Saline – A short prayer accompanied each orange balloon released into a darkening blue sky Sunday afternoon.
Most of the prayers were for heaven’s newest angel, 5-year-old Chad Carr, who inspired the "Chad Tough" battle cry heard from coast to coast. It even resounded in places normally hostile to the University of Michigan.
Some of the prayers were for the family. Chad's mother Tammi refuses to let Chad’s legacy die. His dad Jason said he learned to cry from his son.
And some of the prayers were for former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who gave a short but heartfelt speech about his grandson during the public celebration of Chad's life on Sunday at the Saline High School Performing Arts Center.
Chad's body lay in a small, white closed casket, adorned with stickers and tributes. Many tears were shed as hundreds came to honor Chad, who died Monday after a 15-month battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), which has no cure.
The color of the day Sunday wasn’t maize and blue. It was orange, Chad's favorite color. It inspired the celebration message from Pastor Ken Gilmore from Keystone Community Church in Saline. Orange is made from red and yellow; red is the color of love and yellow is the color of light.
“In order to be able to walk through an event like this you need both,” Gilmore said. “You need both love and the light. The love that has been outpouring to this family has been incredible support. You are hoping to take away some of the sting of death, and I guarantee you are. It is not just our support, but God’s love as well.”
Chad loved vegetables, sushi, stuffed animals and his dog, who sat by his side when he took his final breath Monday.
“God has a big plan for him,” Tammi Carr said Sunday during a moving tribute. “He was here for a purpose. He made people love harder. He made people prioritize. He came here to change the world. I really believe that. Chad has saved lives and he will continue to save lives.”
The Carr family vowed to keep Chad’s legacy alive. They will continue to help raise money for DIPG through the Chad Tough Foundation (chadtough.org).
Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football team attended Sunday's event. The players wore long-sleeve orange T-shirt with “Chad Tough” on the front and "CARR" and the number 5 on back.
“It’s amazing how people come together in tragic situations -- how many people and support they have gotten," linebacker Joe Bolden said.
Lloyd Carr will remember Chad's final Christmas. The Carr family knew the end was near so they celebrated Christmas on Nov. 14. Chad's voice was weak but his spirit was strong. He insisted on opening all of his presents. It was tough for him but he kept ripping open the presents.
He whispered to his mother: “Next. Next present.”
It was a moment that was both wonderful and tragic for Lloyd.
“You see in spite of that tumor and that cancer, this kid was saying nothing is going to stand in the way of me and having the joy of opening these presents,” Carr said.
Chad Carr was so young. That's why the theme of Sunday's event was family. Moms and dads that followed this story hugged their kids a little longer and a little tighter.
“I wish I could pick him up one more time,” Jason Carr said. “I wish I could hug him.”
That's exactly what former Michigan running back Jamie Morris did. He gave his daughter Kendall the biggest hug on the day Chad died.
"For something like this to happen to this young child, who was so vibrant and ran around and wasn't worried about anything, and then all of a sudden there was an interruption in life," Morris said. "How his family handled it. It became part of our family."
Chad Carr was a Michigan Little Man. Lloyd Carr coached Michigan to its only national championship in the modern football era. Chad's other grandfather, Tom Curtis, holds the school record for most interceptions and had two of them in the 1969 victory over Ohio State, considered one of the biggest upsets in college football history. Jason Carr is a former Michigan quarterback, so the blue bloodlines are thick, and it's a major reason Chad's story touched the UM family around the world. But it didn't stop there.
Arch enemy Spartans and Buckeyes joined in the Chad Tough fight. The Michigan State marching band spelled out "Chad Tough" during one of its marches at Spartan Stadium, and MSU and OSU players had Chad Tough decals on their helmets for their Nov. 21 game.
Lloyd Carr said he has cried every night since Chad died. But he felt the warmth of the Michigan family and beyond.
“What amazes me is the goodness in this community and this state and in this world,” Lloyd Carr said. “I have watched and been proud of Jason and Tammi and how they’ve handled the unrelenting pressure. I watched and gained appreciation for the abiding friendships that lightened their load."