Letter: A father grieves after losing a daughter to postpartum d - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Letter: A father grieves after losing a daughter to postpartum depression

(Source: The Mathews Family) (Source: The Mathews Family)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Following the death of his 32-year-old daughter, David Mathews wrote a letter about her life, death, and the devastating effects of postpartum depression: 

It’s said that in combat you never hear the rifle shot that kills you.  When learning of the loss of a loved one, however, the opposite is true – the phone rings, you answer it and then nothing – you just go numb.  We received the call that our daughter had taken her own life before we read the email she sent– the suicide note with “Things I Couldn’t Say” in the subject line.  She lost a struggle with Postpartum Depression we didn’t even know existed.  She was only 32 and had her whole life ahead of her.  And what of her 4 month old baby and husband?  The human mind in turmoil, overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, flooded by hormones, sometimes is quite simply an impossible thing to comprehend. 

            I didn’t want to believe either the phone call or the email.  She had just moved to California the week before and even at 7:05 PM EDT, the West Coast was still open for business.  I frantically called the LA County Sheriff’s Office but no one was authorized to talk.  I helped bring her into this world, raised and nurtured her for 20+ years and walked her down the aisle. Yet, somehow I didn’t rate knowing for certain that she had departed this world by her own hand. I heard the rifle shot but my life of uncertainty was to linger for a few more agonizing hours.

            Confirmation of the news we dreaded most finally came; but it came without peace or comfort, for the real journey of grief was just beginning.  First a homicide investigation, then a coroner’s investigation, both taking place three time zones away.  How do we get her body back?  How do we make funeral arrangements for a child whose death we had never contemplated?

            Friends, family, and neighbors inundated us with food, condolences and the kind of love and care the bereaved need most.  But I only have one refrigerator so I finally had to lay down the law, “If you bring something in, you have to take something out.”  A “zero sum” game of grief, if you will.  And then we received word that the investigations were complete – our baby was coming home.  My wife, surviving daughter and my niece went to the funeral home and played her favorite music while they dressed her, trimmed her hair, touched up her makeup, and placed her in the coffin.  The funeral director said it was a first for him for a “mainstream religion”; but being a NICU Nurse and a mother they would not have had it any other way.  Paying final respects to a loved one - especially a family member - is a solemn and selfless task. 

            Arrangements were made to honor her, remember her and lay her to rest.  She had attended Chesterfield County schools, then college at Clemson.  She pursued her passion for working with kids by teaching elementary school in North Carolina, Florida and Alabama.  She had friends all over so we expected a large turnout for her visitation.  Scheduled for 6-8 PM, people started arriving at 5 o’clock.  We didn’t leave until after 10 PM.  My wife and I were in the parlor when a staff member told us that we needed to move things along.  The funeral home was packed and people were leaving because they couldn’t wait the estimated two hours.

            Incredulously, I ventured into the chapel only to find it filled with people I knew and loved.  Like a politician, I started to work the room – thanking everyone for not only their attendance but also their patience and perseverance. Friends from church, friends from school, friends from college and the military – they all came.  As I greeted visitors, I encountered a stranger and asked how he knew my daughter.  “She was my son’s 4th Grade teacher in South Walton Beach, Florida” was the reply.  “You mean you came all this way for my daughter’s funeral?” I asked.  “No. I had a meeting in Baltimore, so I left a day early and drove down” was the sheepish reply.  I never imagined my daughter touching so many lives.

            My wife played piano for the memorial service.  I sang.  The church was filled to capacity.  People say we were strong; but we weren’t.  We just did what we had to do.  Now the real grieving begins – a life with a gaping hole where a wonderful, loving daughter once was.  How do you move on?  One step, one day at a time. With apologies to Harry Truman, “Misfortune is when bad things happen to your neighbor; tragedy is when bad things happen to you.”  2016 was a tragic year.

          Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a very real and serious illness.  Her’s was the third death due to PPD suicide in Virginia in 2016.  Suicide is the leading cause of death for Moms in the first year after birth.  PPD is shrouded in shame, guilt and an abundance of misunderstanding.  Of the 15,000 births in Central Virginia each year, 20% of mothers will experience PPD – that’s 3,000 Mom’s and their families who needlessly suffer the burden of mental and emotional distress. More women will experience PPD than the total of all other pregnancy related complications combined.  If left untreated it is estimated that the annual cost for a mother and child is over $22,000.  That’s $66 million each year in medical expenses, lost wages and additional infant health care just for Central Virginia alone.

           Twenty-five years ago no one talked about breast cancer.  Today, thanks to groups like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, we can talk about “boobs” on national television.  We need to elevate the PPD conversation to the same level.  It is just as much a clinical diagnosis as cancer and heart disease. If you are a new mother experiencing feelings of loneliness and despair – or if you know of someone who is – please reach out for help.  PostPartumSupportVa.Com can provide assistance and resources available in Central Virginia.  If you attend church or are a member of a civic association, start a New Moms Support group to provide encouragement and watch out for each other.  The next time you stop to admire a beautiful new baby, take the time to ask the Mom, “And how are you feeling?  Everything okay with you?”  You might feel a bit uncomfortable asking these questions, but believe me, it’s a whole lot easier than burying your child. 

             My beautiful daughter is gone but we can help to save others from this PPD tragedy.  More needs to be done.  Do your part.  MOMS’ LIVES MATTER.

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