In memory of Tony

Family hosts memorial fundraiser centred around combatting stigma, spreading awareness, and helping others recover

Tony had a knack for storytelling. He lit up with excitement whenever he shared childhood memories, especially the fun times he had with his sisters. His natural kindness and humility also made him a lovely friend to have. However, under the veil of it all, Tony struggled greatly with addiction.

“Tony was a functioning addict,” shared his sister, Sandra. “He was still going to work, paying his bills, and doing what he had to, but was struggling mentally.”

At age 39, Tony died of an accidental overdose. After his passing, Sandra found Tony’s journals, which painted a very sad picture of how he truly felt wrapped up in addiction.

Years prior, Tony briefly found recovery at Renascent. He attended treatment at Renascent Paul J. Sullivan Centre where he learned about addiction and Twelve-Step recovery.

“After Tony left treatment, he was so beautiful and so healthy. We have pictures that show how much he radiated. He got back into boxing – a sport he loved – and he got back to being who he was before addiction. He was excited and filled with hope,” Sandra said.

However, months after finding recovery, addiction re-emerged and dominated Tony’s life until his passing. After spending time processing and healing from the sudden loss of her brother, Sandra and her husband decided to host a fundraiser for Renascent in honor of Tony.

“After my brother’s death, I had the feeling that there was something more. This wasn’t just going to be the end of Tony. I had to do something to honour him; to not let him die in vain,” Sandra said.

Sandra and her husband Danny stand in their backyard.

In August 2023, in an elegant back-yard event, the couple’s friends, family, and loved ones gathered in an intimate memorial to celebrate Tony’s life. The event raised over $6,000 in donations toward Renascent’s addiction treatment programs and services.

Reflecting on Tony’s life, Sandra candidly shares how stigma impacted her after he passed.

“In the beginning, it was hard to tell people how Tony died. I lied a lot. We said we didn’t know how it happened; his heart stopped. Then I thought, this is who he was, there is nothing to be ashamed of. If I can help other people by being honest, then that’s what I will do.”

Today, Sandra is also an advocate for challenging the stigma associated with addiction. She plans to grow her fundraiser annually in honour of Tony, with the goal of helping more Renascent clients attend treatment.

“I just wish more people would break the stigma and judgement around addiction. Society often forgets that these people who are struggling with addiction have mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters – all left to pick up the pieces,” shares Sandra. “The guy who wears the suit is just as much of an addict as the guy on the street. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care where you live and what you do. If more people understood that, I think there would be more compassion for addicts.”

Guests at Tony’s memorial event rallied around Sandra and the cause. “Guests said, “This is a great cause. It’s wonderful that you are doing this,” shared Sandra.

“We’re grateful for the tremendous support Sandra and her family have shown Renascent. Lives are lost daily due to addiction, and we are thankful that Tony’s passing can help light the path toward recovery for others,” said Christina Selvaggio, Manager – Philanthropy.

On the event’s donation page, Sandra writes, “May Tony’s memory continue to inspire us to seek solutions and provide solace to those grappling with addiction’s grasp.”

Learn more about planning your own third-party event in support of Renascent Foundation.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.