Radio Disney contacted me a few months ago to talk about my time as a Walt Disney Imagineer and life as I know it with the Justin Carr World-Peace Foundation (JCWWP)- formed after Justin died from an undiagnosed heart condition at age 16. Justin was a young Renaissance man who loved all things Disney— visited the parks in California and Florida and had many of his birthdays there with friends. Once he even designed his bday cupcakes with his friend’s likeness for his celebration, and he played Rafiki in 4th grade in his school’s “Lion King “Production. Justin had hopes and dreams of becoming an Imagineer one day with all of his creative abilities. I’m glad he got to enjoy some aspects of the parks. He was so proud that I once worked there.
Below is the link to my conversation with compassionate Radio Disney Host Betsy Spina. The show was to air on April 11, 2021. I later found out that Radio Disney has shut down after being in business for 25 years. What a loss on so many levels. I am so grateful that I was able to get a copy of my interview and share it. After I listened to it, my husband Darrell (photographer extraordinaire) and I decided that adding photos to the audio would be a perfect way to tell the story. Thankful that Darrell had thousands of images that fit right in with the audio conversation. Thank you, Betsy & team, for making this happen.
It’s a story I had inside since last Christmas 2019.
The day my life changed on 2/22/2013 was a Hard Stop for all things that I once knew.
Including duties and responsibilities as: Justin’s Mother and as a Career Professional Engineer
And as time continues to move around me, sometimes I can’t escape feeling the emotions of seasons and timeless rituals and their impacts that hit me like a hurricane.
Those distant memories of Joy celebrating milestones stopped too:
Birthdays Anniversary Holidays Christmas—the Biggest one of the Year meant NO TREE… NOT for me.
I would fall out at every glimpse of one these past 7 years
So, I have not decorated the house since 2012 —no tree, no lights, no gifts because there was No Justin!
Justin loved, loved, loved all things Christmas. He knew we would celebrate with Darrell’s Family. Then travel to San Francisco to be with my Family.
There was the Gumbo Feast at Uncle Butch’s and Aunt Sue’s house. Opening presents and putting on shows with the cousins And the White Elephant game with families collectively strategizing for capturing the grandest of them all prize.
Justin also loved celebrating Kwanzaa. ( an annual celebration of African-American culture that is held from December 26 to January 1)
My 2013 Birthday was about 45 days after Justin died. All I wanted to do was crawl under a rock and cry, and it showed when Darrell tried to cheer me up and take me out to lunch.
Tina, our waitress, introduced herself and asked if we were celebrating anything special. With tears in my eyes, I sadly said: “It’s my birthday.” Tina asked: “Why do you look so sad?” I said our son died… Tina kept her composure and held back her tears, and asked what his name was? I said, Justin. She said I am so, so sorry. I can’t even imagine. My only son’s name is Justin… I will take care of you today, ok.” I can tell she was jilted (as I was saying those words) when she walked away. It’s shocking you know to say: My child died!
We finished lunch. Tina and I gave each other a big hug like we did not want to let go.
Fast forward four years later, 2017
As I left the Bank, a woman approached me and said: “You are Justin’s Mom. Do you remember me? I am Tina. I was your waitress on your bday four years ago, and I have a son named Justin too. I recognize you because you are wearing a Justin Carr Wants World Peace t-shirt, and you carry a story I will never forget. “Our eyes of sentiment and compassion locked, and we hugged and departed as she hurried to get in the long line.
Fast forward two years later, 2019
I get an email.
“My Dear Susan,
I’ve met many people working at Mi Piace, and many of them have stories to tell. But for some reason, yours always stuck with me, and I always wondered how you dealt with the cards you were given. I guess it’s been about six years now since I first met you and just a couple since I ran into you in Bank of America. It doesn’t seem that long ago.
I thought of you frequently before, and I think of you daily now as I try to adjust to the new life that I hate, without my Justin. My Justin died in a car accident on July 12th. It’s been over a month, but it seems to get harder every day. All I can do is pray and hope that in time…………………………….but I don’t think that time will really change anything. Does it? My Justin was my only, as was yours, I believe.
Thinking of you, and now I can say, feeling your pain.
Love and blessings to you,
I trembled as I read the email; I told Darrell we have to go to the restaurant. Now! We had not been there since 2013.
We walked in. We asked to be seated in Tina’s area. When she approached our table, no words were necessary. We jumped up and hugged her. All I said as I looked deeply into her eyes was: “What time do you get off of work? Come to our house.” We ate, went home, and within a few hours, Tina was at our door.
At first, there were many minutes of silence. I told Tina that no words could replace her unimaginable loss of losing her son. I shared with her what my friend Valerie told me. Losing a child changes you. We are different. Our arms are empty. Our arms are full. Our eyes are sad. Our eyes are curious. Death impacts the body and mind. Like the naked branch of a tree, you grow differently in the air. It’s ok. There is no timeline or method for dealing with loss or grief.
She told me her Justin loved the color blue, the Dodgers, and his family and friends. His trademark was a puzzle he has tattooed on his arm. We laughed. We cried, and we are forever connected.
2019 and Beyond
Tina and I talk and walked (before COVID) and share moments of gratitude and memories of each of our boys.
Tina is creative in her thoughts and her gifts are abundant. She gave me this puzzle and other gifts that showcase our Justin’s!!
Justin’s favorite swim stroke was the butterfly so butterflies now have special meaning to us. I was in shock last Christmas when she gave us this tree that she made full of butterflies carefully placed. It made me smile. So this year I finally decided to turn on the lights and showcase the beauty surrounding our life. It is time to put up a tree– at least this one.
It is time to turn on the lights that are all part of the tree of life.
Our Justin’s will be proud that their Mom’s are connected and will carry both of them in our hearts. Forever.
Thank you, Tina, for shining your light of love on me. You have helped me. This little light of mine, I am going to let it shine.
The 2019 Tree came with a custom ornament from Tina too.
A broken tree bears exceptional fruit. We are all of the same branch reaching towards the sun.
REACHING FOR OUR SONS… THE SEEDS WE PLANTED TO GROW…
OUR TWO SONS ARE STILL TOWERING OVER THEIR MOMS…
WATCHING US FROM ON HIGH
JUSTIN’S FRIEND CLAIRE PUT HER THOUGHTS TO PAPER IN THIS SONG SHE WROTE IN HONOR AND MEMORY OF HER FRIEND JUSTIN IN 2014
Holiday Blessings Really sending 24/7 Blessings to all of us living who get the gift of life.
I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP…
These are my thoughts this Christmas Morning, 2020.
Like you, the Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation (JCWWP) started 2020 off, hoping for a year filled with joy, happiness, and Peace. We had plans to reach more people with our Art (free programs for students), Heart (free heart screenings), and Peace. Ah, Peace, this is what Justin, our Renaissance, young man, wanted beginning at the age of 4. He envisioned a world where all people are committed to creating, building, and designing a global environment of Peace.
We did accomplish some good things, but then the world changed in a flash-just like that. First, it was COVID-19, which then soon collided with the civil unrest that crossed the globe. We have shared some profound moments of pain, witnessing the dehumanization and corruption in our communities and country. It can be hard to know what to do and difficult to pinpoint precisely where the oppression has always lived.
Tragically, this world is still an overwhelmingly unsafe place for many with social identities— who don’t “fit in.” Yet, they still show up to school, work, watch tv, and walk outside while still stuck in unprocessed grief, enduring more stress, anxiety, and covering important parts of themselves. Some face a threat and reality of death every day combined with the loss of basic opportunities and dignity.
JCWWP went into action. We adapted to the change, listened, and mentored remotely, provided resources, supported mobile educational platforms that reach kids living in transitional housing. We produced the Good Grief webinar series, partnered with the Ceeds of Peace non-profit organization, and provided tangible ways and toolkits for individuals to grow Peace while navigating the toughest and most challenging parts of their lives.
“Thank you so much for the webinar you gave and thank you for sharing Justin’s story. Everything you spoke about was insightful and made me think more in-depth about the privileges I have had in my life because of my skin. I was also really interested in the breakdown of important actions that we, as individuals, teachers, children, corporations, and the media, must take to unlearn our racist behaviors and have empathy for everyone.”
“We are definitely in a time of examining and re-examining our biases. Even in the midst of this troubling time, I do believe the next generations are and will continue to move us forward.”
What did we learn? We learned that Grief is us. Good Grief is everyone who wants more, a better way to live when the worst thing has happened. JCWWP is offering an invitation for each of us to keep our hearts and eyes open as we continue learning, inspiring, and empowering ourselves to share our stories to challenge and be upstanders instead of bystanders. May we all make choices daily to lead inclusively with confidence during both uncertain and prosperous times. And, through Justin’s vision of world Peace, we can all reconnect to a sense of hope and regain purpose by doing the best so we can and grow Peace from here. Every day is a day of thanksgiving.
Remember, we are the mirrors for our children, who are the future. We have to teach them well and let them lead the way. Let them dream and realize their possibilities.
LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH AND LET IT BEGIN WITH YOU
In Peace and Love,
Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation
Contributions are accepted year-round, and we appreciate your support in helping us continue to be the change. Please see the back of the card for secure donation information. Thank you.
JUSTIN CARR was a young Renaissance man who loved the visual and performing arts. He was four years old when he started his quest to achieve world Peace. On 2/22/2013, at the age of 16, Justin died suddenly during swim practice at his school. He had an undiagnosed heart condition (cardiomyopathy), which resulted in his Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). SCA is the #1 Killer of student-athletes, contributes to the #2 Medical cause of death of individuals under the age of 25, and is the #1 cause of death on school campuses. JCWWP is a 501(c) 3 created in Justin’s honor and memory and his desire for world Peace. Our mission is to promote and support world Peace through education, mentorship, scholarship, heart screenings, and heart health awareness.
JCWWP BOARD: Tona’ Broussard, Susan Toler Carr, Darrell Carr, John Sampson, & Greta Wallace
JCWWP 2020 Missions Accomplished
AED Donations & Free Heart Screenings
Awarded Student Scholarships
Parent Heart Watch Conference Speaker and PSA’s Participants
JCWWP Art Exhibit
Supported Programs for Marginalized Youth
Produced Good Grief Webinar Series & Toolkit
SECURE WAYS to DONATE your Tax-Deductible Contributions to meet our Art, Heart & Peace Goals.