Justin In Heaven,

Daddy On Earth

When Justin Carr died, it left a hole in his father’s heart. And a question: Where is Justin now?

I have a son.

He died in the winter month of February. He died while swimming. When he died, all the dreams I had for him suddenly froze. Everything was snowy and cold and very, very lonely.

In the twenty one months since my glorious son died, my lovely friends have surrounded me with care. Every possible way they know how to comfort me has been extended. Except for one. They cannot hold my heart in their hands. They cannot truly hold me.

This is why. Death has a cost, a terrible price to be paid. Even as I feel separate from the world, my heart and all of its wounds are not separate from me. My heart still thrives, beating and swishing blood. It knows more about cruelty and mercy than I can understand.

I’ve done everything they said I should do. I have fallen on my knees. I have cried. I have stared out the window in anger at this sudden loss in my life. I have filled my days with work just to be exhausted. I have taken turns holding my wife and she has taken turns holding me. Justin was our only child, he was my son. I am his father.

Recently, I was in the audience at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. I was there to listen to a woman who calls herself the Long Island Medium. She claims she is spiritually connected to those who have gone on to eternal peace, who live on the other side.

The Medium’s name is Theresa Caputo. She packed the theater that night, every seat was taken. I found a spot in the balcony.

The crowd was varied and yet, sadly, the same. Grieving hard. Broken. All of us having lost someone we desperately loved who we can’t live without. The pain of that is crushing. It’s so hard to accept death is forever, that someone is absent, missing. That life is fair.

The Eric Clapton mournful song asks, Would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven?

Theresa Caputo is a listener. She stood alone on a stage. “Has anyone lost their wife?”, she asked of her grieving audience. Several men raised their hands. Others kept the truth to themselves.

“Has anyone lost their husband?”, she asked. Same thing, the raising of hands. I watched, skeptical. Of course, in a crowd this size widowers would be present.

“Has anyone lost their son?”

This jolted me. I sat straight, my pulse was racing. My mouth was dry. Has anyone lost their son? I felt numb. I wanted to scream out the truth. I wanted to say: I lost my son. I lost Justin. I lost my heart. I lost my dreamer. I lost my swimmer. I lost my advocate for World Peace. I lost my friend. I lost my dream.

But I was in the back of this crowded room. Perhaps I just nodded my head as she kept talking and as she kept talking it felt as if she was talking to me. To Darrell. To Justin’s father.

“There is something built in a son’s memory. Something to sit on, like a bench. There is a message in cement”, Theresa Caputo interpreted as she listened to someone no one else could see.

Yes, a message. Justin’s hand print pressed into concrete. His words: I Love Mom and Dad. Sheltering it all, sunlight in the trees. The peach trees are new. Justin wanted to plant them with me. But, damn it, he ran out of time.

“He was celebrated. There was an article written about him, this boy who died. It was in the paper.” She paused for a moment. “He is telling me there was a film. Butterflies or balloons were released in his memory. A scholarship was named after him.

“He died young. His dying had something to do with his chest.”

Men don’t cry. So, it took every ounce of guts and nerve that I had inside me not to weep into my hands, not to fall apart in my chair. Yes, he died before he was supposed to, so young, so innocent. It was a reminder. Death is never proud. And tragedy happens when you least expect it.

A competitive swimmer dying in the water- it was written about in the Los Angeles Times. CBS News won an Emmy for their short film: a perfect son who suffered an imperfect death.

Justin died because of a heart condition no one knew he had. A heart too large for a boy so amazing. A heart too tired, needing to rest. He died because of cardiomyopathy. He had yet to turn 17.

On the one year anniversary of his death, a cavalcade of balloons sailed into the air. I was at the beach. Suddenly a butterfly took a breath, it rested upon my shoulder. Like Justin, the butterfly embraced being free.

This is what no one can help you with: devastation. Because you want it to be yesterday. You want the miracle of time to be the slowness of time. You want a child’s life to be a movie you can take out and rewind and relive. You want magic. Because here today sometimes means gone tomorrow. You want to go back, to be that thing that repeats.

In Beverly Hills that night, and every night before, and every night since, I have yearned for the same thing over and over again. I have yearned for Justin to whisper to me. I need to feel his breath. I need to lean against him the same way that butterfly leaned into me. I need to graze the left side of his face where his smile began and never, ever ended. I need to have my treasure back.

When Justin died, when they told me of his death, that it was official, that it was true, that I was not in the midst of some sick nightmare, I punched a hole in the hospital wall. And then I had a heart attack.

It made sense. It made perfect sense. It made sense that my heart could not sustain the rest of my body. A piece of my heart floated out of me in chunks and into my incredibly kind son who lay unmoving down the hall.

I am his father. I am used to fixing things. I am used to being the person he looks to, that piercing light that shines over the sea. Except one afternoon in February, the sea was without mercy. And I was the one who needed to be fixed.

When I think of Heaven I imagine an untamed shore far in the distance. Justin is swimming there, just past the reef. Other sixteen year olds are watching from the rocks. How many of them died because their heart was too big? Because they loved so much? How many were extraordinary? How many cared about an impoverished world? How many were artists who loved to dance and sing ? How many were silly one moment, sensitive the next? How many were the light of my life? How many cover me as I sleep every night, tears at the corners of my eye?

My beautiful Justin, my boy of grace. He used to swim in the turquoise water. He now swims in my quiet dreams. He hasn’t forgotten me.

I called him Champ. He called me Dad. I was his hero. He was my joy. He roamed this earth, I held his hand. He was a peacemaker. I was his bridge.

Weeping doesn’t change anything about the truth. I walk waiting for the wind to blow, waiting for Heaven to say his name. I had him first, Heaven had him last. I had Justin. I had everything.

(written by Darrell Carr and Valerie Morales)

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