Last November I attended one of the saddest funerals I’ve ever been to. Barbara Curtis, mother of 12, including four children with Down syndrome (three of whom were adopted), died suddenly of complications from a stroke just as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the mid-Atlantic area.
Six weeks before her death, Curtis finished the last book she would write: a parenting how-to book based on four decades of rearing children.
“Raising God-First Kids in a Me-First World” was published this spring by Servant Books and is an engrossing read, not just because of the content, but because of the writer.
Curtis had a background that would make most people blink. She was a self-proclaimed free spirit, and she started down many wild paths on her quest for truth before finding Catholicism. Because of her eclectic life, Curtis had a way of writing that basically said: “I know, I’ve been there, and I get what you’re struggling with. Here’s what I found that helps.”
She tells stories of her own experiences, including her and her husband’s decision to forgo using contraception. She touches on the dangers of selfishness and advises a parent-child relationship rather than one of friend-friend. She cautions against TV, likening time spent in front of “the tube” as inviting an ill-mannered guest for dinner. She gives tips on how to raise children with an emphasis on purity. And she stresses the importance of being flexible and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in each child’s life.
But despite her advice on weighty issues, Curtis never writes in a tone of condemnation. She writes true to who she was: a wise, loving parent who has the desire to share what she has learned to help others.
Time after time, Curtis trumpets the many blessings of big families. Children come with costs, certainly, she writes, but the reward is more than one could imagine.
“Children are a resource richer than any man can discover, mine, or develop,” she says. “Worth every sacrifice of time, money, and energy. More valuable than anything else I could ever produce on my own. The only meaningful stake in the future. Children will be my offering when I stand before my Heavenly Father, hoping to hear, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”
It’s hard not to read “Raising God-First Kids in a Me-First World” and think that, if she hasn’t heard those precise words yet, they can’t be far off.
Her book is simple and authentic — a labor of love and a beautiful legacy. And her closing, in which she writes words of thanksgiving to the God who has since called her home, she offers her gratitude.
“How could I ever repay God for picking up a lost little girl and making something worthy out of my life, for seeing who I could be and how I might be able to serve others?” she says. “The truth is I can’t, except through these words, written in love to other mothers like me.”
Rest in peace, Barbara.