What you see here is a small sampling of tender mercies I’ve observed along Mitchell's Journey. As you read what follows, you’ll be able to see a visual illustration in this image. I hope that in sharing things through this lens, it can help others examine their own life and start to see little points of light and the connections between them.

It starts [on the left] with tiny Mitchell, less than an hour after he was born. I was just about to give Mitch his very first bath and took this photo before a nurse placed my sweet son in my arms. As I held my little baby in my hands, I felt a lump in my throat and tears filled my eyes. In this very moment, my heart multiplied. I consider Mitchell's birth, and his very existence, a tremendous blessing in my life. One of Heaven's tender ironies is that sometimes our greatest blessings can become our greatest challenges ... and our greatest challenges can end up becoming our greatest blessings.

You’ll notice a subtle red glow behind the photo of newborn Mitch. That symbolizes the distinct impression I had the moment I first laid eyes on him. Though he appeared healthy and showed no signs whatsoever anything was amiss, I knew something was seriously wrong with him. For the next 3 years, I had a recurring impression Mitch would have a short life. I’d talk to those closest to me and it was always dismissed by others as if to say, “you worry too much.” But I knew something was wrong, and heaven wanted me to prepare. That is a tender mercy.

In the months and years that followed, I witnessed a tender relationship between Mitchell and his mother. I loved to see those two souls together. As time passed I had the feeling these two were meant to be joined as mother and son - that they both had an important mission in each other's lives. I would watch in wonder as these two beautiful souls served and helped each other in unique ways.

On the top left, you’ll see a photo of Natalie and Mitch just seconds after Mitchell was diagnosed, at the age of three. I consider Mitchell's early diagnosis another tender mercy. There, you’ll see a point of light is red because it symbolizes a hardship. Hardships can turn into blessings, too. You see, that hard news put in motion early medical intervention and a support system that would play a vital role in the health and well-being of our son. The circle of stars that surrounds little Mitch wearing leg braces depicts various people and organizations that surrounded our son on his medical journey. Each a tender mercy. Each a treasured point of light.

What followed Mitchell’s early diagnosis is a line of stars that signify a thousand, thousand points of light. So many blessings, I could write volumes of books about them. One day, I might.

As Mitchell’s life was coming to an end, the points of light we encountered became more tender and revealing of a Father in Heaven that cares very much about us. A Father who cares even about a little boy who was very sick and in need of comfort.

That line of lights from Mitchell’s early diagnosis led to an image that summarizes the life we had with Mitch, while he was with us. We did our best to make the most of the time we had. As painful as knowing death was certain, it was a tender mercy to know time was short and we needed to make the most of it.

An offshoot from that line of lights is a symbolic photo that means a great deal to me. Just a few months before Mitchell passed away, I was on a photoshoot with a friend who was growing his hair and beard for an Old Testament film. We wanted to take a series of photos of him depicting the life of the Savior. At one point, I asked if we could take a photo of Mitch leaving his wheelchair - which would serve to symbolize so much about my faith and son’s circumstance. We had no idea the comforting and symbolic role this image would soon play in our lives after Mitchell passed.

The red star, signaling Mitchell’s end-stage heart failure put in motion many, many points of light that I will begin to share, here on Mitchell’s Journey, in the coming weeks and months. For now, what you see shows only three. The green stars are symbolic of inspired acts of others that became tender mercies for our family and son.

One of those was points of light was a tiny puppy. Mitchell’s grandfather felt compelled, or better said inspired, to find a tiny companion for Mitch. None of us know what little time actually was left – but for some reason, his grandfather was in a hurry about it. Mitch had a few beautiful weeks with this puppy before he was admitted to the hospital for end-stage heart failure. When Mitch came home to die, this little puppy brought Mitch comfort, companionship, and love – all the way to the moment he took his last breath. You’ll notice in essay entitled, Nightfall, baby Marlie had curled around Mitchell’s head just before he passed away – providing comfort to a little boy who was in need of tender mercy. The blessing of that puppy came exactly at the right time.

The center image shows Mitch getting out of bed - which at first glance seems like nothing much to write about. The story behind this image, however, is one that I’ll forever treasure as a profound example of our Father’s love and concern. The story is called Meatloaf - which details how a neighbor who recently moved into our area, knowing little of our circumstances other than we had a sick child, volunteered to bring our family a meal. Mitch had stopped eating and he was wasting away. Natalie and I were praying and pleading for more time. This woman (a stranger to us at the time) went to the grocery store to get ingredients for a meal she had mastered and found everyone enjoyed. Yet, while she was shopping, she received a recurring impression … “meatloaf.” The more she ignored it, the stronger the impression became. She nervously followed that impression but worried, “Who likes meatloaf anymore?” With a timid knock on our door, she almost apologetically handed over a lovely dinner of with meatloaf as its centerpiece. When Mitch discovered someone brought meatloaf, he said, “I love meatloaf.” With his mother’s help, he got out of bed and ate a full meal. Mitch received much-needed nourishment to his beleaguered body. Our Father cared enough about the cries of two terrified parents and the desire of a sick little boy to live just a little longer, that He would inspire a stranger to do just what was needed. I cannot thank Him enough.

Below that image is a photo of little Mitch home on hospice surrounded by over 100 heart-shaped, hand-written notes from concerned neighbors. Mitchell’s heart was broken and failing but was lifted by the kind hearts of loving souls that surrounded him. An inspired husband and wife, who live in our neighborhood, felt compelled to serve little Mitch and put this labor of love in motion. Mitch would then say, “Why do people care so much? I’m just a regular kid.” With tears in our eyes, we told him, “You matter because you are you – and these people want you to know you are special. They want you to know they care.” Mitch carefully read every single note – and those notes meant a great deal to him. With a legion of people who loved and supported him, Mitch faced a certain and final fate with a new kind of courage borne of love and unending support.

This illustration is a tiny glimpse of a million blessings my sweet little boy received on a very difficult journey. When life feels especially dark, I come back to this and I’m reminded that we are never alone in our suffering. Sometimes it feels like we’re all alone, in the dark. What I have learned on Mitchell’s Journey is that things are always happening in the background, things we cannot now see. Points of light that will one day appear as blessings tailor-made, just for you and just for me. If only we have eyes to see.


NOTE: This essay is part of a 10 part series exploring some of the tender mercies we've discovered along Mitchell's Journey. My hope is that as you read these stories of little Mitch, you might discover points of light in your own life journey. What's more, I hope the discovery of your own points of light might bring you an increase of faith, gratitude, and courage to face your own dark times. 


March 2, 2013.  ~1:30 AM

Night had fallen.  So had our hope for one more day.

My weary, tattered son lay in his bed unable to move and barely breathing. Within the last 12 hours his heart had greatly enlarged which caused his chest to protrude; he looked deformed and it was disturbing to see. The candle of life was dim and flickering by the winds of change. I could feel the coldness of death lapping at my feet. Even though night had long since fallen, more than the sky was dark. 

I had dozed off on the floor of Mitchell's room, next to my wife. Fatigue had taken hold of me ... I was so very tired. As I was beginning to drift into a deep sleep I awoke with a distinct impression to tuck my son in - something he asked me to do every night. "Hey Mitch ..." I said in a soft whisper, "I'm tucking you in, just as you like it. I love you son, so very much. Don't be afraid; remember what we taught you. Everything is going to be okay." 

I'm told that hearing is the last thing to go for those who are dying. For reasons I have earlier posted I know my son heard me. Those were the last words Mitch heard in mortality. Within 30 minutes of that gentle whisper and kiss on his face, my precious little boy passed away. I hope he wasn't scared. I hope.

We've also been told that children who are about to pass away often wait for their parents to leave the room or they linger for permission to go because they don't want to hurt or disappoint. Knowing this, I wanted my weary son who so fought valiantly to live; this little boy of ours … who always wanted to make us happy … I wanted him to know that we loved him and that all would be well. No sooner had I drifted back to sleep Natalie had got up from the floor to administer Mitchell's medicine, which he was now receiving every two hours. 

I'll never forget the sound of Natalie's voice. Her words pierced the silence of the room like a samurai sword through paper: .... "Chris." Suddenly, with the thunder of 1 million exploding suns, I awoke that instant only to see a mother's face that looked confused, scared and deeply bereft. I got up from the floor by Mitchell's bed and placed my hand on his chest. Nothing. Our precious son, our broken baby, was gone. 

We could scarcely believe our eyes. Lying on Mitchell's bed was the form of a little boy we raised since birth and loved with all of our hearts. His body was still warm, and it seemed as if we could just shake him a little as if to wake him from a deep sleep and that all would be well. But Mitch had fallen into a sleep from whence there is no return.

As each hour passed we could feel his arms and legs get colder. Soon, only the center of his chest was warm, and it was cooling quickly. Then his body started to change. At about 3:45 AM I called the funeral home to pick him up and they were at our home within an hour. I asked them to hurry because I wasn't sure I could watch my son's body continue down the path it was heading.

Processing the death of your child is something of a bi-polar experience taken to the greatest extremes. One moment you feel peace then suddenly you confront feelings of horror – the likes of which you've never known.

With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness … a darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.

Yet, I've discovered something in all this darkness. Once I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies present themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened, and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.

To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black, and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see. 

I can see.


NOTE: This essay is part of a 10 part series exploring some of the tender mercies we've discovered along Mitchell's Journey. My hope is that as you read these stories of little Mitch, you might discover points of light in your own life journey. What's more, I hope the discovery of your own points of light might bring you an increase of faith, gratitude, and courage to face your own dark times. While I've shared this story before, I wanted to share it again because this was the night I lost Mitch and the night my eyes began to open.


Dear Mitch,

The days leading up to your passing were surreal.  It was cold outside.  Snow everywhere.  As the world spun madly on – everything, as we knew it, was coming to an end.  It’s strange, you know, to live among a crowd of people yet feel like you’re worlds apart.  That’s how it felt when you were slipping away.  Everything on the outside seemed like a dream, oblivious to the hell on earth we were living. There we were, invisible to the world, living in the quiet of our home – and in the depths of our greatest nightmare.

With every dose of medication, you drifted further and further away.  You knew what the medicine was doing to you – and you sometimes resisted it … because you didn’t want to sleep.  You wanted to be awake as long as you could – to live as much life as possible, as long as possible.  I could almost hear it, you know … the crunch of the snow as death circled our home, every once in a while I could almost hear it gnawing and gashing at our door – violently trying to break through.  I knew it was only a matter of time before death would take you away.

Just a few months prior, I wrote a letter to our family about your heart and how your life was nearing its end.  I was careful to never let you see this letter because I didn’t want to frighten your tender heart.  In the letter I wrote:



Today Natalie and I sit with Mitch on the edge of an invisible cliff.  He can't see it, but my wife and I can - and the mouth of the abyss is yawned and inching to devour our son.  Yet, Mitchell looks out into the vast horizon unaware, and envisions a long, bright future ahead of him.  In his little mind, he is already making big plans.  He wants to build a home next to ours with a tunnel connecting our basements so he and his dad can watch movies and make popcorn.  He wants to work for his dad when he's older.  He talks about his own kids one day and how he’ll raise them like we raised him.  As he points to his vision of the future with youthful enthusiasm and a zest for life, he doesn't realize that he sits on the outermost edge and the ground from under him has crumbled away into the darkness – and his little body is hanging on by a pebble.  What Mitchell doesn't understand is the beautiful horizon he sees is only a mirage and in reality the sun is setting on his own life.


It was surreal to be with you on the edge of life and death.  It was different than I imagined.  More beautiful … and at the same time, more horrifying than I had a mind to know.  But your time at home was filled with love and laugher – and for that we are grateful.

Your quiet, tender ways about you made your mortality and eventual death all the more painful to witness.  How often I prayed for heaven to take me, instead of you.

Son, do you remember getting this gift?    Well, there is a profound story behind it … a tender mercy put in motion almost 6 months earlier.  I’ll tell you about that another time.  But what I want you to know is – heaven was at work preparing the way for you.  You were never alone.  Not ever.

The people in your path were meant to be there.  From your best fiend, Luke, to your school teachers and your Bishop … it was as though everything were perfectly timed … just for you.

Your final weeks at home were a mixture of heaven and hell – all rolled into one.  A beautiful agony I cannot to this day find words to describe.

There was a distinct moment I could no longer hear the crunching of the snow … the circling of death pacing around our home.  I no longer heard the pounding and gashing of death clawing at our door.  Death was in our home – and I couldn’t stop it.

Mitch, my precious child, I’ll never forget the time you wanted to be with me and play Legos.  You were too weak to sit up on your own.  You just wanted to be close … to lay on the edge of my lap and play like a little boy.  Your muscles were so weak, and you were so tired, I had to hold your head with my hand to keep it stable.  It was then I knew time had run out and whatever we had left was worth more than all the money on earth.

Time seemed to glitch.  One moment it would stretch out … other moments went by in less than a blink. 

Then, came the night you left us.  The night we said goodbye.  The night you slipped into the abyss and all became dark.  Never had I known such a darkness, borne of grief and heartache.

As your mother and I were swallowed up in sorrow, we wondered how we could live without you. There, in a spiritual pitch of night, something happened I did not expect.  As I prayed for understanding and pondered deeply on the meaning of life – almost as if against the backdrop of a darkened sky, I saw a little fleck of light.  A tender mercy that until that moment I did not have the eyes to see.  Then, the more I looked, the more I began to see – heavenly blessings that were meant for you … and some that were meant for your mom and me.

My eyes began to open.  Over the next few years, what I began to see was beautiful.  Like a heavenly constellation, these tender mercies … as if little points of light, showed that we are not alone – even in the pitch of night.

I’ll write you again, son.  I have so much to share.  I wish you were here – or me over there.

I’ve been traveling the broken road for 5 years now.  Sometimes I travel through the wilderness of grief, other times the desert – where the scorched land burns my feet.  And when I am lost, I have learned to look up and remember these points of light.  For if heaven has played such a role in our past, you see, I can have faith in what is yet to be. 

Sometimes I wonder where you are, exactly, on the far side of the sea.  Maybe you will come to visit me – in the quiet of my dreams.  And if you do, I want to know what you see.




A few days ago, I was cleaning my inbox and stumbled into a letter I wrote my family the night Mitch passed away. I wasn’t expecting to see it, so when my eyes saw the headline, “Mitchell Passed Away”, I was immediately swept up by a tidal wave of tears. After I gained my composure, I began a journey through time, reading emails that were sent the weeks following our son’s passing.

One person especially close to me, just a few weeks after Mitch passed wrote, “Now that the worst is over …” I was mortified by her words and sad to see how out of touch that person was with reality. I thought to myself, “I guess she’s lucky she doesn’t understand.” What she and many others didn’t realize was the worst of everything was just beginning. In matters of grief, especially the loss of a child, hell happens in the aftermath of death. Let me say that again: hell happens in the aftermath of death.

What followed in the weeks, months and years was a new kind of journey for me – a journey where we had to learn to heal in a world where there seemed to be no room for grief.

Two years after my son passed, I was on my way to Southern California to take my oldest son surfing. I remember exactly where I was when I received a call from a friend and colleague from an earlier part of my career. She wanted to give me candid feedback. She was convinced I was stuck in grief and that I needed to move on – yet there I was, with my oldest son, very much moving on with life. No effort was extended to understand my mind and heart; instead, after reading a few stories, she felt that my writings were self-focused and something resembling a sermonette. I appreciate truth and candid feedback, however much it might bruise my ego, yet in her almost flippant assessment of things, I couldn’t help but think of Anis Nin’s observation: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” What she didn’t understand was that my writing found here on Mitchell's Journey was a private journal that I chose to make public – not to solicit sympathy, but to help others who might be struggling with various aspects of grief. Writing had become my therapy – yet, according to her, there seemed to be no room for my therapy. No room for grief.

Another year would pass, and a well-meaning colleague (who has such a good heart) would put his hand on my shoulder and summarily tell me that the time for grief was over. With a slap on the back, he told me the time had come to become like a caterpillar and transform into something new. Again, according to my friend, there was no room for grief. He was ready, and therefore I should have been ready.

Those who read Mitchell’s Journey know I am a man of faith. I not only believe in God, I love Him. I am not angry at Him over the loss of my child. I am hurt, but I’m not angry. In fact, I have come to recognize the many tender mercies He has provided our family; blessings that eased our burdens and offered light to an otherwise darkened path.

Even still, I’ve observed a kind of isolation that comes from people of faith, especially those who haven’t lost a child. Often, when sharing words of hope, people can inadvertently dismiss or diminish the pain of the sufferer. We’ll hear things like, “In the eternal scheme of things, this life is but a blink.” To them, I say, “Life is the longest thing I know. Now that I’ve lost my child, this life is an eternity.” Others say things like, “Don’t be sad, you’ll see your child again.” To them, my heart cries out, “But my heart pains to see my son today. I miss him so, and I don’t [yet] know how to live without him. I’m trying my hardest to find a way.” I’ve seen others, even those who have lost a child say things like, “I’ve had a spiritual experience, and I’m okay – therefore, because I’m okay, you should also be okay.”

They leave no room for grief. And when there is no room for grief, there is no room for healing.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

There is an endless, almost nauseating list of platitudes and poems that would seem to leave no room for grief. One poem reads, “Death is nothing at all. It doesn’t count.” To that, I say death, aside from being born, is the biggest thing that will ever happen to you or me. It counts a great deal. Poems like these would try to convince us that nothing has happened, that everything remains as it was, our loved one slipped into the next room - just around the corner … when in truth, after the death of a loved one, everything is different, and nothing (at least in this life) will ever be the same. That room of which they speak may as well be on the other side of the universe. Poems and platitudes sometimes dismiss the hard realities of grief and mortality. They leave no room for grief. And when there is no room for grief, there is no room for healing.

This Friday will mark the 5th anniversary of my son’s passing. It took almost 4 years for the worst to pass. What’s more, I’m not stuck in grief – but it is a heavy burden to carry, and to others, I may appear to walk slowly. I’m not a caterpillar anymore, and what I am becoming is only just emerging – in my time and in my own way.

I’ve had the burden and blessing to speak to thousands of people over the last few years about perspectives on grief. I am a young student of the subject and have much to learn. What I know so far is, sorrow is sacred. There must be room for grief.

If you know someone who's suffered the loss of a child, or has a terminally ill child, you can serve them by giving them room for grief. When I say room, I don’t mean space away from them. What I’m saying is you can give them a safe space to talk about their loved one. Giving room for grief can be as simple as saying, “I’m here for you. I care, and I want to listen to your heart.” Your friend may not trust you at first because the world has taught them, over time, there is no room for grief. Everyone is different, but if you’re patient, they’ll eventually feel that you’re safe and will open up to you.

You may be tempted to avoid such subjects with your friend because it is awkward or sad. Sometimes, if we’re to serve our friends, we must set aside our uncomfortable feelings of empathy and give space for the sufferer’s hard reality. You may worry that talking about “it” will touch an already tender wound or that your friend might suddenly remember the realities of loss – as if by avoiding the subject, they might forget the worst thing that could ever happen to them. By avoiding conversation, we leave no room for grief. It is helpful to remember that your friend is already sad and that talking is therapeutic. What’s more, talking about it doesn’t remind them of their loss – they think about it every single day – only in isolation and compounded sorrow.

In many ways, I feel like I’ve come a million miles since I’ve lost my son. Yet, I still have a billion miles to go. I know sacred truths about the immortal soul. I also know that our loved ones are sometimes near. I have experienced moments of peace that surpass my mortal understanding. These things I know of myself and no one can take them away from me. Yet, moments of peace and pain come and go like the ocean tide – that is just part of being human.

Even after 5 years, I still need room for grief.


It was late spring, Mitchell’s headstone hadn’t yet arrived and each day was getting a little warmer than the day before. It had only been a few months since I lost my son and my soul was still dizzy with grief. Quietly, I was grateful for warmer days because the cold winter air carried with it vivid memories of the cold morning my dear son was rolled away from our home, never to return.

At this moment I realized my responsibility as a father wasn’t to keep my son from hurting, for that is impossible. Instead, it was to teach my son how to mend broken things. I wanted Wyatt to understand real strength isn’t found in pretending to be unbreakable but in having the courage to admit our brokenness, then make broken things strong.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

On this spring afternoon, Wyatt asked if I would drive him to the cemetery so he could visit Mitch. I told him I'd be glad to. “Okay, just a second,” Wyatt said as he dashed into Mitchell's room. A few second passed, and he returned with one of Mitchell’s favorite Halo characters and said, "Okay, let's go." As we arrived at the cemetery, I was curious what Wyatt had in mind, so I gave him some space and said, "Take your time son, I'll be nearby."

With that, he handed me Mitchell's Halo figure and gave me a soft grin, a confident nod, then sat on the grass and started talking to his older brother. I sat several yards from him but had one of my larger lenses so I could take photos without interrupting my son. I could faintly hear Wyatt’s young voice as he told his missing brother summer was around the corner, school was quickly coming to an end and a little about the movies he knew Mitch wanted to see. Wyatt told Mitch about some of the new friends he made throughout the year and how his teacher was so kind to him when he cried in class because he missed him. Wyatt continued to tell his brother about the tree Mitchell's school, and City Council planted in his honor.

It was a tender thing to see my youngest son struggling to sort things out. I sat in the distance and cried as I overheard Wyatt tell Mitch how much he loved and missed him.

The protective father in me was tempted to sweep Wyatt away – to try and rescue or insulate him from hardship. Part of me wanted to distract Wyatt from the harsh realities of life or to soothe him with artificial comforts. But I knew better. I knew that in trying to insulate my son from pain, I would cause more harm than the original pain itself. Instead, I wanted to help Wyatt learn how to deal with hard things – for life is full of hard things. If I was to pass something on, I wanted it to be a knowledge of how to survive the storms of life. If there is one thing we can be sure of, it's we’ll all come to know hardship, and we’re all going to get broken in one way or another.

At this moment I realized my responsibility as a father wasn’t to keep my son from hurting, for that is impossible. Instead, it was to teach my son how to mend broken things. I wanted Wyatt to understand real strength isn’t found in pretending to be unbreakable but in having the courage to admit our brokenness, then make broken things strong.

If there’s one thing I pray most to teach my son – it is there's always broken things to mend, and if he’s wise, he’ll seek Heaven’s help and therein find the strength of a million men.



For Valentines Day, I wanted to share another video of Mitch from the Letters to My Son series. When we took Mitch home from the hospital he wanted to share a message with our family about love - a fitting topic for this time of year.

There was a tender irony in the timing of things. His heart was failing during a holiday that celebrated matters of the heart. Though his physical heart was weak, the heart of his soul was strong. He was the giant, and me ... very much the child.

In this video, you'll see Mitch tenderly listening to a book he asked his mother read. I believe Mitch wanted us to remember its message, long after he would pass away. And in this story is a message within a message.

I'm just a regular dad who struggles to be the best he can be. I have a long way to go - yet, however much I stumble, I can feel an invisible string that connects Mitch and me.   

Here is the transcript of the video:

Dear Mitch,

I had a dream about you last night and I awoke in a panic.  In my efforts to replace my thoughts of anguish with something of peace, I remembered something about you – and it calmed my weary heart.

When it was time for you to leave the hospital, you couldn't get out of there fast enough.  You were anxious to be a little boy again and to put the labor of medicine behind you. Your mother pushed you in a wheelchair to the curb and gently helped you get seated in the car.

As we were about to leave, you said, "Mom, isn't it my turn to teach family night?" Our hearts swelled and broke at the same time – you see, you were less concerned about playing with friends and toys and more about sharing something that was on your mind and heart.

You had a lesson in mind and you wanted to share it us – and it is a lesson we’ll never forget.

Your mother said, "Yes, Mitch, it's your turn.  Do you really want to teach a lesson for family night??"  You nodded your head and said “Yes, mom.  I have it all planned out.”  With that, it was settled – you were going to share a lesson with us and we were excited to learn from you. 

What followed is best described as the longest drive of my life.  We were on a one-way trip.  There would be no more doctors, no more hospital visits to keep you healthy.  Our job was to usher you to the other side of the veil.  I worried whether we did enough to teach you – but it was realizing it was you who was here to teach me.

The next day you awoke, and you began preparations for family night.  You chose a few books to read and prepared some important talking points about what it means to love.

You asked your mother to read the books - which she did ... like she did every night.  I think you would have read them just fine, but I think you wanted her to read them so it would start to feel life was getting back to normal.

The first book you chose was called, The Invisible String … a story about a string of love you cannot see with your eyes, but you can feel with your heart.

Like that beautiful author described, there is an invisible string between you and me.  It tugs at me daily.

The look on your face said all that needed to be said.  You were listening so close to the message of the story – a story about love and the bonds that tie us together.

I couldn’t help but notice you breathing hard because your heart was weak.  A friend of mine observed, after you passed, that it was ironic that a child whose heart was broken could teach so much about love.  You loved that story because it spoke the thoughts and feelings of your heart – that no matter where we go on earth or in heaven, there will always be an invisible string that connects us.

That book will forever be treasured by our family – for as long as we live.  For like the author wrote, there is an invisible string and we will always be connected.  Looking back I wonder if that was one of the messages you wanted us to know before you left us.

You’re gone now … far from view.  But I can still feel that string tug at my heart – and it will always tug at me – for as long as I shall live.  That is the magic children have on their parents.  Now, and forever.




This video essay is part of a series entitled, Letters to My Son.  You can see other letters from this series by clicking the button below.


I took this photo of Mitchell's brothers and sister last January. Standing in the frigid snow, I was startled to see 3 of my 4 children suddenly grown up. It seemed like yesterday a much younger version of these kids were gathered around Mitch loving and supporting him when he was home on hospice. Sometimes I forget how fast time passes. On the one hand, it feels like Mitch was with me just yesterday ... but then again, it also feels like a lifetime ago.  

Later that night, I looked at this photo and recognized all three of my children have endured profound and private grief over the loss of their little brother. I don't write of their struggles because I respect their privacy. But they struggle in their own, tender, and very real ways. Because of this, I have spent many nights on my knees praying for their well-being and that heaven will help them weather the storms of life; today, and with whatever storms the future might hold.

Teenage years are hard enough - and having to deal with such a personal loss at such a young age only makes the storm of growing up even more difficult.  Through it all, I can see my kids maturing in certain ways faster than I would have wanted.   

Ethan (center) was Mitchell's closest friend and brother. Today he plays a vital role – a kind of sibling glue that keeps our kids together. He didn't ask for that responsibility, but he fulfills that role well as he's learning to honor the memory of his fallen brother and do his best to make good life choices.

Like all parents, I am constantly worried about their wellbeing.  I’m also learning that the work of parenting will never really be done, it just changes as our children grow older. My heart thrills over their growth and it takes compassion when they hurt – and sometimes the protective father in me becomes a roaring bear. I stay up at night waiting for them to return home safely. I worry about the choices they make and the friends they associate with. I often remind my kids they’ll become the average of the 5 people they hang out with the most - so I encourage them to choose wisely.

Becoming a father has taught me more about the struggle of love than all the books I’ve ever read, more than all the songs that have danced inside my head.  I wouldn’t trade any part of my life, not even grief for glee – for all of it has blessed my life and shaped my soul.  All of it has made me, me.