Life and death

Posted: September 5, 2011 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Our premature twins each weighed 1 lb., 6 oz.

I don’t want to write this.

It’s one of those pieces, one of those topics that requires you to go to a dark place, think about uncomfortable things – to relive the pain and confusion all over again.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Because feeling the hurt is one of the only ways I can feel her …

One year ago today, Breley Ann Vandrovec died. She was the middle of our three children, the oldest of twin girls born at just 24 weeks gestation. She died so that her little sister, Kailey, could live, taking the brunt of an in-utero infection. They each weighed 1 lb., 6 oz.

She was 2 days old. Her eyes were still fused shut. She had my feet and narrow nose. She died in my wife’s arms.

I think about that part of it a lot – how she never got to experience the full extent of her mother’s love. In that regard, she was cheated.

How do you reconcile expectation with reality? The day they were born, there was maybe one bubble-gum cigar moment – when I realized I was wearing two hospital bracelets. I put a picture of my wrist on Twitter. So proud.

They looked like apple-head dolls as they were wheeled past me – one at a time – on their way to the NICU. I wasn’t allowed in the delivery room because I was a faint risk. I had stayed up late catching up on some work and waking up to dangerously premature labor made my head spin. My wife and I lived different and separate nightmares.

Kailey and Breley were so sick that they were put in separate suites in the NICU. We bounced back and forth, trying to take in two sets of words and prognoses that we didn’t understand.

One died, one lives. How do you celebrate and grieve simultaneously? We didn’t know then and we don’t know now. Yet this is the way it will be forever.

People say, “At least one survived.” And they’re right – mathematically speaking, one is better than none. But that’s not the way it works. We lost a child and are reminded of that every day through her surviving twin.

Kailey turned 1 on Saturday.

Kailey is doing well – better than we could have imagined a year ago. With a heart surgery looming, we were almost too frightened about her health to attend Breley’s funeral. She weighs 17 pounds, has five teeth, perfect vision and no obvious developmental issues according to her corrected age. We’re practically oblivious to the fact that she needs extra oxygen at night and eats exclusively through a G-tube – those once foreign concepts are minor inconveniences when you’ve come as far as she has.

She’s more content than any baby has a right to be. I hope that continues. I hope she’s not haunted by the complexity of her start, hope she doesn’t feel perpetually incomplete without her twin.

We’ll teach Kailey about her sister – we already have. There are pictures in her room. We’ve hung a dragonfly – a spiritual symbol of loss – in our entryway and put a plastic version on her birthday cupcake. We keep a footprint mold, the urn and a blanket next to our bed. We incorporated a stuffed animal given to us at the NICU – Breley Bear, we call it – into our family pictures. We’ve started an endowment in her name.

Lately, I’ve used Breley as motivation when I’m on the treadmill. And I hate that. It seems trivial and vain. But it’s also real. ‘If she could do that then I can do this.’ So I take her with me – just the two of us – and that feels good. We never got to do any father-daughter stuff.

She was so tough. I’m so proud. And sad and mad and thankful and inspired. I hope I cry today – it’s another way to feel close to her. I feel guilty that it’s been so long.

One year ago, we were blindsided by a set of complex and conflicting circumstances. Life and death. It was awkward, confusing, impossible.

And today? We’re still there. Sure, we’ve healed, grown, changed. But, deep down, emotionally, we’re stuck and to an extent always will be. It’s not a feeling – this paradox has become a part of who we are.

Too sad to smile, too happy to cry.

  1. Eric says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Terry, my wife and I were touched by your thoughts. We are just a week away from 24 weeks in our first pregnancy, which puts the story into perspective for me just how miraculous a story this is. God’s blessings to you and your family!

  2. Rich Jensen says:

    Time doesn’t heal, but it provides distance and space to reflect.

    I’ve been thinking about you guys lately.

  3. Mitch says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about your family since we first met. This piece about your.daughters really made me think about my own family and how lucky we are. I cried today while reading this.and am still misty eyed now. I see the love you give your daughters when you’re in the shop and see how great of parents you and your wife are. I have wondered, since the day of your first “best drink ever”, what the background story was on your little angel but always knew it might be too painful to share for you. I understood why without asking and I understand now after reading. The paradox of have and lose is so complex for me to even think about, that I can’t really begin to imagine what your family has gone through and continue to go through. Thank you for sharing, Terry. The way you live your life is an inspiration to me as a new father.

  4. Mark says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Terry.

    It sure made me stop and think how fortunate we’ve been in our home.

    I’m very proud to be a part of team Tiny Miracles this coming week.

  5. Nicole stern says:

    Thank you for sharing your struggles and victories…your family has inspired many. God bless your day

  6. says:

    Thank you for writing this. I can’t say that I know exactly how you and your family feel, but I do remember worrying about losing our 27 week old twins. I could never figure out what would be worse….losing just one or both. Over the past two years we have almost lost our oldest twice. I’m sure this past year has been the toughest and longest you have ever had to endure. I pray that your loss continues to become less painful every day, but not to forget the little girl that you were blessed with(even if it was for only two days). I’m glad to hear that Kailey is doing well. It’s amazing how easily medical equipment finds a place in our lives.

  7. Dave Arntson says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Terry. I’m glad you put this out there for others.

  8. Stacey says:

    Holding my six-month-old as I read your story, I couldn’t help but be moved. May God continue to bless and heal your family. She will always be there — in your hearts.

  9. shane gerlach says:

    You gave me chills. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your naked honesty.

  10. Great writing. I’m sure it was cathartic. I truly believe (we had three miscarriages before our three kiddos came along, and almost lost Kamden, our first) that we can teach people about loss through our own experiences. Think about the era in which our fathers experience birth, death and loss. They didn’t get to put it out there like this. I think we’re blessed that way. I also think we’re blessed to have those little angels out there watching us. And I think we’ll get to hold them someday.

  11. […] It’s a place to come to when there are no words, but when words are really all you have. Last September Terry wrote about the anniversary of the death of his daughter Breley Ann Vandrovec and the birth of little Kailey. A few weeks […]

  12. […] Life and Death NICU Part II Blessed and Stressed […]

  13. […] And check out some of Terry’s previous pieces on Kailey and his remarkable family. […]

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