[Paleopsych] WP: Terri Schiavo's Unstudied Life

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sun Mar 27 18:54:44 UTC 2005

Terri Schiavo's Unstudied Life

    The Woman Who Is Now a Symbol And a Cause Hated the Spotlight

    By Jennifer Frey
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 25, 2005; Page C01

    She was a girl who laughed easily at her uncle's lame jokes. A girl so
    innocent that she wrote to John Denver, asking him to come sing at her
    wedding, who went to Disney World for her honeymoon and believed that
    a good life meant that one day she'd be able to vacation there every
    year with her kids.

    She was a girl who loved animals and worshiped cute television stars,
    paying homage to heartthrobs Starsky and Hutch by naming two gerbils
    after them. She daydreamed about working for a veterinarian when she
    grew up, or maybe just being a dog groomer.

    She was a shy girl, always overweight as a child, with big glasses,
    but shiny hair and perfect skin and a tendency to collapse into
    fifth-grade giggles. Her first car -- a black-and-gold Trans Am with a
    T-top roof -- exuded the flash and confidence that she herself never

    She was a girl who married the first man she ever kissed.

    "She was quiet," says childhood friend Sue Pickwell, who was a
    bridesmaid the day Terri Schindler married Michael Schiavo. "She
    didn't like the limelight. How ironic is that?"

    Terri Schiavo is everywhere. There are pictures of her on the front
    pages of newspapers, on the Internet, on every news network on TV. A
    four-year-old videotape of Terri with her mother is played over and
    over and over again.

    The fight over her life -- and death -- is being played out, in this
    Easter week, as a uniquely American Passion play. Congress passed
    emergency legislation. The president signed it in the middle of the
    night, in his pajamas, after being awakened. There are picketers,
    prayer services, angry invective, impassioned appeals. The Vatican has
    weighed in. The Supreme Court has refused to do so.

    For seven years now, Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers -- primarily,
    Terri's parents, Bob and Mary -- have been locked in a grueling war, a
    war over money, over control, and, in the end, over Terri's future.
    Schiavo wants his wife to be allowed to die. That, he says, was her
    wish. The Schindlers want someone -- the government, the courts,
    anyone with any possible authority in this situation -- to restore the
    feeding tube that was removed, by court order, last Friday. They want
    their daughter, in whatever state she is, to live.

    It has been an extraordinary situation, marked by extraordinary
    efforts and circumstances that have dominated the national

    And all of it, her friends and family say, is about a truly ordinary
    girl with simple dreams and an uncomplicated life.

    Who is Terri Schiavo?

    Again and again, the courts recognize that she is a woman who has been
    in a "persistent vegetative state" since the day she suffered heart
    failure 15 years ago. She cannot communicate, she is not cognizant of
    what is happening around her, her movements are nothing more than
    neurological tics.

    The Schindlers argue -- thus far unsuccessfully in courts of law --
    that she still gets pleasure from seeing her family, that she might
    have a chance at some semblance of recovery, that she is still a real
    person somewhere inside the body she cannot control.

    But who was Terri Schiavo?

    That is another question altogether.

    Teresa Marie Schindler had a purple-and-white bedroom in her family's
    home in the Philadelphia suburbs. White wicker furniture. Endless
    stuffed animals. Posters of '70s television stars; she liked David
    Cassidy more than Shaun. Her brother, Bobby, was two years younger,
    her sister Suzanne two years younger than that.

    Her first friend was Diane Meyer. Her dad had been pals with Terri's
    dad forever. The girls became friends at age 2 and did family
    celebrations together, took annual summer vacation trips to the same
    hotels on the Jersey shore. Diane's little brother, Stephen, was best
    friends with Bobby. The boys tortured the girls regularly, in that
    little-brother way. Water pistol attacks. Food fights. Obnoxious
    public behavior designed to embarrass. That made Terri nuts. She hated
    to stand out.

    "To those who knew her -- her friends, her family -- she was
    vivacious, outgoing, funny," Meyer says. "But in a crowd, she was the
    quiet one."

    She never sought out friends, but welcomed them eagerly if they made
    an overture. It was in her seventh-grade classroom that she first
    bonded with Pickwell; they both broke up laughing over something silly
    that was said.

    "I don't remember what it was," Pickwell says, "but everything's funny
    in seventh grade, I guess."

    They became fast friends. There was a sleepover almost every weekend.
    Terri went on Pickwell family outings and vice versa.

    "There was nothing extraordinary," Pickwell says. "No trying to change
    the world type of thing. It was your typical teenagers, watching
    movies, eating junk food, that kind of thing."

    They were mall rats. The day Pickwell got her driver's license, that's
    the first place they went. It was, in their vocabulary, huge. Once
    Terri got her license, she and Meyer -- who went to a different school
    -- started hanging out frequently. They watched sappy TV movies,
    especially love stories and anything adapted from romance novelist
    Danielle Steel, Terri's favorite author. They went to the Magic Pan
    for crepes.

    Terri's weight reached more than 200 pounds, and late in her senior
    year, she went on the NutriSystem diet and lost more than 50 pounds.
    She continued to live at home and enrolled in Bucks County Community
    College. On weekends, she took her Trans Am on road trips to visit
    Meyer, who went away to college at the University of Scranton. Meyer
    was a sorority sister at Gamma Phi Beta. Terri, she says, was like an
    honorary sorority member. She'd go to the parties, hang out, make

    "I don't know if it was the weight loss or maturity or all of it
    combined, but she started to put herself out there a little bit more,"
    Meyer says. "And once she did, she got more success in social
    situations. Terri is the kind of person, you meet her, you love her."

    A few months later, Terri met a guy at school. His name was Michael

    "Michael was her first everything."

    Pickwell is keeping her voice neutral. She disagrees vehemently with
    the decisions Michael has made about Terri's future. But that is now.
    This was then.

    She remembers how excited Terri was. How she lit up. Michael was the
    first boy who ever really looked at Terri. The first boy to ask her on
    a date.

    "I remember she called me, and she asked me to come home for the
    weekend," Meyer said. "She wanted me to be there."

    The first date was dinner, a movie, and that first-ever kiss. On the
    second date, Terri took Schiavo to meet Pickwell and her family.
    Pulling aside Pickwell and her big sister, Terri confided that Michael
    wanted to marry her.

    "What? Are you crazy?" Pickwell remembers telling her then.

    But Terri was giddy with excitement. "Everything happened so fast and
    it was such a good feeling for her," Pickwell says. "He was
    good-looking and it felt good to have someone pay attention to her. I
    think she was overwhelmed."

    In one of his rare interviews, Michael Schiavo talked about how hard
    he fell for her. "She had this presence, this aura, that just
    attracted you," he told CNN. "She was shy and outgoing at the same

    He introduced her to his big, boisterous family -- Michael is the
    youngest of five sons -- at a family birthday party. She hung back at
    first, but surprised the brothers by engaging in their games of
    sibling grief. All those years of water fights. All those years of
    little-brother abuse.

    "She fit right in," says Scott Schiavo, one of Michael's brothers.
    "Mike was always a happy kid, but when he met Terri he just perked up

    Terri and Michael were engaged relatively quickly, and Terri began
    making plans for an elaborate wedding at Our Lady of Good Counsel, the
    Catholic parish the Schindler family attended. She was still a month
    shy of her 21st birthday when the big day came. In that interview with
    CNN, Michael Schiavo said when he first saw Terri come down the aisle,
    he thought she was "just gorgeous. All I saw was this big smile."

    Their first dance was to "Tonight I Celebrate My Love," by Peabo
    Bryson and Roberta Flack.

    After the wedding, Terri drifted apart from her close girlfriends. She
    and Meyer had a falling-out and never really spoke again. Terri
    remained friends with Pickwell, but, Pickwell says, "they were
    newlyweds. You wanted to give them space."

    Meanwhile, Terri was folded into the big, tight-knit Schiavo family.
    Karen Schiavo, a sister-in-law, says that she instantly became one of
    them, and that Michael and Terri were "deeply in love."

    A few years later, the Schindlers decided to move to Florida, and
    Michael and Terri followed. She got an office job at an insurance
    company, he went to work managing a restaurant. Their hours were
    opposite -- Terri on days, Michael on nights -- so they didn't see a
    lot of each other.

    At work, Terri made friends with some co-workers, including Jackie
    Rhodes. They went shopping together. Visited Terri's grandmother at a
    nearby nursing home. Went swimming at the pool where the Schindlers
    had their condo. Terri loved watching the dolphins in the Intracoastal

    She also started to lose more weight. If she had developed an eating
    disorder -- medical experts have said that complications from bulimia
    may have led to her heart failure -- she hid it well. Scott Schiavo
    remembers sitting next to her when the couple came back to
    Pennsylvania for a family funeral. Terri was eating a huge plate of
    food, but she was thinner than ever.

    "I asked her how she could eat like that and still be so thin," Scott
    remembers. "She laughed and said she must just have a good

    By 1989, Rhodes says, Terri and Michael were having marital problems.
    The Schindlers have suggested the same in recent years. The Schiavos
    dispute that claim. Still, both Rhodes and Michael Schiavo (in an
    interview with CNN) say that the couple had been trying to conceive a
    child. Terri went to see a gynecologist to address problems with an
    irregular menstrual cycle.

    The last time she spoke to Terri, Rhodes says, she had just gone to
    get her hair done. Terri was toying with going back to her natural
    color, so Rhodes called that Saturday to ask what she had decided.
    Terri, Rhodes says, was in tears; she and Michael had had a fight over
    the cost of the salon visit.

    Early the next morning, in February 1990, Terri collapsed in the
    hallway in her house. Michael heard her fall, found her there. She was
    26 years old, weighed 110 pounds and was in heart failure because of a
    severe potassium imbalance.

    Inside Woodside Hospice, Michael Schiavo likes to hold his wife's
    hand, according to his brother Scott. Today will be the seventh day
    Terri Schiavo has gone without the feeding tube that sustained her.
    Her husband sits vigil with her most of the day, his brothers Brian
    and Bill on hand to support him. Michael adjusts Terri's positions,
    moves her, makes sure there will be no bedsores. And he talks to her
    -- talks to her the way one talks to the headstone of a loved one at
    the cemetery.

    "You know how that is?" says Scott, who calls his brother's cell phone
    multiple times a day for updates. "How you do it because it makes you
    feel better, even though you know they can't hear anything you say?"

    The Schiavos leave the room when the Schindlers come to visit. They,
    too, take turns trying to make Terri comfortable. They stroke her
    hands, kiss her hair. And they, too, talk to her.

    "We talk to her about getting her out and taking her to lunch," says
    Mike Tammaro, her uncle. "We tell her we're working hard to take her
    to lunch. The other night, we said, 'We're taking you out to breakfast
    tomorrow, Terri.' "

    The family's vigil, Tammaro says, is tense and tearful. They watch
    carefully for signs of decline.

    "I believe she's hearing some of this," Tammaro says. "I really do. I
    don't know how much. I don't know what state her mind is in. It
    doesn't matter. We just want her alive and home."

    For Michael, Scott Schiavo says, the days are filled with sadness and
    frustration and anger at the politicians and their attempts to
    intervene in what he considers a very personal decision. Michael,
    Scott says, wanted this to be a private moment.

    The Schiavos are grieving, too, he says. He says Terri wasn't a
    sister-in-law to him, she was a sister. He breaks down.

    "It's so sad that they've turned this wonderful person into a
    sideshow," Scott says, his voice shaking. "Into a media circus. It's
    such a shame. It really is. The one that's hurt the most here is
    Terri. Her memory. They're taking away whatever dignity she had left.
    They're taking it away. And it really stinks."

    And so they take turns in the room, two sets of family, each with
    their own version of who Terri Schiavo is now.

    Perhaps there will be some last-minute intervention. More likely, her
    life is coming to an end. In her hospice room, she is surrounded by
    stuffed animals. The world has fast-forwarded 15 years. Terri Schiavo
    is 41 years old. But who she was -- a shy little girl, a woman still
    able to find joy in a simple stuffed bunny -- will forever be
    suspended in time.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list