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Carr celebrated: 'Tough Chad will be with us forever'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
In a quiet moment, former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr puts his hand on his grandson's sticker-covered casket. Thousands of mourners placed stickers on the casket of 5-year-old Chad Carr, wore orange clothing (his favorite color) and released balloons in his honor during a "Celebration of Life" service at Saline High School in Saline, Michigan, on Nov. 29, 2015.

Saline — Former University of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr went home two weeks ago after celebrating an early Christmas with his 5-year-old grandson, Chad, and their families, and searched his dictionary.

Sometimes it is difficult to summon a definition for a word that we all know and frequently use but seldom truly understand: heartbreak.

Chad Carr died last Monday from an inoperable brain tumor 15 months after diagnosis.

Lloyd Carr, along with Chad’s other grandfather, Tom Curtis, like Carr a College Football Hall of Famer, joined with their children, Tammi and Jason Carr, to celebrate Chad’s life Sunday at Saline High School Performing Arts Center. Jason and Tammi also shared their tributes about their son with taped messages.

Not long after Chad Carr was placed in hospice care, which Tammi revealed via social media on Nov. 11, she decided the family would hold Christmas early for Chad to enjoy. Lloyd Carr watched as his grandson, surrounded by presents, ripped through gift after gift, each time saying something to his mother.

“I couldn’t understand what he was saying because by that time his speech had been affected and his hearing,” Lloyd said. “So finally I asked Tammi, ‘What’s he saying?’ and she says he was saying, ‘Next.’ ”

The crowd, including many of Carr’s former players, that nearly filled the 1,100-seat facility, laughed.

“You see, despite that tumor and that cancer, this kid was saying, nothing is going to stand in the way of me having the joy of opening all of these presents. He opened every single present. That memory, for me, will endure. Unforgettable and beautiful because he was saying, ‘Next! Next! Bring me the next present!’

“That night, when I got home, as I drove, I realized it was not only beautiful and not only unforgettable, it was heartbreaking because of what I knew, of what we knew. When I got home, I looked up the word ‘heartbreak.’ Heartbreak: crushing grief. Crushing grief. How well that describes the heartbreak we have today. And for our family, I can only say, we are so happy and so thankful that you are here with us, because I’ve read the only way to survive grief, is to love. Love comforts and love conquers all.”

The family asked that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to ChadTough.org, the foundation Tammi and Jason created. They will make it their life’s work to raise money for research to cure diffuse intrinsic pontine giloma, a tumor located in a small area of the brain stem. The median survival rate is nine months from diagnosis.

Maize and blue turns orange to remember Chad Carr

While seats in the three-story facility were filled Sunday, another estimated 800 watched on live stream from another area of the center. Those who attended were encouraged to wear orange, Chad’s favorite color. There were a few arrangements, all dotted with orange flowers, and Chad’s small white casket covered with stickers — he loved stickers.

A video shown at the service featured Chad releasing a balloon and watching it as it rose toward the sky. In a final, aching tribute, each family was then asked to release an orange balloon after his casket was carried to the hearse.

“Chad didn’t get the miracle, but Chad will be part of the miracle going forward,” Tom Curtis, Tammi’s father, said.

He shared a story about Tammi and her three sons visiting a couple of months ago the Miami area where she grew up. Tammi, almost immediately after the diagnosis, took to social media to ask for prayers and she created the #ChadTough hashtag. That appeared on signs at the airport when they arrived and all around town.

“One day when he was there, he looked at his grandmother and said, ‘I don’t want to be ChadTough, I just want to be Chad,’ ” Curtis said. “Unfortunately, he couldn’t just be Chad.”

Curtis seemed buoyed by something his daughter told him recently.

“A few days before Chad died, she said, ‘We will change the world,’ ” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. Tough Chad will be with us forever.”

Jason Carr recorded his thoughts about his son and the audio was played during the celebration accompanying a slide show and videos of Chad.

“For the last 42 years I’ve been known as Lloyd’s son,” Jason said, drawing laughs. “And for the next 42, I’ll be known as Chad’s father. And I’m proud to be called either one of those things.”

Tammi Carr said the family’s mission the last 15 months was to make Chad happy and do whatever — within reason — he wanted.

“We made so many amazing memories together that I will forever cherish,” Tammi said. “Memories of him just trying to be a normal little boy, because that’s what he really wanted.

“I spent almost every minute with Chad. I wasn’t really allowed to leave his side. It was exhausting, but it was also very special to know he loved me that much.

“I felt his love over the past year so strongly, and there’s going to be a big hole in my world for a long time, but I have to be strong for Chad. We know so many of you will stand with us as we fight for Chad’s legacy.”

Many of Lloyd Carr’s former players attended Sunday’s service. Scot Loeffler, a former quarterback and quarterbacks coach at Michigan and now the offensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, left Virginia at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Michigan, and then flew right back. Jeff Backus, Morgan Trent, Mark Campbell, Jon Jansen and Joe Marinaro were among the former players who attended.

“To know Jason and Tammi and to know the fight they put on and the awareness they brought to the disease, the respect the Curtis and Carr families have around the University of Michigan, this community, and now around the world, it showed today in the support that people showed for them,” Loeffler said.

Lloyd Carr thanked all those who have supported and continue to support the families.

“These last 433 days since Chad was diagnosed, I’m sorry I’m on the last string of that team,” Lloyd Carr said. “I didn’t do much, but I can tell you what I did do. I cried every day. I was talking to my son, Jason, yesterday, and he said, ‘Dad, Chad taught me how to cry.’ And I said, ‘Me, too.’

“I have prayed every day, consistently, fervently this prayer that someday Chad will be able to stand up and thank all those people who prayed for him and cared about him and tried to comfort him as he went through that journey.

“And I watched and what I have seen amazes me, the goodness of this community and the state and in this world. I have watched and been proud of Tammi and Jason and their family for the way they have handled the unrelenting pressure that they lived under for those 433 days. I have watched and gained appreciation for the deep and abiding friendships that lightened their burden.

“I watched and respected all of the people at Mott Children’s Hospital, coaches at Michigan, the athletes at Michigan, who were always there when needed.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

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