Dante Paul Jacuzzi III died in his sleep the morning of January 31, 2006. He was twenty-three. His sister, Jordan, went downstairs to wake him up for work and found him quiet, in his bed, taken inexplicably by eternal rest. Jordan squeezed his open hand, but found it cold; he never squeezed back. His heart—it was such a big heart—had stopped working.
That same Tuesday afternoon, I was in Walgreen’s picking up a few things before heading home when I checked my phone and saw an unusual number of “missed calls” and voicemail. I quickly dialed my best friend’s cell number and found a breaking, grief-stricken girl on the other end of the line whose voice quivered, “Oh Kate…you don’t know yet.”
I made cream of potato soup for dinner that night. My roommates—anxiously watching me furiously chop vegetables with a sharp knife—sat concerned as I diced onions that had nothing to do with my tears. “If you need anything, I’m here for you,” Robbi said, as she sat in the bathroom with me and let me cry.
I made it through the week and flew home Friday morning after the funeral to be with others who knew and loved Dante, to mourn with and grieve for those who were touched most tangibly by the loss. I missed the funeral but drove out to the gravesite with Amanda; we stared intently at the fresh mound of dirt. I tried to remember the last time I had seen Dante and to conjure up all the memories I knew lay beneath the surface. For Dante brought happiness and life to those whom he chose to befriend — he was expressive, wickedly intelligent, fiercely loyal, and unapologetically blunt with a lust for life others envied.
We spent that weekend after Dante’s death trying our best at living. With extended family I had never met and friends held dear since grade school, we stayed at the Jacuzzi’s house all together, all broken. We ordered Chinese take-out and did last week’s laundry, drank red wine and played old video games. We listened to family members tell stories about Dante’s Arnold Schwarzenegger impression and we watched home videos of quiz bowl tournaments—we laughed until we cried and sometimes we just cried.
The night before I left town, Dante’s mom told us to never stop visiting the house. She said she wanted to hear about everything, from all of us—our lives and our plans and all the things in between. She wanted to know when my sister got engaged and if Amanda and Chase would stay together and where David got accepted for graduate school. But above all, she wanted us to keep living. Mrs. Jacuzzi knew the house would be all the emptier without Dante’s life and it would take more then one person to help fill the void.
Dante’s death had more then a little to do with Amanda’s new found interest in becoming a flight attendant, or the night my friend got in his bathtub to cut his wrists, or how Andrew, Dante’s little brother, placed fourth in a national skate competition. For better and for worse, Dante’s death made us all see the world a bit differently.
But that was when I realized that recognizing life and our connection to other living things is our only shot at understanding the world around us. Even when we are not happy, even when faced with heartbreaking tragedy, we must be open to life and all that it brings. We must look back and see what we have learned and the people who were there with us; moments that bring us outside of ourselves to recognize that there is something so much bigger.
Author Chuck Palahniuk in his latest novel Diary writes, “It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” We are all still learning, but the trick is learning do it together. If we do, we might find slivers of joy and equanimity in the process.
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