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Cameron

A gift for Cameron

Nine months earlier, Lois helped ease Mary's pain over the death of her baby, Lindsay Rose. Now Lois has lost a son, and Mary is wondering what she can do.

By THOMAS FRENCH
Published December 7, 2003

photo
[Times photo: Janel Schroeder-Norton]
Lois Bineshtarigh makes gowns for stillborn infants at East Pasco Medical Center. She took care of Mary Spittka’s stillborn baby, Lindsay Rose, by bathing, baptizing and dressing her.

Previous coverage
A gown for Lindsay Rose

photo
[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Mary Spittka, left, and Lois Bineshtarigh at the East Pasco Medical Center in Zephyrhills.
photo
Footprints taken from Lindsay Rose after she was delivered.
photo   Cameron Bineshtarigh, 16, was killed three days after getting his driver’s license.
[Family photo]

ZEPHYRHILLS - That Saturday, Lois Bineshtarigh sat at her kitchen table again with a needle and thread.

She'd been at the hospital all day, working the 7 to 7 shift, and was due back the next morning before dawn. She needed to unwind. So that night, she got out an angel ornament she'd been making for Christmas and began to stitch. She was finished with the wings and the harp; all she had left to do was the angel's face.

Lois, a 41-year-old labor and delivery nurse, loved to work at her table when she came home from East Pasco Medical Center. For years now, she had been sewing doll-sized gowns for stillborn babies delivered in her unit. To her, the gowns were a small but tangible gesture. She had seen many times how much it meant to the grieving parents to know their children had been treated with respect.

That night, as she worked on the ornament, Lois was talking with her husband, Jalal, and waiting for their 16-year-old son, Cameron, to come home. There had been a lunar eclipse that evening, Nov. 8, and on the drive back from the hospital, Lois had watched the moon disappear from the sky. She couldn't wait to tell Cameron about the eclipse. It was the kind of thing he loved, and besides, she'd left so early for work that she'd had no chance to talk to him all day.

A little after 10 that evening, Cameron's longtime girlfriend, Holly Jones, walked in the door. She and Cameron had been at church, hanging out with their friends. They'd gone to Dairy Queen afterward and then headed back to the Bineshtarighs' home in separate cars, with Holly in front and Cameron following in the family's gold Buick Park Avenue. Cameron was happy to be behind the wheel; he'd just gotten his driver's license three days ago.

A few minutes later, when Cameron didn't show up at the house, Holly wondered what had happened. Lois told her Cammie had probably stopped at the store or something.

Soon Holly and Cameron's older sister, Sheryl, went looking for him. Lois kept stitching, trying not to worry. Then the phone rang.

It was Sheryl, calling on her cell. She and Holly had come across an accident on State Road 39, a mile or so from the house. There were ambulances and patrol cars.

Lois told Sheryl it was okay. Wanting to believe it herself, she decided that Cameron was probably stuck in traffic on the other side of the accident. That was why he hadn't made it home.

Then Sheryl called back. This time, she was screaming.

"Mom, it's Cameron," she said. "It's Cammie. He's dead."

Lois and Jalal got in the car and headed to the scene. Despite what Sheryl had told her, Lois prayed that Cameron was only injured. She was a nurse, she told herself; maybe there was something she could do. But when they arrived at the flashing lights, Lois could see the wreckage of the Buick in the distance. A trooper told her there'd been a head-on collision; as best they could tell, a pickup truck coming in the opposite direction had crossed the center line and veered directly into Cameron.

Still hoping to save her son, Lois asked if she could go to him. But the trooper said no. It was too late.

Lois is not sure how long she wailed. But when she regained her composure enough to be able to speak, the first thing she did was borrow Sheryl's cell phone, there at the roadside, to call the hospital. If they were going to find someone to fill in for her the next morning, they would need to be notified.

When she was done making the call, Lois and the others returned home. Friends began to show up, offering condolences. As they left, promising to come back the next day, an awful stillness settled over the house. Lois and Jalal sat in the kitchen, staring into space, not believing Cameron was gone. Lois kept looking toward her son's childhood photos and his latest report card from Zephyrhills High School, still posted on the refrigerator door.

Jalal repeated the same word, again and again.

"No, no, no, no. Not Cammie. No, no, no."

* * *

That Monday morning, before the news reached her, Mary Spittka was at home with her girls. She was sitting at the kitchen table with Faith, her 5-year-old. Shania, the 2-year-old, was taking a nap.

Mary was reading to Faith from a book of children's Bible lessons. They were on Page 26, going through a section about how God helps babies grow and learn about the world. They were talking about why God gives children eyes and ears, hands and feet.

"You are a special creation," said Mary, reciting from the text. "God made you in a wonderful way."

They were still reading when the phone rang. It was a nurse from the hospital, calling about Cameron's accident. She said there was an article in the newspaper; she thought Mary would want to know.

Mary found the paper and read the details of what had happened, fighting back tears as she studied the accompanying photo of Cameron, taken at his sophomore homecoming dance. She could not believe how much he'd grown.

"I barely recognized him," she told her husband.

Mary, a 38-year-old homemaker, knew Lois and her family well. Ten years before, as a volunteer at a local elementary school, Mary had taught art to both Cammie and Sheryl. She had also belonged to First Church of the Nazarene, the same church the Bineshtarighs attended, and had taught Sunday school to Cameron.

After moving to another church, Mary had lost touch with Lois and Jalal and their kids. Eventually she'd gotten married and had Faith and Shania. Then, early this year, when she was pregnant with her third child, Mary had suffered a seizure and was taken to East Pasco. The doctors had managed to save her, but the seizure had deprived her baby of oxygen; an emergency C-section was performed, but the child had already died.

The next day, Feb. 26, when Mary regained consciousness, she found her husband, Steve, and one of the doctors standing at her bedside, explaining what had happened. The baby had been a girl, they told her; in keeping with a name Mary and Steve had chosen before, she had been christened Lindsay Rose.

What Mary also learned, once she awoke in the intensive care unit, was that the nurse everyone called Lois B. had been at her side when the ambulance brought her to East Pasco.

By chance, Lois had been working in labor and delivery that day. When Mary arrived in the emergency room, Lois was part of the team that stabilized her. Lois had also followed her into the operating room later that morning, assisting with the C-section. And it had been Lois who took the stillborn child to a quiet room at the back of the hospital's nursery and prepared her for her family.

Alone with the baby, Lois had done what she could. She had baptized her, bathed her, combed her hair and then clothed her in one of her homemade baby gowns. This gown was white, with a pink ribbon.

When she was finished, Lois had taken several pictures of Lindsay Rose, carefully arranging her hands and the gown, so that her parents would be able to see how beautiful she was.

At the time, Lois did not realize whose child she was photographing. It had been many years since she had seen Mary, and there in the hospital it was difficult at first to see her face clearly because she was breathing on a ventilator. But once Mary's condition improved, the two women quickly recognized each other. Mary identified Lois even before she recognized her husband.

As Mary recovered in ICU, Lois checked on her repeatedly. Mary told her about her two older daughters. Lois listened, asking questions about the girls. She did not talk about Cameron or Sheryl because she didn't want to make Mary's loss any more painful.

In the months that followed, Mary took great comfort from these kindnesses. She spent hours studying the pictures that Lois had taken of Lindsay Rose. Mary knew that she had been allowed to hold her daughter once, after she regained consciousness, because there were pictures of that moment, too. Much as she tried, though, she could not recall how her daughter felt in her arms. The trauma and the medication had taken those memories from her.

"I've got the pictures," she would tell people. "That's all I've got, really, is the pictures."

Gradually, Mary wove her youngest daughter into the routines of her daily life. She began carrying a small photo of Lindsay Rose - one of the portraits taken by Lois - on her key chain, along with a photo of Faith and Shania. She would talk to Lindsay Rose as she pushed her cart through the grocery, as she vacuumed the living room, before she went to sleep. She would tell her what her big sisters were doing that day, what her dad was up to, how much they missed her. Sometimes, she would visit the hospital to say hello to Lois and the other nurses and let them know how the family was doing.

All of this flooded through Mary's mind that Monday in early November when she learned of Cameron's death.

After teaching Cameron and Sheryl, and after everything that Lois had done for her with Lindsay Rose, Mary already felt close to Lois. Now, Mary believed that she and Lois were linked in ways almost no one else could understand.

It was different, Mary knew, losing a baby and losing a 16-year-old. She had no memories of her daughter, while Lois had many memories of Cameron - memories that would undoubtedly please her, but might also make her loss that much deeper. Still, Mary was sure she knew what Lois and Jalal were going through. And she knew some of what they were likely to feel in the months ahead.

For Mary, the first weeks after her daughter's death had been the hardest. She could not understand why God had allowed such a thing to happen. Why had he taken Lindsay Rose? Why couldn't she remember holding her after they brought the child to her in ICU? Mary began talking to God, posing her questions to him directly.

As the months passed, Mary came to believe that God was answering her. As painful as it had been to lose her daughter, she decided that Lindsay Rose had died for a reason. Mary told herself that she couldn't know what that reason was, at least until she died and joined her daughter. But eventually, she would know and understand.

Mary also found solace in the care her daughter had received in those hours after the C-section. Even though Mary had been unconscious in another hospital room at the time, Lois had been there in her place to watch over her child. Furthermore, Lois had done so before she ever heard Lindsay Rose's name or had any idea that she knew the child's mother or that the child's mother had once taught her own two children. Lois did what she did, Mary knew, simply because that was the kind of person she was.

It made Mary feel better, thinking about Lois sewing that gown in her kitchen. It helped, knowing that her child had been buried in a garment made with such tenderness.

In the nine months since, the Spittkas had taken good care of Lindsay Rose's grave at Chapel Hill Gardens. She had been buried in a section of the cemetery reserved for infants and children, and when her parents visited, they made sure the grave was tidy. They replaced the silk flowers when they grew dusty, brushed away the ant hills, swept the dirt off the headstone. Not long ago, Steve had even brought some car wax to shine the stone.

That Monday, after hearing of Cameron's death, Mary began thinking about how she could honor his memory. She was also contemplating what comfort she could offer to Lois. Mary was not trying to assert a special status in Lois' world. She knew that a great many people loved Lois and that some would be able to reach out to her in ways that Mary could not.

Still, after all that Lois had given to her and her child, Mary wanted to give something back. What it might be, she wasn't sure yet.

* * *

At the hospital, Lois B. had always been the one who knew what to do.

After 18 years in the labor and delivery unit, she had a reputation for staying calm during even the most emotional and stressful moments, including stillborn deliveries. She had an almost uncanny gift for knowing how to help parents who had lost a baby. Sewing the gowns was important, but it was only one of a dozen things she did for the families. She knew how to talk to them, how to reassure them and help them through some of the worst hours of their lives.

Once her own child was taken from her, though, Lois was lost. All of her experience at the hospital could not have prepared her for the blow of Cameron's death. She could not eat or sleep. She cried in wave after wave.

For days, she was surrounded by a host of women - her mother, her sisters, friends from the hospital - who rubbed her back and massaged her feet and made her sandwiches, urging her to take at least one bite. They took her to the mall and guided her through the racks at Dillard's until she picked a black dress, brocaded with roses, for the funeral and a velvet dress for the burial service. They found her a pair of black pumps. They did her hair.

That Wednesday, when it was time for the viewing at First Church of the Nazarene, they took her inside, one of them holding her hand as she walked toward Cameron's open casket. As she had requested, he was wearing a charcoal gray suit, the same one he wore at homecoming.

In front of the casket, Lois reached forward and pressed her fingers against the lapel of the suit, talking about how handsome Cammie looked. Then she wrapped her arms around her son and told him that she wished they could trade places.

When Lois collapsed, the woman beside her did not let go. The two of them fell together to the carpet, crying and holding each other. Seeing them, other women rushed over. Not wanting to hurry her, they let Lois take as long as she needed. Finally, when she was ready, they helped her back to her feet.

"I've got work to do," said Lois, gathering herself for all that remained.

* * *

The funeral was the next afternoon. The church was filled with more than 500 people, many of them teenagers who had known Cameron. Lois was seated at the front with Jalal and Sheryl and Holly. Halfway toward the back, on the left side of the church, Mary Spittka sat quietly. She and Steve had attended the viewing the night before, but today she'd had to come alone. Steve had a new job as a groundskeeper at a golf course and couldn't get away.

Once the service began, one of the ministers asked all of Cameron's fellow students from Zephyrhills High and other schools he attended to please stand. Then he asked anyone who had ever taught Cameron to be recognized as well.

Mary got up, her eyes glistening. Her gaze was upon Cameron in his casket. Seeing him there, with his long sideburns and closely shaved face, she was struck again by how much he'd changed from the 6-year-old child she'd known. She thought about how bashful he had been when she taught him. One December, she remembered, she had asked him and the other kids in his Sunday school class to draw a picture depicting the meaning of Christmas. Cammie, she recalled, had drawn a nativity scene populated with excellent cows. Whatever artwork Mary assigned him, he always liked to add cows.

As the prayers and hymns rose above the congregation, Mary cried softly. She was not sobbing; she did nothing to attract attention to herself. But her tears went on and on. She was crying for the boy she remembered and for the young man he'd become. She was crying for Lois and Jalal, for herself and Steve, for the daughter whose face she knew only from pictures.

Throughout the service, Mary talked silently to Lindsay Rose. She told her how much she loved her. She told her about Lois and what had happened, about how Cameron was with her now and would probably need someone to talk to. She asked Lindsay to take care of him.

When the service was over, Mary found her way through the throngs toward Lois.

"If you need to talk, I'll be there to listen," Mary told her. "We both have one in heaven now."

A long line of people, waiting to pay their respects, was forming behind them. Mary withdrew, telling Lois that she would see her the next morning at the burial.

It had been announced just a few minutes ago, near the end of the service. Cameron, said one of the ministers, was to be laid to rest at Chapel Hill Gardens.

The same cemetery where Lindsay Rose was buried.

* * *

Friday morning was cool and clear, with a flawless deep blue sky.

Mary Spittka arrived early so that she could visit Lindsay Rose. For a few minutes, she crouched in the grass beside her daughter's grave. When she stood up, the cars were arriving for Cameron's ceremony.

His casket, resting upon a section of green carpet, was perhaps a hundred feet away. Bouquets of bright flowers were draped around it. A small tent stretched above a few rows of folding chairs.

The mourners gathered. Lois, walking stiffly, was led forward. Jalal wandered back and forth, his eyes lined with red. Suddenly, he grabbed the minister's shoulder.

"Bring him back," he said. "Can't you bring him back?"

Someone put their arms around him. Lois bent against the casket and wept.

"God doesn't make mistakes," she cried. "I know God doesn't make mistakes."

As she and Jalal were helped to their seats, the minister raised his hand. He opened his mouth, and words tumbled out. But it was hard to absorb anything he said.

Near the back of the crowd, Mary stood holding her key chain with the photo that Lois had taken, not so long ago, of Lindsay Rose in her gown. The chain was entwined through Mary's fingers, like a rosary.

Mary was considering what Lois had said about God's infallibility. She was glad that Lois already understood this. She prayed that Lois's faith, and the love of everyone around her, would shelter her in the months ahead.

Soon the ceremony was over. Once again, Mary found her way to Lois. Whispering in her ear, she told Lois that she planned to visit Cameron whenever she came to see Lindsay Rose. She would talk to him. She would make sure his grave was kept clean, put together a bouquet and leave it there beside his name.

"I'll take care of his grave like I do Lindsay's," she said. "I'll keep an eye on it."

It was a small gift, she knew.

Lois pulled her tight.

About the story

Staff writer Thomas French first wrote about Lois Bineshtarigh and the Spittka family in February, after the death of Lindsay Rose. To read his previous articles about the families, please click on www.sptimes.com/lindsayrose

French was present for most of the scenes depicted in today's story. He was at the Bineshtarigh house late on the night of Cameron's accident and in the days that followed; he also attended both the funeral and burial services. A few moments, such as Lois's discovery of her son's accident, are based on interviews with the two families and with nurses and other staff at East Pasco Medical Center.

[Last modified December 8, 2003, 15:54:09]


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