“Drive fast, take chances,” was a common parting phrase Matt would share as we hugged goodbye. Originally I thought he was just kidding, now I’m not so sure.
Like most of Matt’s loved ones, I’m still reeling in grief and disbelief. There are days where it is simply too hard to handle.
Matt was a part of nearly my entire life. As his self-dubbed “kid sister” he was there for every single major life milestone. When I went to college – he got me & my friends an airport hotel room so we wouldn’t sleep inside Midway on our way to Spring Break. Or when I moved to Chicago – I remember the delight in his eyes when I introduced him to the tamale man (a stranger that walks into bars with coolers of hot tamales for sale). When I played tackle football he would yell “Go get ‘em Okey!” and smack me on the ass. Or when I entered business school – his wise career advice really set in. He stood up in my wedding – delivering, alongside Jen, a killer comedy rendition of Corinthians. Lastly, when I became a parent – he would scoop up his godson “Specs” every single moment his wife or daughters were not holding him.
All of my greatest milestones Matt was there.
It is very hard for me to imagine future milestones and adventures without him. You see, Matt was always up for an adventure. He LOVED to try new things and explore different cultures, perspectives, food, etc. In many ways, he was an adrenaline junkie. The best part was that he did not have to experience the adventure first hand. He loved to hear and share stories. Last Christmas our family was in Hawaii and split up for the day. My parents, wife & I drove down into Waipio Valley including a one-lane access road with inclines up to 40%. When we returned we gushed with Matt about the rush and fear of the drive and the incredible views once inside the valley. This was a common pattern – experience something amazing/terrifying/baffling and share it with Matt in person, via Facetime or text. The more outrageous the story the better.
The thought of not sharing my best, and worst, adventures with Matt is hard to swallow. At the end of December, fresh off our first holiday without him, my wife & parents traveled to Arizona. We were celebrating their belated 70th birthdays by visiting the Grand Canyon & Sedona’s Red Rocks. In the past my wife, Matt & I had dreamed of a cross country road trip (Jen would fly to the west coast & meet us, as she had no interest in the RV!). The Grand Canyon was one of our stops.
This trip to Arizona could not be my first adventure without Matt. I needed to find a different way to bring Matt along. So I took Matt with me to the Grand Canyon. I stood atop one of the wonders of the world & showed it to him. When we made it to Sedona, we traveled to the Chapel of the Holy Cross – a church built into the side of the Red Rocks. I lit a candle in Matt’s name and said a prayer – that he would be willing to join our adventures in a new way. He answered by snowing us in the next day.
Grief is strange and hard. It comes in waves, ripping you out into choppy waters then gently guiding you back to shore – wiser, weaker, stronger and more humble than before. One moment you can’t breathe then the next life continues on beautifully. The amazing thing about change is that although hard, it brings with it new. And along the journey new traditions can blossom in the rubble. Life can grow and thrive after a storm. I may never get another epic hug from Matt. And I can’t gush about the Grand Canyon over a beer. But if I bring Matt with me, I won’t have to. He will be with me in a new light even closer than before.
I don’t plan to drive (too) fast. But I will take chances, with Matt by my side.