Justin has always been a topic I have written about. Personal narratives in elementary school…check. A person that means a lot to me in middle school…check. My college essay…check, check, check. Since college though I haven’t written about him because on March 8th, 2007 my life changed. In my school years my stories about Justin were about silly things I liked to do with him, or how he influenced who I am as a person. While these are still very vivid memories for me, because he is no longer here, this story is different.
I graduated college in the spring of 2006 but still had to student teach so moved home and did that in the fall. In the spring I started grad school and started substitute teaching. On March 8th I was assigned to substitute at the elementary school I graduated from. The one what Justin never attended but the one where everyone knew him because of me. You see, Justin was multi-handicapped, he couldn’t walk or talk. Therefore, he attended different schools where they could support his learning needs.
On that day, I was on the computer late in the day while the class I was filling in for was at a special when the secretary called in to the classroom and asked me to come to the office. “Ut oh. What did I do?” I thought as I walked the minute down the hallway. My heart sank when I saw my Uncle Tommy and my sister standing there. My uncle calmly said “Justin isn’t doing well. Your parents asked me to get you and bring you to Yale.” I ran down the hall, grabbed my bag and left with barely saying a word to anyone. I was leaving them completely in the lurch but my brother was way more important.
We drove to Yale pretty much in silence and went right up to ICU. Brett was already there hugging my parents. My parents looked at Tori and I as we walked in with tears in their eyes. They explained to us that Justin’s body was too weak and couldn’t fight anymore. The rest of the evening is a blur. I remember several aunts and uncles coming in and out of the room. I remember us all praying together. I remember hugging my siblings and parents tightly, sobbing as my brother took his last breath.
I cannot describe the pain I felt. It was awful to lose someone. It was awful to see so many people around me grieving (especially my parents). It was just plain awful. But it was also impressive to see my family’s strength. From my dad saying an unforgettable eulogy to several family members and friends participating in the Penguin Plunge a few days later.
Justin had strength too. He fought until he couldn’t. Justin wouldn’t want us to feel so sad for so long. He would want us to use that strength. He would want us to take what we learned from him and teach it to others: To eat lasagna. To enjoy tiramisu. To watch basketball. To take naps. To cheer each other on. To belly laugh for no apparent reason. To spread kindness. And, most importantly, to understand others and their differences.