Andrea Froese is proud of her son. She still grieves his loss, but the journey she and her husband Doug (who now attend South Abbotsford MB Church) shared with him is producing a lasting legacy.
Matthew Froese died at age nine, after a life wracked by the effects of a birth gone wrong. Matthew was never free from pain, says Andrea, “but his spirit, his courage, and his goodness still shine through. Matt was good and he was beautiful. His smile lit up the room.”
Matt influenced many lives, his parents say, and through a house of care and respite being constructed in Abbotsford as part of a legacy in his memory, he will affect more. Community leaders attended a special event September 2010, providing generous funding to begin a “Matthew’s House” project. On Feb. 24, 2012, the government of B.C. made a significant contribution – a cheque for more than one million dollars, bringing the total raised to just over half of the $4.125-million cost. Construction starts this summer.
Matthew’s House will provide critical parental respite in surroundings designed to give comfort and top-grade care to special needs children. During the cheque presentation, B.C. health minister Michael de Jong said Matthew’s House will be a unique resource and many people outside of the Fraser Valley are already watching.
A life in the valley
From birth, Matthew suffered. He had uncontrollable seizures. He was immobile, unable to speak, and unable to swallow or even digest food without difficulty. Severe cerebral palsy, the result of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (lack of oxygen at birth) destined him for such a life. He died suddenly in August 2010, just two months short of his 10th birthday.
He was a much loved boy. Matt’s maternal grandfather connected with him deeply, and used to get down on the floor and talk with him, read to him, and just spend time. He was special to his siblings and all the members of his family. Matt’s schoolbus driver, Milt, and teacher, Julie Schwass, also loved the sunny boy. At home, Matt would sit on his dad’s knee, making joyful sounds.
Matt’s life especially affected Andrea. She knows the all-but-unspeakable exhaustion of caring for a child who often could not sleep through the night, of worrying lest he lie in a position that compromised his breathing, of living through literally a whole day of crying when his pain was acute. She knows the loneliness of not being well understood, of guilt that she could not somehow do better, of inability to express the deep gratitude she felt toward people who helped with Matthew – a common feeling among such mothers, she discovered.
As Matthew grew, Andrea found she could not be part of a church. He was too noisy; there was nowhere to change him; and people’s comments reflected little understanding of the difficulties. But God provided. While she was still trying to attend services, one older man would take Matthew in his arms and talk to him, freeing Andrea to chat with friends after the service – a beautiful gift. Ultimately, however, she just had to stay home.
A difficult road
Looking back now, she’s amazed she maintained hope through those difficult days. She always expected Jesus to heal Matthew. At times numb and exhausted, she would remember favourite hymns and songs and bits of Scripture. “Because I so often failed to find words to express how I felt or what to pray,” she says, “songs I’ve known since I was a kid – like ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’ – often came back and comforted me. I was able to hold strong to what I know.” In the depths of the journey, “I knew God’s grace. And there are times, now, when I miss that sense.”
She would read her Bible. “Job was my favorite book!” Her second favourite Bible passage ties directly to Matthew. He loved the feeling of warm wind on his face, so Psalm 104 became special: “[God] walks upon the wings of the wind; he makes the winds his messengers” (Psalm 104:3–4, ESV).
Forgiveness toward those responsible for Matthew’s birth asphyxia was a hard and difficult road. “But I have come to understand that Jesus commanded us to forgive,” she says, “as a healing, also, for ourselves.”
Andrea and Doug can’t recall exactly when they started to think of doing something for Matthew to bless others. But the idea grew, especially after Matt stayed at Canuck Place, Vancouver’s ground-breaking home for severely ill children and their families, on a few occasions. “We saw the positive impact it had not only on Matt’s life but also on our family’s well-being,” says Doug.
The Froeses met with Communitas Supportive Care Society (formerly MCC Supportive Care) in Abbotsford to discuss the dream and how to make it work, and Communitas agreed to be a facilitating partner with the Froeses. “They too knew that Matthew’s House would be meeting a need in the community,” says Doug. “We are so grateful.”
Matthew’s House will be one of three brand-new buildings on a two-acre “Campus of Care,” adjacent to the new Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (The others are a second Canuck Place and a new Abbotsford hospice.) The city owns the two acres, and leased it for 99 years for $10.
“To be honest, at the time and in the months that followed Matthew’s birth, Andrea and I wondered what the purpose of Matthew’s life was,” says Doug. “It is a reality that raising a disabled child is a very difficult and draining task.”
• “A Home Away from Home” campaign is underway to complete the financing for Matthew’s House so that families who come will not have to pay full costs of care. The Abbotsford facility will attempt to provide service to families on a B.C.-wide basis.