Saying goodbye to Matt Recchi, too soon

Family makes agonizing decision 28 months after June 2011 wreck

Matt Recchi

Formal shot of Matt Recchi. Photo Courtesy the Recchi family (Courtesy / Sun Sentinel / October 26, 2013)

Matt Recchi grew up on the pages of this newspaper. His Little League games and family exploits were fodder for his father Ray's popular Sun Sentinel lifestyle columns in the 1980s and 1990s. On Saturday, more than 100 family and friends gathered at a Tamarac funeral home to say goodbye to Matt.

Much too soon.

In that way, Matt took after his dad.

They both died tragically, with too much unfinished business ahead of them.


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But Matt also took after his dad in the best ways. He was smart, honest, loyal. He loved music, good food and big, long hugs. He knew what was important in life — family, friends and community.

Ray Recchi was 51 when pancreatic cancer took him in 1999. Matt was 35 when he died Friday, nearly two and a half years after a distracted driver plowed into his disabled car on the shoulder of a Los Angeles freeway. He grew up in Coral Springs, graduated from Stoneman Douglas High and the University of Florida, and moved to Southern California last decade to work in the computer/technology industry.

At Saturday's memorial service, his older sister Laura recalled him as an idealist and a perfectionist, always analyzing his choices, whether it was a kitchen gadget or a girlfriend. "There was a beauty and passion in his searching," she said.

His older brother Joe, an English teacher at Nova High, recalled the time they flew in style to England on British Airways. "This is class," Joe said to his brother. And then he looked over to see Matt sipping his wine through a Twizzler licorice stick.

Matt was ruthlessly logical. He didn't believe in religion, so there wasn't any talk of him being reunited with Ray in heaven.

His uncle Sal read an excerpt from a Kurt Vonnegut book: "We are here to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different." Sal explained Matt's humanist ethos: "You try to behave decently and do good, without any rewards or punishments in the afterlife."

In keeping with family tradition, there was a singalong at the end, with everyone belting out The Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie.

"A typical eccentric Recchi affair," his mother Tina said when it was over.

Matt's promising life took an abrupt turn when he ran out of gas on his way to work. A 19-year-old woman who might have been texting plowed into him. Tina, a Broward middle school principal, said she is going to step up her activism against texting-and-driving. She wants Florida legislators to strengthen the tepid ban passed earlier this year.

For 28 months, Matt lingered in what doctors called "a minimally conscious" state, a lonely netherworld between life and death. He needed a feeding tube to eat, a ventilator to breathe. His family said he could hear and would react to music and voices, sometimes would respond to commands to move his eyes.

After the wreck, Sun Sentinel readers contributed for his return to South Florida, with local businessmen H. Wayne Huizenga and Mike Jackson arranging for a private air ambulance flight. In January, Matt settled into his new home in the adult wing of the Broward Children's Center in Pompano Beach, a long-term care facility for the severely disabled. "Having him back home these last 10 months made such a difference to me," said Tina, who visited every day.

But Matt's severe brain injuries showed no signs of improvement, and his immune system was weakening. He became more susceptible to infections and bedsores. "His body was literally falling apart," Tina said.

So Tina, Laura and Joe made an agonizing decision earlier this month.

They decided it was time to let go.

On Wednesday, Matt was moved to Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton. He was removed from life support. His family and friends gathered by his side. Thirty seven hours later, he died.

"We sang songs…held his hand, stroked his brow, laughed, told stories, admired his strength and courage, thanked him for everything he taught us and will continue to teach us, told him not to be afraid, and told him it was OK to go because he would stay here in our hearts and minds," the family wrote in an email sent Friday.

For those who want to honor Matt's memory, the family suggests donations to the Broward Children's Center Foundation, 200 SE 19th Ave., Pompano Beach, FL, 33060.

mmayo@tribune.com, 954-356-4508

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