by Krista Schwimmer – Photos by Krista Schwimmer and Jake Sarfaty
On Sunday, January 17th, over one hundred family members, friends, and neighbors gathered at the Venice Pier for a paddle out to celebrate Carter Riley Irwin, and show support for his mother, Mikal Sky, both well-known and well-loved local Venetians. Carter tragically took his own life the previous weekend. He was 18.
Many of Carter’s friends first assembled at the skate park, some wearing t-shirts made for the occasion, with Carter’s image and the words ‘Forever Loved’. Dan St. Pierre, a close family friend who helped organize the memorial, passed out pens and notepads for people to write down memories and thoughts, to later release those notes to the ocean. The group skated and biked to the pier to join together with family and neighbors for the paddle-out.
As Brian Zarate, Josh Klassman, Jeff Gallegos, and Dan Schechter prepared to fight the heavy swell, the community shared their stories and impressions of Carter. Julie Faherty, who had known Carter since birth, spoke of having watched him grow up, and being the love of his life. Jake Sarfaty recalled Carter’s playfulness, when as a boy, Carter wrapped himself in toilet paper and charged out of the bathroom posing as a sumo wrestler. Many of Carter’s teachers talked about his interest in art and photography, his interest in and sensitivity to the people in his life, and the maturity he exhibited from a young age. Paul Steinvurzel shared a story about teaching Carter to drive, after which Carter insisted on taking him out to dinner to thank him, and would not take no for an answer.
The last person to speak was Jake, one of Carter’s friends. Overcome with emotion, Jake described how he had been looking forward to attending Santa Monica College with Carter in the coming semester. Whenever he sees an empty seat on the bus to SMC, he will know that Carter is there in spirit.
Once the surfers were in position by the end of the pier, Zarate and Klassman held canisters above their heads and released Carter’s ashes, and those of his grandmother, Cheree Mascarenas, who passed away in 2013. As the ashes were scattered, the mourners on the pier threw rose petals into the Pacific. Afterwards, the community moved to the Terrace Cafe to share more memories over food and drink.
Tragedy can bring us together, pull us apart, or simply numb us out. The outpouring of love and support in the wake of Carter’s passing shows that the community is seeking to come together. In his remarks at the beginning of the memorial, Dan St. Pierre reminded us to take the time to really find out what is going on with each other, as well as to love one another. The depth of grief and dismay expressed by those who knew Carter at every stage of his life is a measure of how much he was loved. The love he inspired is also a reflection on Mikal Sky, who bore and raised him.
Throughout the ceremony on the pier, a single, white egret stood on the rail, just east of the crowd. Birds are messengers from the gods in many cultures; some birds are thought to carry a soul to the afterlife. In Eastern and Egyptian lore, the snowy egret is connected to the sun, a symbol of healing and resurrection. A herald connected to the sun is especially apt for Carter’s memorial, as he was born on the summer solstice. For the Greeks the egret is a messenger from Aphrodite, goddess of love. As each of us who knew Carter in life wrestles with his death, may the symbol of the egret, the symbol of love, healing, and resurrection, be a light to guide us through our journeys. And may we always remember that we are also part of a larger community that navigates the winds of our lives when we fly together.
Dan St. Pierre organized a Go Fund Me campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/hwyng69k) to raise money for the memorial and related expenses. To date, over $17,000 has been donated.
Lauren Mentzel has organized a fundraiser to help Mikal Sky, Carter’s mother, who is a freelance make-up artist. To support this fundraiser, please go to: www.youcaring.com/mikal-sky-502084.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255, www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Hotline: 877-727-4747, www.didihirsch.org