Foreword: As some of you know, I recently took a trip to say both hello and goodbye to Justin (jkrog08). What follows is part of a letter I sent
to staff earlier today regarding my trip. I share it with you at their suggestion and encouragement. These are my thoughts on the events that
transpired as best I can recollect them. I share them with you because the collective consciousness of whole ATS community was with me on this, for
lack of a better word, pilgrimage. To a lesser degree, I also share them with you to unburden myself of some of the pent up emotions within me … I
hope you will not begrudge me this somewhat selfish cathartic act.
How does one meet a friend for the first time when they are dead?
Why am I moved to make this journey when other than our good friendship on ATS, Justin and I have never even spoken, much less met in person?
As news of Justin's passing were disclosed to me, I like most of you felt the shock, the overwhelming sorrow, anger at the universe, and general
emotional devastation that was understandable under the circumstances. These feelings that were so eloquently expressed by hundreds of members on
ATS' thread dedicated to Justin.
Still, there was a movement within me from the first moment on, which called me to this task. My approach to when these things have happened to me in
the past is to simply trust them. To let go of the inquiry in the present moment, to not ask why, and hope that in due course the reasons will reveal
themselves to me … or not, but either way to stop myself from deconstructing the moment into the mundane and fill truth with doubt with questions
such as 'why'.
And so it went, and so I departed …
The journey began in earnest on Tuesday, on the road from Toledo to Peoria. I got in the car and put the book on the passenger seat, as one does,
without a thought. I got on the road still with bittersweet memories of the night before. And somewhere in Indiana, as I looked on the seat next to
me, I saw his face …
That is when it hit me …
And it dropped me to my knees ...
I pulled over, and for the first time since I walked out my door allowed my personal grief to flow unimpeded.
And for the next few hours, amidst waves of sorrow, Justin and I had conversations. I would look at his image on the seat next to me and I would talk
to him, and he would talk back to me as I remembered things he said on his posts, or imagined what he would say to me at that moment, I sensed his
kindness of spirit, and I would cry once more as I do now typing this.
I also heard him speak to me in song …
(click to open player in new window)
But as I got into Illinois a couple of hours away from him, I started the process of needed detachment for the task at hand. I need to say something
because I don't want to misrepresent my intentions. As I got closer to my destination I still did not have the answers to the questions I asked at
the start. But I am sincere when I say that it was not my intention to represent the ATS community. First of all I am just an ordinary member and as
such it isn't my place to speak for you and/or any other ATS member. There were no presumptions in my heart in this regard, not to mention that the
weight of such responsibility would have been unbearable. Instead, all I perceived in myself was a traveler of my own accord and a willful messenger
of a book containing the thoughts my fellow members sentiments.
I got to Peoria, put my suit on, and started the final half hour drive to meet Justin, his family, and friends, for the first time … it was five in
the afternoon. And because it is me we're talking about, I went to the wrong place. I thought the viewing was at the funeral home and it wasn't.
In a panic I once again leaned on 12m8keall2c who calmed me down and pointed me to the right place, fifteen minutes further down the road, and I was
on my way once more.
To say that I was nervous would be inaccurate. Trying to reply to one of MemoryShock's posts when I have no clue what he's going on about makes me
nervous … this
, this petrified me to the bone.
I didn't know a soul and they didn't know me, I didn't know for sure if they knew I was coming, I didn't know what I was going to say, I didn't
It was about five thirty when I walked into the church, and a few seconds later I gazed my first look on Justin's dead figure and his weeping family
and friends. I sat down on the last pew, closed my eyes, and listened to the surrounding suffering and I cried again.
I must have been sitting there about ten minutes when I felt a hand on my shoulder, it was his ant asking me if I was from ATS. I looked at her and I
said, 'well, I'm Justin's friend from ATS' and that I had something for his parents and family and would she mind passing it to them because I
didn't want to interrupt their grieving. This lovely woman would have none of it, she grabbed my hand and took me to his mother … she knew that I
was coming, she took the book and the plaque, she held it in her arms, and then cried on my shoulder for what must have been at least ten minutes in
front of everyone. And when she let go Justin's father did the same, and his friends, and people who I still don't know who they were pouring their
hearts and tears out on my shoulder. They all knew that I was coming and it was beyond words …
And this is where the beginning of the answers started to be realized, and this is really what I wanted to share with you beyond the lesser above
mentioned points of my personal experience …
… that this book,in your gestures in their time of grief, this community of ours, the community that you have created and maintain, was to
Justin's friends and family, and to all who knew him, the most important thing in the world to them.
Your efforts with the flowers and especially the thread booklet were appreciated beyond words by Justin's family. Not only because they discovered
how many people cared for Justin, but because it gave them something to look forward to. Discovering an aspect of Justin's life that most were
unfamiliar with, and an opportunity for them to still interact with him, learn from him, in effect sustain a relationship with him. As such, in the
midst of their mourning an opportunity to continue sharing in Justin's life beyond its passing was a beautiful gift which you have imparted to his
family and one that will make a true difference as they try to piece their own lives back together..
That night I drank bourbon, in a crappy hotel room in Peoria … a lot of it.
The next day i went to the funeral service. And after the priests finished mass, one of the most moving aspects of both days took place. His aunt
stood up and read ALL the notes and good wishes written by ATSers on the funeral website guest book. It was truly special and I cried so much
listening to the words of my friends in that moment, and so did Justin's family. That's how much appreciation they had for our community's
feelings towards Justin, they actually read them aloud at his funeral. And what you guys and the whole ATS community have done will be a lasting
memory and tribute to his whole family. In the midst of all the tragedy they simply could not have been prouder of Justin and how he has affected
people from all over the world.
At the end of the funeral service I slowly removed myself from their grief and their lives and faded back onto the road. I did not attend the burial
as i thought it appropriate for family and close friends only.
And that was it … I'm actually surprised at how I kept it together. I didn't fumble my words, and I don't think I said too little or too much.
As I started driving back the sadness was still there, but it was different. And I had answered at least one of the two questions I had. I still
don't know how one meets their friend for the first time when they're dead, but I know why the universe wanted me there. Namely to deliver a
message, your message, and my fellow ATS members' message to Justin's family … the message of how much he is loved, how much he is respected, how
many people he is influencing, his kindness, intelligence, imagination, creativity, craftsmanship, and everything that Justin IS. And that was
everything to them … it was everything.
So thank you for entrusting me with that message. And I have a message from Justin's loved ones for you … the greatest thank you that Justin's
family could muster to impart to you, the deepest felt gratitude for the ATS community, how much it meant to Justin, and how much it now means to
them. Thank you for the beautiful flowers and that you for the book containing the enduring and extraordinary sentiments of his peers.
I hope you will forgive the rather lengthy and personal nature of the above, once more I need to emphasize the triviality of my presence in the course
of these events as I truly see it as a vehicle rather than the substance. If there is any merit or credit to be imparted it should overwhelmingly be
attributed to ATS ownership, staff, and membership for you have all made a difference in Justin's family's life in the realest of terms.
Thank you for allowing me to share all this with you, for allowing me to get it all of my chest … I say this with the greatest honesty, you were all
there with me on every mile of the road and every moment in time.
Last, a massive thank you to a great deal of ATS staff and members who helped me, kept me company, gave me comfort … I could not have completed this
journey without their help.