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I have cousins whom I met for the first time in 2015, when one of them, the only girl among four siblings, got married and I flew to the US to attend the wedding.

Jessica and I had written each other when we were young, but all I knew of her brothers were their names, how they looked as children based on some pictures from the 70s and 80s, and the occasional news my mother shared with us. But I thought of them a lot when I was growing up, because for many years my brothers and I ate all our meals at home on personalized plates Auntie Anna had sent from the States. Many times, after I'd see my name underneath the rice, I'd think of theirs: Justin, Steven, Jonathan, Jessica.

The first time I met Justin, the eldest, was at the wedding rehearsal, I think. He was seated on a pew at the back of the church, and someone mentioned food to me. I can't remember what exactly, but it must have elicited delight from me, and when he saw my reaction, he smiled, brown eyes sparkling, and said something like, "We're related, alright!"

We met a few more times after that, and it struck me how kind and warm he was, and how witty too. I found myself wishing we'd grown up close to each other, the way my other cousins and I had.

The longest chat I must have had with him was when he drove me, Sherwil, and Ruth back to my Aunt's home in Bergenfield, after a fun day spent on Jersey shore with his wife Michelle and her sister Cindy. Traffic was bad, but he kept us entertained and told us it was okay to sleep.

I'm grateful that we had that moment, and with my dearest friends too. It was like a catch-up barkada trip, and a big brother was bringing us home.

Once, on Facebook, I posted a picture of my ballpoint pens and said that I hoard them and some other office supplies. He left a comment, something like, "You're family, alright!" Then he posted pics of drawers and drawers of his own stash.

I'd been looking forward to more similar discoveries, to more visits. We lost Justin today. He was lovingly surrounded by our family in the US, and held in the hearts of our family in the Philippines. 

We will miss him always. We will love him forever.

I imagine he is being welcomed in heaven by our grandparents, especially Lolo Lino, and his father, Uncle Justino. And his beloved dog, sweet, sweet Buzz.

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