Tuesday, June 5, 2012

One Year Later, The Guest Posts: Tamara

To commemorate our loss of Garrett a year ago this week, I have asked several of our friends to write some of their thoughts to share on Passing Pinwheels. If you are interested in contributing, please send me an email.

A year ago today, Mike and I went to the hospital because I had a bad backache and we thought I might have a kidney stone. Three nurses, two doctors, and a lot of ultrasounds later, we found out that my placenta had abrupted, I was massively bleeding, and Garrett had no heart beat. They couldn't tell us if I was going to live either.

Tamara, one of my closest and oldest friends, gave me the idea to ask friends to share their view of this last year. From the day they got the breathless call from Mike to today. I didn't give them any parameters other than, "please write whatever you want about us, yourself, Garrett, grief, God, anything." Tamara's contribution is particularly fascinating to me because it's excerpts from her journal. And because I either didn't know or had forgotten a lot of this. This is a long post but I couldn't bring myself to split it into two posts. Thank you, Tamara.

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From Tamara's Journal, June 2011

Mentally composing my thoughts surrounding this terrible week, the thought struck me, “A week ago, she was pregnant. None of this had happened.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011, 1:30something in the afternoon
I’m singing along to the radio, sunburned and chigger-bitten, returning home from three days camping. Sharaze calls. I don’t pick up in time. I call her. The lines cross; no connection is made. She calls back.


“Tamara?” a distinctly not-Sharaze voice asks.

“Mike?!?” I reply. Thoughts flash: What’s wrong? Is she alive? Was there an accident? Hope springs eternal. Did she have the baby? 

Mike breathes audibly and says, “I, just, wanted to let you know that Sharaze is okay.” Mike’s breath catches, and my stomach sinks in apprehension. “But we lost Garrett,” he says, in a voice that conveys what this man has been through in the last few hours. 

I say the right things. He tells me he’ll call me again when she can have visitors. We hang up.

I didn’t ask which hospital. 


The traffic blurs in front of me.


Target on Colonial, the previous Thursday night
I wander the baby aisle, picking up various things and putting them down. These are cute onesies, and they’re on sale! I put the onesies down, deciding to wait until after my camping trip. After all, he still has a few weeks to bake. There’s no rush.
Guilt bubbles up. For being cheap. For assuming that there’d be more time to buy him gifts. For assuming there’d be any time at all.


Memphis Zoo, the semi-distant future.
I sit on a bench, a precocious boy half-covered in ice cream and at least three types of animal hair sits with me, eating, slightly strung out from sugar and excitement. “You know, Garrett, I named you.” So begins my planned conversation, my intentions only to make myself appear cooler than I am to a small child, and, of course, to tease my friend. After all, only truly good friends can hype each others’ children up on exotic animals and cotton candy, tell them something outlandish-if-slightly-true, and then send them home to their parents. I also have a tendency to buy children loud toys, or even worse, games requiring two players.

My apartment, June 5th, 9:30pm
I can’t get a good sob on. My nose runs, my eyes leak, but the big cacophonous boohoo doesn’t come. I look at my phone. Mike hasn’t called back. I’m anxious to hear news. The Colleys probably swarmed. She’s probably worn out from visitors. She’s probably doped up. It’s been eight hours since I heard anything.

Facebook chat pops up. Stephan (my second favorite aikidoka) and I talk about our respective phone calls. I relate my feelings of helplessness; he of his bewilderment. We cry; miles apart and locked in mutual grief. The wonders of technology.

Monday, June 6, 2011, work
I pretend, mostly successfully, that life is normal. I leave work early, and drive an hour to the hospital, stopping to get Sharaze’s requested cherry limeade from Sonic. 

Upon my arrival at the hospital, the ICU Gatekeeper takes away the cherry limeade, because Sharaze can’t have it. But it’s clear liquid. What on earth...? She’s been in here a day already, and still no Sprite+cherry flavoring? My anxiety increases. I just want to see my friend, take the stupid drink. The Gatekeeper eventually directs me to her room, where I finally see my friend. My beautiful friend, a network of tubing and machinery surrounding her. Pale. Swollen. Sick. Very sick.

She sounds deceptively normal. We speak of Garrett’s death, everything from the moment when the third nurse couldn’t find him on the heartbeat monitor, to wanting him to be buried at a certain cemetery, among the prettiest in the area, beneath a tree.

Sharaze hands me several snapshots. All ten fingers. All ten toes. Perfect. The tragedy takes on a razor-fine edge. My eyes leak. I feel my chin do that crumply thing it does when I’m about to cry in a less-than-respectable manner. I breathe. My chin de-crumples, temporarily.

A nurse comes in to tell her they’ll need Mike’s consent before they can operate. An operation? What, why?! What’s going on? A specialist comes in, and then her regular doctor. Then Penny. Sharaze hands Penny the same pictures. “He’s beautiful, Sharaze.” Sharaze and Penny share a brief, intense exchange about her health. Sharaze calmly calls a sleepy Mike, who starts back on the path to the hospital despite his Benedryl-fueled drowsiness.

The same nurse brings in a bag of blood, and rests it on Sharaze’s bed for a moment while she fights to organize all the tubing. Its label reads, B POSITIVE. Hah. Be Positive. Divine command or terrible joke? I don’t know. I still don’t.

Penny and I leave. She relates the bits I don’t know about, don’t understand. She says things to me about blood pressure, placental abruption or abulsion or ab-something (Sorry for the abruption, tune in next week for your regularly scheduled pregnancy), about who has visited, and about her own feelings, somewhat. Penny is . . . angry. Angry that they didn’t operate earlier. Angry that our friend had to sit with her dead child within her for hours and hours. Angry at the world. And yet, Penny is thankful. We discuss our mutually selfish prayers, “Oh God, let Sharaze be OK,” and various versions thereof. We wait for Mike to show up. (I never know if I’m supposed to leave or stay when people are in the hospital, but following Penny’s lead proves fruitful.)

From the elevator pours Colleys; Mike, Lainey, Mike’s lifelong friend Frank. Mike flashes a wave at us. His hair is flat. How peculiar. Mike gestures at the ICU Gatekeeper and she lets him in. I need to try that next time. Stupid Gatekeeper. Lainey and Penny go some distance away and talk; both women nod at each other. Frank and I look at each other.

“Indiana Jones?”

“I’m never going to live that down.”

We talk. We talk about our respective friendships; mine with Sharaze, his with Mike. He talks about the Colley family, and how he was just one more kid at Lainey & P’D’s table. One more chick in the nest. They’re a pair of the nicest human beings I know. Frank agrees, his admiration of the prior Colley generation—and this one—evident. Frank and I talk about his life, his daughter, Olivia. We talk about Sharaze’s current operation. I relate what I know, which isn’t much, and is probably loosely correct at best. I glance at Lainey and Penny. More nodding, more emphatic gestures. Penny is obviously crying. Lainey’s back is to me, her head cocked at a slight angle. The body language is telling; it’s been a rough time for us all.

Mike lets us into a spare hospital room. He leans back on the hospital bed, laces his hands behind him, and sighing, says, “That poor woman cannot catch a break.”

Penny and I leave. The various Colleys hug me and thank me for coming. Where else would I be? What kind of friend wouldn’t come in times like these?

I call my sister. I explain what Penny told me. The sobs finally come, a pitiful crescendo to a terrible moment. I cry. For what might have been. For Sharaze. For Mike. For myself, in that I nearly lost my friend, and had no idea and no control and no opportunity to say those things we all hope to get to say before someone dies. Things like, “I love you. I regret not making more time for you. For assuming we’d always have more time for more stories, more conversation, more analysis. I admire you—your grace, your patience, your different approach. But most of all, I love you.”

You know how you feel when you nearly catch a glass that’s falling? When you almost had it, and thought you’d won the battle versus gravity, but despite your efforts, the glass fell and broke into a thousand pieces? It’s very similar, only, a much larger scale. Birth. Death. Gravity. Love. Some things are elemental, undeniable, and despite our earthly efforts, often uncontrollable.

I pull up to my house. Landon is visiting. Again I explain what happened, what Sharaze and Mike have endured, what is to come. And, again I cry, splattering his shirt with big, ugly tears while he pats me, awkward and uncertain how to comfort his normally-formidable girlfriend. Pat. Pat. Pat.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011
I return to the hospital, and visit with Sharaze and her mother Nema. I understand more of what happened and lament that there’s no person to blame—her care has been exemplary, her condition completely unexpected, unexpect-able. Damned near unexplainable. If it had happened thirty years ago, she might be dead. If she were in worse condition prior to the placental abruption (which sounds like a femme-punk band), she’d probably be on dialysis.

Nema and I step out of the room while a nurse checks various things about Sharaze’s person. Another nurse passes us in the hallway and Nema asks, “Why is there a little lamb there?” pointing to Sharaze’s room number, directly under which hangs a line drawing of two lambs. The nurse, obviously uncomfortable, replies in a quick, precise, matter-of-fact voice, “It means the baby died.” With that, she continues down the hall.

Nema leaves. Sharaze and I talk more. Sharaze gets to sit in a chair, which is indicative of her vast improvement. We talk for a while, a joke or two is cracked, a tear or two leaks out. Mike comes, and a few minutes later, I leave.

Things continue along this line until Sharaze is released from the hospital. Keep in mind that she’s been in there since Sunday morning and wasn’t allowed to leave until Friday.


Saturday, June 11, the funeral
What I remember of the funeral is that Stephan and I stood in line, Landon behind us, at the “line of friends & family” thing that people do at funerals. And we talked about ukemi and his efforts at teaching me. At some point, the conversation became more zen, and he said something like this, “It’s a lot like what Sharaze is doing right now. Watch. It’s ukemi for life.”

The point of ukemi is so that when someone throws you, you don’t get hurt. Instead, what happens is a transfer of energy and rather than being flat on your back with the wind knocked out of you—the force of the fall travels a path along your body and in spite of the efforts of your attacker, you’re whole. You can stand.

Stephan’s words have proven correct. That’s what she’s done. As much as the last year has sucked, Mike and Sharaze have largely rolled out of it. And truly, look around. Is this such a bad legacy? Mike and Sharaze are closer to one another, and to God, and their church, than they might have been without Garrett’s death. Sharaze started the Pinwheel blog, and charted her course from sickly-to-not, sharing with others what she’s gone through—and this blog has the ability to touch millions of lives. Her etsy shop with its stillbirth baby announcements, too. This happens to millions of women per year. Millions of families and friends mourn as we mourn. And here’s some help, just waiting for whoever needs it.

I’ve always been a bit fuzzy on the “Do dead people hear us when we talk to them?” point, because, you know, they’re supposed to be singing hosannas all day and being ridiculously happy and everything. But, assuming that they do hear us (even if they can’t, it’s a pretty comforting thought), if I could reach Garrett, I’d say something like this: “Garrett, I know it’s silly, but, I hope you understand about the onesies. I love you. I wish you were here, selfishly. And, again selfishly, I’m glad you didn’t take your Mama with you. I know you’re in a far better Place than this one. Soon enough, Garrett, we’ll meet for the first time. I’d like it to be a sunny spot, with a bench. And ice cream. I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”


  1. Thank you for including me. I'm proud to honor him in this tiny way. And I'm proud of you, too, for ... being brave enough to be naked on here pretty regularly. It's not the easiest thing to be transparent (yet not over-sharing) to the rest of the world.



  2. Wow. What a beautiful idea to have others share their thoughts for Garrett's birthday. And what a beautiful post this was. I cried all the way through it. Hearing a friends's perspective is heartbreaking. After our babies' deaths, sometimes we forget how it affects everyone else. What a good friend you have here. Happy birthday Garrett!

  3. Thank you, Tamara. I think you found that balance nicely today. Also, I still have your tupperware from last year!!

    Molly, thank you, too. It's amazing how many good friends we have and Tamara's definitely one of the ones at the top of it. I have found that most of the friends interested in sharing on the blog have found writing their pieces to be...cathartic. I'm glad to be able to give them the opportunity after all they have given me!