The Bzeeks opened their Azusa home to dozens of children. They taught classes on foster parenting — and how to handle a child’s illness and death — at community colleges. Dawn Bzeek was such a highly regarded foster mother that her name appeared on statewide task forces for improving foster care alongside doctors and policymakers.
Bzeek started caring for foster children with Dawn in 1989, he said. Often, the children were ill.
Mohamed Bzeek first experienced the death of a foster child in 1991. She was the child of a farm worker who was pregnant when she breathed in toxic pesticides sprayed by crop dusters. She was born with a spinal disorder, wore a full body cast and wasn’t yet a year old when she died on July 4, 1991, as the Bzeeks prepared dinner.
“This one hurt me so badly when she died,” Bzeek said, glancing at a photograph of a tiny girl in a frilly white dress, lying in a coffin surrounded by yellow flowers.
By the mid-1990s, the Bzeeks decided to specifically care for terminally ill children who had do-not-resuscitate orders because no one else would take them in.
There was the boy with short-gut syndrome who was admitted to the hospital 167 times in his eight-year life. He could never eat solid food, but the Bzeeks would sit him at the dinner table, with his own empty plate and spoon, so he could sit with them as a family.
There was the girl with the same brain condition as Bzeek’s current foster daughter, who lived for eight days after they brought her home. She was so tiny that when she died a doll maker made an outfit for her funeral. Bzeek carried her coffin in his hands like a shoe box.
“The key is, you have to love them like your own,” Bzeek said recently. “I know they are sick. I know they are going to die. I do my best as a human being and leave the rest to God.”