Connecticut College News
Bringing Elizabeth Durante to Light - By Lilah Raptopoulos ´1103/30/2009
Candles burned in the Blackstone Common Room fireplace long after the candlelight vigil dedicated to Liz last Thursday night.
Liz Durante lived in the southwest corner of Blackstone, second floor, in the only double given to a junior. She and her best friend Stefanie Hinman have been roommates since they were placed together their freshman year. Stefanie lives there alone now, both beds still made, both desks stacked with books, the rug well-vacuumed. "Liz was the messy one," she said. A month before Liz died, she sat down at her desk to write a Facebook note that listed 25 things about herself. In it, she gives us a glimpse of who she is and was:
5) The concept of Death - specifically, the eternal, infinite, endlessness of it - scares the hell out of me. Always has. The specifics of this tragedy are widely known and uncomfortably told. On March 7, Liz was killed in a crash on 395 N on the way to Logan Airport, where she and seven students planned to board a plane to Uganda, bringing humanitarian aid to residents of rural Kaberamaido.The van was struck on 395 N by an intoxicated Navy officer stationed in Groton. He was driving back to the submarine base from Mohegan Sun after a night out and, according to his police statement, "four or five drinks," on the wrong side of the road with his headlights switched off. Junior Jennifer Blanco was sitting next to Liz in the Livery Limited van, and she explained to the New London Day that she does not remember the crash itself, just the shouts and wreckage afterwards. Stefanie, her father and another student were driving behind them. They saw the van flip and Stefanie, herself EMT certified, helped the other students and the driver out of the van and into ambulances, where they were brought to hospitals and treated for their injuries. Liz, the only student that could not be reached from under the wreckage, died at the scene. But this is not a story about Liz´s death.
1) I have never felt as passionate or as charged by anything the way I am about medicine. At Connecticut College, Liz was a psychology major on the pre-med track, a co-captain of the Uganda Project, of the CCEMS club and of the Covenant Shelter after-school program in New London. According to her friends, teachers and family, this was simply part of her nature. "In high school, Liz did everything," said sophomore Sarah Spiegel, who also attended Friends Academy in Locust Valley, Long Island. "We´d have weekly assembly, and every week, like clockwork she was up there trying to get people come help out with community service." Liz was on the West Islip Fire Department´s rescue squad as an Emergency Medical Technician, trained to provide pre-hospital, on-site emergency care. At her wake, the fire department positioned their ladders in a triangle framing the entrance of the church. Hundreds of community members attended. "It was beautiful," Stefanie said. "We were joking that if she was there she wouldn´t have been in the building with us crying, she would have been sitting on the lawn with the fire trucks, with the lights going, thinking it was the coolest thing in the world." Her voice sped up. "She got so excited about things that had to do with EMS or medicine. Like, flip-out." "At the funeral they kept comparing her to Jesus," said Spiegel. "You know how you have hobbies you do in your spare time? In her spare time, she liked to help people. I swear, she was Jesus, man."
4) I don´t know celebrities names, nor do I recognize actors/actresses, but people like Dr. Paul Farmer are my heroes. Liz did not simply join clubs on campus - she thought of ideas and materialized them, from the CCEMS program that is now in its third semester to the Uganda trip itself. She was preparing for this particular trip for months in advance, such was her nature. One night Stefanie fell asleep to Liz on her computer and woke up to find her in the same place. "Did you sleep?" she asked her. "No, but I ordered discount Ibuprofin! It´ll be in your mailbox soon!" Said Stefanie, "I didn´t even think, we should probably start thinking about ordering medication, but she was there and she did it before I even got up in the morning. She was the aggressive one." "I will never forget how excited Liz got when a shipment of anti-fungal cream for the trip to Uganda arrived a few weeks ago," wrote senior Karen Ladr on the memorial website. "Her passion for helping others was palpable and the energy she brought to everyone she was around will be missed."
19) I occasionally am struck with the strong, impulsive urge to drop everything and explore. Liz wanted to learn through doing, through patient interaction rather than studying from a textbook. She had difficulty sitting still in a classroom, due more to her impatience with academia´s lengthy pencil-before-scalpel requirements than her disinterest in science. "She wanted to go out in the world to do medicine," said Stefanie. "I know it was frustrating for her to have to go to class and do homework when she didn´t want to be just talking about things. She´d rather be doing them." Psychology professor Joe Schroeder had her in two of his classes, the most recent a current course called Sensation and Perception. "Liz was wearing her reflective EMT jacket when I last talked to her," he said. "We talked in the past on several occasions about her EMT experience and desire to become a physician. The medical aid mission to Uganda provided her with hands-on clinical experience in which she could make an immediate difference in peoples lives. "She would have made an excellent physician in the truest sense of the profession."
21) I will pay good money to see bad movies - It´s actually something I enjoy immensely. The feeling around campus is one of loss and confusion and reevaluation, of anger, and behind it all a small sense of inadequacy. A student in the library came up to me after hearing I was writing a piece on Liz, and said, "It seems like I´ve done nothing in my life next to this girl." But Liz was perhaps a part-time Jesus, and this, interestingly enough, may be the most attractive part of her story. She did it all, but she liked to sleep and watch Family Guy sometimes. She switched between these two selves constantly, essentially forming them into a unique one. Sophomore Laura Koroski put it most eloquently in her memorial post by bringing us into a nightly dinner: "One moment she´d say something so witty and sarcastic that the whole table couldn´t control their laughing, and the next she´d be talking about how fascinating it was to work with homeless kids at covenant." Liz was a person with a contagious laugh, a spontaneous spirit, a strong sense of loyalty, and, as Stefanie recalled confidently, a bad sense of humor. "I don´t know if you want to put that in the article, but she did, she laughed at little kid jokes. She thinks that ducks and cows are hilarious." On weekend nights, Liz and Stefanie would pick out the strangest foreign film they could find. Their favorite movie, /Bandits/, about a woman´s rock group that formed in prison in Germany, is available in the library. Stefanie now has a copy of her own.
11) I have an extremely addictive personality - but am entirely straight edge. The summer after her sophomore year, Liz left her house on ambulance duty to respond to a cardiac arrest. While driving to do CPR on a stopped heart, she failed to see a sofa that had been left in the middle of the road before her by drunk teenagers in her neighborhood. Liz swerved to miss the sofa and hit a rock, totaling her car, this time physically unharmed. The saddest part of Liz´s death, the part that makes it a true tragedy, is not that she died, but the irony of how. Liz lived in the substance free dorm on campus. Her personal life had been heavily and negatively impacted by drinking and she did not want to feed into it herself. In her room that night, surrounded by Liz´s things, Stefanie spoke of the long-term hopes from the campus community. Her voice was light. "I´m sure this kid didn´t want to kill anybody," she said, "but he probably also knew when he got in the car drunk that he was taking a risk. So I really would like if people looked at this and sort of reevaluated their decisions and realized that [Liz] had this amazing life. She was happy, and did these amazing things. "It would be nice for kids at Conn if the next time they thought about getting in the car when they´re drunk that they remember this." And here is the heart of it, the most selfless part of it, the action behind their firm belief that a patient is a patient is a patient: the ideal goal of Liz and Stefanie´s program is to provide the school with certified EMT´s on call to help students who have overdosed on Thursday and Saturday nights. Said Stephanie, "Her last conversation with our friend Glenn Marmon was about how, in EMS, sometimes you have the drunk driver in the ambulance, and how frustrating it can be, because no matter how you feel about what they´ve done, you provide the best medical care you can to them, and nothing less."
9) My friends are unique, wonderful, interesting individuals - without whom, I wouldn´t be who I am today. It´s the little things, like Liz´s toothbrush, that hit Stefanie as she deals with losing her best friend. But day-to-day, she is standing tall, attending meetings, smiling at people between classes and making sure Liz´s legacy will permanently outlive her physical self. "Part of the EMT training," she said, "is that when there are things that need to be done, no matter how awful it might be, you don´t deal with your emotions. If EMTs started crying every time they walked into something that was really sad or really awful, we wouldn´t get our jobs done. There still is a lot that needs to be done. "But that´s the EMT training," she continued, "that you don´t break down until you´re alone in your room and no one needs anything from you." According to Counseling Services director Janet Spoltore, everyone can find personal ways to grieve sincerely and appropriately without letting it overtake their life. "The most important things are to keep yourself healthy, get good sleep, eat well, recognize your limitations, ask for help, get support and talk, talk, talk to people," she said. She gave methods of grieving: some write their thoughts, look at pictures, give themselves time limits to grieve, or just allow themselves to cry. Many of those who didn´t know her are likely going through a reevaluation process. Said Spoltore, "professional help can be very useful as a process to help you look in a realistic way at what you can do and what you can´t do. And we are here."
With the return from spring break came students fitting easily back into their daily routine, but with an underlying tension of untied strings and an unacknowledged weight. This weight is releasing slowly as Liz is being more openly acknowledged. The Vagina Monologues last weekend was dedicated to Liz´s work, SGA closed on Thursday night in a moment of silence and the psychology department has established a permanent memorial to her memory. Blackstone had a candlelight vigil, and a student explained that when Stefanie spoke, everybody cried. On Friday, April 3, there will be a campus wide memorial for Liz at 6 PM in the 1962 room. It will focus on her life as a community servant and as a friend.
The note ends and Liz signs off: Go forth and move mountains - God knows, I will... ~Liz