In Rocco D’Amico’s house, there’s a hallway with a light situated between the front door and the laundry room that was never much used. That was, until a stranger brought the family a painting of their daughter, Anne Marie.
Now, that light stays on, Rocco says.
His 30-year-old daughter was the first victim identified in the deadly van attack in Toronto’s North York neighbourhood last spring. It was the deadliest vehicle-ramming attack in Canada’s history, claiming the lives of 10 people, eight of them women, and injuring 16 others.
One year later, the devastation caused by the attack is ever-present but the D’Amicos have a fragile sense of positivity. They are working to prevent violence against women but are never sure how they will react as their grief plays out in public. Her parents and two siblings did not intend to make her funeral public, but they received thousands of visitors to the funeral service and their home.
“People say it’s day by day. No, it’s literally hour by hour,” Rocco says. “Right now, I’m okay. A few minutes ago, I wasn’t. Something was said that just – boom, you collapse.”
Rocco, 68, is a former taekwondo master who ran a company that exported musical accessories. While he’s retired now, his wife, Carmela, is getting back to work as a real estate agent.
He says he gets comfort from talking about his daughter, a free spirit who once chased a cheese wheel down a hill in a competition in England and convinced her cousin in Toronto to join an overnight road trip to attend the funeral of a groundhog.
“There was a period of time when, if you weren’t talking about her, I didn’t want to talk to you,” he says, “because if you weren’t talking about her, you were leaving her behind.”
Nick, her older brother, said that in the months after her death, he struggled walking into rooms filled with strangers. “When I walked into the room, I was like, ‘Are you going to talk about it? Do you know?’ It would just plague me for months.”
Her brother never wants to stop talking about her, either, recalling elementary school days when they would go directly from school to taekwondo class and reminiscing about playful teasing between siblings.
Since the attack, the family has channelled its focus on a foundation in Anne Marie’s name, raising money for services for women escaping violence.
“It took us a while to kind of recalibrate to life,” Nick says. “We can say her name and really not cry, not feel sad, really feel energized.”
While Nick has found solace in doing good work in his sister’s name, Rocco has found his house feeling empty. Nick, his wife and their baby moved out two months after the tragedy, and his older sister had moved out in March. Over the course of four months, Rocco and Carmela went from a household of seven to a household of two.
“We had everybody here. Now everybody’s gone,” Rocco says. “We have friends that have lost their kid. You hear this thing, ‘Oh, I can’t imagine.’ No, you can’t imagine until your kid is really gone.”