“Larry, I’m really worried. I haven’t felt the baby move in two days.”
The words kept playing over and over in my head as I tried to concentrate on my work. Cindy and I were expecting our third child, and she was three months pregnant. I had tried to convince her–and myself– that everything was okay. I had suggested that she wait another day or two to see if the baby moved again.
But Cindy insisted that she should go to the doctor the next day. Because I could not get a day off on such short notice, I went to work. My mind was not at work though. My mind was very much with my terrified pregnant wife and my unborn son Matthew Daniel Barber. “Maybe something was wrong and we have lost the baby,” I thought. I shook my head trying to shake the consideration and its accompanying images out of my head like I would shake the images off an Etch-a-Sketch.
The phone on my desk rang, I jerked the receiver off the hook and I pressed it to my ear. “Larry, something happened and the baby is dead,” sobbed Cindy. “They’re making an appointment now to have the doctor take the baby. I… I’m so sorry, honey.”
I wanted to scream, but I took a deep breath before trying to console my heartbroken wife. “I’m sorry too. You and I were looking forward to Matthew being a part of our family. And I’m sorry that I’m not with you there now. It’ll be all right, honey. We still have each other.” I hung up the phone thinking how stupid my words of consolation had sounded…even to me.
The death of my son Matthew Daniel Barber has been over 20 years ago. The impact of his death and our loss though has taken a long time to soak in for me. Yes, I was a devastated young father. No, let me restate that. I was a devastated, bereaved young father confused about how to react to my loss or to adequately console by devastated, bereaved wife.
Unfortunately I listened to those around my wife and me who gave us their “advice and comfort” for young parents whose baby was lost before it was even born. First we were told we could have other children. We tried to console ourselves with that fact that future babies would be added to our family, making us happy and fulfilled. The second bit of wisdom shared with us was there must have been something physically wrong with our unborn son, and Nature, in its mercy, had corrected the situation by not allowing him to be born. We tried to console ourselves with the fact that we had been spared and our child had been spared a possible lifetime of unknown challenges and hardships. We tried to use these justifications to not mourn our loss and our precious son as we should have done.
But now after the deaths of my wife Cindy, my adopted daughter Katie, my mother Betty, and my father-in-law Malcolm, I am just beginning to realize I have been the victim of disenfranchised grief. I was denied my grief and mourning over my lost baby son because culture does not recognize the loss of an unborn child as needing to be acknowledged and grieved just like the other “normal” losses of life. Despite what our culture can say in its “wisdom” to bereaved parents, unborn children are valuable lives lost to death and that they need to be honored with mourning and rituals.
Matthew Daniel Barber, my son, was and is still loved by his father. Matthew Daniel Barber may not have ever breathed the air outside his mother’s body. Matthew Daniel Barber may not have been able to sustain his life on his own. Matthew Daniel Barber may not be considered an official, living human being because he was denied birth. But Matthew Daniel Barber did live and he did die. Matthew Daniel Barber was and will always be a part of my family, a part of my life and a part of me. Most importantly, Matthew Daniel Barber’s life, no matter how brief, was valuable because he was a gift from God who also knew him, loved him and still loves him…eternally loves him.
I miss my son along with all the hopes and dreams that I and his mother had for him. I look forward to seeing him and letting him know how much his earthly father loves him.
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.
Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.
FOR INFORMATION ON SCHEDULING COUNSELING SERVICES WITH LARRY BARBER https://taylorcounselinggroup.com/larry-barber .