Hours after his death, I thought of donating his body to science. Upon urging from Tony's father and my mother, I decided to have a one-day viewing/funeral service before cremation, bringing closure for family and friends. It was one of the best decisions made during that heartbreaking time.
400 caring people came to say goodbye, including many of Tony’s friends from school. Even Father Matt, who gave Tony’s eulogy and final blessing, graduated from the same Catholic boys school. These dear boys were all there -- one friend even flew in from Chicago when he heard what happened. Another young man came up to me and wanted me to know that a number of the fellows were talking and said that they never heard Tony say an unkind word about anyone.
I wish you could have known my Tony. He was the dearest, loving and most helpful son a mother and father could have had. He was also the best stepson, grandson, nephew, stepbrother, cousin, brother-in-law and friend. I also want to share with you how Tony died.
Days following his death there were so many questions running through my mind and it was at this time that Tony's stepdad discovered his journal. He hesitated giving it to me, but I am so glad that he did. I stayed up all night reading it. Most of it was written while he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but there were many clear moments during his writings that were brilliant, beautiful, poetic, and heart wrenching. His writings were of a tortured soul, loving and hating what he was doing.
In his own words, "My personality has been predisposed to experimentation with drugs and I did so with ferocity. I would say that there are others with situations that could compare to mine, but I don't believe I will ever see anyone or recognize a mirror image." This dear boy, who scored so brilliantly on his SATs, and was a voracious reader, wrote, "...battling my feelings of stress and loneliness and feeling unconfident."
He said his journey started at age 12 with alcohol, once a month for three months. Age 15, he started smoking marijuana two times a week for six months. At age 16, he took one dose of a psychedelic drug once a week. At age 20, he was doing narcotics three times a week for one year. And finally at age 21, Tony went to rehab, due to the intercession of one of his concerned friends, who told me about his problem. He eventually lapsed back to drugs. Age 22, he had been on methadone for a year and a half, and at age 24 he drank alcohol on weekends and eventually died of a heroin injection
What starts an alcoholic to drink, a drug addict to use? We probably all know someone who drinks too much. Tony's own family from both sides included a grandfather, great-grandfather, great grandmother and two uncles who were alcoholics. What is it in our brain that allows one person the ability to say, "No, I've had enough," and another unable to do so? Tony was pretty much clean the last six months of his life. He had even taken the test with the city and started an entry-level job at the Water Board that he hoped would lead to better things. But, Tony had a relapse and I talked to him of my concern. He told me, "Mom, I need to start going to meetings again."
Our last night together was wonderful. We cooked stir-fry together and laughed over dinner. He was sober and off drugs, alert and smiling. He had movie plans to go out with his stepbrother the Friday night that he died. That was the night he got paid and relapsed into heroin.
The doctor said his heart couldn't accept this sudden change again and although the coroner said the small amount should not have killed him, something in it was bad that did. I guess part of this letter is to all of you kids who will start families of your own someday. Take great care, not only with your own health, but also in raising your children. Watch them carefully and never assume everything is perfect. Watch for signs and don't be afraid to step in, be firm and do what is right for their health and well being.
Never stop loving them and never give up on them. The urge is so unbelievably strong. They really don't want to be drinking or using, but it is their every thought, it changes them, it consumes them, it devours them and eats them alive.
I know if Tony could say anything one more time it would be to tell you, "Don't be stupid like me, I gambled and lost, and it wasn't worth it. Let my life be your wake up call."
Tony had a very kind and gentle heart and said himself, "I have no feelings to hurt anyone, I only seem to hurt myself."
I know with all my heart that he is truly at peace now and waiting to see us all someday -- to laugh and hug each other again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Partners for Hope raise critical funds on behalf Partnership to End Addiction – the nation’s leading organization dedicated to addiction prevention, treatment and recovery. Every dollar raised on behalf of the Partnership* will help ensure free, personalized family support resources, including our national helpline, peer-to-peer parent coaching, customized online tools and community education programs, can reach those who need them most. Please consider donating to this fundraiser and sharing this page.
*Donations made to Partnership to End Addiction are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. All contributions are fully tax-deductible, as no goods or services are provided in consideration in whole, or in part, of any contribution to this nonprofit organization. EIN: 52-1736502