Seven years ago today, my cousin, Matthew, passed away. He was thirteen years old—far too young to die. I honestly don’t even remember the details of how it happened, but none of that really matters to me. What matters is that it happened, and that he didn’t deserve it. He was too good of a person.
You see, Matthew isn’t my actual cousin. A lot of people who I say are my cousins aren’t. When my mom’s parents moved to the island, they lived across the street from and befriended Matt’s grandparents. Our mothers and aunts and uncles grew up together, and so we were family. Matt, his brother, Mitchell, and their cousin by blood, Teresa, grew up with me and my sister, Brianna. We were pretty tight as children.
I don’t have too many memories that I actually remember with Matt, but those that I do, are all ones worthy to remember.
My very favorite was back when we were at the boys’ old house. They lived out east, and we went with our Mom for a barbecue and some quality time. We spent the day out in the pool, but when night fell, Brianna, Matt, Mitchell, our other cousin, Lisa, and I went inside. And while the adults chatted in the backyard, we jammed out to our favorite songs in the living room.
I specifically remember playing All Star by Smash Mouth and 1985 by Bowling For Soup, and singing and dancing along to the music, like the hyper kids we were. We even made up a a little bit of choreography to 1985, that I still remember to this day. And now, whenever I hear that song, I am brought back to that moment, in a living room, laughing and dancing and singing our little hearts out.
People always say, after someone’s died, how great they were. They forget about shitty things that were said and done, and they focus on the good. But for me, it’s different with Matt. I’ve never seen a bad side of him. Not even once, in the thirteen years that I knew him. He was the kind of person that would make you laugh when you were upset, and help you out with anything, without you even having to ask. He’s probably the purest, most kind-hearted person I ever got to know.
And even though I didn’t see him all too often growing up, finding out that he passed away broke my heart. I didn’t even believe it at first. I remember thinking that he was too young, that there was no way it was even possible…even though I knew that he had medical issues.
His wake is the first in my life that I remember, and I don’t think I could ever forget it. I won’t go into specifics about that night, because I don’t want to relive it, or force anyone else that knew him to relive it, so I’ll just leave it at that it was crowded and emotional. The kid lived for such a short time, and still left a mark on so many people.
And to this day, he still does. Every year in December, for the last seven years, my Aunt Annie (Matt’s mom) along with the rest of her siblings, has held an annual parade and toy drive for children in hospitals across Long Island. Like I quickly mentioned before, Matt had health problems. He was always in and out of the hospital, and yet, that didn’t make him angry. Instead, he used what he knew to inspire him to give back. He wanted to fill a huge truck with toys for kids in hospitals, to bring a little more smiles around the holidays.
So, Aunt Annie fulfilled that wish her son had. She founded a nonprofit organization that she named Matthew’s Wish, and people donate to her, her family, and the local fire department, to fill up that 18-wheeler with gifts for kids.
And because today is the anniversary of Matthew’s passing, I wear blue, honoring his life, and the legacy he’s left behind. Although it isn’t the happiest of days, it is one to remember all the smiles and bursts of laughter that Matt made…and caused.
Even after these seven years, and since the last time I saw him, I still think about him all the time. I don’t even know why I do, but I do. I wonder what he’d look, sound, and act like today. I keep his mom, my Aunt Annie, and his brothers, Mitchell and Max, in my thoughts, constantly. I even talk to him sometimes, and wonder if he can hear me.
But mostly, I am thankful for having known him, and for being a part of his family. I once heard that we are put here, on this Earth, for as long as it takes us to learn how to be the perfect version of ourselves: to be forgiving, kind, selfless, and wholehearted. That’s the only way that it would make sense to me as to why Matt would be taken so early, from his mom and his brothers, and the rest of this world. He already knew how to be all those things.
Prompt: What have you been thinking about lately?