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.  


6 thoughts on “Justin

  1. You brought the tears today my friend. Not just for your loss, but for the strength your family possesses. I’ve never witnessed a closer knit family, so kind and generous with love. Justin would be proud. ❤️❤️❤️

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  2. I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Thank you for sharing a bit of Justin with us this morning. I feel like I got to know him a bit, and that I got to know you a bit more. The first part of this post made me nervous, then so sad, but the end made me feel strong and hopeful. Justin is still having an impact. So are you.

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  3. Fabulously written. Your slice took my breath away as your words built the intensity. This is a beautiful tribute to your family and captures a “just plain awful” time but one that you all turned around as time went on…all for Justin! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I’m reading this after I read your polar plunge slice. I was drawn to the plunge because of a connection, but it turned out to be only a minor one. My wife did a plunge this winter, and I was checking to see if it was the same one. Instead, I found out that we have a bit more of a connection. My family, too, has a ritual that maybe we wish we didn’t have. We’ve walked in the Out of the Darkness walk as Team Emma, since 2009, the year my daughter Emma died. At that walk, no one asks where Emma is, since all of the teams would point to the sky. I’m amazed at how gracefully you handled that. Now I needed to read the Justin story. I’m really sorry for your loss, but this is still an uplifting story. It’s great that you have a family where individuals and the group can support each other. We don’t walk through grief alone. It takes a lot of support. It’s great that you’re able to write so well about this journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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