. She looked in awe and asked me “Who is this?” At that juncture I solemnly said, (now fighting back my tears) “That is our son Justin, who passed away last year. ”She looked up in amazement and said: “He drew this artwork? Is this him flipping a perfect cartwheel? I said yes! She said “OMG”. I told her to visit the website that was set up on his behalf and asked her to spend some time seeing who Justin was. Then I said to her, “and one more thing honey, as you move forward in your life:
“Please Remember Our young Man Justin” and have an amazing time at your PROM honey. She smiled and said “ I sure will, thank you.”
***To all of Justin’s friends, this message is for you too as you venture out to your PROM tomorrow night. Be safe, look out for each other, have fun, and don’t find any trouble and send me pictures and SMILE for Justin!!
Justin loved the vibrant color turquoise. It meant so much to him since he often used this color in his drawings, paintings, and sculptures and it was often his choice of color in his tee shirts. Today, after looking up the various meanings of this color, I can see why it meant so much to him, as it now does for me. “Seeing turquoise recharges our spirits during times of mental stress and tiredness, alleviating feelings of loneliness. You only have to focus on the color turquoise, and you feel instant calm and gentle invigoration, ready to face the world again! It also means: refreshing, calming, sophisticated, energy, wisdom, serenity, wholeness, creativity, emotional balance, good luck, spiritual grounding, friendship, love, joy, tranquility, patience, intuition, and loyalty.”
Butterfly is the symbol of change, the soul, creativity, freedom, joy and colour. Their power is transformation, shape shifting and soul evolution.
Mothers Day, The Day of the Turquoise Butterfly
I had to remind myself that every day is Mother’s Day! I will always be known as “Justin Carr’s Mom” and I will love and cherish forever the memory of all the precious moments we shared together and as a family. Daily, I will mention and remember the sweet sound of music that resonates with his name.
Today, more than most days, my heart is heavy, trying to block out all the commercial advertisement that comes along with this day to honor all Mothers. But I also know that once a mother, you are always a mother. I must somehow face and embrace the flurry when all future holidays and celebrations come and go. Thankfully, I don’t stand-alone. I have Darrell lifting me up and a feast of friends and family who willingly have erected themselves around us to protect, reinforce and envelope us with love. These are indeed blessings.
I was taught early on from the best of the best, my beloved mother, Melvia Toler. She taught me to “be a little lady, to be skillful, creative and helpful and literally how to make lemonade out of lemons. When she left this earth, my siblings started calling me “ Mama Sue.” When I attended college, my friends also enduringly calling me “Mama Sue” I guess because I watched out for them, made sure they had food, made sure they came home safely from dates, and gave them advice (as I had to learn) on how to survive away from home. I guess, I can’t help having the spirit of caring and giving; it’s the maternal instinct in me. So, I now must claim it. Thank you Mom.
I also realize that you don’t have to birth a child to be a mother, nor does your child have to still be on this earth to claim the title. Any woman that gives her love, support and nurturing ways to any child, is a mother from the heart. Justin had a lot of mothers outside of our home that took him under their wings and watched over him wherever he went. I am grateful for all of you.
I tell you, it has been hard for me to find the words from within over the past few weeks and I have been unable to communicate my feelings. Should I call it writers block or just keep it real and just say that it is infinite heartbreak? I am writing now because I felt compelled.
Just a few minutes ago, I opened a gift that was given to me by my “new” friend Diane who just came into my life. She unfortunately has suffered a major loss in her life. Her beautiful daughter Katherine also prematurely and suddenly left this earth. Without warning I have leaned on Diane (and other sisters who have lost a child) for her wisdom and strength on how to get up and move each day and to walk in faith, live in love and never ever forget our precious angels who must now live through us.
The outside of the card Diane gave to me said in turquoise letters:
“ Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”. Justin’s favorite stroke in swimming was the butterfly, the hardest no doubt.
The quotable magnet that also came with the gift said: “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder”… (Thoreau)
Inside the box was a beautiful turquoise baccarat crystal butterfly. The sight of this precious masterpiece of art set me back a notch. The tears rolled down my cheeks and I had to retreat and take a breath. It amazes me how someone else can step away from their inner pain and selflessly reach out and make someone else smile. I have no words. What a way to make my day. Thank you Diane for such a thoughtful gift of love for me. A few weeks ago Diane and I realized that the turquoise butterfly now has deeper meaning for both of us.
Note that all the following events are true, and came to me in the exact chronological order. I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!
1. Shout out Request from Mary
Mary Martin, my best friend since 1st grade, and fellow Girl Scout called me a few weeks ago. When we were 9 years old, Mary and Sharon McInerny and I went to a neighborhood in San Francisco called St. Francis Woods, to sell cookies. I went to this house, knocked on the door and an old Caucasian woman opened the door. I politely asked, “Do you want to buy and cookies?” She meanly said, “No!” and slammed the door in my face. Minutes later, I saw Mary about to knock on the same door and I said, “Mary, don’t go there, she does not want to buy any cookies.” To my chagrin, the woman opened up the door and with the brightest smile said to Mary: “Sure honey,” When Mary came hopping joyfully down the stairs, I told her what the woman did to me, and we quickly went home to Mary’s house where we cried together along with her mom due to the aftermath of this blatant racism which for me was my first encounter.
Mary called me on April 16, 2014. She told me that the night before, she was out in her yard watering and she looked up to the heavens and shouted “Justin please give your Mother a sign”
2. Justin and the Universe
Later that day, I received an email from Denise, a mother whom I met when Justin was in 6th grade. I have not seen her in 6 years. Her son and Justin briefly attended the same middle school together. She wrote me the following email in response to an invitation to attend the upcoming concert in honor of Justin:
Thanks for your note. I don’t know if I will be able to attend the concert, but here’s the strange thing: I was just about to write a note to you after a very long time. Based on what I was going to write, and now hearing from you, I’m reminded that there are some beautiful mysteries in our world, that’s for sure.
Yesterday evening I was walking my dog through the neighborhood. He is a pit bull, probably the friendliest pit bull that ever lived, but I’m used to people stepping away from him as he tugs at his leash. Usually, his whole body is wagging, hoping to get a pet from anyone we pass. But I always hold him back, out of courtesy.
I must have been lost in thought as we walked, because I didn’t see the boy sitting on the curb texting. Before I knew it, my dog was a few inches from him, about to lick him on the side of his face. The boy looked up silently and smiled at me (not at my dog). My heart skipped a beat and in my head I said “Justin?” It was his face, his smile, and his expression. I almost cried in those few seconds until he looked down again at his phone.
I hadn’t seen Justin since he was about 12 and this boy was about the same age. Back then, Zayn and Justin were both big boys, they hadn’t yet grown tall and thinned out. So this boy’s body was smaller, and seemed even smaller since he was sitting and curled over his phone. But the face, the expression, and the way he looked right at me … it was just amazing.
Instead of going around another block, when I got to the end of the street I turned around to go back the same way, to pass him again – but he was gone. On the one hand, it feels like a blip, a coincidence that I saw Justin in this boy. But however, it reminded me of the connections we all have to each other, to all life and to lives we have known, connections across this universe that we don’t fully understand.
I know it’s not the miracle your heart aches for. I don’t know why I saw that boy and saw Justin in him. Why me? Why Justin? Why yesterday and then you write to me today?
It is unknowable, but it IS something wonderful.”
3. The Turquoise Butterfly
Around noon that same day, I happened to call Diane. I left her a message because I had to go to a hair appointment because I was going to the school in celebration of the seniors on the Swim Team. She texted me when I was in the salon and this is the message she sent:
“Saw this on my daughter’s closet this morning. Never saw it before today even though I walk by this spot almost daily. Notice the turquoise! ! I felt like she was acknowledging that you and I needed something a little special today. We are loved. Xoxo Diane “
Next to the email was a picture of a turquoise butterfly that her young daughter had once drawn on the wall in her closet at some time gone by. I was speechless, I texted her that my friend Mary had just called me that morning telling me that she asked Justin to send me some signs.
4. Hair Salon
After looking at the text from Diane over and over again, I sat there stunned, in a place I had never been inside before. The hairdresser asked me was I going somewhere special and why did I seem so uneasy? I told him briefly that Justin was being honored along with his teammates on the swim team. He said great. But his expression quickly changed when I told him the backstory on the demise of Justin. After he finished my hair, he embraced me and walked me to the front cashier turned and walked away. When I tried to pay for the service, the attendant said. “ Oh, Michael did your hair for free.” I started crying and said, “OMG, Where is he”, she said, “ He is gone, he left for lunch” just that quickly. “ This has never happened to me. I went looking for him and he had left the building. A random act of kindness
5. Flowers from the best Florist in town delivered to my Door
At the end of the day upon returning home with my heart so full there was a knock on the door. It was a delivery from Jacob Maarse, Justin’s favorite florist and the best in town. To my surprise, the beautiful orchid was from Lisa, a class mother whom I have shared a few conversations with over years. I immediately wrote to her:
I cried on my way home after I saw you a few days ago. Do you know why?
I was grateful that you greeted me with a warm embrace and a smile (When I know how hard it is for people to find the words) I can write a book about all the people in our life who have run the opposite way when they see us or even neighbors who live mere blocks away who have chosen to stay away because the loss of my precious baby Justin is too much for them to bear… But, I can also say that we have so many people like you, who have chosen to walk with us and embrace us during this life long journey.
I was so glad that your friend who was with you whispered Justin’s name and told me that she thinks of me often even though she did not know me. I need to talk about Justin every day.
It’s that universal love of a lost that is so impactful and the infinite love a mother will always have for her child.
Today, the doorbell just rang and I was greeted with a beautiful orchid plant from our and “Justin’s favorite Florist” Jacob Maarse. He brought his date Kelly’s corsage for the semi formal a few years ago, he was planning on buying his date Channel who graduated from HW last year her corsage from there. Instead she decided to go solo, so I had to get her corsage and had them add a picture of Justin on it. Oh the memories…
Thank you my dear friend. We will keep this orchid alive. Justin would water the plants and told us how to keep them going. I will certainly try.
All my best to your son Ross as he makes his college choices. You should be proud! I am smiling. You made my day. Love, Susan”
Lisa told me she knows how days could be without your departed loved ones and she wanted to just brighten my day. She said I was thoughtful that I cared enough to ask about her son.
The turquoise butterfly landed this Mothers Day and Every Day!
These pieces of joy help me get through the day. It’s the thought that people, even strangers, feel and empathize with my state of mind and try in their own way to make my seemingly sad day brighter.
It is true, every time I see a butterfly or the color turquoise, I think of my baby Justin, my pride and joy. Seeing these brings me some relief in the moments of the day.
So for me, every day is Mothers Day. I have no regrets on how I mothered Justin. I gave all that I had to him. Most days were joyous and on the days that were too much, I’m glad that we got through them with the unconditional love and respect that would always supersede anything else.
At this juncture, I can’t ask for much more than that.
I will try to be as happy as I can, as I wake up each morning and try to put my feet on the ground.
Justin, my butterfly keep soaring and guiding me in all the days of my life. I will love you always, and I will love you forever. As long as I’m living, my baby you will be.
Justin, I will love you today, and tomorrow and all the days of my life. Someday, my days will not be as cloudy and the Sun, you my vibrant Son will come out and live through me.
I listened to your beautiful voice today as you sang “Tomorrow”
The Greatest Birthday Gift of All… Since today this April 3, 2014 is my Birthday..
THE KING AND I
AS SPOKEN BY THE “QUEEN”
About three weeks ago I received a message via the www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org website and it took my breath away. You see, it was from a young woman whose name is Taguhi. I had lost track of her and I had tried to track her down over the past few years; especially in 2013 when we lost Justin. I had not seen her since April 3, 2008 when she came to my birthday party.
That year, I wanted to have a party at a roller skating rink. Darrell and Justin thought I was absolutely nuts. Justin said; “How scary was that going to be to see a bunch of “old people” trying to move around on skates w/o falling and breaking bones as they attempt to groove to the “oldies but goodies songs?” OMG Mom, Stop!!! They had other plans Justin and Darrell were mad at me because they wanted to surprise me with a dinner party at the lodge across the street from our house. Once again, I foiled their well thought out plans. Since Justin was a perfectionist of sorts, and he didn’t know how to roller skate, he felt I was being selfish to have even considered having a party where he claimed he would not have any fun! And he also knew I was not the best roller skater anyway.
Because, he learned early from my childhood stories that I told him often about what we did growing up in San Francisco, where we lived on a steep hill. Roller skating was not in the equation of fun in our neighborhood. However, we did make good use of the hills during “wax board” season. After school, all the kids would run home do their homework, grab a bar of soap, a cup of good old Crisco oil or old candles and gather on the streets. We would get planks of wood, or sheets of plywood and let the waxing begin. We waxed every inch of the boards to perfection with wax, soap or oil. Upon completion, we would truck up to the top of the hill by “Kite mountain” and sit solo on the unwaxed side of the board, and sometimes we would let the toddlers ride in tandem as we flew at high speeds down the hill racing like the fast and the furious. We were indeed a lucky bunch of kids, no major injuries, only an occasional burn or scratch…So, instead of roller skating, ice-skating was our thing in the city. We would run down the hill and go to Legg’s rink on Ocean Avenue.
So, I wanted to have an old fashion “Rollbounce” skating party. I just wanted to do something different. I had not had a large party in some years and I wanted to have some fun. As a mother of all mothers, I told my men of the house not to worry. Subsequently, I enrolled Justin and his God brothers Sean and Miles in Saturday lessons at Moonlight in Glendale, CA. After a few classes, they quickly learned the basic techniques of roller skating and then they were well prepared on party day…. To keep Justin involved, I told him he could design my birthday cake. He was thrilled and said proudly, “Thanks, Mom, I’m glad you are having a roller skating party, I will design a special cake for you.” You can see from the attached picture, that Justin was creative and loved the color turquoise long ago. The party was a huge success and everyone young and old had so much fun. There were a few bruises and slips and falls, but everyone had fun!!
I first met Taguhi when I was searching for a “mothers helper” to take care of Justin when he got out of school in the 5th grade. I was working on the design team for a proposed theme park in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and my time was not as flexible. All of the people who had been recommended to me to help had already secured employment, so I had to cautiously put and ad on Craig’s List. Yes, that’s right, Craig’s List. Not sure if I would recommend that today, but it worked for me back then. Darrell and Justin thought I had really lost my mind. As usual, I assured them both that I would do my research and interview accordingly. I felt that I was pretty good at assessing the character of people.
Taguhi responded to my ad, I interviewed her over lunch and then invited her to our home to meet Darrell and Justin. Besides being stunning and focused during our conversation, she seemed to have a caring and quiet confidence and understood clearly what this ” hovering helicopter (kind of but not really) OTTO pilot mother was going to expect from her as she cared for her prize possession during her absence.
Initially, I think Darrell scared her with his questions and stern tone. I could see that Justin was smitten with her beauty and calm presence coupled with the fact that she brought him a supreme fruit tart from “Portos” as a treat. Taguhi seemed very relaxed and comfortable and honest. I sealed the deal and offered her the position when she did not hesitate to give me references, her social security number, license etc. for the official background check. She passed with flying colors and was hired within a few weeks. She told us that it would be easier for us to call her “Queen” because that is what her name meant in Armenian.
After the first day of pick up, Justin came home and said he had a very good day. He was laughing and smiling with pride because he said, “When Queen rolled up dressed to the nines in her chariot red two door BMW, and got out of the car to get him, those fifth grade boys could not contain themselves as they yelled out to him Justin, who is that ? Justin said he smiled ( I’m sure flashing that million dollar smile ) and said ” That’s Queen, my nanny” They replied “Justin you have a “hot nanny!”
As the days and years went by, Queen lived up to and exceeded all of our expectations. She loved Justin and he loved her. Not once was there a complaint about her from Justin. They were partners who traversed across the San Gabriel Valley hills from Sierra Madre to Altadena to Pasadena; riding in style in her royal car (which I must say that she drove a better car than me). And as Justin quickly got taller than her, she had to look up to him as her “King child” and he looked down to her as his Queen. The respect was mutual.
Our family jewel Queen nurtured him, listened to him, laughed with him and most importantly she encouraged him and she continued to instill our family values when she was with him. She became an integral part of our family. Not only did she pick Justin up on time, fix him treats, drop him off at the Rose Bowl for swim practice she also loved him as if he were her own. When Justin entered Harvard- Westlake in the 7th grade, the Atlantic Bus coach took over and served all of our Transportation needs. Subsequently, Queen decided to continue school and she moved hundreds of miles away.
Over the years we lost contact. Last year I desperately tried to find her to shed the unimaginable news to her about our Prince of Peace, her King. The email and phone contact information that I had for her was old and not current, google and social media searches turned up nothing, and so I lost hope of ever seeing her again.
Everything changed when I received the following message from Queen a few weeks back. After we caught up for hours she said I could share her message with the world and I told her when the time hit me I was going to write about it. So today being April 3, and my birthday, I felt that today I would share this gift. We are so grateful for this gift we received from our Queen. Learning the depth of her relationship and the back story of her yesteryear gone by with Justin (that are still indelibly engraved in her mind) will be cherish forever.
Following is Queen’s version of ” The King and I :
Date: March 13, 2014, 1:30:57 PM PDT
Dear Susan & Darrell,
This is Queen, Justin’s sitter from years ago. I am so sorry to hear about the terrible tragedy that struck your hearts and lives a year ago. I just found out this morning about what happened to Justin. Justin was such a brilliant child, so talented, so smart and with a gentle spirit about him, I knew he was destined for greatness. I remember thinking many times to myself ” I can’t wait to see the man Justin becomes, what he does in his life, the places he goes…” This morning when I woke up, as I was having my morning coffee, Justin came to my mind as he often has throughout the years. I have thought of him and your family with great joy in my heart, recalling memories from what seems like ages ago. I decided to Google him and anticipated to find some really cool stuff he may have been up to that was sure to make me smile. I was devastated to find an article come up saying that Justin had died a year ago. I am so so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine how difficult it has been, and still is, for two loving parents such as yourselves to cope with such an unthinkable loss. I had the great pleasure of being in your lives daily for some time and witnessed the great level of dedication you had as parents to an amazing boy. Your pride and your joy. Your lives were so clearly and selflessly dedicated to this child, an angel, who was equally dedicated to his loving parents. I pray that your heavy hearts are lightened as you continually hear how Justin touched the lives of so many people during his short time on earth! I am one of the many who Justin has made a huge impact on. He was wise beyond his years, with an intuition and empathy for others that was striking to me for someone of his young age. I remember his joyous face, his bright eyes that sparkled on any given day, and his contagious laugh. Sometimes I’d hear Justin break out into a song out of nowhere, expressing out loud what he was feeling in his heart, and it would make my heart smile too. Justin had so much insight into people, like he was connecting with each person he came into contact with on a deeper level than most people do. I remember picking him up after school, and us driving down the scenic road together while he told me about his day; what he did, who he came into contact with and what his thoughts were about things. He was so perceptive about things. I often felt I was in the presence of an old soul who had been around longer than his years gave away! Some days we would drive by Justin’s favorite house in the neighborhood, close to your family home. Together we would marvel at the architecture and landscaping. He had such an eye for beauty of all sorts, and he certainly knew how to appreciate the finer things in life. Fine food, fine art, fine interior design. I recall how involved he was in the plans to redesign your kitchen. I watched him express himself in so many creative and artistic ways. I also saw the strength he had within him to be true to who he was while others may have been different. I remember the determination he had to be as good as he can be. I remember his heart and how unselfish he was. He was often preoccupied with making sure his loved ones were happy, and if that was the case then he certainly was happy. He had such an amazing sense of humor and could find joy in any seemingly dull moment. I don’t recall my antics during my time with Justin, but I remember him laughing loudly at times and say teasingly “Queen, you’re crazy!” I remember how at such a young age Justin was already able to value and appreciate all that you as his parents had done and were doing for him. He was so polite and demonstrated such high moral standards. Every day I had with Justin was a gift for me. I was proud to have known him in my life and honored at having been in his presence. While no one expected that his life would be cut so short, and we all had such great expectations of his bright future….I can see that he already accomplished so much while he was here and touched and changed so many lives. While he is no longer here in his physical form, I believe he is with us in spirit and continually lives within our hearts. I believe he had a special place reserved just for him up there with the angels and he’s having such a good time. I also believe that all he still really wants is for his Mom and Dad to be happy. Susan and Darrell, I pray for you to heal and be happy again. While nothing can compare to the joy you felt in your hearts when you held Justin in your arms every day, what a joyous reunion it will be when he takes you into his arms when your journey is complete and you reach heaven. I asked myself many times how Justin happened to be so great in so many ways. I know that while a lot of it was unique to him and his soul and personality…I also saw how he flourished so beautifully because he had you as his parents. You are also an inspiration to me as parents. I am now a mother and while I haven’t been a mother for too long I have already found myself in situations asking myself “what should I do? what is the right thing to do?” I have thought “I wonder what Susan and Darrell did?” While I don’t know details I do know you were gentle, always loving, always encouraging and you took your time. Because nothing was more important than your darling child. My note of condolences to you is belated and somewhat long. Throughout the past year Justin was still alive for me in my life, and with his memory in my heart he will always be alive. I wanted to share some of my best memories of Justin with you too.
With all my love,
I am so, so sorry that our Queen had to find out a whole year later about Justin. I can only visualize the pain, anguish and shock she felt learning of the news of her fallen King via the internet. There are no words except I am so glad that Queen was feeling Justin that day. Now we are re-united, she can now drive and walk with us through the valleys and over the hills in this life as we now know it without or precious son. As a new wife and mother, she/we laughed last week when we spoke and she admitted that she really could not afford that fancy car she was driving back then, but she learned from that crazy stage of young adulthood.
And so it is now going into year 2 without my baby and yet another birthday without hearing him sing to me on my special day, this April 3. I will cherish this gift from Queen. I will also make a wish and hope that my wish will come true.
May together we continue to love this life as Justin did by living it as bravely, faithfully and cheerfully as we can. The gift of hope for better days is all I’m asking and I can’t wait to dance, hug and maybe a bit of roller skating with my baby again. In the mean time, Darrell, my Prince Charming, will continue to hold my hand and roll, bounce or glide as we walk this road together in honor and memory of our Justin, our Prince of Peace.
All Hail to the Queen, she has spoken!
With love and praise ,
The Queen Mother, Susan aka OTTO, always Justin’s Mom
Queen sitting in Justin’s designed Breakfast nook
Justin the King with his cousin Mia
Roller skating Cake designed by Justin, made by Violet’s Cake
Roller Skating Party Pictures
My birthday Wish
Note from the after the party to the guest:
Subject: Message about SUSAN TOLER CARR’S ROLL BOUNCE BIRTHDAY PARTY 4/7/2008
HELLO FOLKS, JUST CHECKING IN ON THIS MONDAY MORNING TO MAKE SURE THAT YOUR
BONES AND MUSCLES ARE BACK TO NORMAL AND NOT ACHING TOO MUCH!! I HAD A BLAST
AND I HOPE YOU DID TOO. WE HAD OVER 190 PEOPLE THERE ENJOYING SOME GOOD OLD
FASHION FUN! 140 OF YOU WERE GROOVING ON WHEELS!!! THANKS SO MUCH FOR SHARING,
CARING AND BEING NEAR AND DEAR TO MY HEART. YOU ALL HAVE TOUCHED MY LIFE IN
DIFFERENT WAYS,. THANKS FOR ALL OF YOUR HUGS, CARDS AND GIFTS TOO. LOVE,
SUSAN. PICTURES ETC TO FOLLOW
NOTICE: This message (including any attachments) is protected by law.
My “brother” ( from another mother) (who is my older brothers best friend and his wife) asked if I could help them out for a few days with their kids, while the wife had to deal with out -of -state family matters. I agreed. Like most caring adults, when I got to their home, I quickly learned my way around the neighborhood, put my cell phone contact info the kids phones, gave them spare change, introduced myself to their coaches and teachers, started my day very early to help them out of bed, to school, to camp, to practice, to the bus, prepared their meals and gave them advise on homework and test prep. At the end of the day, I was eager to ask each of them the ultimate question (that I asked Justin daily) which was “How was your day?” Then, I got the usual answer, that Justin often gave me, most of the time, and that was “Good.”
Yesterday, out of blue, Chauncey, the 10 year old boy, asked me, “ Aunt Susan, Do you think about Justin?” I looked at him with a smile and said, “EVERYDAY, and usually all day. I will never FORGET Justin.” Then he asked: “ Can I ask you ANY question about Justin?” I said, “ABSOLUTELY, and as often as you want.” With the biggest Kool Aid smile he said “OK, I will, thank you very much!”
Today, Chauncey asked: “What did you usually fix Justin to eat? I told him that Justin loved all types of foods and I fixed him everything I could possibly think of and I encouraged him to try a variety of foods. So, Chauncey ( who only likes limited foods) you should try different things you may like them, just like Justin did.” He frowned at me and said: MAYBE!
Then I said, “Chauncey, Do you remember that you did not like to go to swimming lessons when you were 6 years old? In the beginning, you cried during every lesson. Then he said proudly, “Well, that was THEN, and NOW, I love to swim and my favorite stroke is
“the B U T T E R F L Y ; just like Justin’s!” Then he proceeded to show-and -tell-me how the dolphin kick supports the butterfly stroke. Watching his animated jesters made me smile.
Offering support to my extended family, if only for a few days, made me instantly fall back into the routine l longed for daily during this past year. Not only did I quickly realize how much I missed being a mom-Justin’s Mom, but I was also forced to get a glimpse back into juggling family matters and multi-tasking. This family living lifestyle albeit brief helped me appreciate the gift that I was given to be Justin’s Mom. I did my best and my best was good enough. Justin may be out of sight, but forgetting him will never be part of my life equation.
Subsequently, I was prompted to look up info on the forget-me-not flower AFTER I titled this short blog today. Really, see what it means, I can’t make this up:
According to Wikipedia, there is a story behind the name of this flower (Forget Me Not) . Following is a quotation from Wikipedia:
Charming, diminutive forget-me-nots are delicate plants with beautiful little blue flowers. While they do come in pinks and whites, it’s the blues that people find most delightful. Forget-me-nots are excellent in pots, as edgings, and planted close as a groundcover. These short-lived plants, mostly treated as biennials, reseed generously.
In a German legend, God named all the plants when a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied, “That shall be your name.” Another legend tells when the Creator thought he had finished giving the flowers their colors, he heard one whisper “Forget me not!” There was nothing left but a very small amount of blue, but the forget-me-not was delighted to wear such a light blue shade.
Henry IV adopted the flower as his symbol during his exile in 1398, and retained the symbol upon his return to England the following year.
In 15th-century Germany, it was supposed that the wearers of the flower would not be forgotten by their lovers. Legend has it that in medieval times, a knight and his lady were walking along the side of a river. He picked a posy of flowers, but because of the weight of his armour he fell into the river. As he was drowning he threw the posy to his loved one and shouted “forget me not”. It was often worn by ladies as a sign of faithfulness and enduring love.”
Like the Forget-me not flower, Justin was charming, and beautiful and he loved blue. And, boy was he short lived but he gave generously while he graced this earth. During my next trip to get flowers for Justin’s garden, I will certainly purchase some “forget me nots” in honor of my true blue -baby- boy Justin. Like my friend Bill said “ Justin was “An extended hand, a warm embrace, a presence so rare. I wish I could have bottled it to save for many lifetimes.” You got that right Bill, oh so I wish so too.
Justin was a forget-me-not for sure!!!!
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Today, I heard some of Justin’s friends sing beautiful songs for a Benefit. All the songs brought tears to my eyes because I could only imagine Justin singing with them those sweet sounds of music. They sang two Beatle Songs” “Let it Be” and “Yesterday” OMG I so wish for the yesteryears when all my troubles seem so far away….
I wrote this in the Fall of 2013
LET IT BE!
Last week, a college friend who I believe meant well and who has been in “text contact” with me for the past six months saw me face to face. Prior to the encounter, he asked the host: When will Susan BE better? She told me she told him; never…
So, when I saw him, I truly believe he was really trying earnestly to lighten the air with small talk, and to make the conversation with the group feel like we were not all recovering from a disaster. However, after dinner when I said I had to leave, I watched him posture himself up enough nerve and say affectionately “ Hey Toler, when are you and Darrell going to take some vacation time?” From the side of my eyes I noticed my other two friends look at me in horror because they saw me go into my “Mama Bear” protection stance and turn my head/neck in a way akin to like the girl in the “Exorcist” movie. I said sternly, “I have been on an unplanned vacation for the past six months and I could have taken 2 trips around the world, but no trip is going to keep me from how I feel about the loss of Justin.”
I’m sure that the masses are hopeful that once we get through the “firsts” of the year following this horrific loss, then things will get back to normal. Well, all I said to close the deal of the conversation was “Let me Be!” If this happened to your son, (he has only one child) would you be ready to go on a vacation? I really did not mean to be so blunt, but my guard was down and I had to be honest. You can’t put a timeline on recovering from grief and everyone is different. For me, I still need lots of time to just BE.
When I got into the car, guess what was playing on the radio? The Beatles song “ Let it Be”. I have not heard that song in years.
“Let It Be”
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Yeah there will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Ah let it be, yeah let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Yeah let it be, let it be
Let it be, yeah let it be
Oh there will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, yeah let it be
Oh there will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Ah let it be, yeah let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
For some reason, I could not stop thinking about that conversation with my friend so, today I watched the CBS segment on “ Justin’s Story again and I saw where I painfully said something like “All we wanted for Justin Carr World-Peace was to “LET HIM BE!”
Who knows what Justin could have been had he was given the natural extension on his life. People often asked; what did he like the most? Well, Justin had a lot of passions and he really never said, “All he wanted to be is ___________________. He loved to learn, draw, to help, to teach, to laugh, sing, dance, act, history, architecture, math, theatre, design, good food and happiness etc…
His friend Mintis
shared many classes with Justin over the years and most recently she had three classes with him including Art. This past May she put it poignantly to us when she wrote “ I have been hearing about Justin’s plans and triumphs for the past five years, and although he was always planning to be the man he wanted TO BE, he did not know he already was him”. I can smile knowing that Darrell and I always encouraged him TO DO and TO BE whoever he wanted TO BE.
The H-W students did a wonderful job this past Saturday when they presented art to about 30 kids and tutored 10 in Algebra at the school that Justin adopted to help. The kids felt empowered to express themselves and were proud of their work. After the music played and the chatter stopped, they each got the opportunity to present their work to the group. We were speechless after a 7th grade girl came up and showed her watercolor image. She said proudly “ This is an eye, as you can see, it is shedding tears and crying because she is unique. But, it is ok TO BE unique and she smiled and walked away.
A dear friend Shari Mitchell sent me an email after she read the article about the HW
“Susan, what a wonderful continuation of Justin’s dream!!!
I had a conversation with my physical therapist tonight. He is a 40 plus something single man who I adore. He helps to heal people physically every day. Anyway, I noticed that he looks incredible and he proceeded to tell me why. As a little boy with terrible parents he was not permitted to live his desire to play a musical instrument and/ or to dance. His dad was a football player and would have nothing of it. 10 months ago he started taking piano lessons and ballet classes. (He had never done either!)
Not only is he talented but he feels as if it is healing his terrible childhood.
I told him about you and Darrell and how you not only allowed your son to follow his passions but your nourished them. I just wanted to relay this to you because as extremely unfairly short Justin’s life was it is outstanding that he lived able to follow his dreams.
My friend actually said, teary eyed, if given the choice to live a shorter life able to follow his passions or live his life without he would choose the
first. He also said Pursue your passions. They have never left you.
So to the young and old TO BE OR NOT TO BE? THAT IS THE QUESTION
I’m glad that Mother Mary has come to me speaking words of wisdom Let it be.
Parents Struggle With Sudden Death Of Teen Son Who Collapsed In Harvard-Westlake Pool
An Altadena couple remembered the life and sudden death of their teen son who collapsed in a Harvard-Westlake pool earlier this year. CBS2’s Suraya Fadel reports.
In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr