Tina Tyus-Shaw: The story of personal tragedy that led to inspiration

SAVANNAH, GA – (WSAV) One of the first people to greet me 12 years ago when I came for a job interview at WSAV was an incredibly pretty, fashionably dressed woman.  “Hi, I’m Tina,” she said with that smile that can capture a heart pretty quickly. Now, years later we have shared lots of conversations about news stories, social issues and shared many a laugh in the newsroom bathroom putting on make-up.

It was just a few months after I met Tina that she shared the most personal and tragic story of her life, the death of her twin boys in 2001.  She told me one day that she had “lost her boys” and had worked to deal with her pain but that she and her husband James had later been “blessed” with their daughter Celine.  She’s now 14 and a great kid.

I remember being surprised at how well Tina seemed to handle such a profound loss as that of two babies. And over the years, there have been a few conversations about the twins, but not a lot.  I guess I was like many other people, I assumed that this happy, enthusiastic woman who always seemed busy with projects and personal appearances had for the most part managed to put this most tragic of experiences behind her. 

Then recently we learned she had been part of a book project and had written about her experience in a book called “Shift Happens.”  Tina says “you move forward and that’s when you know the shift has happened in your life, and that shift involves helping others, it involves telling your story to hopefully give others a sense of peace.”

And so that is how I came to have a conversation with Tina in her kitchen as she showed me birth/death certificates with foot prints so tiny they looked like they may have been made by a Barbie doll.  Her twin boys were stillborn on April 5, 2001.  They each weighed just over one pound. And Tina tells me so many things I never knew.  Things I should have known but just didn’t realize.

“I have to tell you I really wish I could hear the pitter patter on the floor and the boys running around the house , it saddens me, it saddens my husband because they’re not here and we really wanted these boys,” she says.  “We wanted them so much; I think about them all the time.”

Tina says the boys (named James and Julius after her husband and his dad) would be sophomores in high school.  She thinks about football games she would have attended or about bugging the boys about a girl that may have called them.  Tina says she and Jimmy “never got the chance to raise the boys they wanted so much and that this remains the most devastating thing that has ever happened to them or ever will.”

She recalled the horrible day at the hospital when she awakened and saw several doctors in the room and her husband crying and she screamed and asked them to tell her what was wrong.  “And of course from that point on I continued to just really drown in sorrow. It was just so incredibly painful and it’s it’s tough,” Tina says. “But I have to tell you my faith is the key. My faith has always been the key to moving forward. Did I ask why me?  Sure, I did.” 

Tina says she spent four months away from work and even contemplated not returning but eventually came to realize, with James’ help, that she had to go on with her life as best she could.  And in that time, she has moved forward in so many ways and spent the past 15 years not only anchoring the news but promoting women’s health in stories and through projects.

But as she has moved and resumed her life as best as possible, she says she is often surprised that not all WSAV’s viewers found out at the time what happened.  “I can still be out at a store or a park and someone will come up to me and say ‘how are the boys’ and it brings it all back.”

“And so because we are stopped (my husband as well) we’re stopped every now and then and asked how are the twins – I decided that it’s time to share what happened and to be transparent in hopes that our sadness will help someone else.”

James Shaw told us “the hardest thing for him was watching the pain that Tina felt.”  He said he was there to “give support” and is the kind of person who keeps tragedy within himself:

“But I had my times (of sadness), Tina never knew but I still do. Whenever I see twin boys I think ‘wow they would be 15 they would be here now’ but then again I still talk to them like they’re still here so in my mind and heart they are still here,” he told me.

When I asked him if he is proud of Tina for writing about their family, James said he really didn’t want her to write about it and that he hasn’t read it yet. “But someday I will,” he said. “Hopefully, our story will help individuals with a tragedy like this that may happen to their family and hopefully they can read this and it comforts them.”

Finally, James told me he thinks “it all made Tina a better person, a stronger person” and knows it made him a better person.

While faith is evident in both of their lives, the loss is also evident.  We went to see the babies grave and a few tears were shed including by myself.

“We really do we feel there was something special about our our babies and that their story will live on,” Tina told me. “We know that we’ll see them in paradise one day but we have an opportunity right now to help other people understand what we’ve gone through and what so many others go through.”

“We all have obstacles, we all have ups and downs,” said Tina. “I think sometimes people look at me and being a news anchor and thinking ‘Oh My Gosh this woman has it all together.’ Well, I am so human and I have so many problems in my life like every day people.”

After well over a decade, Tina says she just felt this was the best moment to share all of this information. “And the bottom line again goes to that we are in this to help make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I not only want to inspire them but uplift them and to say we all have circumstances in life. But you can move forward, you can overcome and I truly believe that God doesn’t put you through anything that you can’t handle.”

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