Barbara Curtis, 64, died suddenly on Tuesday after suffering a stroke. Last week she was one of 14 students at the World Journalism Institute’s weeklong mid-career training class in Asheville, N.C. We joked about WORLD’s long-running title for obituaries, “Man Knows Not His Time,” taken from a 1687 Puritan sermon.
Barbara leaves behind her husband, Tripp, and 12 children. The name of her blog, Mommy Life and her use of megamommy12 in her long-time email address shows how she centered on motherhood—although recently she had changed her primary email handle to Barbarasaysso (and she was never reluctant to speak up with vigor). Titles of the nine books she wrote—including The Mommy Manual and Mommy, Teach Me—also show how she wore her heart on a book sleeve.
Her heart was big and strong enough to embrace nine children born to her, including one with Down syndrome, and then three more adopted children, all with Down syndrome. The name Barbara Curtis first appeared in WORLD on January 18, 1997, when three of her Down babies were on the cover of our annual Roe v. Wade issue. Over the subsequent decade and a half Barbara wrote 22 articles that appeared in WORLD Magazine or on worldmag.com (including one we posted today titled “What does it mean to be our brother’s keeper?”).
One article, in the June 13,1998, issue, had the headline, “His little girl: Trusting the Heavenly Father after an earthly one fails.” Barbara began it, “I remember the day my dad left. He knelt and hugged me and cried. The skimpy dress of a five-year-old girl could not protect me from the chill that gathered around my arms and legs. The scratchy tickly whiskers—would I feel them no more? The arms that felt so safe—would they be gone forever? What would it be like not to have a father?”
She continued, “The years to come provided harsh answers to those questions. Mine was not a carefree childhood. Shuffled with two brothers between foster home, relatives, and—when things worked out—my mother, I toughed out the tough times. … I guess you might say with no one to believe in, I learned to believe in myself. Only when this unsustainable strategy dropped me down and out—and more alone than ever—did I finally face my fatherlessness.”
Barbara achingly wrote, “Crippled by the lack of a real father in my life, seeing God only as some remote and impersonal force … I wouldn’t have thought to seek God’s love. And yet how amazingly unconditional and enduring that love remained for me. As I misunderstood God and wandered, He still protected me from harm, continuing to draw me nearer, gradually softening my heart.”
She told how “seeing my children experience a happy childhood was the next best thing to having one myself,” but she wished to “receive that kind of love myself. How ready I was the moment I first understood that God was my father. At last, I was someone’s little girl! To this day, 10 years later, I cannot approach God intellectually, but only as a child and with no reservations, I feel such love: Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me (Psalm 27:10). Is it not a miracle that someone who missed an earthly father’s love can be healed to receive the love of the Heavenly Father?”
It is a miracle, but Barbara still wasn’t perfect. We ran a profile of her in our most recent Roe v. Wade issue. It was so rightfully complimentary that it might not have seemed realistic to some of our readers, so we included the accurate description of her as “a round-faced woman with a circa-1969 flower tattooed on her right hand and food stains on her black pants.” Barbara emailed me with concern about that last detail: “This is a small thing, but … food stains on my pants? I was already embarrassed about that. … I had grabbed something from Taco Bell.”
I wrote back, “Food stains let people know you’re still a human being—if you, as a busy mom of 12 and a writer, did not have something like that, readers might think we were your public relations agents.” She laughed about that, and she laughed again when we used it as an example in class last week of the way we all tend to fixate on one negative even when dozens of positives surround it.
I then referred to her as St. Barbara, and meant it—after the hard first half of her life, God’s grace had made her saintly. She loved her husband, her children, and many others, showing all the while how God’s love changes everything. And now, after her laborious life, we can sing of her and millions of others, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!”