Sunday, February 10, 2002

Chance's mom

Facing life after her son's death

        Nothing about the past year has been what Jan Carr expected. It has been much worse.

        Jan and her husband, David, buried their only son in September of 2000. Chance Carr, 13, was found with his arms wrapped around his best friend, Lincoln Schlueter. Both boys, eighth-graders at Glen Este Middle School, drowned in a flooded culvert. Jan teaches fourth grade at Summerside Elementary School. So there were lots of children in the continuous line snaking into the funeral home, more than a thousand paying their respects, trying to comfort the grieving parents. As often as not, Jan was the one to give comfort.

        It's habitual.

Jan Carr
Jan Carr
        She thought when she felt up to it she might try to help others, say, as a grief counselor. “When something happens to you, maybe you know best how to help others.” But Jan discovered sometimes she has her hands full just trying to keep herself together.

        Then, too, there was David. When Chance died, he was awaiting a kidney and pancreas transplant. In November of 2000, he got the call. Surgery was in Columbus, so the Carrs lived there for the next six weeks. “I was on autopilot,” Jan says.

        She coped by keeping a journal, a long letter to Chance. “Were you scared? Did you call out for help?” The boys were last seen in-line skating, but no one knows how they were overtaken by the storm runoff.

        Jan hadn't much time to sort things out. “Griefus interruptus,” says Summerside Principal Eileen Murphy, who should be in the Boss Hall of Fame. With Jan when Chance's body was found, the principal has been with Jan every step of the way since. Making her laugh on occasion, giving her the time she needs.

        Once the funeral was over, the casserole dishes washed and returned to their owners, Jan says, “Everybody wants to know if you're back to the way you were before. And they don't understand that you will never be the same again.”

        When Chance died, Jan and David feared their marriage might be a casualty. “We knew a huge percentages of couples lose each other after the loss of a child. We tried, but just couldn't manage. We live apart now.”

        Another thing. The boys were skating on concrete swales, which crisscrossed a flood basin. The boys' parents have sued the companies that built and own the site of the drownings, hoping to get building codes changed.

        “We change standards all the time when we see how dangerous something can be,” Jan says. “Look at what 9/11 has done for airport regulations. His little life was so important. I want his death to count for something.”

        Eileen Murphy says it most emphatically does. She has proof right before her eyes. “Jan has incredible empathy, a special touch with children in pain. She was always very good at this. But now, well, she's amazing.”

        And so there is one thing that is a little bit the way Chance's mother expected. When something happens to a certain kind of person, maybe they do know best how to help others.

        So, Jan Carr, grieving mother and exquisitely sensitive teacher, every time you recognize something in your students that Chance taught you, every time you use what you learned from the life and death of your boy, no matter what happens to engineering codes and in courts of law, know that his life and death matter every day.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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