TEACHERS OF THE SOUL
About a week after my son passed away I walked into his room and found his faithful puppy Marlie sleeping at the foot of his bed waiting for him. Upon seeing this I immediately fell to my knees and began to sob. Although my vision was blurred by tears I eventually noticed the white rose on his pillow that was left by the mortuary when they came to take my son away. It hit me in a way it hadn't before … my sweet son was gone. Really gone. The weight of grief was so profound at this moment that breathing was nearly impossible and in many ways death for me would have been a sweet release. Of course, I know better but the aching in my heart was visceral and brute.
Last weekend, eight months later, we watched a Primary program from the children in my church. It was beautiful and my heart was filled with gratitude for the women who volunteered their time and talents to create such a special occasion for parents to see their little ones shine. I kept my eye trained on Wyatt and I was so proud of him. I tried to stay focused on my youngest boy and I smiled and winked at him often. I wanted him to know he was loved. But at some point during the program my eyes scanned the landscape of young faces and I saw Mitchell’s classmates and best friends. Once again I was overwhelmed with the harsh reality my sweet son is gone. Really gone. As I watched these children sing my heart fell to the floor and was trampled by a stampede of brutal emotions. I did everything I could to keep from weeping and I almost lost it 1,000 times. Every second was a battle to remain composed. As beautiful as that program was, it was a very difficult day because a very special boy was gone.
Today Mitchell’s room remains relatively untouched. On his wall hangs a Halo calendar with February still on display. His drawers are filled his treasures just as he left them; Cub Scout advancements waiting to be sewn to his uniform, his favorite candy, unfinished Lego projects, a closet filled with things he treasured. Behind his door, hanging from a coat hook, is his backpack with January homework assignments he worked diligently to complete. On his bedpost are two of my hats he wanted to wear while he was home on hospice, which I gladly gave him and adjusted them to his head so they would fit properly. The deep sentimentalist inside me doesn't think I can wear them again.
When we eat meals as a family we often don’t realize, as a matter of habit, we've set 6 places at the table until we’re seated. Five seats are occupied. One seat, visibly empty. Nobody says a word about it and we carry about our usual business of catching up with each other and enjoying conversation. We smile, laugh and talk about life today and our memories of yesterday.
As a family we are not morose and we naturally celebrate all that is good in our lives. But, deep inside me, the father who desperately seeks after his lost son, anguishes that he is gone.
At moments when I least expect it powerful emotions come barging into my life. And when they do, they are soul-rending and utterly heartbreaking. Like a drowning man gasps for air, I find myself at times gasping for my son in a sea of grief. Thankfully these moments are less frequent, but they are no less powerful and overwhelming.
I often hear of stereotypical fathers who never show emotion and seemingly never feel them. If there are such men in the world, sometimes in my moments of grief, I envy them. But, alas, I am not that kind of father – nor do I ever want to be – because when I love, I am me.
Since Mitchell’s passing I have had moments of peace that defy human experience. I have had some experiences that are so sacred I will never share them publicly. But I will say that I know my son lives. But he is over there. And I am here. And even though I have a spiritual understanding of things as they really are, that doesn't keep my heart from breaking. And sometimes my soul weeps.
Love and sorrow are part of the mortal journey. Both exquisite, both dear teachers of the soul; and I will forever be their student.