NEW PORT RICHEY — It wasn't rational because she was there when he died and she wrote the obituary and paid for the obituary but still, when Shari Yarber scrolled through the names Tuesday morning, she hoped his wouldn't be there. If Matthew Franklin Yarber, age 37, husband, father to one son and three stepchildren, teacher, a giant of a man who lived to make people laugh and hoped to become a Christian missionary, if that was not in the newspaper, then none of it happened and he would be back home soon.
It was there, of course, but seeing it in print hit Shari with a new, raw grief, wave after wave of sobbing.
"I'm so sad," she said.
November would have been their third wedding anniversary. They met in their 30s; she was divorced with three children. They were both special education teachers, Matthew at River Ridge High School, Shari at River Ridge Middle. He was the life of any party, 6 feet 5 inches, 370 pounds, loved karaoke, doted on Shari and the kids. She was six months pregnant when Matthew had a seizure, his first of many. In the midst of trying to find a diagnosis, Shari gave birth to their son, Deacon, who was born with parts of his brain missing. He is now 2 and can crawl and hold a bottle and say a few words. But his future progress is uncertain.
Matthew was eventually diagnosed with blood clotting disorders and Moyamoya Disease, a rare, progressive cerebrovascular disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. Matthew's condition was believed to be genetic, but Shari said doctors told her their son's case isn't. She believes it might have happened from medication she took while pregnant.
Last year, Matthew had surgery to help his disease. It failed, the wound becoming so infected part of his skull had to be removed. He kept having strokes. The problems in his brain changed his personality, the gentle giant became volatile, he could barely read or write and couldn't remember the words he wanted to say. He couldn't work.
"I know I am losing my mind," he told Shari. "I know I am completely different than I used to be and I can't control it."
They traveled to California this summer to see a specialist. There, Matthew had another surgery and it seemed to have helped. He spoke of the future again. He began training to become a youth minister and picked out mission trips for the family to do. He and Shari wanted to focus their lives on helping others through difficult times. They planned to write a book and title it Through The Fire and Coming Out Refined, with a piece of pottery on the cover, something that started out one way and came out of the process different and beautiful.
Matthew still struggled with his changed personality. He went to a church sermon on letting go of worry and circled, over and over, the words in his lesson book, "I am not in control." In the margin, the man who once hoped to become a college professor wrote, "In need help."
Because of his mood swings, which upset the children, he sometimes stayed with his parents. On Sept. 15, after not hearing from him all day, Shari found Matthew there barely breathing. He had aspirated on vomit, likely from a seizure in the middle of the night, Shari said. He never regained consciousness and passed away Sept. 24.
Shari said she's grieving, but no longer angry at the unfairness of it. There is a purpose, she said.
"Maybe we weren't supposed to grow old together," she said. In their brief time together, Matthew got to experience an instant family — to be a father to four kids, to cheer at soccer games, to have a pregnant wife and rock a baby. Shari had her faith in love renewed. She never had a best friend and partner like him.
"God knew I needed to experience that kind of love and God knew Matthew needed somebody who would stay by him to the end," she said.
Shari is going to continue their plans, to write their book and share his story.
"He was a life worth knowing," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.