By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer
CHECOTAH — Sherrill Garrett sits in her home, cradling a picture frame containing a photo of her deceased son.
About an hour west in Dustin, a teenage mother attends her high school prom. And almost 500 miles away, in Lincoln, Neb., a 14-year-old girl clicks on a Facebook page with the curious title of “Dresses for Jake’s Dates.”
Tying them all together is a story of life, death, grief, and how one family turned its darkest day into a powerful message of love.
Garrett and her husband, Joe Garrett, met in 2010 and fell in love. Jacob Dillon Garrett was born in 2011. Although the couple had six children from earlier relationships, Jacob was their first together.
“He was our love,” Sherrill Garrett said. “He was beautiful and perfect.”
On May 16, 2012, at just 7 1/2 months old, Jacob died. He was a victim, like thousands of infants each year, of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome.
“How do you even begin to cope with that?” his mother asked. “He was here, and then he was gone and there’s no reason. None at all. Our world just evaporated.”
Suddenly, things that had been part of the couple’s daily routine became obscene. Joe Garrett, who drives a route each day as part of his job, asked for a new route because it was too painful to drive to the place where he had been when he learned that Jacob had died.
“I just couldn’t,” he said. “All those emotions would come back.”
Sherrill Garrett said she hated every time the clock would strike 4:15 p.m. on a Wednesday — the time and day Jacob died.
“I could still hate that time and day every week if I wanted to,” she said. “My life was just absent. Every day had been go, go, go with a baby around, and all of a sudden he was gone and everything was different. I couldn’t cope.”
The death of an infant is almost a paradox — a loss so unfathomable that it becomes understandable. If Sherrill Garrett needed time off work or needed a moment to herself, who could argue?
“I was sitting around, and I was going to make myself crazy,” she said. “The sadness was so ... overwhelming that it became really dark, a really dark, sad place.”
That’s when an idea she had bandied about began to take shape. Garrett, who was raised by a single mother, had grown to understand the financial difficulties her mother had faced.
“It was like, oh, that’s why I have these homemade clothes,” she said.
Now, with four of Joe Garrett’s daughters in the family, she realized the cost of homecomings, proms and dances. Her idea: Why not busy her now-idle hands by accepting donated prom dresses to give girls the chance to attend prom all dolled up and give their parents a financial break.
“Every girl deserves to feel like a princess for one night,” she said. “And every parents deserves to take a breath and not worry about the cost of things every once in a while.
“You’re paying hundreds of dollars for a dress that’s worn once and then sits in a closet forever. It can get costly and expensive.”
The idea needed a name. Garrett said one of her friends was listening to a group of teenagers talk about whom they were going to date and whom they were going with to prom, when the name hit her.
“She said to me, ‘In 15 years, you’ll be wondering who Jake would have taken to prom,’” Garrett said.
The name — Dresses for Jake’s Dates — stuck, and the idea erupted. Garrett received 67 dresses from one shop in Bartlesville. Now, 170 dresses fill an entire room at her house.
“It’s just saved me in a way,” she said. “It’s allowed me to channel the things I’m going through positively, to pay it forward to people who need help.”
Her first “customer” pulled up to her house and stepped out of the back seat of a pickup. With her was a small girl.
“I thought, OK, this must be her little sister,” Garrett said.
The girl turned out to be the student’s daughter.
“It made me realize, here is a girl who is in school, has a daughter, is involved in athletics. She’s perfect for us,” Garrett said. “She must have an incredible support system, and she must be very strong. We were so nervous as she was looking through the dresses.”
The “Dresses for Jake’s Dates” Facebook page has almost 600 fans. Garrett said she put out word that for every 100 “likes” on the page, that fan could suggest a task for her to do. For instance: For the 300th “like,” the fan requested that Garrett do a good deed. She took chips and dips to a local hospital.
The 500th fan
A 14-year-old girl in Lincoln, Neb., was the 500th “like.” She suggested that Garrett do something “to help new mommies,” Garrett said.
“I thought to myself, you know, I just lost my son, being around new moms might be so hard for me,” she said. “But sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone. The whole premise is to keep paying things forward.”
Garrett looked through page after page at Pinterest for things she had planned for Jake. An idea hit her.
“Why not do a baby shower?” she asked. “There are so many new moms, young moms out there. A nurse friend of mine said there are times when these young girls come to have a baby and no one is there with them. Let’s let them know someone loves them.”
So Garrett and Dessert Girl’s Bakery Cafe, at 208 East Side Blvd. in Muskogee, will be the hosts of an event scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 17. Its name: Showered in Love.
“It’s a simple plan, really,” Garrett said. “We’re going to have a little shower and give gift bags to the new moms that show up. Anything a new mom might need or that might put a smile on her face. Diapers, wipes, baby shampoos. Whatever.”
Donations for the gift bags are being accepted, she said.
“This whole thing, I’m just a grieving mother who wanted to do something nice,” she said. “I know it’s hard for people to know how to comfort someone who is going through a loss, but they have. People have reached out to this and it has helped me and given me the strength to try and help others.
“Paying it forward was always the goal, and that is exactly what’s happening.”
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or email@example.com.
You can help
To donate items for new mothers for the Showered in Love baby shower, call (918) 685-0990.
To donate prom dresses to the Dresses for Jake’s Dates prom dress service, go to www.facebook.com/DressesForJakesDates.
If you go
WHAT: Showered in Love.
WHERE: 208 East Side Blvd.
WHEN: 2 p.m. Feb. 17.
ETC.: A baby shower for new mothers, sponsored by Dessert Girl’s Bakery Cafe and Dresses for Jake’s Dates.
INFORMATION: www.dessertgirlscafe.com or (918) 685-0990.