She's sitting in her car in the hospital parking lot because she needed to unravel and she can't do that in front of him. She is now the rock, the maker of horrible, hard decisions. This car is now her sanctuary. Her husband is in his room, broken, saying he's giving up. Everything she says to him feels hollow.
"It's going to get better."
That is not her husband. Her husband doesn't give up. There's always hope, there is always something to laugh about, no matter how bleak life gets. This is their philosophy. But for the past two days nothing has been funny and that has been more terrifying than any of it. There is only darkness and Shari Yarber does not know what to do.
She is crying.
"When do you know it's time to stop and just accept the part you've been dealt?" she asks. "When do I know I've done everything I can?"
• • •
Shari always said going places with Matthew Yarber was like being with the mayor. Everyone knew him. Matthew, 35, grew up in New Port Richey, football player, prom king of Ridgewood High School, class of 1994. He works as a special education teacher at River Ridge High School. He looks intimidating — 6 foot 5 inches, 370 pounds — but he is a gentle, funny man.
Shari, 34, is a special education teacher at River Ridge Middle. They started dating in 2008. Engaged and married in 2009. She had three children from a previous marriage. Matthew loved them as his own. Two months after their wedding she found out she was pregnant.
"I can't believe I'm going to be a dad to four kids," he said when she told him, tears in his eyes. "This is the most amazing day."
Matthew had his first stroke when Shari was six months pregnant. He's had several since and was eventually diagnosed with blood clotting disorders and Moyamoya Disease, a rare, progressive cerebrovascular disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
It is believed to be genetic.
While Matthew was dealing with his illness, his son, Deacon, was born with parts of his brain missing. Shari said testing ruled out a genetic cause. Deacon's future, too, is uncertain. He has seizures. He just turned 1.
Shari wishes she could trade places with her son and her husband, if it would heal them.
• • •
Matthew keeps asking doctors how long he has to live, but none will say. The disease spreads rapidly and, without treatment, patients have "poor prognosis" in one to two years. The only treatment is surgery to open up the blocked vessels in his brain.
Matthew's surgery at Tampa General Hospital was Aug. 4.
He had another stroke.
The vessels collapsed and now his condition is worse: His head swelled, he coughed blood. He has stroke symptoms. He asks for "lunch meat" when he means "pillow." His brain is injured and it changed him. He yells. He gets frustrated and sad and angry.
Matthew was transferred to Shands Hospital in Gainesville Aug. 11 to be seen by a Moyamoya specialist.
The doctor said the disease had spread. The vessels could not be fixed. Nothing, at this point, can be done, the doctor said. Maybe later. But not right now.
Shari heard about a Moyamoya center at Stanford. She wants to get a second opinion.
But Matthew says he's tired.
He's in pain.
He wants to go home.
"Is it time?" Shari said to herself in her car Tuesday. She has to start her teaching job on Monday because now she is the sole supporter of the family. She knows life could be worse. She still feels thankful. She would marry Matthew again, without hesitation, knowing what was ahead.
"Saying 'I'm giving up' and saying 'It's time to stop' are different things," she said.
He's just in a bad place. He's grieving who he was. He's scared.
Shari focused on what she can control:
"I can do research," she said.
"I can ask questions."
"I can be my husband's voice."
"I have to rally," she said and stepped out of her car and went back inside.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.