A Letter To The Friend I Never Got To Say Goodbye To

A Letter To The Friend I Never Got To Say Goodbye To

I will take your memory with me wherever I go.
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Dear Justin,

I'm sorry this took so long, but I wanted to make sure I obtained the platform that both of us could be heard on before I even considered writing this. For so long you ran through my mind because I felt I never properly got to say goodbye to you, but now what better way would there be than to let everyone know how much you meant to those around you, and for anyone else feeling the same way to know that it's going to be OK.

Throughout our lives, you were always teaching me lessons on the block. Among the big kids, we always tried to fit in. We played basketball, football, man-hunt, and boxes on the Brooklyn sidewalks of Washington Avenue between DeKalb and Willoughby for years. We were the little ones of the group, as we always tried our best to fit in with those who were years older than us. Bumps, bruises, cuts, and scars on our bodies were the gifts that the block that raised us, left on our bodies as memories that we would hold dear for years to come. I know you remember just as much as I do being laughed at, and enjoying the summer days because we had nothing to worry about as kids. You were one of my best childhood friends, whether it was inside playing Xbox, or outside creating mischief, no adventure was too big for us to embark on.

July 2017 was a period that helped me grow much more than I thought it would. One of those reasons was because of your passing. I remember seeing you two days prior, and everything being well. Of course, with time we didn't talk as much as we should've, but we both knew what the deal was. Whatever you needed I was there and vice versa; it was always just good to see that youth we grew up with was alive and thriving. The news soon came and sent disbelief throughout the building we grew up in, and the hearts of those who raised us. You know it doesn't really hit you at first; one day you're making sure everything is good with each other and the next you realize that was the last time I'd see you. We got together, made a vigil, and parted ways as we tried to retain our best and most important memories with you.

These memories, these events, helped me grow in ways you may have never realized. For a while, I forgot what it was like to lose someone so close to you to senseless acts of violence, not that I wanted to remember, but it reminds you sometimes of the things you fight for on a daily basis. Prior to losing you, I lost my cousin in the same fashion. By a gun and the hand of someone who can only be defined as a coward. This reminds you that as a black male, or black individual in general, life can be very short. One thing I never expected at age twenty was to lose someone who I called my friend for pretty much my whole life. You never expect to see something like this. You expect to grow, watch each other succeed and be there at the end of the day to say "I got you, no matter what." But sadly, that isn't the reality youth like you and I get to see because of the world around us.

I watched your mom shed tears like I've never seen, and hope to never see again in my lifetime. Every time I see her, I know that there's a piece of you that she carries everywhere, and every time we speak, I know that I'm speaking to you too. If I could tell her one thing, it would be thank you. Thank you for playing a pivotal role in my childhood, and thank you for letting me grow up with your son, as all the memories we made are memories I'll cherish for years to come.

For months I continued to battle with myself on how I should remember you, and why I couldn't get over the fact that you were no longer going to be here with us. Every day I credit you for my successes and growth as a young adult. I wore your memorial shirt underneath my button-up and tie to my interview for Hunter College, and I credit a big part of my acceptance to you being with me throughout the whole process. Wherever I go I keep your "In Memory" card in my wallet, and your spirit in my heart.

During your vigil, while your mom was speaking, she talked about how she wanted the youth there to succeed and carry on a legacy that you didn't get to. Out of emotion, I yelled and said that we would, and we would carry you in our hearts and on our backs. It was that promise that I will never forget, and it's that promise that I will hold true in every walk of life that I embark on. For you, I will continue my fight against gun violence, continue to fight for the empowerment of Black youth, and continue to become the social worker/psychologist I know I can be. You are my inspiration because you help set the blueprints for my life.

The 1000+ words in this article only capture a glimpse of the adventures and tales we would leave behind in our journey to adulthood. For anyone who reads this, I want this article to be immortalized so all know not only how much you meant to those around you, but so they also know that it's OK to mourn. Everyone is different, and losing a friend is hard, therefore no one should judge how one deals with the loss of a friend. Let your story be a message to those who need it. Remember to put down the weapons, and enjoy the moments you'll always remember with your loved ones.

Justin, I love you, and I will take your memory with me wherever I go.

Cover Image Credit: Kory Longsworth

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the beautiful barefoot boy

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This morning, I did the same thing I do every single morning when I wake up. Before my feet hit the floor, I say a prayer. I thank God for waking me up, blessing me with such a good life, and pray for any specific thing that is laying on my heart. Lately, I have been praying a lot for the same person many people in my community have been praying for- Matt McGregor. I have prayed for healing, comfort, strength, and many other things to happen in Matt's journey, but I also prayed that God's will be done in his life above all else. Little did I know yet that His will had been done.

I remember Matt from school. Every time I saw him, everyone around him was laughing. And I am not exaggerating. He was one of those special people who can literally make anyone and everyone laugh no matter the situation. He was one of those people that the world needs around to make life more bearable and just down right better.

Death sucks. Cancer sucks. Yes, I am glad that Matt is no longer suffering, but that does not really give me a sense of relief because I know his family and friends are suffering. I think about Matt's sisters, and cannot fathom the pain that they're feeling. I could not imagine life without my brothers, my kids not getting to grow up and hang out with their cool uncles, and telling on each other to our parents when we all come home for Christmas when we're 40. I think about his parents, who are having to do the hardest thing anyone could have to do, say goodbye to their son. I think about his friends, who's lives will never be the same every time they do something that reminds them that he's no longer here to share life with. He was too young, too full of life. The worst death are the ones that can't be explained, and this one of them.

That's the thing about life, you never know when it's going to end and that is what makes it so fragile. Someone you know passes away, and you suddenly start to contemplate whether you are living your life "good" enough. You wish you'd spent more time with the one who passed, hold on a little tighter to the ones who are still here, and make sure you remind them you love them. But to show someone you love them is much more powerful than telling them, and that is exactly how Matt lived his life. His life light was beaming all the time and he was constantly sharing that with everyone around him. That is part of why he was so special.

When someone dies, they leave their own legacy that is different from every single other person on the planet. Your legacy depends on the amount of light that you have shed on others. Looking through Facebook today, it is so obvious that his light touched so many people. Matt's death has reminded me of those that I have and will continue to lose throughout life... there is no better way to say it than death sucks. But even though death sucks, it reminds us to live our life to the fullest, and continue the legacy of those we've lost.

On a side note, I found it interesting that Matt was barefoot all the time, so I googled being barefoot in biblical times. Moses and Joshua was commanded to take off his shoes as he was standing on holy ground, and poor people did not have shoes so they went barefoot. But this is my favorite: priests in Israel went barefoot while ministering. They would take their shoes off before blessing their people. It is evident that Matt blessed so many people's lives in his short time on this Earth. Coincidence that he was known for always being barefoot? I think not.

Let your life light shine brightly like Matt's, and always live life to the fullest.

. . .

In loving memory of Matt McGregor Jr.

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." Revelation 14:13

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9 Family Traditions That Make Christmas Magical

From parades and lights to making cookies for others, there is a way for everyone to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.

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Christmas is a big deal for my family. Especially because my birthday is three days prior to Jesus'! Growing up, we had traditions that we kept every holiday season. It's hard to make sure we check them all off our list now that my sister and I are grown, but do our best to keep as many as possible. Our family is full of traditions so buckle up as I share my crazy family's idea of Christmas fun.

1. Parade hopping

It seems as though we went to a different Christmas parade every year. Nonetheless, whether it was a tiny parade with only a couple of floats or a large one with floats, car, and horses, we always made an effort to watch a Christmas parade of some kind.

No matter which parade we went to, there were two elements that were always present: candy and Santa!!!

2. All the food

From sausage balls to pigs-in-a-blanket on Christmas morning, my mom always made the best food around Christmas.

One of my favorite traditions was making homemade treats for my teachers with my mom. We made these white chocolate-dipped Ritz crackers with peanut butter sandwiched between them-delicious!!

3. Gatherings and parties galore

Christmas dinners on both of my parents' sides of the family was always something I looked forward to growing up. I would run around and play with my cousins until time to eat and then of course open presents.

We also had Christmas parties with ladies from our church where we would play dirty santa-a game that kept us laughing.

4. Decorating

The day after Thanksgiving, I got to help my mom pull out all of our Christmas decorations from containers in storage.

We always seemed to have so many exciting decorations! One of my favorites was a Christmas village that we would set up on top makeshift felt "snow."

I would also assist my dad in putting the lights on our house, which actually meant I would stand in the yard telling him if any of the strands did not look as I thought it should.

Of course, nothing could be compared to putting up our Christmas tree, stringing it with lights, and covering it with what seemed like thousands of sentimental ornaments.

5. Church activities

A Christmas play. A ladies' Christmas banquet. Christmas caroling in the community.

A special activity that our church members participated in was building fruit baskets for the elderly in our community. Even more heart-warming was helping to personally deliver the fruit baskets. Seeing the joy on these individuals' faces filled me with an indescribable joy myself.

6. The lost gift hunt

EVERY year, my mom would "misplace" a gift for one of us kids or my dad.

It never fails every year. After we finish opening our gifts, my mom will say, "I have one more gift for you somewhere; I just cannot remember where I put it!"

Eventually...in January or February...my mom will find the gift and give it to the lucky person who it belongs to, except for the wallet my mom never found that she bought for dad...

7. Mountain getaways

The Great Smoky Mountains are particularly beautiful during the winter and celebrating Christmas there is a remarkable experience. They have the town covered in lights and decorations, and the bakeries have all sorts of Christmas treats.

8. Christmas Eve pajama party

My parents always gave us new Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve for my sister and I to wear. To be honest, I still get excited about this one.

Then we would feast on ham, dressing, mac n' cheese, green beans, and rolls-all made by my mom.

We were allowed to open one gift, but that is it.

9. And drumroll please.....Christmas morning

As I mentioned, we started the day with pigs-in-a-blanket for breakfast and then opened the mountain of gifts that "Santa" had brought us.

After we spent hours marveling over all of our presents, we would join other family members at my great-grandmother Ruth's house for lunch and more gift-giving. I cherish those memories.

Christmas is my favorite time of year and these family traditions make it all the more wonderful.

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