Can’t wait to get started with my vlog. Jax will obviously be involved a lot but I will mostly talk about important subjects like: grief, PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Not much will be off limits. Stay tuned.
How should you remember a birthday of someone who is gone?
Should it be a day to celebrate, or a day to mourn? Should we cry, or should we laugh? The odds are we will do a little bit of both. Justin’s birthday is never easy for me, but I made a vow three years ago to suck it up and honor him on this day.
Everyone has their own personal memories of Justin, and it’s time to hear some stories. For what should have been Justin’s 37th birthday, I have reached out to his nearest and dearest loved ones. We have taken a page out of the Justin Ayers playbook.
Brace yourselves, it’s story time!
Me: girlfriend, wife, music partner, soul mate, best friend, and band mate
Justin taught me how to play the guitar. He made me laugh on a daily basis. He helped me believe in others. He never let me give up on myself, and he understood my deepest fears. A man of integrity, talent, character, and strength. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my hero!!
Vicki McMichael: mother
I remember spending the night with Justin & Jessica when they brought baby Jax home from the hospital. Justin and I stayed up all night talking about Jax. He was thrilled to be a father. We changed Jax’s diaper and he was telling me how to do it. He was now the expert. Lol…
Lori Ellis: aunt
Justin gave a eulogy at his uncleTerry’s funeral. By the end of the service, everyone was cracking up. Justin had the whole family repeating classic Terry lines out loud……Justin left everyone smiling with great memories.
Shelby Ellis: cousin
When I was 15 when I got my first video camera. As usual, I took a lot of video at Ruby Nell’s Thanksgiving(our grandmother) that year. Six years later I went back watched the video. There was five minutes of Justin, talking about his first Wii. He was animatedly showing us how to sling the remote in order to get “Crash Bandicoot” to throw someone over Crashs’s head in the game.
Katie Cheyenne Hoffman: cousin
His story telling!! I loved hearing stories about Terry or the people from the guitar shop. He took care of his uncle Terry, and even “Jim The Bike Man.” I sometimes see Bike Man when he comes into the place I work. I also remember seeing him at Justin’s funeral. Justin took good care of him. To some people he (bike man) may seem weird, and people do stare, but he holds a special place in my heart b/c Justin knew him.
Tiffany Ayers: sister
Anytime I had a first date with a guy, I always made sure to go where Justin & Jessica were playing. So they could meet and see what “vibe” Justin picked up on. Justin was the life of the party. He taught me how to take my first shot of whiskey. But most of all, he loved me as his sister.
When we were young we had petty, brother/sister fights over the Nintendo. We argued during the countless trips to the lake while water skiing, knee boarding, and playing cards. We never really had a lot in common…….I skip ahead to adulthood and we’d hit a point of common ground with being married, buying houses, and having babies. I finally felt connected to my big brother and sister-in-law! Seemed as everything had come together and was great until that night. I sit here typing this, knowing I’m not the person that says much about these things. But I wanted Jess to know that he’s always in my heart and miss him deeply!
Band Members, Co-Workers, and Friends
Brian Woodall: childhood friend, band mate, and best man
He literally made me laugh every time I communicated with him. No matter if it was in person, via text, a Facebook message, or phone call.
He bought me the Aerosmith “Get A Grip” album after finding out my mom had made me return it to the store years earlier. My favorite memory of him is from June 2013, the last time we went to Shell Island. We walked to the gulf side, sat and talked about for life for a while. Many great memories but that’s a good one.
Gary Marschka: friend, co-worker, student, and bandmate
I took lessons from Justin for about 5 years. I will admit that after 3 years I could play fine. I continued the lessons because Justin was so much fun to hang out with. Our first day of lessons, he asked me, “what kind of music do you listen to?” I said, “Queen,” and he seemed so excited. That felt like I’d impressed him. Years later he asked me to play guitar in his band. This was so meaningful to me. For so many years, I looked up to him as a musician and a friend. I was able to use everything he taught me while playing on stage with him. Miss you, Ayers
Steven Riley: Justin’s high school friend
There’s a VHS tape out there somewhere of what I think was the first time I really hung out with Justin. It was our first jam session… and it was horrendous. It came complete with me on a distorted acoustic, Brian on drums, and a pre-adolescent Jason on vocals. At the time I’m pretty sure we thought we were killin’ it. I still can’t hear Aerosmith’s Cryin’ without hearing it in Jason’s voice.
Josh Scalf, Trombonist for Jake Owen, high school friend
Everyone knew Justin was a brilliant guitarist, and I’m sure they knew he was funny, but many don’t know just how funny he was. He was doing bits that could have landed him a gig with The Tonight Show or similar shows.
Kimberly Gambol: my childhood friend
When I walked down the aisle at my wedding, the only music was Justin playing his acoustic guitar. Whatever he played was perfect. I would come over to hang with Justin and Jessica and we’d sit and watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and Tim and Eric together. We’d CRACK UP while Jessica would roll her eyes and go upstairs. We would just stay downstairs laughing!
Justin Pepin: our friend
I always enjoyed going to the store on Fridays after work to hang with Ayers. I would start getting excited around lunchtime, counting down the minutes until I could bolt out of work.
It was my Friday ritual, and no matter what stresses had occurred, it brightened my week. As soon as I walked into the store, I knew Justin would greet me with an adult beverage and a top notch story. We would all hang out and listen to the play-by-play of his week’s events……..told in Justin fashion of course. Jessica would routinely remind us that they had made plans for the evening. And that we would not be extending Friday festivities into the wee hours of the night. But Justin always found a way to finagle her and she always seemed to give in. But just when he thought he’d won, she’d use her “Jedi mind tricks” to persuade us to eat Mexican food. It was like this dance that we all did and we all knew our parts. Always good times with a great group of people.
Sara Thompson: my friend
He always cracked me up with his stories about the people that came into the music store. I also loved how he just accepted me and befriended me no questions asked. Sure think about him a lot. Such a personable and likable guy with such a passion for music and love for life.
Melissa Johnson, my friend
I love how Justin always made me feel welcome at his house! He even gave me a nick name, Melissa Etheridge. I could come by any time. He would make you laugh until your belly hurt! We miss you, Biebs!
Casey Dowgul, my friend
Justin could talk to anyone and make anyone feel like they had known him forever.
Anyone who met him knew that that quickly. When I go through my memories and think about Justin, pictures from past youth trips come into my mind. On the way back from a youth trip I ended up with Justin, Samantha, and Buck Henry (there’s an eclectic group) at a table at Steak n Shake. That dinner produced pictures of Justin on a camel, that he will later reproduce at Shuckums (obsession with climbing on things maybe) and another picture wearing Steak n Shake hats while holding knives ready to go after the other person…mature I must say. But Justin was never a dull moment and always produced a good story which became a long term memory.
John and Kristi Claunch: our friends
John: My best memories of Justin are pretty simple. Playing Texas Hold ‘Em until the wee hours, then busting out some Mario Kart and doing impromptu jam sessions even though he was the only one that could really play.
Kristi: My first memory of Justin was being a third wheel at Jimmy’s Diner with him and Jessica. He was ALWAYS so inclusive and funny and made you feel like you mattered. His heart was HUGE!!
David John Hirth, lead guitarist in The Panhandlers: guitar student and friend
The first time I ever played live music in front of anyone was with Justin. I was so nervous! We played a couple Buckcherry songs that he taught me in class at Bay High….haha. I’ll never forget when Ayers nodded for me to solo; how cool it felt. Then he soloed and embarrassed me.
Garrett Brown, lead vocalist of Jam Therapy: band mate
A lot of the time Justin and I spent together was behind his work bench at B&H. One time in particular, he was trying to customize a guitar of mine but the new parts didn’t fit in the body. He knew I had a gig that night so he rushed to have it finished, but broke his routing tool in the process. So being the forward thinking gentleman that he was, he proceeded to take a hammer and chisel to the inside of my Telecaster until he made the part fit. It still looks all chipped up under the hood and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Chase Morgan, bass player in Jam Therapy: band mate
Justin was such a fun guy, and so influential to me. Some of the best memories, among many, were out-of- town gigs while relentlessly quoting “Beavis And Butthead” until Jessica couldn’t stand it any longer. Gigs with him in general were as fun as it gets. To play with someone that insanely good who let me be free to go about it as I pleased was the best. Talented and hilarious every time.
Chad Thompson: band mate
I will never forget the first day I met Justin. We were in rehearsals for our new band Raidiodaze . I was fresh off a break up from my fiancé, and just gotten off an 800 mile flight from Kansas. I was emotionally and physically spent and I asked my new band members: Todd, Scott, Justin and Robin, why they thought I would “be a good drummer for this band?” Justin looked at me and said, “Man, just be yourself, the rest of it will fall in place.” One of the best guitarist I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing the stage with and I miss him so much!
Keely Raquel Shannahan: guitar student and band mate
I’ll never forget the first conversation I ever had with Justin. I had befriended Jess working at the new Margaritaville in PCB while I was a senior in high school. After I told her that I loved to sing and write songs, she told me that her husband was a guitar teacher. Shortly after this, one morning on my way to school (around 7am) not sure why I chose this time of day, I decided to call him to see ask about taking lessons. Who knows why he answered. He was sound asleep and said something along the lines of “can I call you back when it’s not the crack of dawn.” This makes me laugh thinking about it. That wake up call led me to a new friend and musical mentor that had such an impact on my life. Justin was the first person I ever co-wrote a song with. That one song led to 30+ songs. I would sing my idea, and he could always play what fit. His talent was so inspiring and such a blessing to my musical journey. My journey with him gave me the confidence to move to Nashville, and continue to pursue my passion for music. The tattoo on my arm is for him “never break the chain” lyrics by Fleetwood Mac (He told me they were cool). The chain he started for me and so many others is pure gold; one of a kind.
JoBeth Bird: my aunt, and Charlsie Bird McElroy: my cousin
JoBeth-Justin was so kind and loving to my Mom (gammaw). He always included her, spent time with her, and she absolutely loved “that Justin”! She talked of him often and fondly. Charlsie-I guess my fondest memory of Justin was exchanging Christmas presents at the cabin. He was always so animated and made sure everyone was having a good time. Truthfully, that really is what all my memories of him are like. Chilling out, telling stories, and making music and laughter.
Josh Hinson: brother-in-law and band mate
Justin was always quick to make amends. That was something that left a huge impression on me.
Flashback 2009, our trip to Las Vegas. A group of us had just arrived in Vegas and we were all super-excited to get started. Justin and Jessica (especially Justin) made it clear right away that they had zero interest in going clubbing.
I didn’t take a comment Justin made very well, and we exchanged some pretty harsh words. I remember shouting, “Forget you, and have a nice trip,” and I immediately walked away. I did not expect, or want to hear from him, for the rest of our trip. Less than a minute later, I received a call from him.
I expected him to “let me have it” again. Much to my surprise, he was calling to make up. I couldn’t believe that it had been less than a minute, and he was ready to move on! I certainly wasn’t ready and was still furious. But the heartfelt sincerity I heard in his voice won me over. We squashed it right then and there. That was the moment that I gained a deep respect for Justin. A respect that still remains, and continues to challenge me. I want to be more like that in my own life.
Bill Hinson: father-in-law and sound tech
My most poignant memory (not the same as favorite) is a flashback to June of 2010. It was our annual weeklong “Hinson Vacation”.
The Hinson clan can be pretty competitive, and let’s just say that: me, poker, and adult beverages, don’t mix. While playing a round of Texas Hold’Em I said a few harsh things over a bad loss. Justin and I exchanged some choice words over my “mouthiness”. Things got so heated that Justin and Jessica decide to pack their stuff and leave.
While on their way out the door, Jess came upstairs to tell everyone goodbye. By this time, I’d finally calmed down. I immediately went to talk to Justin. At a time when I was crushed and dangling on my own “petard”, Justin allowed me to apologize and he immediately forgave me. I loved him more in that moment and it showed me that my daughter had married a good man. I miss him every day, so much so that I can’t usually talk about it. I’m not proud of this day, but I thought that it was important, regardless of how small and petty I look.
Sandy Hinson: mother-in-law, guitar student, and music teacher
Justin was so unassuming as to how talented he truly was!!!!
Something he did annually for me was to play at the Fifth Grade Chorus Festival. On this particular year, Justin agreed to drive to Deer Point Lake for a practice. He arrived long after most of them, having been at work all day. While Justin was getting his guitar out and setting up his amp, the other guitar player proceeded to tell him how they were going to “play the songs”!! Justin listened, shook his head in agreement and said, “OK, can you give me an example?” The young gentleman proceeded to play his heart out, the way he felt it should be interpreted. When he finished, Justin turned his amp on, grabbed his guitar, did that top string slide down (his own special style), and played the entire song to utter perfection. The kid watched intensely; his mouth open wide. When Justin finished, the kid took a deep breath and said, “How did you do that?” I cracked up all the way home.
My deepest gratitude to everyone who contributed to this post. I didn’t originally plan to use everyones stories but found them all special and unique in their own way. I couldn’t bring myself to cut a single one. Jax will cherish these memories when he is older.
It’s Christmas time and, like most 3-year-olds, your son is obsessed with Santa, Frosty, and his silly Elf On The Shelf (sorry to admit it but I broke down and bought one this year). I’m sure you’d be happy to know that he also has a fondness for baby Jesus.
His first obsession, Old McDonald, used to occupy any and every barn in sight. But now when he spots a one, he says, “That’s where baby Jesus sleeps.” Heart warming right? But that’s not the reason I know you would love it. I know you’d love it because it would give you another opportunity to make fun of me.
You know that nativity scene I made? It’s Jax’s favorite Christmas decoration. We were at my parents house a few nights ago and Jax was intensely looking at it. While admiring baby Jesus and the goat, my dad walked over and told him how special the piece of art was. “Your mommy made this when she was a little girl,” he said. At that moment, I knew you had to be laughing from up above. I picked up the lopsided barn and flipped it over. While holding it under the light, I was able to make out the date: November 20, 2001. My Dad looked at me and said, “Wait a minute, in 2001 you weren’t a little kid.” “Nope” I replied, “I was 17.” His face turned bright red as he burst into laughter. I quickly joined in.
I told him the story of the year Mom put out what you thought was my 3rd grade art project. It became a running joke. Year after year, Mom admired it while you laughed. I’d sulk for a minute, but eventually join in the mockery. I gave it my best, but I knew it was awesomely bad. My teacher must have felt sorry for me because I actually got an “A” on the project.
We are born with different talents and skills in life. I was blessed with the ability to sing and to write. But I cannot draw, sculpt, or paint. You, on the other hand, were awesome. You could do it all, and I was envious. Your wonderfully (inappropriate) cartoon doodles ended up on everyone’s junk mail and birthday cards. Your adult guitar students would have a thoughtfully drawn out cartoon to go along with their lesson. I’m sure they all cherish these today.
I let Jax pick out a Christmas decoration to put on your grave this year and he chose carefully. After holding 4 or 5 different items, he picked out a bobble head Santa Claus. Pretty appropriate I thought. Your son has your spirit and your sense of humor. We will visit your grave on Christmas this year and I’m sure I will cry. But maybe I can fight back the tears and laugh like you did. I’ll use my 11th grade art project as inspiration.
A sequel to my airplane story.
After reading a lot of nasty feedback on this article. I want everyone to know that a vast majority of my open letter was taking place in my mind, IT NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED!!
None of my letter happened in real life. Besides this—My son pushed his feet on the man’s seat and the man stood up and yelled at him. I apologized and told my son to stop. But my kid is three, he doesn’t quite understand what is going on yet. Less than five minutes later, he got into a confrontation with another couple on the plane. He was sitting in their seat and the flight attendant was forced to defuse the situation by bumping him up to first class.
I never actually got into a confrontation with this man. Nor did I let my kid kick his seat for two hours. My son kicked his seat once and that was it. I did, however, get pissed of over the remainder of the flight. I stewed away, thinking about how rude he was to my kid. The only other thing that actually happened was the nice lady on our connecting flight. She did tickle his feet and talk to him over the course of the flight. She made it easier for him to relax and not swing his feet around. This was my attempt to thank her and shine a light on her kindness, as well as his rudeness.
I will always try my best to keep my son’s feet off of an airplane seat. I can now see how this article might have given people the wrong impression. I have learned from this and going forward, I will be much more aware of what I write. I won’t leave so much up for interpretation.
Let me also say that mommy shamming is not nice and I really wish we would stop. We need to support one another, instead of putting each other down. I myself have internally judged another mother before and I realize just how self-righteous it was. If you are keeping them safe, teaching them right from wrong(telling them it’s not okay to kick a seat), and loving them with all your heart. BRAVO!!! Kisses to all!!!
This post was originally published on POPSUGAR. The link is posted below.
The winter holidays have always been my favorite time of the year. You know those obnoxious people who put a Christmas tree up before December comes? That was me. I binge watched the Hallmark channel, played Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is You on repeat, and drank enough eggnog to fill a swimming pool(bourbon included of course). By the time New Years rolled around my credit card was maxed out, and I could barely button my jeans. I couldn’t make sense of why anyone wouldn’t love the song Santa Baby and had a disdain for people with a “Scroogey” mentality.
Even though I had sympathy for those in need, I lacked empathy for the average Joe or anyone who put a damper on my Christmas spirit. I assumed their holiday depression could be remedied with a delicious gingerbread cocktail, or some warm apple pie. It wasn’t until I was pushed into my own worst nightmare that I realized what a fool I’d been.
I became a widow on June 17 of 2014. Three days before my husband died, we had a child together. Bringing my son into this world was a nothing short of a miracle, but my joy was turned inside out when I lost Justin. It would be a short six months until December, and I knew it would be a catastrophe. My “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament would be replaced with a “In Memorandum” one. I would not just mourn my husband, I would also mourn my baby’s first Christmas.
Weeks after Justin’s death, I started seeing a counselor. He was helping me through the different stages of grief when out of nowhere he breached the subject of the holidays. “Don’t you dare,” I said in anger. It wasn’t even October and he was already talking about Christmas? Tears filled my eyes when he informed me that I needed to start facing this now. I protested; telling him of my plans to bypass the holiday season. “It won’t be something you can escape,” he said. When October rolled around we made plans to have our weekly session. But this time it would be at a Sam’s Club. I was clueless as to why. Upon entering the store I noticed a Christmas light display. “Follow me”, my counselor said. We walked a few feet and stopped at the beginning of an aisle; the Christmas aisle. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was October, yet the insane amount of Christmas decorations made it look like December. As we made our way through the red and green garland, I sobbed while I remembering all of the happy holiday memories with Justin. That was the moment I realized I could run, but I could not hide.
My family and I came up with a plan for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We would remove ourselves from any familiar surroundings as we knew they would only torment us. I told every friend, foe, and family member of our plans, and made it clear that I would not be accepting any gifts or attending anything resembling a turkey dinner. We flew to Newport Beach, CA on Thanksgiving day. I was refreshed to spend 10 days with my childhood friend Kimmy. It was the first time I could breath in five months. I’d been surrounded by death for so long and I finally felt a little free. I ran laps around the cliffs of Corona del Mar while blasting my iPod. I told myself not to stop. I could feel my heart pounding harder the faster I went. When I finally slowed down to catch my breath I noticed the magnificent view of the cliffs, and the beach down below. I felt at peace, and I never wanted to leave.
By the time we returned to Florida, the Christmas holiday was in full swing. Our neighborhood was oversaturated with white lights, wreaths, and blow up santas. That calm and peaceful place I found on the cliff that day was slipping away. Having always been on the other side of Christmas i.e. the joyous side, I never realized just how much society throws it in your face. Why had I wasted so much time watching the Hallmark channel when even the Syfy channel played Christmas programs? Did every single restaurant have to shove a gingerbread martini down my throat? And since when did grocery stores start playing holiday music. I couldn’t even shop for milk without hearing my once beloved Santa Baby. It was everywhere! Serves me right I suppose. I took each day as it came and when Christmas eve finally arrived, we drove to Atlanta, GA.
On Christmas day there wasn’t much to do, most places were closed. My mom discovered the Georgia Aquarium was open, and it seemed like the perfect place to spend our anti-holiday. As we walked around with hundreds of strangers, it occurred to me that I had now become that person I’d always loathed; and I felt ashamed. Ashamed of not only the person I used to be, but the one I’d become. I gazed into the bright blue fish tank and noticed a stingray swimming my direction. My six-month-old son pointed at the beautiful creature and he started giggling. Tears streamed down my face as I smiled and made a promise to never be so selfish again. In that moment I realized that a big part of me still wanted to buy my son his first Christmas ornament. I found a beautiful silver one in the shape of a baby rattle. It opened up and on the inside was a place for a photo. I had inscribed: “To my gorgeous son, you are my strength.” It still sits next to his daddy’s things in a box.
This year will be mark my fourth Christmas without Justin. I still dread this time of year, and I suppose Christmas will never be the same. But I know that it can and will be good again. I have my son to thank for that!