Today is my cousin’s birthday. He died a young man…too young. Survived by three children and a beautiful woman who has been raising those kids on her own since his death. It’s hard not to be sad when thinking about Jamar and his death. But instead of sadness, I want to pay tribute to the love we shared.

Jamar and I didn’t grow up together as you would expect cousins should. We spent a little time together as kids, but nothing I can really recall with clarity or regularity. But as I got older, I began feeling the need to connect and spend time with my cousins. So I called. And when I got a car, I would go visit at least once or twice a month; sometimes once or twice a week.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but these visits would lay the foundation for undoing the disengagement our parents had created. We enjoyed each other’s company and loved each other. We became friends and confidants. We became family.

Eventually he and his family moved to Los Vegas and we didn’t spend as much time together, but we never grew apart. Then, one day, I got a call. Jamar had over-dosed on drugs and had died.

So we dropped everything, and headed to Las Vegas to be together as a family, mourn his loss and celebrate his life.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed so much, that I hadn’t had enough time; that he was entirely too young. But I remembered the afternoons we had spent chatting and watching TV in his living room. The time I knocked over his beer and he joked “I beat my kids for less!” I realized that I was lucky. Despite the boundaries that had kept us apart as kids, we had developed a deep bond as adults.

Sometimes, when the program I created for his memorial falls out of my journal, I cry, wishing I had had more time. But all that matters is that he knew I loved him and that I knew he loved me. His loss brought the rest of us together. For all of these things, I am grateful.

So this is my tribute to my cousin Jamar. I really miss him.