Philip J. Sallese

published by Eric Mill on

I've been out of this for a while now, as on early Tuesday morning, my good friend Phil Sallese died suddenly of a seizure. He was epileptic and he hadn't been taking his medication as properly as he should have been. He died within 5 minutes of the seizure, and felt nothing, but his head was bruised purple almost to the point of blackness from the contortions when his girlfriend found him in the morning. Wakes occured all through the weekend, and the funeral was on Monday morning. The entire experience was completely overwhelming.

I'd known Phil since the last year of high school, where I started to get to know tons of new people and obtained my first girlfriend. It doesn't often happen this way, but we were more or less good friends instantaneously. I can't remember any kind of transition, we just started hanging out together and that was that. It's pretty ludicrous how much Phil stands out in a crowd. He's filled with energy, even picturing him laughing makes you smile yourself, always has a retort, makes for a great angry tirade; and yet often so abashed, so shy, so gentle, so easily hurt. Gentle giant doesn't quite fit him, as he had an aggressive physical side to him, but that was as fun as anything else about him.

He didn't go very far by society's standards, really. Attending the local community college, not doing great, wasn't very active except in local gaming tournaments and the like. When I Googled his name, the only hit is one of my old entries (and soon this one). My webpage is the only place on the Internet that his name appears. But over 300 people came to his wake, and to me that seems like a lot. An oft-reiterated quote from the funeral is that everyone who liked Phil loved Phil, and there weren't many who knew Phil who wouldn't take some time out of their lives to remember someone who stood out so starkly against the pale background of "most people".

The wake was the beginning. Going up to the front and kneeling at the closed casket, touching it, is not something I was really prepared for. At the time I considered it the thing that really "brought it home", but it wasn't long before I discovered that's the first step in a series of events to work on the very difficult job of real acceptance. Often I felt out of place. Everyone was content to sit around and soak everything in with everyone else, which isn't my style. When I'd walk from room to room, or outside, I could feel that the little bit of purpose I had in my stride of just knowing where I wanted to go was on an order of magnitude greater than the energy or motivation of those in the room put together. When I would start to lose control (several times), I'd walk outside and take a stroll around the parking lot of the rest home, collect myself, and go back in. Most things there would set me off, his pictures, his crushed friends. I felt it as much as anyone did, and I spoke with others and helped them as much as anyone, but I still felt like a loner in how I dealt with everything compared to everyone else. I don't regret it, either.

The next morning I came at 7:30am to see the casket while it was open and before it was taken to the church. They'd reduced the discoloration a great deal, though it was clearly not normal. The only thing unnatural about his expression was that his lips were slightly stuck together, in the same way that the living's lips do when pressed and about to open. I kept expecting them to separate as anyone else's would. Surprisingly, seeing him didn't really set me off, but was incredibly solemn and powerful. It was positively shocking and gladdening to see him buried with Paper Mario 2, as a better symbol of all that is right with video games and why they inspire such devoted love in so many, I'm not sure I can think of.

The funeral service in the church was banal and simple for the first half, and served mostly to illustrate what I will and won't do at a religious funeral to observe the religion present (mostly won't). Whether I seemed respectful to God or not is negligible, the funeral was between me and Phil, and if he knows I respect his death, than that's all that matters. He never struck me as particularly religious, so I'm not worried. To be completely genuine, hearing "When You Wish Upon A Star" and "The Circle Of Life" put to gentle organ background music was wonderful.

Those who spoke at the funeral were the most heartbreaking, and were what made me lose control repeatedly. In case it's not clear, I'm having a very difficult time writing all this. Seeing his best friends and closest family unable to speak, or delivering some of the most emotionally charged speeches I've ever heard, is the most direct way to feel the dead's effect on the living, and it's not a small one. Not with Phil. Since about 5 minutes after I'd first heard of his death, I knew I wanted to speak at the funeral, and I managed to prepare something I hoped was worthwhile, and from people's reactions later it seemed like it definitely was. At the end of the day, I was humbled.

The priest delivering the sermon took the effort to address how people often are tempted to react at senseless deaths such as these, feeling questioning, perhaps even angry, and how we need to be able to move past that. Well fuck that. If the relationship between each one of us and the powers that be is to be anything real, it's going to have its ups and downs. We have every right to be pissed off that the universe saw fit to do something cruel and stupid. Every one of us is completely justified in going through periods where we are not on speaking terms with God. I'm not going to take him very seriously if I don't treat him like a person. In a while we'll work out our differences and be all right again, if there's a God he's always been good to me, but he and I need to take a time out, and I encourage everyone who feels like maybe God is capable of making a mistake now and then, to take advantage of that time. Don't repress your feelings and convince yourself that this is "all for the best" or whatever else of that cruelest brand of philosophy you're being preached to to feel. Get pissed and tell God he's wrong, cause believe me, he does have the balls to tell it to you right back.

For me, to be with Phil was to be subjected to constant eloquence. All of my friends are the most intelligent people I know, and Phil was a close friend. Few people understand, though, that eloquence doesn't come from intelligence but from honesty. Phil was truly honest, a character whose dialogue was perfectly written. You know Phil so quickly, so surely it was like falling in love, yet he was never out of surprises. He was completely real, almost surreal. Eloquence doesn't have to come in a profound turn of phrase, though Phil had plenty of them, but it can be in a look of the eyes or a twist of the mouth.

Especially when Phil was angry. He was so great at it, a wonderful, innocent anger. Phil had the most charming rage I have ever seen. Generally he'd be so absorbed in his tirades that he wouldn't notice me smiling. And if he heard me say this, it would of course make him even angrier, and it would be adorable. He couldn't help it.

Because Phil wore his heart outside of his jacket, ready for display to any who were interested. He was willing to lend it out on a moment's notice. And it made him so vulnerable. He gave his whole heart to every friend he had. Very few have the courage to live so honestly, and to expose themselves in such a manner. I am in awe of him for that, and hope that in my day to day life I can live a little more like Phil did. In the end I'm not surprised he gave away his heart so freely, because I can't imagine what else I could do with a heart so big.

  1. Michelle Sallese


    Philip was my half brother although I probably saw him a total of ten times in my life. I am saddened that I will never have the opportunity to know him the way so many people did. What my younger brother's death has taught me is that we don't always have tomorrow. Don't wait to tell people you love them, that you miss them, that life wouldn't be the same without them. I never thought that my youngest brother would pass away at age 20 and I would never have the opportunity to build a solid relationship with him, I thought I had forever. Phil doesn't know how much he has taught me, and the lesson I learned is the most important in my life-live every day like it's your last. Give hugs, advice and most of all lend yourself to forgiveness.

    Below is a poem by Emily Matthews (I think) that has helped me to focus on the good in life:

    Don't Think of Him as Gone Away

    Don't think of him as gone away - his journey's just begun; life holds so many facets - this earth is only one. Just think of him as resting from the sorrows and the tears in a place of warmth and comfort where there are no days and years. Think how he must be wishing that we could know, today, how nothing but our sadness can really pass away. And think of him as living in the hearts of those he touched. for nothing loved is ever lost - and he was loved so much.

  2. joe sallese

    Dear Eric, Thankyou for your kind words about my son.He admired you and spoke of you often,you left an impression on him,and as you know my son was and still is the best.I did not have an oppurtunity to say much to you or all of his wonderful friends that came to the services.It is a difficult time. I too lost my best friend.We would talk until all hours of the nite when he worked late.To explain how he was best,try to imagine,all of you, a young man who would come to me,hug me and say I love you.No matter where he was,who was around or who heard. You are correct in stating that by todays standards he was not ambitious,but that never mattered with Pilip.It never mattered with any of us.He truly was one of those gifted people who come along once in a life time and I am so proud to have been his dad and had him as mine for 19 years.I was blessed.So were you.Do not stay angry for long ,Eric,Phil deserves better. For the record he died of what is known as sudden unexplained death in epilepsy patients,also known as SUDEP.I am going to be organizing several events and scholarships in his honor.I have been a member of the epilepsy foundation for many years and have started the process.I would be honored to have you help if you are so inclined.once again Eric thankyou for all the joy you brought into my sons life. Respectfully, Joe Sallese

  3. Abigail

    I'm a deeply religious young woman, so I'll stay out of the God debate, because I do believe that God is an individual being and idea to each person. That being said, when my best friend died, I was told by another friend that because I was Christian, and believe in heaven and all that, that I didn't really have a right to be upset. In fact, that well, it was all okay because I actually could not be upset, as a result of those beliefs. Now that I thought to be nonsense. Just because I believe that God loves me more than I can know or imagine, doesn't mean that death was a good thing or that it was the best thing for me. Simply because, it's not always about me. And while all of our friends, and the youth empowerment organization we work for encouraged everyone to celebrate his life, as he would want, I told my girls, the ones I train, that it was okay to grieve. We'll come to the celebration of life soon enough, and whatever one's belief in the afterlife is, it is okay, no it is RIGHT to grieve and to allow oneself to feel that grief and that anger and that rage if you will, to whatever extent one will.

    Eric - all my love and support in this time, as in always. And for what it's worth, I'd say most loving people don't believe in that pre-marital sex sin nonsense. You are not alone in your dismissal of it. For that matter, you are not alone at all.

  4. magic

    During senior year of high school, I too lost a very very good freind. It is important to let his soul become rooted into yours to make your soul even stronger as we gain spirit from our freinds and loved ones. Sorry for your loss.

  5. Klondike

    Here's the thing with me, though: I'm only mad at a God I don't believe in. I've said that if I die, and God truly does have ridiculous rules about premarital sex and original sin, then I'll tell him He's wrong, because he will be. But for the same reason I believe he's wrong (cause those rules are ridiculous), I believe he doesn't exist. So the higher powers I do see and feel, and do believe in, I'm totally fine with them. Except now when I'm miffed about losing a friend. But I'll be fine in a while anyway. Maybe I already am. I'm pretty forgiving to my friends.

  6. fxbx deathcore

    So, are we capable of having a "relationship" with a higher power if it's entirely one-sided; that we must forgive Him no matter what He does to us? Like that abusive husband, take it and keep coming back for more?

    Comparing our love for Him or vice versa to the love we give to other humans is an assistance to understanding how it works, but it differs in that I think He knows better when we "blame" stuff on Him; He is the guy in charge, and we might not know any better. We don't Have to like it, but that disdain doesn't stop us from having to abide by it. It's not like we hold a court trial and punish Him for doing these things to us. I'm sure simple or even complex attempts at resisting the divine will end up at these conclusions.

    Eric has flirted with this path before, but I always interpreted it as his form of coping with such horrible events in life. I'm sure each of us are guilty of doing the same in some style within our lifetimes, but he's always taken it a step further: mad as hell, not going to take it anymore. In the end, it's a case of "change what you can, accept what you cannot". That's the painful truth you hint at, Amanda.

    " The more we blindly love God in the face of hurt and anger, the less we learn from whatever is causing us pain to begin with. The less we learn, the more we need to rely on God to get us through tough situations. "

    However, a Catholic talking about a TRUE personal relationship with God: impressed.

  7. Amanda

    Let me start off by saying that I'm sorry for the loss of your good friend, Phil.

    Now, it is not my intention to spark a religious debate, but I feel compelled to comment on your thoughts on God, and our relationship with "the powers that be".

    After going to Catholic high school for 4 years, I was taught that when bad things happen, it was our responsibility to deal with it and accept that it was just "God's Way". It's one of the essences of Catholicism: God has his reasons and he isn't to be held accountable for a fucking thing. It's like when a husband beats his wife and then apologizes right after, and it's okay because she knows it's just "his way" of dealing with things and she loves him.

    Maybe that's a terrible analogy, and I'm not capturing entirely what you're saying, but it's helped me try and understand what it means to have a "relationship" with God or a higher power. The more we blindly love God in the face of hurt and anger, the less we learn from whatever is causing us pain to begin with. The less we learn, the more we need to rely on God to get us through tough situations. It's a downward spiral.

    I will end it with this thought: The one who loves the most in any relationship tends to have the least power to control it. Who do you think loves least in the relationship between God and the world?