My brother Tom died today. He had been suffering from the effects of COPD for some time, and while a move from Colorado to the lower altitude of Las Vegas last fall made him more comfortable for a while, it couldn’t prevent the disease from progressing. Surgery performed last week to reduce pressure on his lungs gave some hope of prolonging his life, but the disease, a staph infection, and pneumonia had compromised his fragile lungs too much. In recent days, many members of the family had gathered in Las Vegas to say their goodbyes, and many of us were present at the hospital as he passed away peacefully.
Tom and I were born a little over three years apart, and I followed him through our elementary and high schools. The death of our father when Tom was nine and I was five left our mother as the family breadwinner. At a time when women’s roles were exemplified by the fictional June Cleaver, our mother raised four children even as she took over and continued ownership of the furniture manufacturing business that our father had owned and operated.
That meant making some hard decisions about her children, especially her two young sons. Tom had been active in the Paulist Choristers of Chicago, and he continued singing with the group for several years after our father’s death. He spent summers at choir camp and a relative’s farm in Michigan, while I spent summers in several camps, especially Camp St. Francis in Libertyville, Illinois.
The result was that we didn’t spend a great deal of time together during the summers as we were growing up. In school, each of us had our own agemates to relate to; I don’t recall having much interest in hanging out with his friends, even if they would have tolerated a kid brother hanging around. Ironically, it was years later that we became close, after I had moved to Cleveland and he had moved to Colorado. Later still, after I started a second career that has me in the car a lot, we were able to enjoy many long conversations while I would be driving home from meetings (always using a hands-free device, of course).
My, how I admired him! As an older brother, he was indisputably cool, good-looking, and popular. He was courageous and could be outrageous. He was one of the funniest people I knew. Throughout his life, he was a risk-taker. Gambling was more than a hobby: it was also a part of his style, characterizing his business dealings and many of his decisions in life. He rolled the dice when he left the city of his ancestors and his birth and struck out for the West; he rolled them when he started the company that remains his business legacy today; and he rolled the dice last year, when he and his wife Linda left their beloved mountain in an effort to reduce the strain on his lungs. His surgery was a gamble too, one whose terms he understood and accepted. He knew better than most that life deals some hands that are better than others and that you have to play the hand you’re dealt.
It was a blessing that so many of his children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces joined Linda, his sisters, and me at his bedside for his final hours. It seems that everyone had a memory to share, and it was impressive to see how many younger persons who weren’t his biological children saw him as a father figure, a source of wisdom, and a role model.
His death at too early an age (as judged by human wisdom at least) reminds us that life is a gift not to be taken for granted. Tom was not a conventionally religious man, but I think he knew that the people we love are the sign of God in our lives, and we need to hold them close while we can.
In paradisum deducant te Angeli, Tom. May the angels lead you into paradise.
3 thoughts on “Thomas I. Lavezzi, 1946-2011”
Thanks Bill for providing this venue to talk about Tom.
cuz t . . . . . . as he was known as my email pen pal – refused to use the caps key in his correspondence. He and I shared discussions regularly and often daily. We used email to analyze the problems of the world and to despair at the dearth of solutions. We rarely had a disagreement on any topic, politics, religion, war, discrimination (anti – like his mother) and world affairs, etc. – whatever triggered either of us. In the unlikely event we had a difference of opinion we would refine the argument and usually find ourselves in near agreement, separated only by life experience. Tom was persuasive in his arguments, but always objective and fair in his treatment of “the players.”
Our communications became so extensive that I set up a Tom Lavezzi folder a year ago June to save them. Partially in self-defense as Tom was often up all night under the influence of medications and would stream pages of (clear) thoughts, with apologies. I needed to save these multi-topic emails to prepare my defenses. Our last was July 3 when he asked me to research the credibility of an individual making disparaging remarks about President Obama. I confirmed its accuracy and provided information about the source.
So, with my heart broken – I must now delete cuz t from my address book. When I next hear from him I’ll forward his new address to all.
So long for now t,
Thanks for this Uncle Bill. Beautifully said.
I am just back to the real world, after spending the week in the unreal world that no longer includes my Uncle T. Within hours of hearing from Linda, we all showed up en mass to be there. Our family does what it does, we descend (whether welcome or not), and we descended on the beautiful home of Tom and Linda. It’s what we do. Part of me felt I shouldn’t go. I wasn’t one of the inner circle. Others were closer, shared more, had a better relationship. I justified going to such an intimate family moment by saying that I was going for my mother and aunt. But it was for me. For months, my brother Tim and I have been discussing visiting and put it on hold to allow Tom time. Time to heal, time to spend with their family, time… of course, we now wish we hadn’t waited.
Fair warning dear family, I won’t be waiting in the future. Get the hide-a-way bed ready.
For me, Uncle Tom was the consistent adult male throughout my life, as he was for so many of us. Mike, Tracy, Dawn and John had to share him with us as we looked to him to fill the father shoes that most of us felt we were missing. He was always there. Always. He was gracious, fun, supportive, wise, a smart ass, but always there. He showed up for everything. We all remember him laughing with that deep reassuring voice. I loved his hugs, so solid, so in charge, so comforting. There are snapshots of memories that continue to play on a slideshow through my head. Always around kitchens, food, wine, cards, laughing and arguing, but always coming back for more.
I can’t thank you enough Linda, Mike and John who so graciously let me be a part of the past week. I loved hearing stories from everone. Stories of his youth from his siblings, Stories about the business from his friends, stories from their kids and the extended family. I can’t thank you all enough for the honor of allowing me to be there. And it was an honor.
Thank you Uncle Bill for letting me put this out there-I am at work now, tears streaming down my face- after spending a week with family and surviving on very little food and even less sleep, but thinking of the memories and the legacy.
Love you T.
It's almost a week since we have lost Uncle T & it still doesn't seem real. Not even the raft of tears and tissues can make it more real. Such a lovely, loving, accepting man. So much still to give the people and the world around him. He is irreplaceable. Always loved T, you will be remembered always. Missed always.
Linda, my heart breaks for you. You have been together, so much a part of each other for so long. I have no idea how you fill the void left by dear T. I am just a phone call away anytime.
Hugs & kisses T, Heather
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