y cousin Justin used to sporadically send me texts about the new bottles of beer and whiskey he scored at the liquor store, and asking if I’d had them and what I thought. At the time, he was in that feverish phase most craft drinkers go through when all your energy is bent toward seeking out every limited-release bottle and trying every style under the sun. While my days of whale chasing were squarely in the rearview mirror, I enjoyed hearing his enthusiasm and sharing my opinions.
Justin’s messages always seemed to have impeccable timing. Whenever I was most bogged down in editing and stressed about an impending deadline, a text from Justin would buzz my phone and I’d get a brief reprieve to chat with him about his latest spoils. The conversations allowed me to see craft beer through excited eyes again—yet, they were more than that. They were our way of staying connected. Being close in age, we grew up playing together at family events and holidays and developed a strong bond. But a combination of physical distance and juggling the newfound responsibilities of adulthood meant we saw less and less of each other than we used to.
Looking back, I wish I had told him how much I appreciated him making the effort to stay in touch and sharing his excitement with me. We lost Justin three years ago this August to an undiagnosed brain tumor. The loss was staggering; the grief was intense and raw. In those first days after his death, family and friends gathered around his parents and brother and sister and shared stories of Justin, all of which affirmed his infinite capacity to love and to enrich relationships. The stories brought his spirit into the room and helped fill the empty hole left in our chests with the warmth of his smile, even if just for a moment.
After three years, the pain of his passing is still there. At times, it’s a dull ache, at others it’s acute and sharp. But more often than not, I find myself thinking back to those childhood memories of playing together and our text chats as adults, and smiling. Then I light a candle, pour a glass of beer or whiskey, and toast with Justin, who’s still here with us in our hearts.
This month, make the time to tell a loved one why you appreciate them. Send a message to a friend you haven’t had the chance to talk with for a while. Share a favorite story or photo with a family member or friend who has lost a loved one and help keep their spirit alive. There’s no moment like the present. It’s all we’re guaranteed.
Spirits Close-Up: Raise the Dead
By Zachary Sapato
The Taste Test: Oktoberfest
By John Garland
Royalty In Rot
For wine grapes, a death deferred by a Noble fungus
By Britt Tracy
Death of a Beer
In a fickle market, brewers grapple with axing the beers that once defined their brands
By Malena Larsen
The Chilito is Dead, Long Live the Chilito
By James Norton
The Heat is On
Chef Janene Holig is leading Hot Indian Foods through a period of intense growth
By James Norton
Back to the Earth
When it comes to after-death care and burials, green is the new black
By Eric Broker
By Eli Radtke
Resting in Peace
Death doula Jane Whitlock on end-of-life care, grief, and the importance of telling our death stories
By Meredith Heneghan
In My Time of Dying
Musicians must prepare estate plans for their musical works
By Marla Khan-Schwartz, The Current
This month: “Double Feature”
By Andrew J. Ries and Victor Barocas
Looking for past issues? Browse The Growler Archive.