Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Politics of Death

It's been one week today since Dominick left us.  I was finally able to drive home yesterday (with my one-year-old being surprisingly tolerant of  the 3-hour car ride) and visit with my brother's family as they hunker down at Rachel's sister's house, trying to avoid going home to the house riddled with painful memories or climbing into the big Suburban they bought just to have enough room for baby Dominick.  Although I'm here, I still feel helpless.  

When I asked what kind of help they needed, they asked me to help them order an urn and some vial necklaces online.  (And, go figure, after I spend 20 minutes convincing them that ordering online is safe and easy they end up getting double-charged for the urn.)  

They've decided to carry him close to their hearts in that way... they also found an engraver at our local mall who engraved Dominick's photo onto some necklaces both for themselves and the three girls to wear.  It's both incredibly sweet and sad at the same time, especially when their youngest daughter catches sight of the necklaces and proudly says, "That's my brother!" 

Will it ever get easier?  Will they ever be able to go for more than 2 minutes without being reminded of what they've lost?  At this point the sadness I feel is  more based on the anguish I see them in instead of my own feelings of loss.  I never wanted to see my little brother this upset.  (Even back when we were children fighting over the remote control, I would never want it to get to the point of tears.)

The coroner hasn't released the official report yet, but initial findings say that Dominick was anemic, was over-producing either adrenaline or cortisone, and had underdeveloped lungs.  So this begs the question: why on earth would the hospital allow them to take their anemic baby with known sleep apnea problems home (to a house at 6,000ft elevation, no less)  without so much as suggesting that they get a monitor that senses movement like those Angel Care monitors do?  I mean, forget the fact that Jon and Rachel were pushing for him to come home, it's the doctor's job to weigh the risks of taking a NICU baby home and say "No, I know you want him home, but this baby is not ready yet." 

My mother tells me that there were two NICU doctors at the hospital Dominick was in - one in the morning and one in the evenings.  The evening doctor had told them the day before Dominick was released that he was going to be there at least another 2 weeks (which would have been roughly when he was due - a typical deadline for most preemies), but the next morning the other doctor said told them to get the carseat out of the car and take him home.  Of course, they were overjoyed to think that their son could come home with them and trusted that the doctor knew what he was talking about.  When you get good news like that, you don't think to question it, you just accept it and are grateful to have your family together.  Perhaps the nagging voice in your mind says, "Wait, that other doctor said..." but you choose to tune it out because what you have wanted since your baby's birth is to bring him home with you and you are getting what you want.  

So what can this mean?  Was the doctor wrong or irresponsible?  Were there complications no one knew about?  Or was he simply trying to push a MediCal baby out of the NICU?  The thought that the latter option is even a possibility infuriates me to no end.  We live in a country where medical treatment is considered by many to be a privledge instead of a right, and if the state is the one footing the bill does that give anyone the right to say, "This baby is costing us a lot, let's just push him out of here?"     

Until the coroner's report is finalized I should probably try to calm down with these angry thoughts, but I'm realizing as I type this that I'm in the anger part of the grieving cycle.  These questions won't bring Dominick back, but perhaps Dominick's life can be used a lesson for anyone who's baby ends up in the NICU: make sure your doctors are being safe and almost overly cautious with their lives.  You may want to bring that baby home SO BADLY but you also want that baby to live and grown up to run and play and get in fights with their siblings.  Have patience and be sure that if you don't have great insurance that no one is running math calculations on your child's life.

Also, many people have asked about how much we've raised in donations: family, friends, and the generous people of the internet  have sent Jon and Rachel $1400 so far to help with the costs of Dominick's memorial!  After purchasing the urn and neckalces mentioned above and paying for the cremation that leaves them about $400.  Since they are hoping to find a way to afford to either move out of their house with so many painful memories or to buy a new vehicle that doesn't still have the impression of Dominick's car seat dented into the seats, they could certainly use more.  If there is anyone who wishes to contribute to this fund, here is the link:


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Yin to my Yang

(As always, something to listen to while you read: This is Band of Horses' song "No One's Gonna to Love You")

A month or two ago, I began a quest to become a blatent optimist - someone who knowingly focuses on the good in life and tries to make the choice to be happy. 

Never before have I had such a hard time with this goal.  There are things, like the death of a sweet innocent, that shake you to your very core.  How can there ever be a bright side to this?  How can any living being hear this story and not feel a wave of sadness?

There are people who turn to God for answers here.  There are people who turn to St. Jack Daniels.  There are people who would go off the deep end and end up on top of a clock tower in Texas. There are some who would spend days sobbing in the bathtub listening to the same song over and over again. There is no "right way" to grieve, though - there are certainly ways that are more harmful than others, but there is no GPS for the highway of grief you must drive down. Sometimes it's just necessary to go find an isolated place to cry and scream and shake your fist at the sky.

My forays into studies of various religions while in college led me to read into Chinese philosophies of Zen Buddhism and Hinduism, and I have long identified with the Buddhist concepts of the Yin and Yang, Hindu concepts of of Brahman and the belief that we are all connected through cycles of creation and destruction.  My goal to focus on the good in life - on the happiness that children provide, on the beauty in the world, on the creation of things instead of the destruction - can thus be seen as determination to dwell on only one half of the spectrum of life.  No matter how much I want to cling to the Yang of life - the brightness, activeness, upward, strong and expanding processes of living - the Yin will always find a way into my life to remind me that dark, still, weak, downward tendencies exist and have just as big a part in shaping our world.  

Yin and Yang do no represent good and evil, for in Zen Buddhism everything is interconnected and has different levels of opposing forces at work within it, but there is no ultimate decider who says "This is considered good, this is bad" because the two things are dependent on each other for existence. The internet has yielded a great analogy for me to use here: "Dropping a stone in a calm pool of water will simultaneously raise waves and lower troughs between them, and this alternation of high and low points in the water will radiate outward until the movement dissipates and the pool is calm once more. Yin–yang, thus, are always opposite and equal qualities."

The death of my nephew is certainly causing huge ripples in the lives of everyone around our family.  We ride waves of sadness as we try to focus on the good still left around us - the three girls, the love and support of friends, family, and even strangers from the furthest reaches of the internet who want to give us virtual hugs with their kind words and donations for the family.  But like it or not, death is a part of life and some of us are only destined to live for a short time and it is the effect that these little lives have on the people that they leave behind that lives on.

I now move forward with a new goal: to help bring more Yang to my brother and his family to help balance the horrible pile of Yin that got dumped on them this Saturday morning. There will never be a way to make this right and good, but someday there will be a balance of emotions found and the sadness will no longer be cripplingly all-encompassing.  Someday there will be a way to achieve the Zen-like peace of a family that has weathered so much sadness. 

I know I can't wait for that day.


Monday, October 4, 2010

The Changing Tide of Grief

Two days later, nothing feels better.  The grief comes in waves - one minute you're fine, the next you're seeing a sympathetic email and bawling your eyes out.

This song (Flaming Lips' "Do you Realize") helps soothe the burn for me a bit - press play if you like:  

As a parent, you hope you never outlive your children and if you do you will find yourself in a lonely, desperate place.  No one will feel that loss the way that you will - no one will know about the dreams dashed upon the rocks of reality, will see the nest of hopes you snuggled your child in blown away in a violent windstorm, will hear the shattering sound of your world collapsing around you.

Looks just like Daddy.

As the aunt of this beautiful baby boy, I know my grief will never come close to the anguish my brother and his family are feeling.  I had planned to go meet him for the first time this coming weekend... and even though I am incredibly sad to have missed out on meeting him, I know this would be that much harder for me if I had held him and cuddled him like I wanted to.

With Big Sister Serenity (who called him "her baby")

The death of a child raises so many questions.  How do you go forward?  What do you tell the three older sisters who had awaited his arrival for 8 months and barely had a chance to meet him?  Do you protect them from the grief you're experiencing or bring them home and spend 5 days all snuggling in the same bed?  When do you clean up his things?  What are you supposed to do with all these people showing up offering to help?  What happens when you have to go back to living when all you want to do is crawl in a hole and cry?
There are no good answers here.  The cycle of life can be abrupt and cruel and grief affects us all in different ways. 

The one good thing that can come out of death is the sense of closeness and community that arises after a tragedy of this magnitude.  The outpouring of support has been heartwarming and I'll admit, nearly every time I get an email saying someone has donated to Dominick's Memorial fund I burst out crying.  When you lose someone I've learned it's best you pull the people you have left close to you and bear the weight of the burden together so that in time it will be bearable...  Everyone wants to help SO BADLY!  We all want to find a way to take away some of the pain that the family is going through and, as tritely sad and materialistic as it sounds, the only thing that can realistically be done is to help ease their financial worries while the grief cycle takes its toll.  As a family with three young girls with only one parent working (and making under $20k/year) financing a cremation, the medical bills for his NICU stay and, later, a funeral gathering is a seemingly overwhelming task. However, thanks to the generosity of friends, family, and community members we've been able to raise $400 so far to help Jon and Rachel and there was a funeral parlor who generously agreed to do the cremation for only $500 (apparently the cost is usually 4 times that).  
Here is a link to the PayPal donation site:

The funeral date has yet to be set, but I will post it the minute I know when it will be. 

Sleep sweet, little love.  <3

R.I.P., little man.  I wish I could have held you before you went. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Overwhelming Sadness

Today my brother's son died.  
Just looking at that sentence makes me tear up again.

Dominick Cole Bormann was born on 8-28-10 about 6 weeks early - he was kept in the NICU until last Sunday when he was finally allowed to join his family at home.  This morning, a mere 6 days later, he passed away around 6am, most likely due to complications with his sleep apnea from having been born so early (although there is no official report yet).  
With Mommy in the NICU

With Daddy in the NICU
With Mommy - finally home!

I can't imagine how hard this is on them, especially with three other kids to think about... this tragedy runs deep and will follow them for the rest of their lives.  I'm stuck here in Santa Barbara today feeling totally useless, so here is my attempt to help make their lives easier:

Since I've had a few people ask how they can help, I've created a Paypal donation account for Dominick's Memorial.  The funeral costs will be about $600 and their little family was living on a shoestring budget as it is, so any donation, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated.  Please click here if you wish to donate something to this fund (it's through PayPal so it's legit!):  

Edit:  An update is available Here