My cousin Matt passed away unexpectedly this past week at the age of 26. I’m very much still processing this. The funeral was yesterday, and I was able to say a few words about who Matt was and what made my relationship with him special. Matt was a talented musician and writer who used art to process the things he saw happening in the world, as well as his own experiences. He was unlike anyone else I’ve ever met and likely will ever meet. It’s a devastating loss for our family, in particular Matt’s adoring parents Peg and Steve and his younger brother Michael. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to spend the past few days reflecting on the important role Matt played in my life, and how those of us who loved him can keep his legacy alive. The text below is the result of this reflection.
There’s a Rainer Maria Rilke quote that’s been seared into my brain since Tuesday:
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
Of everyone I know, Matt was maybe the person who faced both the beauty and the terror of life most honestly and fearlessly.
Matt faced a lot of adversity in his short life, and he was vocal about it. On the surface, you might mistake his candor for negativity, unless you also had the kind of conversations with him that I did. My cousin was sharp, funny, and, above all things, honest. Matt never shied away from telling the truth, even when it made other people uncomfortable. It was one of the things I most respected about him.
Reality is the same whether you shine a light on it or not. Bad things are happening in the world, and Matt wouldn’t let them pass unnoticed. You could often find him in the streets marching in protest against police violence, or passionately sharing his perspective on social media. There was no such thing as a shallow conversation with Matt. His music and poetry lamented the damage that things like capitalism, war, and oppression were doing to the world and its people. He had deep compassion for humanity, and it devastated him when we fell short of what he knew we could be.
Despite everything the world threw at him, Matt had a strong sense of his own worth—and of the value of life. One of his recent texts to me said, “I understand why life is valuable. I also understand that I’m lucky to be 26 years old. I believe that I’m brilliant and have made a substantial contribution to the world.” He had the intrinsic belief in his own artistic talent that so many of us spend our entire lives grasping at. He was fully out of his own way; the world was in it.
Matt always made me feel seen and understood. He was fiercely supportive of the people he loved, and I’m sure that each of us in this room could name a way that Matt impacted our lives.
In my case, Matt made me braver. Through his example, he taught me how to be fearless in my creative work. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders, always one of the first people to comment on or amplify something I’d produced. Our last conversation was about collaborating on a creative project, and it will break my heart forever that he didn’t stay with us long enough for it to happen. Routinely, as if it were second nature to him, Matt held a mirror up to me that reflected something completely different from—and better than—what I saw in myself.
And that’s how Matt was. He saw a better version of each of us, of all of us. And to honor his memory, the best we can do is to try to emulate that vision. I know I will.
I wanted to close with some words of hope and perseverance from Matt:
The waves of the ocean break on my body
I can stop the rain and make the sun shine
I can travel far, move mountains
And when I decease, I will still live
Because I am God’s child
I’m feeling good everyday
Ain’t nothing you can do or say
To bring me down, I will stay
Stay high up, and I will pray
But no matter what I won’t lay
Lay on down while time passes away
We gotta stand up and cherish today
There’s so much more I have to say
It’s now up to us to say it for him.