Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tony Garofola (1965-2011) We'll miss you, kid!


this was it
too many hardships
too much pain
they were all so good to me
my brother most of all.

This world was not made for people like me
a black hole somewhere inside my brain
tormenting me since the day I was born.
How many times have I stared at the ceiling
crying “Fix me, Fix me!” to whoever might be listening.

Would it be different when I moved up north?
Judy and I, walking hand in hand,
splashing each other in the salty Atlantic
My tears still flowed

Despair had raced me up the coast of Maine
try as I might to shut it out
it crept in like a shadow and
swallowed me whole.

December 11th
Time to say goodbye
Sitting on my bed where Sleep
was my only friend
the full moon crept in the window
for a last goodbye

Thoughts of Judy and her blue eyes
My nephews Garrett and Stefano and their
mother who was good to me
Their father Michael,
my beloved
almost a twin
would’ve given me a
brain transplant had there been one.

Goodnight sweet world.
The party is over.
The tennis game ends in a draw.
I’ve hiked up enough mountains.
My feet are sore.
I shall go up through the ceiling
beyond the clouds
meet my father and my mother
Surely Death will set me free.

Tony's funeral began this morning at 10 at Saint John of the Cross in the Roslyn section of Abington. The funeral listing is here.

Three people from our support group were there. Ada drove me and we met Helen in the parking lot.

On my New Directions' phone list, I list Tony, plus the phone of his brother Michael. When I saw Mike's name on the Caller ID, I knew why he had called.

Three Upper Dublin police officers came to Mike's home the nite he died and rang the bell. It was 11:30 pm. They gave him the news, staying with him an hour and answering all of his questions.

All the police departments in Montgomery County have been trained about mental illness by the smart and caring people at Montgomery County Emergency Service.

Joe Moore from our group would call Tony periodically. Joe called me about a month ago and told me Tony was not doing well. I then called Tony and persuaded him to attend Mike's Hikes, which he did.

We hiked the Mason's Mill path of Pennypack Trust. I can't tell you how happy I was to see Tony. He rarely attends group. After our walk, we all ate at a new pizza place. New Directions paid the bill, thanks to the donation from the jazz concert at Chris's Jazz Club. Tony thanked me profusely.

That was the last time I saw him. Funny, but it seems as if Tony is here in the room with me now.

It was my unhappy task to email people in the group who knew him. Everyone was shocked and saddened. Jack said "my heart is broken. Tony was my friend."

Tony, a graduate of Upper Dublin High School and Temple University, worked as an actuary in Maine. He had a great girlfriend up there. They kept in touch after he moved back to Pennsylvania to live in his father's house. His dad "Rico", 84, died a couple of years ago. Rico was quite a character, a fun guy, according to what I learned at the luncheon after the funeral.

After his dad died, he bought a Manchester terrier as a companion. He named him Tino. He was 2 when he got him at the dog pound. Now he's 6. I met Tino today when I went to Michael and Elizabeth's house for lunch. When I pulled up, cars were parked all up and down the incredibly hilly street.

His nephews, Garrett, 9, and Stefano, 7, are delighted with their new dog.

On our New Directions website last year, I listed under Job Opportunities "Census Worker." I called Tony and told him about it. Since he wasn't able to find a job as an actuary, he applied for the census job and got it. He did really well.

Joe Moore, above, always has great ideas. Although he was working at Gerhart's, he rounded up Tony and Jack and they begin "finishing" people's decks on weekends. It brought the boys a little extra pocket change until they found real jobs.

Tony was a great athlete. He played tennis year-round and did kick-boxing at LA Fitness. He golfed in Maine. One time at one of Mike's Hikes, we needed to climb an incredibly steep hill at Pennypack Trust. Tony playfully ran up the hill and back down again. It was good to see what a joker he was.

The funeral was very well-attended. I'd never met Michael before so it was a surprise to see what he looked like at the church. Tall and handsome like his younger brother, he had some Bruce Springsteen kind of hair below his lip that looked cool. Wife Elizabeth is a tall striking long-haired blond. The kids, who were playing with those whatchma-call-its in their hands, are both dark-haired and looked cute in their suit and ties.

When Ada and I left, the boys were being coached by a tall nun in street clothes who wore a long necklace with a cross on it. They performed some sort of ritual at the Mass.

The chapel was very beautiful. When New Directions used to meet at the Willow Grove Mall during the day, a few of us would often take a long walk and end up at a church, always going inside to see its beauty, and I believe we ended up at St John of the Cross. Tony would often be among us.
Side view of the church

One woman who was powerfully moved by his death was Virginia. I had introduced the two of them b/c Ginny needed someone to drive her places. Tony became that man. She saw him nearly every week and they had a lot in common and would share bits of information.

For me, poems are a way to collect my feelings and wrap them up like a gift. I kept revising it, whispering it to myself, so I could get the rhythms right. A man read it at the very end of the Mass.

Beforehand, the gold-framed poem was displayed in a prominent place and the ushers directed people to take a look at it. How thoughtful!

Elizabeth and Michael Garofola. I got to know them a bit and see why they have so many friends. She's quite the feisty woman and he's quite the joker.

Exactly one week ago the Garofolas hosted a party with this same group of friends and relatives. Tony was there. He left early, which Mike thought was strange. He had actually gone home to do the deed. A woman at today's party told me she saw him standing over by the sink, waved at him but he didn't see her. "Oh," she thot, "I'll say hi to him later."

But he wasn't there.

With suicides, everyone wonders what they could have done differently to help the deceased individual. Nothing. The individual had made their final decision and nothing we could have done would've stopped them.

My own brother David, the family photographer, took his own life over 30 years ago. He suffered from autism, just as Tony had Asperger syndrome, two brain conditions on the Autism Spectrum. Two days ago a comprehensive article on this subject appeared in the LA Times.

Vat else? she said in a Yiddish accent. No, we don't speak Yiddish anymore. That was in the days of Gramma Zali. Zali is my middle name.

These amazing likenesses of Garrett and Stefano (fantastic names) were done at one of St John's craft shows.

Here they are, taking a rest from playing video games. But only on the weekends!

Here's Tino, who had been following Lizzy all around the house since moving in with them. You can imagine what poor Tino went through, losing his beloved master. Tony had put Tino outside when he was ready to die in the very house he lived in his whole life. It's somewhere behind Sam's Italian Market.

I watched Garrett and a friend who took Tino out for a walk. Garrett was amazed at the way the dog sniffed every little thing. He'd never had a dog before.

This beautiful credenza is from the home of a potato farmer up in Michigan. It's quite old and once belonged to Elizabeth's father or grandfather.

Inside are Michael and Anthony's old toys. The doll to the left was crocheted by Elizabeth's grandmother. Her family boasts amazingly talented craftswomen.

Look at this old telephone. It's got the OL 9 exchange which is now 659. I know it well, since it's my own exchange. For a hot date call 659-2142.

Talked to so many interesting people there! Irene and her husband are neighbors. We shared diabetes info and I told her about all the diabetes updates I get online. When I arrived at the party and sat in my car, I injected 14 units. As I walked up to the house I told myself to "be good."

I had a Coors Light but only drank four huge sips. My first beer since I was diagnosed in April. Irene's husband - is it Joe? - works near the Boulevard for a company that makes all the Gideon bibles that are placed in hotels all over the world. One million are produced every week.

Now Rocky Raccoon, he fell back in his room, only to find Gideon's bible

When I said goodnight, I had many choices how to get to the faraway sidewalk. There were a couple of sets of stairs which, quite honestly, wouldn't be as much fun as walking down the steep hill. I had told one of the guests, who mentioned her sciatica was acting up, that I had a life-changing operation for my sciatica in August. It felt great striding down their steep hill.

And to all a good night!

PS - Please read comments below and add your own. Since it's tough to figure out how to do it, send me an email and I'll do it for you. Thanks!


  1. That is a beautiful chapel. Sorry about your friend. I am glad he was able to enjoy a hike in his final days.

    Wouldn't it be something if he and Christopher Hitchens have since met?

    What a surprise for both of them!

  2. that's hilarious about tony and hitchens meeting!

  3. Fontaine remembers Tony. After we went to the Woodmere Museum at Ada's Outing, we went to a little restaurant where Tony and I and Veyonna got to talking. We shared a table and had good conversation. He was such a sweet guy. My prayers go out to his family.

  4. i loved Tony. he was always so nice to me at your parties and events. such a gentle, kind man. this is so very sad and shocking.

  5. From Rob Lokoff: I didn't know Tony very well. What I did know was that he was a nice guy with a gentle soul. I was at a New Directions movie night with him in our Davisville Road office and I could tell he was having a hard time keeping up with our conversation. I could feel his discomfort as we chatted and I wanted to help him follow along with us. When the group ended Ruth asked me to drive Tony back to her house to pick up his car. During that short ride he explained to me what an actuary is and he told me about his college education. He was very humble about his accomplishments. I guess maybe too humble. I was always glad to see Tony and I will miss him.

  6. From Rich Stohler of Dresher PA: I met Tony 3 years ago at a tennis class. We were fortunate to have played frequently and have gotten to know each other. We played at the same skill level but also had the same interest level and schedule flexibility to play singles several times a week, year round. I guess I felt I saw him as often as anyone.

    I am on the quiet side myself, so I could appreciate his quiet nature. I got to know pretty much everything about him except for Judy but never questioned him and never concluded he was clinically diagnosed with depression and a form of autism.

    I tried to treat Tony the way I would treat any other true friend. He attended my daughter's graduation party in 2010 and we probably would have had him over more often if we weren't so engaged with our own families.

    Knowing what I know now, I feel fortunate I got to know him and that he offered what he did of himself. It must have been very difficult for him.

    I was shocked to see his obituary in the paper last week and words can't begin to express how deeply moved I was not only learning of his death but also learning about the circumstance of his death and condition at the funeral yesterday. It wasn't clear who you were but I noted your name and I feel fortunate to have found your blog on the internet. Your blog was very helpful in understanding more about Tony and his condition.

    I have been trying to make sense of all this and again, your blog was extremely helpful. Thank you.

    Please look for my donation to New Directions.

  7. Rich, thank you for your eloquent note. Tony's sudden death has certainly shaken us up and this is a good intuitive way of processing our grief, as we record our memories of being with him.

    It's a tribute to Tony that his illness didn't stand in his way of leading the best life he could. He never gave up! Your loving kindness to him and your friendship - for 3 whole years! - must have meant the world to Tony. And to you!

    I'm so glad that Fate brought the two of you together on the tennis courts. I really think that having known Tony makes all of us better human beings.

  8. From Joe Moore of New Directions: Tony and I also worked with Jack, another member of New Directions, a few years ago. We stained decks together had a good time doing it.

    With our illness we need to do something every day to keep us busy. We are our own mentors and need to keep in touch with everyone as I have done with Tony, Jack and then Greg over the years. That’s what ND is all about.

    We need to take our meds as the doctor prescribes or we may become manic or depressed. I almost did what Tony did about 20 yrs ago but was lucky. We don’t understand how it affects our friends and family until we leave this earth. I was lucky. Tony was not. He will be dearly missed and my condolences go out to his family and friends.

    Let this be a lesson to all of us that we don’t need to die. It is too late to say “What if?” I talked to Tony a few weeks ago. He wasn’t sounding too good but we all go through our ups and downs, so I didn’t do anything. Maybe I should have.

    This time of season is tough for all of us – money, parties, gifts - it affects many of us adversely.

    Watch out for each other is our motto. RIP Tony.

  9. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Joe. You have always had your own little support group with these guys and I thank you tremendously for it. That deck-finishing business was absolutely brilliant. And I know you'd like to think up a business that ND could get into to keep our people busy. Perhaps someone can think up an idea.

    I think Tony's death was different than most people's. I think his quota from suffering was simply all filled up and he couldn't stand to be here anymore. Thus, he made his exit. And, you know what? I think it was the right thing for him to do. The pain was more than he could bear, something we simply don't understand.