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Things I learned from Tim

by Brian Clarey

Last week Greensboro musician, filmmaker and all-around good guy Tim LaFollette passed after suffering with ALS, AKA Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for two years. We were friends — not the kind of friends who got together for lunch every week or even talked on the phone all that much. But I loved him and I will miss him.

We knew each other for about a decade, and in that time I learned a lot from Tim, that smart, generous and kind soul who was taken from us way too soon. I’d like to share some of those things as I remember my friend.

Bad things happen to good people. I’ve known this for years, even took a course on it in college called The Mystery of Suffering which was heavy on the Book of Job and very light on actual answers. But nothing brought this platitude home like when I first heard that about Tim’s diagnosis back in 2009. All these douchebags running around, I remember thinking, and this guy had to be the one to get the death sentence before he turned 30? It still makes no sense to me; fortunately I stopped looking for things to make sense a long time ago. If there’s a reason, I don’t have it for you. I’m sorry.

Be brave. Tim knew damn well what he was getting into with ALS, the disease that took his mother and his grandmother. He knew about the inexorable slide he would have to endure because he had seen it firsthand, and it was probably one of his biggest fears throughout his short life. Still, he faced this disease with all he had, went out into the light with it when most of us would be sorely tempted to ride it out privately in the dark. He allowed his struggle to be meticulously documented by the guys over at Often Awesome — more on that in a bit — and he always, even to the bitter end, tried to keep things positive. I know I would have crumbled underneath a burden like this. Tim did not.

It’s good to have friends. Tim had a lot of them, a group that formed the Often Awesome Army after the diagnosis to celebrate his life, raise awareness about the disease and ease him gently into that good night. Because of this amazing corps of folks, Tim was able to enjoy a much better quality of life than many ALS sufferers — though I hate to use the word “enjoy” here — because of the money they raised, used for a better wheelchair, cost-of-living expenses and, when his voice and body finally gave out, expensive pieces of technology that allowed him to interact with the world even when he could not speak or move. Their names are too numerous to mention, but it would feel wrong not to name-check Kevin Miller and Micah Stillwell and his other primary caregivers, Catie Braly and our own art director, Devender Sellars, for their efforts, and also to Blake Faucette and Andy Coon, the filmmakers behind the “Often Awesome” series of documentaries that captured the spirit of the time. Watch the films at www.allacesmedia.com/oftenawesome, and go to www.oftenawesome.org to see how this army of friends made a difference in the last days of a good man’s life.

Be an artist. Tim was one of those cats who was great at anything he tried, as any of his classmates at Guilford College would attest. Tim could have done anything he wanted with his life; he chose to create. He played bass and wrote songs for bands like Kudzu Wish and, later, Decoration Ghost. He edited films, first in rock clubs and later for the company that would become the Adoption Chronicles — more on that in a bit — and contributed his wildly creative spirit to every endeavor in which he took part. This was a conscious decision, not just something he fell into, as evidenced by a quote I took from him when compiling our December 2009 Meaning of Life issue: “I never succeeded by many other people’s standards, but I never stopped dream chasing. I never took the easy way out and took the well-paying job that I could have easily gotten.”

Believe in something. Tim wasn’t in this life for the money; instead he sought a different kind of currency. This is evident by the job he took editing film for my friend Dustin Keene’s company, known in its infancy as Schoolkid Chronicles but which became something much more: a group that helped orphaned children find permanent homes. And Dusty tells me that Tim worked for very little in the beginning and sometimes for free when the company was still finding its footing. Instead of complaining, Tim threw himself into the mission, and reminded everyone else in the company of the important work they were doing.

Don’t be afraid to love. Shortly after his diagnosis, Tim proposed to his girlfriend Kaylan and she accepted. These were not the best circumstances in which to begin a marriage, but Kaylan stayed by his side throughout the whole ordeal. What they shared is inspirational to me.

ALS needs more research. Tim told me the dreadful facts: ALS research has not significantly advanced in the 70 years since Lou Gehrig died from the disease. Tim told me the problem is that it affects so few — two in every 100,000 — and that although maybe 30,000 Americans at any given time have it, they generally don’t survive for more than a couple of years. If you’ve got the means, Tim would have appreciated that you send a donation to support ALS research, which you can learn all about at www.als.net. And if you don’t have the means, well Tim would have understood that too.

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