Saturday, April 2, 2011

A "marker" for Charlie

Six months have passed since my son’s heart stopped beating while still in the isolation and warmth of the womb.   Slowly, my wife and I are starting to tackle the things that slipped through the cracks, or were too difficult for us to deal with.  One of these was providing a proper headstone for my son. 

Today, we worked with a compassionate person, who walked us through many designs, and ultimately helped us personalize something for someone who we never were able to really meet.  Designing this type of memorial for anyone is a difficult task, but for me, this was an exceptionally difficult one.   After a lot of tears and patience, we were told that the company was “donating” the headstone.   For us, I am a student, and my wife is supporting us, but we are just starting out in the world.   The removal of this financial burden was a tremendous relief. 

I thanked her, and then we discussed the shipping and the “installation” of the headstone.  The cemetery where we buried my son – we buried him close to family in St. Louis.  St. Louis was a choice because we grew up there, and my wife and I intend at some point in the future to move back to be with our family.   Burying our son there cemented this.   

The installation charges for our headstone were $315; the cemetery where my son is buried charged us by the square inch to install his small, flat 10 x 18 tombstone.  Furthermore, Charlie’s cemetery, even though the monument company we were working with in Ohio was donating the headstone, would not accept delivery of the tombstone, and we had to work with another funeral home (not the one at his cemetery) to hand-deliver the tombstone.   Ultimately, I figure this is just a ploy by that cemetery to force us to purchase an expensive headstone, so they would install it themselves.   The monument company up here contacted a local, family owned monument company in St. Louis, who decided to hand-deliver the headstone to my son’s cemetery for no fees, just because it was I guess the right thing to do.   They charged no fees, they got nothing out of it, and they just helped me and my wife help put my son at rest.

When most people die, they have savings, they will have an estate.   When an infant dies, there is no chance to buy life insurance, there is no estate, and many families like my wife’s and mine are starting out.  Our savings went to put me through school; we never thought we would be burying our son during the last semester of my MBA.  Every little bit helps, and the old phrase, funerals are expensive, is very true.  Even though we received many items at cost, or were donated to us, the cemetery where my son is entombed was willing to give us “discounted” rates.   However, it seems like they are always looking for ways to profit off the death of my infant boy.  It is hard enough to think about the loss of my child, but then to find someone eager to “make a buck” off his death, well that’s even harder.   

What seems even worse, is that all these other people are willing to help us.  They never met us, they just are helping because, I guess they think that's the right thing to do.  I am very grateful for it, and am thankful because for every dollar I save, that is a dollar towards cans of formula or diapers for Charlie's sisters.   Witnessing the good in people first hand is wonderful, and then to be charged, by the square inch, for someone to dig a hole, and pour in a little bit of concrete, just strikes a nerve.  Like most businesses today, I am already a customer - well, my son is a customer of this cemetery.   They have his body, and knowing this, customer service (they would not return phone calls, and were far from "helpful" during this process) does not exist.   They have me over a barrel, and they are using this leverage to their advantage.  This is what many businesses do, and this is a lucrative business model and many businesses practice this.   However, most businesses aren't holding the body of your dead son over you.   Just a shame.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How a heartbeat breaks your heart

It has been six months since my wife delivered our triplets – prematurely because my son died after a “cord event” at 34 weeks into the pregnancy.   Dealing with the grief over the last six months has been very difficult.  I have suffered panic attacks, spent days, unable to do hardly anything except care for my son’s two sisters.  For every triumph that my daughters make, each developmental mile stone they reach, I know that my son will never be able to celebrate what we celebrate for his sisters. 
My wife and I are still struggling to try and clean up the things that slid through the cracks surrounding the birth, death and funeral, along with the two and a half weeks my daughters grew in the NICU.  Things like bills, school, and work – all fell through the cracks.  To top things off, the hospital, well, they omitted my wife from both of my daughter’s birth certificates.   We have been trying to clean this up for nearly two months, but leaving the mother off of a birth certificate, and having it slip through both the hospital’s and the state’s checks and balances is evidently an unprecedented occurrence.   Friends have joked that this was an “immaculate gestation”, which briefly makes us smile, which seems to be a novelty these days (unless we are playing with the girls).  
I was working on the birth worksheets for my two daughters – they get birth certificates.  My son’s birth worksheet from the hospital lists him as IUFD – Intruterine Fetal Demise.   In the state of Ohio – and in many other states, if a child does not take a breath outside of the womb, he or she will only receive a death certificate, and will never receive a birth certificate.   This is something that has continuously haunted me.  For some reason the state feels it necessary to deprive him of his existence in a way – they will not acknowledge that he was born. 
Since joining the “club”, I have been regaled with horrific stories of loss, tragedy and pain, but one thing that has always struck me, is that a child – born at 18 weeks or earlier – a time when they cannot survive, if they take a breath, they are born – they receive a birth certificate.  My son Charlie did not have the chance.   I know it is just a piece of paper, and in reality, it really does not make much of a difference, but being deprived of this piece of paper – an acknowledgement by someone else that my son was here – is something that bothers me immensely.   My son was here, he existed to me, I held him, stroked his hair and sobbed over his lifeless body.   He will always be in my heart, but he never had the chance to come into being, to impact the world – to borrow a phrase from the Jesuits – he was never given the chance to go forth and set the world on fire.  
A birth certificate for my son – well, it is just a piece of paper.   My son was alive though.  We played with him (he kicked through my wife’s belly when I would make the sound of “whales” to him).   He banged on his sister, and he sat there, a week before we found out he rolled on his cord, calmly sucking his thumb in the ultrasound picture.  He was alive, he just never had the chance to make a far reaching impact on many people.   Again, a piece of paper is an acknowledgement by some other person that my son was alive, and I am deprived of that, but I will always have the piece of paper reminding me that he died much to soon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An "unreasonable restraint on business” – What are they thinking?

Recent legislation has come before Congress concerning amending FLMA to allow coverage for time taken after the death of a child.   Currently FMLA offers no protections, and from a technical standpoint, only 2 or 3 days are normally offered by companies to allow a parent to grieve after they lose a child. 

Now, honorable businesses would most likely do the right thing, and would allow an employee to grieve (and many companies do).  However, protections like FMLA exist because of the companies that are not “honorable”, the companies that put profits over people, which treat their employees like cattle. 

FMLA is not a handout.  The only protection that FMLA offers is that, when an employee goes out on sick leave, or leave to care for a family member, that these unfortunate souls will be able to get their former job, or a position of equivalent responsibility and salary after the traumatic family event unfolds. 

FMLA currently does not cover the death of a child.  Therefore, if an employee takes FMLA to care for a sick child, that subsequently dies, that employer could require the employee to return to work in as little as 2 or 3 days, or threaten them with the loss of their job.  In today’s economy, threats of job loss, and the potential for the unemployment line are significant.  Furthermore, if an employee does not return to work, they technically could be considered “no call / no show” and terminated for cause – therefore eliminating their ability to receive unemployment compensation.  

After going through the loss of a child, it is easy to see how many parents who have lost a child end up homeless.   It’s actually very simple, lose a child, you don’t care about your job – which you lose – then you lose your house, and it’s a vicious downward spiral to homelessness.  

Most of us would think extending FMLA (which again does NOT guarantee money) is not a bad thing.  Essentially, someone gets to keep their job, and allows them to put family values first – i.e. allows them to care for their ill or ailing loved one.  However, this legislation is currently meeting some opposition, and the opposing forces are saying that extending FMLA to protect parents in a time when they are absolutely the most vulnerable is an “unreasonable restraint on business”.  

Many businesses will treat their employees properly, but one thing I have seen firsthand, is that many businesses treat parents who have lost a child horrifically.   My wife, who works for a children’s hospital, was told, after receiving a doctor’s note for an additional two weeks of leave and after her co-workers were willing to pool and give her their sick time – that her FMLA time was up, and she needed to come back to work.   We delivered triplets, our two daughters only needed two weeks in the NICU, but our son was stillborn.  Despite having issues with delivering her babies, my wife was grieving over the loss of our son.   Her employer – again, a Children’s hospital – threatened her job.  

The point here is that, even a hospital, a firm that should understand grieving, birth and death, treated her as a number, and put their profits first above the “human element”.   Like unions, legislation like this protects those that do not have a voice, those that need help when no one else is helping them.  FMLA is not a handout; it is just a protection that can limit our unemployment lines, which can help someone keep their job, their home and their sanity.  An unreasonable restraint on business is a cold, callous and laughable argument.  Again, FMLA does not force a company to dole out money, it just forces them to hold a position for a worker in a time when they need compassion, help and understanding, and a time when they need these things the most. 

If businesses put people first, if business people acted with integrity and honor, there would be no need for FMLA reform.  Unfortunately, we need this because business, ethics, honor and integrity are four words that do not mesh very well in our present society.  Perhaps future generations will not need things like FMLA, but until we can become compassionate and not put profits above people, revenue above doing the right thing, we need to protect those without a voice, and the new FMLA reforms do just that.