Eric Domanico had a bright future ahead of him.
“He was meant for greatness,” said Matt Smith, band director at South Lyon East High School, of his former student, who graduated in 2019. “Eric was such a brilliant student when he was full of life that nothing could stop him and what he wanted to talk about and how he wanted to create a community around him. “
But Eric Domanico, who received a full-time scholarship to West Virginia University where he played the saxophone last year, will never fulfill that fate.
The talented musician, plagued by depression and anxiety, ended his own life on July 11, just 19 years after it began.
It’s his December 14th birthday that his family wants to remember. This Monday they celebrate Eric’s 20th birthday as musicians from around the world take part in a special musical composition to play #playwithEric and raise funds for the Eric Domanico Foundation.
“He was a talent that could have been selfish, but he never let his talent get any bigger than him,” said Smith. “He was grounded, down to earth. But his talent, he could have played anywhere, he was a great league player … He always asked me for help, but he had more talent in the tip of his little finger than I did in my whole body.”
A promising life shortened
What Eric needed most was not his music but his sanity, said his teacher. They would have long conversations and communicate frequently.
But that summer, Eric Domanico gave in to depression and anxiety, leaving family and friends to mourn after his suicide.
The next day, dozens of Eric’s friends came to visit Frank and Claire Domanico, Eric’s parents, at their home and weep and mourn with them. Days later, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in south Lyon was full for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Frank said, and Eric’s funeral was broadcast to friends around the world.
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The pandemic and the resulting quarantine and isolation is something Frank Domanico believes made Eric’s depression worse, despite not blaming it for his son’s death.
Now he and his family are focused on celebrating Eric’s life, making sure his musical legacy lives on, and helping other musicians in their own struggles for mental health.
Born the youngest of five children, Eric participated in the Magnetic Program for gifted students during his years at South Lyon Schools. By the age of four, he read and spoke several languages, including French, his mother’s mother tongue. As a child he played soccer and recorded the saxophone in sixth grade. He made friends with ease.
Willem Swartzinski was one of those friends who bonded with Eric in the kindergarten playground to forge a friendship that would evolve from playing hide-and-seek to light and deep conversations on a variety of topics during high school.
“We talked about the stupidest, silliest things,” recalls Swartzinski. “He was fascinated by everything. If you got him on the right topic, he wouldn’t stop talking. He was a very sweet guy and we always had a special relationship. “
Struggles with mental health
Swartzinski said the friends don’t always agree, but Eric is always the same – just Eric, a real person and the same person regardless of the mood.
These swings in Eric’s mood became more apparent through his first year of high school, however, and Swartzinski said his senior year at school his friend seemed to be having terrible weeks at least once a month, and he recalled one particularly scary conversation with Eric. Then he asked Smith for help.
Eric’s parents have also been notified. Frank and Claire had noticed the stress and anxiety of their youngest child by the age of 16, which seemed to manifest itself out of the need to be perfect in everything he did.
Frank said one of his frustrations is that too often parents are kept in the dark about their children’s mental health problems
“It was hard to work with, he wanted to take control of his own health and didn’t want to share it with us,” Frank said. “We don’t teach (children) enough how to deal with anxiety and stress, and parents are not allowed to know what they are talking to therapists about. We hide these things, we send kids to doctors and they tell us the mental health system is messed up and we prescribe to treat symptoms. We don’t have enough to cope with the stress. “
Since he lost his son, Frank said other parents have come to speak to him about mental health problems their children are struggling with and that he wants to continue the conversation “so that no more children are lost.”
Keeping the conversation going
The Eric Domanico Foundation aims to provide young musicians and artists with resources to address the underlying causes of depression and anxiety, with an emphasis on prevention. The foundation aims to provide grants and scholarships, and to cater for physical, socio-emotional, and educational needs.
To raise awareness, the foundation is hosting a technology performance on December 14th where dozens of saxophonists from around the world will play with Eric. Prospective employees are invited to take part in the ongoing video project in which the foundation hopes that “one day Eric will be able to perform with a thousand-strong choir to continue providing inspiration and hope.”
“Ultimately, the reason you follow your passion is to give you happiness,” said Swartzinski. “Through the money we raise and mental health awareness, we are showing young musicians that they should keep pursuing their endeavors and nothing is too big to achieve. I think Eric would be intrigued by the foundation and set back by us to show how much people care about him. “
Smith said that mental health is one of the greatest struggles for anyone in the art, with a constant struggle for perfection that is never achieved and begs for approval.
“Eric was meant for size,” said Smith. “Music was so natural to him.”
Eric never reached his destiny and the journey for his listeners might have ended without the foundation, but with that it can continue, as can the conversation that Smith hopes people will be ready to hear.
“Listen to the tough conversations,” he advises. “It’s not easy, but listening is the best we can do for someone who is struggling.”
Join the conversation and learn more about #playwithEric at www.ericdomanicofoundation.com. Contributions are also accepted for the foundation through a Gofundme fundraiser that is linked to the foundation’s website.
Contact reporter Susan Bromley at [email protected] or 517-281-2412. Follow her on Twitter @ SusanBromley10.