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.
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???????????????????????
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.
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.
In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr