Michael says that the next 12 hours were worse than the 18 years he spent in prison. At 2 am on Monday, he and Poulicakos finalized the decision to withdraw Gio from the ventilator. Tears in her eyes, Poulicakos climbed in her son's hospital bed and sang "You Are My Sunshine" one last time before doctors removed the intravenous lines, Michael says. With family members surrounding him, Gio was pronounced dead at 2:32 am.
"I'd never seen my brother cry before that," says Michael's sister Lisa, who took the early morning ferry from Long Island with their mother Judith. "But after they pronounced him as passing, Michael picked him up, and he held him there for minutes and just sobbed. It was the saddest thing I've ever seen."
THE FALLEN WARRIOR
Gio always thought of himself as a warrior, his father says. Everyone who knew the daily pain he soldiered through agreed with the characterization. So for his casket, Michael outfitted Gio with an armored chest plate, a gold Superman neck chain with an Italian horn, a sword under his arm, and a shield that his godmother, Italian native Levantini, brought him from the Coliseum in Rome. Michael placed two gold coins in his son's pockets, and two over his eyes.
At the service on Thursday, the funeral home in Manchester had been transformed into a colorful shrine. Family pictures, as well as snapshots of Gio with his famous pals and pro-athlete fans, lined the parlor. Michael, delirious from a lack of sleep, greeted hundreds of friends and relatives while struggling to keep from breaking down.
After a two-day wake, Michael led the funeral procession. Up front, he rode his orange Harley Davidson, wearing a gladiator helmet to pay homage to Gio. His friends followed on their own choppers, and Manchester police even offered a courtesy escort — the first time in his life, Michael says, that he ever drove behind a cop's flashing lights. People saluted from their front lawns as the motorcade rolled to the graveyard. It seemed like all of Manchester was mourning.
"Everyone I could imagine was there," says Michael, "from Hell's Angels, to members of Gio's family, to his teachers, to his nurses and doctors. [New Hampshire] Governor John Lynch showed up. These were the people who loved him, and who he loved back — he drew all of them together. The whole thing was like watching his life go by."
Eight hours after his son was removed from life support, Michael visited Rivier College in Nashua to help with a bone-marrow drive that he'd organized months earlier. Michael says it was a coping mechanism, to avoid breaking. On the day before the wake, he went ahead with an event at Colby Sawyer College in New London. Two more drives were scheduled during Gio's services that were run by student volunteers from Nashua Community College and Salter School of Nursing.
Now his phone is ringing constantly with people who are anxious to organize in Gio's name. Though partially paralyzed with grief, Michael says he's flattered, and remains determined to stay active in the cause. This month he's working with DKMS — the international nonprofit that he's done marrow drives with for five years — to install the world's first-ever donor-recruitment kiosks around New England. All this while countless others do their own part.