Tom was born Oct 1, 1991. He was a happy baby with such a sweetness about him, always smiling and always curious. He loved being adventurous, loved Barney, GI Joes, building forts, catching frogs, riding his bike, fishing and being with friends. He had such a kind and caring soul.
Tom appeared to be well-adjusted despite the circumstances of his family dynamic. Tom was raised by his mother and had weekend visits with his Dad. Being split in two was not an ideal situation, but even harder when his mother was constantly trying to undermine the love he received from his Dad and later on, his Step Mom. During Tom’s early years the instability that his Mother displayed was becoming more pronounced and would eventually escalate to irrational and psychotic proportions. It became increasingly more difficult to manage and shield him from her instability. Despite the negative impact on his life, his mother was still his mother and hence began the internal emotional struggle of the conflicting feelings inside him. Later in life, he discussed with us his being neglected and abused and feeling scared when he wasn’t with us or protected by his older brother. When Tom was only 5 years old, his mother called and told us she was sick of him pretending he didn’t feel well. We immediately suggested we come pick him up and once we got him, we could tell he needed medical attention. The trip to the doctor led to an immediate admission to the hospital and surgery for a ruptured appendix. He spent 3 weeks in the hospital and according to the doctors would not have survived if we had waited another 24 hours. We tried to keep him with us whenever possible and offered to keep him permanently, but she would never give up her control of him or over us. Whenever it suited her, she would drop him off and come back when she felt like it. We cherished those extra days, weeks and occasionally months with him. It was during these times that Tom developed loving relationships with his other siblings, friends and family. He loved being outdoors, fishing and being with his friends. He had the biggest heart. We knew we had to fight for him and eventually gained full custody of Tom, when he was eleven. It was quite an ugly battle that cost us all a piece of ourselves and Tom was unfortunately caught in the middle of it all. Tom wanted to live with us and enjoy the comfort and security of living in a loving home, but struggled with his Mother’s manipulations and verbal abuse for choosing a side she wasn’t part of. His mother eventually abandoned him and moved to Florida without so much as a goodbye. She would continue to send nasty letters, leave disturbing messages for him on his phone and as always would threaten us for seeking custody of him.
They say the foundation on which you are built determines who and where you go later in live. We wish with all our hearts that we could have rescued him earlier, so perhaps some of the damage that had been done to his self-esteem, his confidence and his heart could have been spared. Tom had a hard time adjusting to our home. Our home was a place where your meals were cooked, homework had to be done and there were rules and curfews to follow. He had lived on fast food and came and went as he pleased prior to living with us. Tom was scared and struggled with the adjustment of a whole new way of life. Tom often felt like he might never truly belong and was scared that if his Mom could leave him, then maybe the other people in his life could leave as well. His therapists had told us this would be a difficult hurdle for him to navigate later in life. We were told this would affect his relationships and that he might always struggle with his feelings of self- worth and sense of belonging.
Tom told us he had starting smoking cigarettes at an early age and sneaking liquor at his Mom’s house. He began having trouble in school. We had him tested and he was diagnosed with ADHD. Tom also developed a bad stuttering problem. He felt very self -conscious and would avoid certain situations that required him to speak. Despite speech therapy and an anti- stuttering device, it persisted and at times he could barely speak a word. Tom began to suffer from anxiety as well. His palms would sweat and he would feel like he was jumping out of his skin. Tom started seeking alcohol more frequently to self-medicate. He was prescribed medication for his ADHD, but his doctor was hesitant to order anti-anxiety medication because of his alcohol consumption. He began drinking with friends and smoking marijuana. He seemed drawn to hanging out with kids that were troubled and in trouble. The more you would try and steer him away from them, the more he hung on and would defend them. He seemed to connect on a different level with these friends and I believe he felt this is where he belonged. Tom was able to assimilate into his new home and family life and after a period of rehab, he went to school to become a CNA. He absolutely loved taking care of people. He would love to come home and tell us stories about the people he cared for. He began spending time with better people, fell in love with a girl who would become his soulmate and enjoyed spending time with his new puppy, Nico. I think he loved his dog as much as he did, just because it was his. He finally had something he could call his very own. They were like, “two peas in a pod” and became inseparable over the years. That dog was his best therapy, because of the unconditional love they shared. We enjoyed several years of being a happy family. We celebrated holidays and took our annual vacation to Pennsylvania to a cabin on a lake. Tom always felt at home, near the water with a fishing pole in his hand. It was his place of calm and contentment. We looked forward to those times together. Tom would build the biggest bon fires and hang out until the early morning, just enjoying the outdoors, a sky full of stars and the company of good friends.
The last few years of Tom’s life were a struggle. He began abusing alcohol again and started taking Xanax to help with his increasing feelings of anxiety. He admitted to getting the Xanax off the streets and from friends who would, “hook him up.” He was changing. He was no longer smiling, was nasty, forgetful and was beginning to lie and sneak around. His family life suffered and he lost his girlfriend, and became more reckless. He was now drinking, taking excessive amounts of Xanax and driving. Numerous times he was passed out in his car with it still running. He was arrested for a DWI, lost two jobs, had his car impounded, was arrested again for stealing and despite his world spiraling down around him, he refused help, refused to listen and lived in denial. We felt so helpless. Our cries for help were heard, but ignored or went unanswered. Law enforcement and judges ignored our pleas for help. They refused to enforce the law or mandate rehab or counseling.
Living with our son, who had become an addict was very difficult. Ending the enabling and practicing tough love is not an easy task. Thomas called one night to let us know he was arrested for DWI and in jail. I thanked him for letting us know he was okay, but said we couldn’t help him and that he was on his own. I said, I love you, and told him he had to help himself and said goodbye. That phone call will live in my memory forever. I know refusing to help my son was the right thing to do, but it will haunt me and play the “what if” game in my mind for the rest of my life. It became increasingly more difficult to have him in our home and he began looking for other places to stay. He would come home at times, but by then his lifestyle was not something he was proud of and his behaviors were becoming more erratic as days passed.
I wish our cries for help had not been ignored. I wish as parents of an addict, we could have mandated our child to go to rehab, but we were rendered powerless at every turn. We could not even force him to leave our home, because we didn’t have the legal power to do so. As a 24-year-old addict, he had more rights than we did.
Tom always thought he was invincible. The downward spiral continued and our son was losing the battle he thought he could win on his own. On March 9, 2016, he came home for the evening and spent some time with his Dad and myself, just talking about how grateful he was to have this home, his brothers and sisters, his girlfriend, his new nephew, friends and family. He acknowledged his addiction and said he was going to make it right. He had a new job waiting for him in a few days and insisted he was going to get the help he needed. That night we spent a few hours together, just talking and him finally listening. We were so full of hope and promise. He gave us hugs and kisses, followed by an I love you and left to go out for a bit with a friend, promising not to be home too late. I wish I had held on to him for a little bit longer, but who knew that would be the last hug I would ever get from him. Our son never came home that night. We were informed the next day that he had died of an overdose. That light that had shone so brightly was extinguished with the unexpected visit of two detectives knocking on our door. That moment, changed who we were and our lives forever.
Our son did not want to die. He had dreams of a bright future that included nursing school, sharing family times together, spending time upstate, marrying the love of his life and having a family of his own. Unfortunately, his dream died the moment he made a fatal mistake of combining Xanax with cocaine.
He said he knew better, but he didn’t. Just that one lapse of judgement cost him everything and left a hole in our hearts forever.
We will carry him in our hearts always and we will cherish every moment we had with him forever.
Tom, our angel in heaven, we love you and miss you with every breath we take.
Ryan's 1st day of Kindergarten
Holly was born 3/16/97 at St. Charles Hospital, Pt Jeff, NY. When I was 5 months pregnant we knew there were going to be challenges but weren't sure to what extent. We had gone through testing but no one could diagnosis or pinpoint what was going on. She was born with an orthopedic condition called Fibula Hemimelia. Her left leg was significantly shorter than her right, her left foot had 3 toes, was turned out and from the knee down was deformed. After research and talking to people we found a world renowned surgeon, Dr. Paley, who specialized in limb lengthening. Holly needed more than lengthening, there was major reconstruction, knee replacement to name a few. From the 1st time we met Dr. Paley he was extremely confident that he could fix and lengthen her leg over time. She was 5 months old at the time and he held her in his arms like she was his own. Without writing too much we chose the surgery over amputation. Holly had her first lengthening at 18 months. 8 hours of surgery. That was her first time with the pain medication, Roxicet. Very shortly into her first dose we found out she was highly allergic. They then gave her Fentanyl, which also caused an allergic reaction. The doctors figured out that Diluted was a med she wasn't allergic to. She had approximately 20 surgeries between 18 months and 16 years of age. At one point during post op (I believe she was 8 years old) they set her up on a morphine drip.....if only we knew then what we know now. The minute the IV drip was set up she looked at us from the hospital bed and said "umm this is the best feeling". I will never forget that day now. I didn't think much of it then. She always took the surgeries in stride, much more braver then her parents or probably most adults. She could talk to you for hours about medical stuff. She would show you her leg and foot and talk about how her Dad always said "those scars are your battle scars....don't hide them". She would walk around pre-op in her little gown and make all the other patients smile and relax. By 16 her legs were even and both feet on the round. But during those 16 years, Middle school hit and that brave, proud girl became embarrassed, angry and tried desperately to fit in somewhere. Bullying, self esteem issues, they snowballed very quickly. Around 12 we realized that she possibly could be a very good singer. We got her voice lessons and WOW did she take off. Performing in all the local restaurants, trying out for American Idol in Disney, auditioning for The Voice, singing and acting in local plays. But that wasn't enough to fill all the other stuff going on inside. We got her therapy, they put her on meds for depression and to help her sleep. It all happened so fast. There was no book of rules and the Dr.'s we trusted failed us, in my opinion. Fast forward to just a month shy of 17 in 2014 and she met someone who injected her with Heroin for the first time. I realize now that was the beginning of losing our daughter. Our beautiful, funny, talented, smart, sassy daughter. The daughter who had no inside voice, no filter. Larger than life. After 3 rounds of rehab and a final relapse in Florida she was homeless and extremely frightened down there. We brought her home and 10 days later she passed in her room. I still go through the what if's, should have's, could have's and why didn't I ? We as a family are broken, will never be the same. We are in our 2nd year of horrific grief now. Reality has taken over, no longer numb. She isn't going to call or walk thru the front door. This isn't a nightmare that we will wake from.
Ryan on February 16th 2018
Anthony Michael Forte
10.8.1990 - 5.2.2015
Anthony Michael Forte was born on October 8, 1990 on a sunny Columbus Day morning. My first child, even though I was a child myself, only 20 years old. Things were not perfect in my life. I got married too young and it was an abusive relationship but this little boy was the one thing that made my life worth living. After almost 30 hours of labor he was finally here, and one look at this perfect little boy I created gave me a new meaning to the word love. They always say there is no other love like the love between a mother and a son, and that is so true.
Anthony was the smartest child I have ever seen. Not just because he was my son, but because every doctor, teacher, friend or passerby we ever came across said so. He had the most infectious smile and laugh, he was extraordinarily handsome, had the best head of hair, and could do a Mariah Carey impersonation that would make even Mariah herself proud. He loved all kinds of music, loved performing little skits and him and I were known to take over any family party with our crazy karaoke duets. The boy had so many talents. All through his early school years he was the Student Council President, received straight A's and was nominated Most Likely to Succeed by his peers. Then something changed.
When he turned 12, he started to become very different. Telling a lot of lies at school, running away, defying every rule I came up with at home and just going out of his way for any negative attention. "Boys will be boys, he's a rebelling teenager", that's what all the school professionals and doctors said. But there was something else, I just knew it.
I always kind of had a thought in the back of my mind that maybe my son was gay. Just a mother's intuition I guess. Of course everyone scoffed at the idea, but it was always in my mind. So I finally just asked him when he was 13. He yelled at me, cursed at me and told me he hated me and he wanted to go live with his dad. So I gave in, packed him up and took him to his dad. His dad was not happy but I didn't know what else to do.
After living with his dad for 3 years, I noticed my little boy wasn't so little anymore. He didn't have that same light in his eyes he once had. His spirit was diminishing, he looked thin and tired. Something was very wrong.
The short version of this story is that my son Anthony Michael Forte struggled with coming out and telling his family he was gay. But he found a way to deal with the pain he felt inside--heroin. It didn't start with heroin. There were different pills, alcohol and other drugs, but the heroin made all his pain and worries go away. Unfortunately, we all found out too late.
My son suffered for 8 long years with addiction. He was in and out of treatment centers, sober houses, hospitals, in patient and outpatient facilities. You name it, we tried it. But heroin does not let you get away so easy. It haunts the addicted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and doesn't let up. Not even a mothers constant love and support can pull them away from the needle.
My son Anthony died on May 2, 2015 from a heroin/fentanyl overdose. A week before he died, he wrote this poem, and my heart breaks even more when I read it because it shows how much pain he was truly in. He was so tired and just wanted peace. There was nothing I could do for my son and that will haunt me until I take my last breath on this earth.
Time To Paint
Time to paint. Painting the face everyone knows and loves. Tired eyes and crinkled brow, a permanent smirk. Maybe today I will let them know. Maybe today will be different. The mask must come off. The paint is starting to crack, they know. This fascade needs a finale. No. A simple story becomes a spectacle. My soul must grow. Perpetual cool has frozen over, and I must go. It's starting to fade, anything to soften the blow. Bring me my paint, its time for the show.
6.11.1997 - 3.31.2018
Thomas Cogswell Atwater
10.1.1991 - 3.10.2016
Dying To Live Foundation
P.O Box 854
Wading River , NY 11792
Our only child, Ryan, was born on June 11th, 1997. Ryan had a seemingly normal childhood, a mom and dad that loved him very much, families on both sides with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that adored him. All lived close by, so they were a big part of his upbringing. There were some struggles and it wasn't always easy but overall Ryan was just a happy, considerate, loving little boy.
Ryan played hockey, baseball and basketball in school growing up, but nothing would come close to the obsession he had with playing video games. Outside of going to school, that is what Ryan would spend most of his time doing from age 6 or so, until he was 16 years old. I remember waking up at 3am and Ryan would be on Xbox Live, talking to his gaming friends that lived across the country....it was crazy, and I was worried that this is all his life would amount to was being a gaming junkie cooped up in his room. When he was 16, he finally made some friends in the neighborhood and ventured out of the house and I was ELATED....little did I know, that was the beginning of the end. Ryan started immediately smoking pot with his new friends. At first, Ryan said it was just to fit in, but it quickly became something he did just because he loved the feeling of being high...no worries, no judgement, nothing mattered, just complete "peace and euphoria" as he'd call it. Ryan knew that his dad and I were 100% against it, and Ryan assured me that "it wasn't what I thought" and I trusted his judgement to do the right thing and not get into anything he wouldn't be able to get himself out of.
The next few years were typical, he got his driver’s license, graduated from Sachem East - Class of 2015 and enrolled in Suffolk Community College to study child psychology. He got involved in an online relationship with a girl that wasn't the healthiest since she was 3 years younger than him, but she lived in South Carolina, so I didn't see much harm in that, boy was I mistaken. He also got a great job working in the gaming department at Best Buy, so all seemed right in the world.
On May 8th, 2017, Ryan, just 19 years old at the time, called me crying from the Suffolk Community College parking lot. He was babbling, saying that we were wasting our money on him going to college, that he would never amount to anything and that he was a loser. I didn't know where all of this was coming from and I tried calming him down. I told him I'd stay with him on the phone while he drove back home since the school was just 7 minutes away. When he arrived home and calmed down a bit, he finally confided in me that he was upset that he had gotten a speeding ticket just the night before, going 91 in a 55. He was worried about it and didn't know how to tell his dad and me. I told him it was not worth getting that worked up over and we'd figure it out and to get some rest. I had contacted one of my sisters to let them know about my issue with Ryan that morning and how upset he was, so she called him to see if he was okay and he told her that just wished that he can go to bed and never wake up. With that, I rushed home to find Ryan sleeping peacefully until I spotted an open bottled in OTC sleeping pills on his dresser next to him. Not knowing how many he may have taken, I rushed Ryan to the emergency room where both of my sisters were waiting for us. When I brought Ryan into the hospital a nurse asked me what he had taken. I told her he took some sleeping pills and I believe he smokes pot but that was all I knew. Since Ryan was 19 years old, I....HIS MOTHER...was not entitled to know what ANY of Ryan's test results were or what was going on with him. When Ryan was finally coherent, he told me that he would sign a release form so that the nurse can tell me what he had tested positive for. He said that he was too ashamed and couldn't say the words because I would think that he was a monster. I was confused but soon found myself sitting with a nurse as she read off what had shown up in his system that morning, Ryan had tested positive for Xanax, crack-cocaine and heroin.... I WAS MORTIFIED....NOT MY KID....HE WAS SMARTER THEN THAN THAT....NOT MY SON...HE WAS BETTER THAN THAT!!! Boy, did I have a lot to learn! During Ryan's almost 2-week stay in Mather Hospital is when I was introduced to who would be his drug addiction counselor, Laura Soviero-Baumeister. She took Ryan on as a client once he was released from the hospital and enrolled in outpatient care. The two of them hit it off immediately but Laura warned me that he, THAT WE, had our work cut out for us. Ryan relapsed less than 2 weeks after being released from the hospital. When we found out, Laura suggested an out of state rehabilitation facility in Arizona where I flew with him the very next day. We met up with a representative from the facility in the baggage claim area. Ryan promised me that he would try his hardest to get and stay sober, we said our goodbyes and I love you and I got on the next flight back to NY, crying all of the way.
Ryan's next 6 months in AZ proved to be the most challenging. He was released from the rehabilitation center I brought him to initially for not following the rules and according to his counselor, for "being a negative influence on the community.” Ryan then ended up in his 1st sober living home which lasted about 1 month before he was released again for not following the rules. Ryan entered his 2nd sober living facility where he lasted about 1-1/2 months before he was released for testing positive for crystal-meth...IT WAS A NIGHTMARE! He had hit rock bottom and was about to be homeless. Ryan entered his 3rd sober home completely ready to do what it takes to get his life back on track. It was not easy, and it was an everyday struggle but he was trying like hell to make it happen this time. He was really thriving at this home. They were a team and they really wanted to help Ryan be successful. He had everything going for him.... FINALLY! His house manager loved him like a little brother and after some real bad luck with jobs, Ryan finally found a job that he enjoyed going to where he felt respected and was treated like family even knowing his struggles. Ryan even found a new (local) girlfriend that he was head over heels for and after reading through the text messages on Ryan's phone, she was just as crazy about him...it was sweet and I couldn't be happier for him.
The week leading up to Ryan's passing, he was sick with a terrible cold and missed a few days of work but after a few days was feeling a bit better and looking forward to going back. Our last conversation was the night before he passed away. It was on Good Friday, it was a text conversation at 7:30pm MST (10:30pm EST). Ryan was waiting for his AA meeting to start and I was heading home from church. It was brief, simple and always ended with I LOVE YOU! The next morning, his dad and I were trying to get in touch with him to see how he was feeling and if he was well enough to go to work. After several tries, we were unsuccessful at reaching him. Then my cell phone rang and it was a detective telling me that Ryan had passed away in his sleep earlier that morning. My heart sank. My life was shattered and I felt suffocated. Life as we knew it would never be the same. We were just devastated, heartbroken and confused. Ryan was doing so well, how can this happen? We assumed that drugs got the best of him and that was that, we conceded that an overdose took his life. It took almost 1 month for the toxicology report to come back...completely negative of all illicit drugs, not even a trace. We were so proud of Ryan for keeping his word to stay sober but sick to our stomachs at the same time thinking what could have robbed our 20 year old son of his life when he was finally trying to do the right thing? We had to wait another 2 months to for the autopsy report to come back to tell us he passed away from Cardiomegaly, an enlarged heart. Since Ryan didn't have any previous heart issues that we were aware of many medical specialists have said that an enlarged heart can result from illicit drug use. Even though Ryan was clean, the damage was already done. Since he was still taking prescription medications for sleeping and depression, combined with the OTC cold/flu medicine he was taking for a few days, that could have resulted in rapid heart rate causing sudden death. Unfortunately, we will never know exactly what caused Ryan's enlarged heart but one thing we do know is that Ryan had won his battle with drugs but he unfortunately lost the war.
Since Ryan's passing, Laura has named me to the board of directors of the Dying to Live Foundation. She has given us the opportunity to carry out Ryan's dream of wanting to help people. When Ryan was in AZ, he had plans to go back to college in the Fall of 2018. He decided to change his counseling focus from children to drug and alcohol addiction so that he can help young people who struggled just like him. Ryan wanted to make a difference, he wanted to help save lives. The Ryan Scalice Memorial Scholarship Fund has been created in his name to do just that, help save lives and I know that Ryan is with us every step of the way making sure something positive comes out of his passing. I am honored to be a part of this amazing Foundation and to be given the opportunity to carry out so much good through so much pain so thank you for that Laura! For our son, we will never learn how to stop missing you, but we will learn to live our lives while missing you.
Buddy - We Love You To The Moon & Back! ❤ #TeamRyan; 👍🏼
Holly Jacqueline Cariello
3.16.1997 - 8.31.2015