Loss is NEVER Easy, but Memories and Impact will Prevail

It is with a Heavy Heart that I write this month’s newsletter.  No real estate in the opening article this month.  This month there is just more to talk about.  I do this newsletter, I do the Morning Musings (if you don’t receive the Musings, I suggest you go to www.MorningMusings.net and register), I do the Podcast, I wrote the book to give you insight into my life.  Yes, a large part of my life revolves around my family, my boyz and if you have read anything I’ve written for any amount of time you understand.  You, my friend, are part of my ‘family.’  Yes, we might not be blood related, but we have a connection that is WAY more than just an acquaintance or ‘business’ relationship.

Plus, it is times like this month, that I write for selfish reasons.  Writing is therapeutic to me.  So this month’s monologue is a form of therapy.

Here it goes…

I’ve told you about my cousin Zack.  The one that passed away in a boating accident on July 4th, 2011.  His story is long and you can read more about it at the memorial scholarship website that was done in his honor at ww.Zack5k.org.  Zack, he was a month and a day older than me.  Yes, he was my cousin, but to call him my cousin would be a disservice to our relationship.  He was a brother, my best friend, we grew up together.  My earliest memories are hanging out with my cousins, having sleep overs at my grandparents’ house.  Working on the farm.  Zack would often tell everyone that he remembers me driving him around the farm when we were 5 years old.  No, not on a lawnmower.  In a truck.  I learned to drive at a young age.  I literally had to stand when I was driving and I would look through the little area between the steering wheel and the dashboard so that I could see.  Zack and I had a million memories together, but there was a 3rd component of most of those memories, Justin. 

JZV 1990Zack’s older brother, Justin was 14 months older than Zack and 15 months older than me.  It was often the 3 of us plus our two older cousins, Sean and Duffy who were more brothers (and still are) than cousins.  There was/is a pretty cool dynamic.  Sean, the oldest, is the one that we all looked up to.  He was the ‘cool’ older cousin who taught me how to throw a baseball, would play wiffle ball with us, he was the ‘all-time’ quarterback when we’d play backyard football.  He taught me how to drive when I was 5.  He still teaches me life lessons today.  Duffy, was the more cerebral cousin.  If you had a problem or personal issue, Duff was always there to talk to. 

Justin, Zack, and I were the little brothers and the three of us had similar interests growing up.  Mainly sports.  We were ALWAYS playing some kind of sport.  I fondly remember MANY 2 on 2 basketball tournaments at Justin and Zack’s house in Woodsboro in middle and high school.  We’d be playing til midnight, 1am and there would be 8-12 kids hanging out playing basketball.  Then we’d all go down in the basement and sleep all over the couches, floors, etc.  Justin and Zack, although they went to Walkersville and I went to Frederick High we were all hanging out.  It’s safe to say, that I had as many friends as Walkersville as I did Frederick High because of Justin and Zack.

Anywhere I would go as a teenager and people wouldn’t recognize me, all I would have to say is that I was Justin and Zack’s cousin and then they would treat me differently.  It seemed like everyone knew Justin and Zack, and in turn, as soon as I mentioned them I was automatically in the ‘IN’ crowd.  I am shy by nature; I am typically the guy standing in the corner at a party or function.  But being raised with these two I was welcomed in almost any circle of people within the county.

Justin, his nickname was ‘Burl.’  He drove this mid 1980s Jeep Grand Wagoneer (the Jeep was also named The Zack..Justin PixBurl).  When he got his license Zack and I thought we were so cool because our older ‘brother’ could drive us around.  We now had some freedom that all teenagers desire.  Justin was the coolest guy, in my eyes, around.  He knew EVERYONE.  Justin would take us to high school parties and Zack and I thought we were awesome because we got to hang out with the kids a grade above us in school.  Now, 40 years old, that one-year age difference is NOTHING but a 15-year-old hanging out with a bunch of 16 year olds was something special.

Justin had this magnetic personality that within minutes of meeting him you immediately felt a connection.  He had a strong love of music, sports, food, and his favorite condiment (mustard).  His personality is what made him beloved, and it is also what made him an INCREDIBLE teacher.  Justin was a teacher, first in Frederick County, then he moved to Manhattan Beach in 2001 and started a tutoring company with Zack, Beach Brothers tutoring.  Zack helped him get the business off the ground, but this was Justin’s baby.  He took the ball and ran and grew one of the most successful tutoring enterprises in the area.

The ‘California’ Justin was a health and fitness nut.  He ate healthy, did multiple marathons, did iron mans, and in the last few years became an avid biker training with an elite group of bikers in the area.  Justin and the life that he built in Manhattan Beach was ideal for him.  He got to help others with his tutoring business and also got to exercise nonstop. 

Up until 18 months ago, Justin was the healthiest person you EVER met.  Then in the fall of 2015 he was having some pain in his mouth.  Within months it was discovered that he had cancer in his tongue and jaw.  Because his quality of life would suffer so much with surgery, he opted against it.  He instead fought a valiant 18-month battle.  First with chemo and radiation, then with 3 ‘cliental trials.’  Each time that we thought he had turned the corner, f.ing cancer would rear its ugly head and attack again.

Up until about 10 days before he passed Justin was still doing what he loved, tutoring kids.  Those kids and the impact he had in his community was AMAZING. 

The service for Justin was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Not only did the Catholic Priest allow The Grateful Dead for the intro but also for the processional at the end.  PLUS, the Priest did a ‘reading, a passage, of the song “Ripple” that he read during the service.  It was an AWESOME service.  And if you go to my Facebook page and look at my June 9th post, there was a LiveStream of the service. 

But what truly blew me away was Justin’s impact on others.  This church was PACKED, 500-600 people attended the service.  The Priest said he’s done MANY, MANY services were people lived in one area their entire life and had many fewer people than Justin had.  He had only been in Manhattan Beach for 15 years, but his impact will be felt for generations.

At one part of the service, the Priest asked everyone who had been mentored or tutored by Justin to stand.  And atleast 150 kids PROUDLY stood.  These kids, HIS STUDENTS, were fortunate to have been impacted by Justin both academically and personally.  Talking to the kids, it wasn’t so much the academic aspect, he was their friend giving tips of wisdom about life and social aspect.  These kids, he had a profound impact on their lives and he will be sorely missed.  But his impact on their lives will continue to live on.

Wedding Photo 2Justin was my Brother, my Cousin, my FRIEND!!!!  Justin was a groomsman in my wedding and for my wedding my Mom had all the Groomsmen and Bridesmaids write a little memory for a memory book.  I’ll let Justin take it from here…

This is what Justin wrote to me… kinda prophetic…




Well bud, here it is—your big day. Congrats! But you’ll get enough of that today, tomorrow, and the days ahead. What this is about isn’t the rest of your life—while important and I hope it is filled with all good things, nothing but the best, because you and Susan deserve it—no, this is about reflection, about the opportunity to say thanks for being a great friend and cousin, thanks for providing a ton of great memories, and thanks for….well…. putting up with me for 1 ½ years. Actually, scratch that, you aren’t really a cousin or a friend, but rather a brother.

I hope you don’t mind me sayin’ that but its true. Cousins don’t do the things we’ve done together; they don’t laugh the way we do about the nonsense we care to think about; and they certainly don’t care as much about each other as you, Zack and I have and will continue to for years to come. You are “The Fuzz”. The one, the only. You know I laugh just saying that—“The Fuzz”. And it isn’t so much a nickname—lord knowns we’ve had enough of those—but a personality. You are “a personality”. I know, reading this now you are thinking, “what the hell am I saying?” Has Justin lost it out in Cali- long hair and all? No. Not yet. But what I hope is that when you look back on this 20 years from now you’ll laugh, snicker or let out one of those classic belly-grabbin’ chuckles. Having said that, lets zoom ahead to 2022….

Some day in 2022…

What are you doing reading this again? You’ve been married 20 years and just now you are lookin’ back on your wedding “memory book”? You old bastard! And your golf game is still a wreck! Remember back in the old days where you could “Happy Gilmore” a drive 280? Now look at ya! We had some great times on the links… and at the beach… and in A.C…. and in Vegas… where didn’t we have a good time? Zack will mention in his documentaries all the good times, so I won’t banter on about that now, again. 20 years since your wedding day.

I’ll leave it at “good times, man, good times!” You are still the best… keepin the family together, all the ‘Palooza organizing with Sean, all the stories you love to tell, even now, at 46 years old! And looking good I may add—but you always did. Maybe that’s why all the ladies loved you—you certainly married a good one—the “cream of the crop”. And to have been married 20 years to Susan is the best thing to happen to you, don’t you think?

You’ve done a lot my friend, my brother, beautiful kids, beautiful homes, a beautiful life—and you don’t know how much it has meant to me, and Zach as well as the rest of my family (extended) to be a part of the last 20 years of your life…. As good as the 20 before you found your loving wife. It is truly awesome we all are still SO close. You are still my younger “brother”… I mean that. I can’t hear a “dead tune” these days without thinking about you and me, and Zack, Duff, Sean, hell, half of Frederick jamming down—jiggin’ it up. Amazing how some things don’t change…. 20 years, Fuzz and it’s still as good as it was on your wedding day…. Back in 2002!

2002….. your wedding day…. It WAS great bud, you two are lucky, you’ve loved, you’re happy, you’re healthy and you’re married! Look back on this day with a smile—knowing we’re smiling too. “Nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile!”

I love you bud,