My husband, Mike Albarelli, did everything in life with a trademark passion and energy. An intensely determined man, he was a high-level athlete, the CEO of a thriving company at age 27, and a wonderful husband and father. But around 2015, Mike became uncharacteristically impatient and frequently lost control of his emotions. A fall in 2018 led to his death from complications of a severe brain injury. Our family decided to donate his brain to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank in Boston. Researchers there diagnosed him with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Our wish is for his story to demonstrate the effects of this disease and to help other families deal with the tremendous emotional burden of CTE.
Mike Albarelli was a magnanimous man. He was the type of guy who walked into a room and would instantly lift the room’s energy. His smile was as big and broad as his body and he had a way of making you feel like you were the most special person in the room. He loved good conversations, funny banter, and making genuine connections with people. He had a deep belly laugh and a love for his friends and family as deep as the ocean. Our children meant everything to him.
Mike and I met at Brown University where he was captain of the lacrosse team. Our very first conversation was about a Britney Spears concert we had both gone to. I was completely taken aback that such a big, burly guy had such a soft and kind soul. A bear on the outside and a mush on the inside, sensitive but strong; he was my dream combination. We spent countless hours sharing stories, laughing, hanging with friends, and creating a meaningful life together.
He was known by his teammates as an intense player who wore his heart on his sleeve and took all losses personally, whether he had played incredibly or poorly. He was the captain of every team he was ever on. He was the epitome of a good teammate. He intuitively knew what his teammates needed to be motivated to do their best. He would listen to music to pump himself up before a game, and then once adequately amped, he would share his energy with the rest of the team.
He did everything full-force. He wanted to be the best at everything. The best athlete, friend, husband, father, brother, the best at it all. He made the most out of every moment he spent on this earth. From skiing, to fishing, to golfing, to traveling the world, he wasn’t someone who ever sat on the sidelines.
He always told our boys that three things were important: always do your best, always finish what you start, and practice makes perfect. He lived up to these ideals until he couldn’t anymore. His unfolding is hard to write about because he had so much pride and when he was in a good place, he was unstoppable.
I feel like I slowly started to lose him a few years before he passed. Around 2015, he became more distant and more disconnected from his friends and family. He fell into patterns of drinking that created a major divide between who he wanted to be and who we were seeing. He and I both knew something was wrong. His ability to regulate his emotions and the emotions of others became paper thin. He tried so hard to be the best dad and the best husband, but he seemed pulled into a darker world, a place he could not find escape from for too long. It was hard on all of us, but hardest on him. I saw so many brief pockets of hope and clung onto those for dear life.
In the end, his demons won the battle. On July 30th, 2018, while intoxicated, Mike fell down the back stairs of our home all the way to the concrete foundation of our house. The impact led to a brain injury that ultimately ended his life. He was just 38 years old.
A year later we received confirmation from researchers at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank that Mike suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This came as no surprise to me and validated our worry that he was struggling more than he ever led on.
At the time of his death he was still highly functioning. He hadn’t started losing his memory, and he was still able to successfully operate as a successful CEO of a company. He may have seemed fine to others, but he was battling something internally that was pulling him away from himself. As his wife, it was hard to watch the man you love be unable to take care of himself and his family the way he would want to.
Mike’s impact on this world was profound. He would want his legacy of generosity, kindness and passion to be passed on. I am committed to working on spreading knowledge about CTE and helping families and loved ones learn to navigate the trauma and grief that comes with this degenerative brain disease.