Life Between the Alpha and Omega
I previewed thousands of pictures and countless home movie clips in order to make the audio/visual tribute shown here tonight. Although that consumed my emotions, it crystallized how to eulogize my brother. T, as he was affectionately known, had reoccurring themes in his life. He had a knack for humor, a regard for animals, a love of good food and passion for sports. If he wanted me to say only three words tonight about these four subjects it would be, “Let’s Go Flyers!”
My fondest earliest memories of T was watching him play superhero or dressing up as his favorite TV characters. Usually with T wearing costumes, he would often spend his free time roughhousing with his brothers.
Along with this irreplaceable male bonding, T developed a competitive nature and displayed a strong interest in sports. He lived to see a good fight whether it was a boxing match, mixed martial arts event or two toothless hockey goons dropping their gloves on ice. He rooted for the home team but would take timeout to cheer drunken spectators fighting in the stands at a ball game.
As a young man, T’s outgoing personality could make you laugh to delirium. An entertainer, he often wore the proverbial lampshade in the room and children gravitated towards his antics. T’s commentary spoofed outtakes that covered every slice of life. He had the overwhelming ability to make you laugh about nothing…or everything. His quick wit came with the complete assurance of a built-in laugh track. I admit just this once that his comedic timing made me envious.
Faced with hearing the familiar sound of crickets after I told a stale joke, T invariably took center stage. After he once whipped what I considered a tough crowd into knee-slapping laughter, he barked “Take that, bro.” T intentionally told better second rate jokes around me to add sadistic amusement to our sibling rivalry.
In his lifetime, T was a brother, son, uncle, cousin, husband and a father but T genuinely loved animals more than anyone I have ever met. After watching me discipline my weak-bladder cocker spaniel, T graded my obedience training. Lacking compassion in his voice, he swore that if he ever saw me do that again he would take me out back and go prehistoric on me. He left my company that day saying goodbye to only my dog. I concluded that T must have loved animals as much as people…at least more than me on that pissy day.
With the exception being his loving daughter Nichole, T rarely found a comfortable forum to talk with people about personal matters. He maintained a private and guarded front that was tough for everyone to penetrate. I remember once confiding to him that I started going steady with a girl. He smirked. Although I was smitten in love, T saw a man ungracefully approaching forty years old. He replied, “Steady? If the girl is still in eighth grade, I’m calling the cops! What did I tell you about watching those Happy Days reruns? Did you tell Fonzie, Ralph Malph or Potsey? Who goes steady these days? Get away from me!”
Regrettably, T’s ongoing medical problems began to affect his spunk and outlook on life. He distanced himself. In October 2008, he survived a heart attack. He came out of induced hypothermia and a coma with a quality of life. His family told him what he did not know and what he needed to hear, that the Philadelphia Phillies had won the World Series! What we didn’t know about his recovery is that we had T on loan for only another year. What a year it was. During this span, I witnessed his personality strangely revert back to his former self, a younger man full of vitality. Other people shared similar experiences with T before his second heart attack. I believe these moments of clarity were present day reminders as to how T defined living in terms of autonomy. In the end, his final prognosis vanquished him further away from his essence, a point of no return from the dignified way he might have wanted to live and probably how he wished to be remembered.
T’s lingering in a coma proved to be the fight of his life. It took me a trail of tears to come to terms with his irreversible condition. It is difficult to presume about another’s will to live but again T was not someone who freely talked about matters of the heart. Incapacitated, he left this legal decision to his family. We the reluctant spectators to his final battle became collaborative advocates on his unspoken wishes. Nobody wanted him to suffer.
As I look around this packed room, I can feel the power of his love. Anecdotally, I am also reminded that his banter often made me giggle inappropriately at funerals. So here I am at his funeral stricken with profound sadness and in no joking mood. Still the little twinkle in my moist eyes suggests that T would desire this occasion to be an upbeat celebration of his life.
In closing, I hold confident that T would not have opted for a comatose existence. If I dare frame my brother’s life, it ended more on the day his laughter stopped then when his heart actually stopped beating. The day of his passing was a day after his birthday, an abbreviated forty-three years between the alpha and the omega. God bless. Rest in peace. Anthony Gregory Tornatore.