Words And A Name

by jth

After Matthew’s memorial service last week, a few of those in attendance asked if I would share the words I had written about my son for the service. I have decided to share those words here so that anyone who wanted, whether they were in attendance or not, could read them. ~ JTH

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“This isn’t a eulogy. A eulogy is a chronicling of notable words and deeds; it is the final reconciliation of a life’s balance sheet; it is the lasting tribute of love and admiration we gift to a soul as it departs this life. A eulogy is meant as an ending, not a beginning.

But what can I say about the life of my son, a life whose beginning was so brief and whose end sudden?  I have given eulogies for others – I know what is expected here – but I simply cannot shoehorn how I feel right now into that mold.

It seems as if something must be said, and the only things I can think of to say that make any sense to me – if anything makes sense anymore – are the words I have for all of you who gathered here, and the words I would have said to Matthew that I will never be able to say to him in person, in this life.

First, to all of you: Thank You. I don’t need to further embellish the sentiment. Just know that both mine and Erin’s gratitude for your outpouring of love, concern, thoughts, prayers and assistance comes from the deepest and most sincere place in our hearts. Our families, our friends, and our community have been standing with us during every hour of our loss, and we are continually comforted to know that you are still there for us as we grieve and heal. Your thoughts, prayers and presence give us strength. Knowing that many of you were already moving to provide for our comfort and care from the first moment you learned of our tragedy, even when we were so far from home – well, that is a gift of greater value than almost anything else you could give to us.

One of our great regrets through all of this is that we did not get the chance to introduce our precious little boy to you. We didn’t get the opportunity to play the role of the proud parents, and Matthew won’t have the chance to know and love the many, many, many people in his parents’ lives who have done so much for us, and who continue to do so much more for us today. But if Erin and I are products of your own friendship, love, and support, then Matthew was the embodiment of that. We are who you all have helped us to become, and Matthew was the best part of both of us.

You will see us out and around, and you will want to talk to us. It may be difficult to know what to say, but allow me to tell you now something that might be helpful to you later: If you’re afraid to mention Matthew to us because you think you might make us sad by reminding us that he died, I can assure you that we will not have forgotten. You’re not reminding us of that. What you are reminding us of is that you remember Matthew; you remember that he was and is a part of our lives. We do not want to forget him, and knowing that you also remember him – that is a great, great gift.

Matthew came to us at a time in our lives when his parents were both struggling. We were living and working in separate cities, in separate states, trying to chase our dreams while also holding our relationship intact. Before Matthew, it was hard to know what to do – we both knew that whatever choice one made, the other would have to sacrifice greatly. Once Matthew came into our lives, so much of the doubt, indecision and stubbornness fell away, replaced by renewed hope, joy and love. Our little boy, still in the womb, brought his parents back together from over a great literal and figurative distance,. He helped both of us to understand that all that really mattered was our love for each other and for the new, tiny life that we would soon welcome into the world. Maybe that was Matthew’s purpose, and maybe having accomplished that purpose was why he left us so soon – we cannot know. But, we will love and cherish him every day for the gifts he gave to us.

Matthew came to me at a time in my life when I was in doubt about everything. I was struggling in my relationship with Erin, and I struggled to find my place in the world. Even after moving back to Boston, I fell into a deep despair, unable to find any real joy or hope or promise in life. I had very nearly given up on myself. I was resigned to live life as it commanded me to, rather than to be the captain of my own vessel. But, in those last few months before Matthew’s arrival, when it finally sank in that he would soon be a part of my life, and that he would be depend on me not just to provide for his needs, but to be his father, a sudden rush of renewed purpose and resolve washed over me. If I could not find purpose for myself, I could find it for him – because of him. I realized that my own success, however small, could lead to greater opportunities in Matthew’s life. I promised myself the same promise that I believe most new fathers make: that I would move heaven and earth if necessary to give him the best life I could. Armed with this promise made and his new life in my hands, I was ready to take on the world again. I felt like I had been given a chance to start over, but with a better reason to try.

And in a fleeting moment, that reason was gone. Snatched away, with no warning; no great pomp or spectacle. I cannot describe the exact feeling. I cannot offer a comparison. Only those who have lost a child will ever truly know. Erin and I were shocked, we felt helpless, we asked questions that remain unanswered. We were angry, but not sure who to direct our anger toward. We felt robbed, cheated, like the victims of a cruel trick. Even today, we still sometimes think this is all a bad dream, that we will wake up and Matthew will be sleeping quietly beside us.

We are left to mourn not only the literal loss of our child, but the loss of all the experiences and memories of his childhood and his adulthood that we will never know. Not just the joys and celebrations, but all of those things parents often take for granted, ignore, or even lament – we will never know with our Matthew. To say we are not envious of the several other young parents who have welcomed new children into their lives, or are about to, would be a lie. We are left to wonder why our Matthew was chosen to be taken; a question that will never been answered.

Matthew, I wanted to tell you so many things. I wanted to tell you the stories of our families, of our lives growing up, of our towns and our history. I wanted to tell you about the places we live in, and why you should be proud of them, without being boisterous. I wanted to tell you someday how proud I am of you and your accomplishments, and of who you had become. I wanted to tell you how much you are loved and how many people loved you.

I wanted to teach you so many things. I wanted to teach you about the natural world and all the miracles of nature and the wonders of science. I wanted to talk with you about the world that exists beyond the veil, beyond what we can see and understand, but that we sense must be there, either through faith or some other means. I wanted to teach you to ride a bike, to tie his shoe, to catch a ball, to read a book, to drive a care. I wanted to teach you how to pick your battles, how to stand up for yourself, and how important it is to stand up for others. I wanted to teach you about trust, patience, loyalty, and kindness.

I wanted to share so many things with you. Your first trip to the beach, your first trip to Arkansas, your first trip to Disney World. I wanted to take you to your first baseball game, your first football game, your first visit to a circus. I wanted to be there when you tried new foods for the first time, for your first day of school, and your last day of school. I wanted to watch the first time as you figured out how to fasten two Lego blocks together, and then see what you could imagine next.

But as I write these words, Matthew, I know that none of that will ever be. You are gone from us, and your mother and I – along with your entire family and the community of people here today – are left with a deep, sometimes overcoming sadness that words cannot properly describe. Still, I am thankful for the time we did have together with you, the great joy you brought to us, the hope you left us with, and the ways you helped your mother and I. While I cannot live my life for you, I can continue to live it because of you. As I held you in my arms for those last few moments, you gave to me two other gifts: a love for you, set in my heart as a sword that will defend me through life’s battles; and your memory, as a shield around my soul, knowing that if I can survive losing you, I can survive any assault.

We love you. We miss you. From wherever you are, I ask you to watch over us, your mother and I, as we travel life’s road together. We will see you and hold you again someday, with all eternity to share.”

Given April 8, 2013 at Mountain View, Arkansas. A special thanks to my good and loyal friend, Joshua Collums, who, with great resolve and composure, delivered these words on my behalf at the memorial. I can only hope that I am eventually able to repay him in some small way.

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Epilogue: One thing I didn’t remember to address in the above was how we finally chose Matthew’s name. After weeks of floundering back and forth between the two names we had originally chosen, and months of others nearly chastising us over having not chosen a name so that they could give us embroidered gifts (a nice gesture, but not something we were terribly keen on to being with), we were still stuck on two possibilities. Erin and I decided just to wait until our little boy arrived so that we could see him, and then decide which name fit best.

Then came that sad moment after Matthew’s deliver when we knew he would not be staying with us, but we were still left with the task of naming him. Rather than having to choose between the two names we had come to love, Erin made the decision to go in a different direction.

Erin had always liked “Matthew” as a name, although it was not one the two names we were considering. Matthew means “Gift from God” in some traditions, and in that moment it seemed particularly appropriate. He was our gift — our greatest gift ever — and even though we had to give him up, Erin and I knew that we would never think of our little boy as anything other than the most beautiful and perfect gift we had ever in our lives been given.

I chose “Charles” as his middle name because of the Charles River that runs through Boston. Although we knew that we might not always live in New England, I wanted to somehow memorialize our firstborn child’s connection to the city where we had lived when he was conceived and born. Growing up near the White River in Stone County, I knew the powerful symbolism that a great watercourse can have, and how its course and flow can affect a place and its people. Naming our baby “Charles” seemed to be the most appropriate and vivid way we could to capture what he meant to us.

The Charles river, though its flow is only a short, 24-mile long course, quickly becomes powerful and wide before it reaches the ocean. The success and livelihood of Boston and other great cities in New England are built upon that waterway, which itself has carved and shaped the land over millennia. So it is with our son, Matthew Charles. Though his life was short, the impact he has had on us is powerful. He has carved out a place in our hearts forever, shaped us both into something new, and we hope to build the rest of our own lives on honoring his memory.

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