Monthly Archives: June 2014


Time stood still for the longest time for Mark and I when we found out that we had been robbed and our son was missing. Then the next morning, we were told of Justin’s fate. He had been found but had been brutally murdered. I will always remember the moment Sheriff Sims told us they had found Justin but he is “deceased.” How can you say my son’s name along with that horrific word? Our worst nightmare had come true. Justin’s body was released that following Friday. The minute hand of the clock just didn’t move anymore. A month goes by, bills have to be paid. Why? Nothing matters. How can I possibly deal with that mundane task? Don’t you know my son died? Don’t you care? Then you realize I have to do this. We are still here and have no other choice but to do what we have to do. We stayed at a hotel until the crime scene cleanup crew was finished and the walls were painted. You paint different colors so you aren’t walking into a house where the time had stayed the same as the day he lost in his life in our kitchen. We walk in, no carpet in the living room and no flooring in the kitchen. Most of everything we owned was in boxes, being cleaned or taken by the Crime Scene Unit. Other items that were missing were taken by the two men that killed Justin. We moved back into our home because that is where we have our wonderful family memories. They took enough from us; I was NOT going to allow them to take Justin away totally. About two months after we lost him, you see everyone’s lives going on as normal as a HUGE part of your world is stuck on this hamster wheel, just trying to make sense of it all. That time is still standing still but now you are being forced to getting a “normal” routine down. It’s the last thing you want to do. It is enough to make you lose your mind for a time. You aren’t but it definitely feels that way! Closer to the third month, Easter rolled around. This was the day that I noticed that time no longer stood still for me. It was a day of acceptance. I won’t get a call from him like I did his brother. Justin was getting ready to leave for the Navy shortly after this happened. He would have been in FL for A school for his skill training. Easter was a defining moment in my grieving. It is hard to comprehend that he has been gone for three months. The length of time seems shorter and longer at the same time. Now our days are moving at the same pace as everyone else, but our life is totally different than many.

Sandy Cates

My Firsts

My son, Justin, passed away January 28, 2014. It has been almost five months without him. Time has stood still and moved on at the same time. We have been told that all the “firsts” are the hardest. Hard isn’t the word that I would use. I would most likely use these words to explain it: Hell, pure torture, yearning (for that loved one to come back) and heart wrenching.

Justin’s 19th birthday would have been February 13th. During this time, I was still in shock and didn’t feel the true impact of the day. Easter was the first holiday without him. The numbness had ceased to exist at this point. Justin was leaving for the Navy three days before his birthday so in my mind, that is where he was, in Illinois for boot camp. That wasn’t the case. On Easter, our son, Jake (who is a Marine) called to wish us a happy holiday. When I got off the phone with him I half expected a phone call that I have yet to receive from Justin. This was the first day of true acceptance for me. Justin is gone.

The first Mother’s Day was better than I was expecting, only because Justin’s friends came in his place. I don’t think that these young men and women knew the true impact they had on me that day. We talked about and laughed about Justin. It brought him closer to me for that moment in time. “I’m here with you, Mom. See. Don’t be sad.” Boy, is he mistaken. I carry sadness with me every day but am able to find some blessing in each passing moment.

For those who are grieving, these firsts will take you by surprise. You won’t really know how the day or event will affect you. I am very vocal about my journey to help myself and others around me. By telling others, “I’m not sure if I will be able to stay due to…” and “bad day” if I couldn’t talk about it at that particular time or tell them why if I could.

I’m writing this to help others understand that these “firsts” are so hard but you can survive them by being prepared as much as possible and communicating, even when you don’t want to. I know that I am not the only who has gone through this. To help others, what are some of the things that happened and how you made your way through the one of the firsts?

-Sandra Cates

Justin was a handsome little man.

Justin was a handsome little man.

Remembering Those We Have Lost

We never forget those we have lost. Their names are forever etched in hearts. Many people do things to honor their lost loved one in some way. Some people plant a tree, create a scholarship at their loved one’s school, plan an annual walk or run, etc. It takes time to figure out what you want to do.

Image (21)

Mark and I with young Justin, Jake and Dakota

A couple of our friends suggested creating a remembrance Facebook page for my son, Justin Back. I have seen other pages like this, and I decided to make ours into something that is positive to share with others. I love to talk about my children… always have. So what I do is post pictures of our [three] boys at different ages and tell a story to go with each image. We live in a very small community in Ohio and Justin touched so many lives with his bright smile and positive outlook. Thanks to our Facebook page, those who didn’t know Justin before sure know him now! I have had such a positive response to our page, with people asking me to keep it going because it inspires them. This is such a compliment to me because Justin was amazing and left quite the legacy for just being 18 years old. You can follow our Facebook page HERE.

Another thing that I have done is to create a book filled with all of the good memories of Justin. Justin has two brothers, Jake and Dakota. This memory book can be given to their future children, the nieces and nephews who will not have the honor of knowing their Uncle Justin, a true hero.

We also created this website to help others during the grieving process, as well as to provide education and awareness so that tragedies such as ours may be prevented.

Because Justin’s life was taken from him (and from us), we are working on passing stricter laws for sentencing once someone is convicted of murder. We will share more information about Justin’s Law as it surfaces.

In addition to the work and projects above, we are organizing a balloon launch as well as a 5k walk/run to raise funds for The Justin Back Memorial Scholarship Fund.

All of this, we do to honor Justin.

Some other ideas:

Create botanical garden in your loved one’s honor.  Every time you care for the garden, you will think of the child or sibling who has passed.

Have a plaque made with his/her name on it and place in a special place.

If he/she liked to run, as Justin did, then become a runner! This makes me think of him every time I run. He is urging me on.

Make a memory shadow box filled with special things that remind you of your child. i.e. medals, toys, pictures, etc.

Make a blanket out of your loved one’s t-shirts so that you can keep it close to you.

Remember, it takes time to get to the point where you can plan memorial projects and events. In the beginning of your journey, all you can think of is what you have lost, just as I did. 

What are some other ways to honor the loss of a loved one? I would love to hear them and remember, your ideas may help someone else!