Fearless, determined, funny, caring, protective, clever
Dean had an auspicious start to life. He was born on his dad’s birthday and to parents who provided a great childhood for him and his younger brother Thomas. Both kids were diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as babies. Due in part to this shared experience; the brothers were very close. Not wanting to make them feel like “sick kids” their parents encouraged their involvement in anything that interested them.
The brothers took full advantage of every opportunity, setting up skate parks and ramps in the yard, and going full out on BMX and Tony Hawk type skateboarding. A childhood highlight was getting backstage passes to the X games when they were held in Philly.
Dean’s dad worked nights when they were kids and was with the boys every day after school, playing basketball, helping with homework and taking them out to eat. They also fished on their boat. Dean was into music, mostly alternative, but liked the variety of mixing in gangster rap or county, which he said, “calmed him down.” He was into MMA fighting and was good enough to fight professionally.
Dean went from skateboards and BMX to ATV’s and motorcycles, on which he performed tricks. He wanted to become a motorcycle mechanic and own a shop. About a year after high school, with some sober time under his belt, he went to motorcycle trade school in Florida. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish as he relapsed and came home.
It was in high school Dean’s mother said, “that things started to change.” He began drinking with the same intensity he put into everything he did. Eventually the drinking led to drugs, which complicated his CF. He was also on meds for bipolar disorder. There were several rehabs stays and in 2011, not actively addicted for about six months, Dean had major surgery for his CF. Medication was required to manage the pain and triggered a relapse. Ironically, Dean was credited by four of his friends with being critical to their continued sobriety, even though he couldn’t consistently help himself.
There is much more to Dean’s story than can be told here. Dean was quirky and zany, spontaneous and impulsive. It was the impulsivity and getting off meds for his bipolar disorder that likely ended his life by suicide in a shed at their family home. It is not the expected story of one losing interest or feeling hopeless. Dean was making future plans. He was accepted for a prestigious MMA teacher’s class. He was reapplying to motorcycle maintenance school. He had a beloved new dog, Nala, that he “conned” his parents into allowing. He also had a recent breakup with his girlfriend, relapsed, and was temporarily adrift. The note he left told his parents how much he loved them and valued their support, but also stated how tired he was of fighting his addiction. His mom said: “I feel if we knew and could have gotten him through that night, he would have been able to move forward.”
His mom has had grief counseling and learned a lot about addiction. She now has a different appreciation of life. “I just want to be with the people I love,” she said. With Dean’s “divine guidance,” she has recently become a Certified Family Recovery Specialist ready to help people through chaotic times like she experienced.
The family created the Dean DiGilio Memorial foundation for those struggling with the disease of addiction. And they have planted a beautiful garden in the place where Dean died. His mom said, “We wanted life and love, rather than death, to prevail.”
Dean’s mother, Dorothy DiGilio, provided the information for this narrative.
January 27, 1991-August 10, 2013
Age 22-Lived with addiction 4 years