Published by Catalyst on August 19, 2023
By Bill DeYoung
"I traveled a path of buried memories, those from my first 59 years and those decanted into my subconscious self by the stories of my parents and about their parents," Fabio Dal Boni writes in the introduction to "AN EXTRA LIFE".
"I walked with the angels that have always been at my side and whom I was finally able to recognize."
Sarasota artist Fabio Dal Boni designed himself the cover of his first book. The colors, blue and white with a gossamer, heart-shaped veil of red, suggest that the book has something to do with sky and light, and, with that prominent human heart, about the value and significance of human life.
Like the best of Dal Boni’s paintings and art photographs, the book cover is luminous and mysterious, and hints at something deeper.
An Extra Life, which is subtitled Eight Minutes in Heaven With My Father, starts at the beginning: One warm December morning in 2015 when Dal Boni, then 59, suffered a massive heart attack after playing a spirited round of tennis with his wife.
He was officially dead for eight minutes.
What happened during that time, he kept to himself at first. “The first two years, I took time to digest the situation,” says the Italian-born author, who speaks with a thick accent. “I was so embarrassed. I didn’t tell anyone, maybe two, three people. I was working as a strategic consultant at the time, I was traveling the world, and I was not so comfortable to tell this story.”
He was embarrassed, Dal Boni reveals, because his friends might think he was with crazy or had gone into some woo-woo religious trance.
“Now that I have told this story, people will ask – you have seen God there? Or Jesus, or something? I say no, no, I didn’t see Jesus or God. I was visited by my father. My father was a representative of God. He was an angel. And I was an angel too!
“It’s something not really related to religion, but related to something above us.”
His father, the late Sergio Dal Boni, appeared in an enveloping white light. And in those eight minutes, Fabio Dal Boni experienced his father’s entire life – the good, the bad, the tragic, the comic and the unbelievable. In stunning clarity.
Dal Boni was revived after those eight agonizing minutes, the doctor put a stent in his heart, and there was no resulting physical damage. He came to see this as a miracle, and he wondered how to share it with people. A former journalist, he decided to chronicle the story in book form.
“I was given something, and I wanted to give back in some way,” Dal Boni says. “And when I started to write, I was not able to stop. And I was crying every time, because it was so emotional. I still cry every time when I tell this story.
“Something that I put in the book maybe can help someone understand what is the afterlife. When someone is losing a loved one … I was there, and you can understand what it was like to be there.”
Dal Boni was born in Italy but grew up in Latin America; the family moved as the ever-optimistic “Don Sergio” found opportunities (they barely escaped with their lives when Fidel Castro, in 1960, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He refused).
One of the most engaging sections of An Extra Life lays out the tragic details of Sergio’s birth, as the result of a one-night encounter between a (married) naval cadet and a virginal young ballerina in 1925, as the specter of Mussolini’s Fascist Party hung over the country like a black curtain.
His adventures are many, and varied: As “ship’s boy” on board a sinking Italian submarine during World War II, teenage Sergio had been launched from a torpedo tube, with floats tied to his arms, and therefore saved.
Wonderfully detailed, the stories of the Dal Boni family – of three generations – are told with a mixture of clear-eyed detail and awe. Dal Boni conducted extensive research to get the historical facts just right.
He knew he was on the right track when, early in the writing process, he told the whole story to a friend. Not long afterwards, “My friend said, ‘Fabio, do you know you have saved four lives? I told your experience to four friends of mine, and I pushed all of them to go visit the doctor, the cardiologist, because what happened to you is able to happen to everybody.
“All of them went to the cardiologist, and now they have stents.”