From loss to charity, grieving parents start Mich. chapter of TEARS Foundation

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At 20 weeks, Shelby and Buddy Shuh went to the doctor to find out the gender of their baby.

Instead, they learned their second child would have to battle for her life, suffering from spina bifida, fluid in the brain, a missing kidney and many other issues. They held out hope. Isabella Harmony fought until the very end.

"She was in Children's Hospital for a little over five months and never came home and she passed away on March 8th, 2006," Shelby said.

"Still you hope - I dreamed even if I had to walk her down the aisle in a wheelchair, I envisioned that day," said Buddy. "And when she passed away, part of you is just crushed in that moment," Buddy said.

The toll it would take was more than they could imagine. Inconsolable. At the same time, a young family is trying to figure out how to pay for a funeral.

"I felt like a failure, I wanted to save my daughter and I couldn't, now I couldn't pay for a funeral," Buddy said.

Their relatives rallied around them to help pay for the funeral, but the painful loss stayed with the couple, impacting them emotionally and physically. Over the next few years, Buddy gained more than 200 pounds.

"I have continually struggled with my weight," he said. "And when my daughter passed away in 2006, it got worse."

Buddy took a chance and tried out for The Biggest Loser, a TV show where contestants battle to lose the most weight. Buddy was chosen, landing him a spot on Season 13, where he shared his story about the loss of his daughter.

"I talked about the pain (there was) after she died, to sit in a funeral director's office and not being able to pay for the funeral," Buddy said. "That episode aired and somebody from the TEARS Foundation was a fan of the show."

The TEARS Foundation is a national organization that offers emotional support and financial assistance to help with the cost of infant burial or cremation. Michigan didn't have a chapter. After talking it over, Buddy and Shelby decided it was something they wanted - and needed to do.

"My biggest passion to let people know that you are not alone," Shelby said. "The TEARS Foundation is here to rally around you and support you. We can't bring your child back, but if we can be the arms to hold you up, that's what we want to be."

In Wayne County alone, the Shuhs say they learned 800 families go through a similar loss. About half of them can't afford funeral expenses or a touchstone. That's where the TEARS Foundation comes in. 

Through donations and fundraisers like the Valentine's Day Gala or the Rock and Walk in the fall where families gather to celebrate their loved ones, they are able to help bereaving families get through the most difficult times of their lives.

"To let people know they are not alone, because it feels very, very, lonely when you are on this journey that feels like you’re are in this dark place and you feel like no one else gets what is going on," Shelby said. "And the truth is, there is a ton of people."

"We have come to learn that people need touchstones, people need a place to go, a place to remember," Buddy said. "Because they still love and remember their children long after they are gone."

The Shuhs now take their family to a memorial in Wayne every year. Carved in the stone are the names of dozens of young children, including Isabella Harmony, whose memory will live on through the TEARS Foundation.

"We believe that we are honoring her and that her legacy continues," Buddy said. "And her little, 5-month-old life impacts whole state. That gives us great joy."

| Online Resources:

The TEARS Foundation website

Facebook page for Michigan Chapter of the TEARS Foundation