Natalie was on a trip to New York City with some of her girlfriends. I was so glad to see her take a break from all that weighed heavy and enjoy time away with dear friends. For me, being home with my kids was also a treasured opportunity to connect in new ways and spend concentrated time with them.
The day Natalie came home my kids wanted to write her welcome home notes. We sat in my conference room with a box full of markers, crayons, and pencils and got to work. She had only been gone about 4 days but each of us missed her as if she had been gone 40. And in her absence each of us recognized, in our own way, what a tremendous blessing she was to us individually and as a family; we loved our mom and missed her so.
I remember helping my kids draw and spell and at one point I looked over to see Mitch, who had sat on my table and with tender hands wrote what was on his mind and heart. In his cute handwriting he sketched “I love love love love …. you.” Were you to zoom into this image and look closely, you would see what I’m referring to. I was so moved by what Mitch wrote. He felt that one word “love” wasn't enough to describe how he felt about her. It was such a simple note but a profound gesture of love and affection from a little boy to his mommy.
A dear friend of mine, whose wife also went with Natalie, picked them up from the airport and brought her home. We each came to greet Natalie on the driveway and in the doorway and suddenly our family, which felt incomplete without her, was whole again. With arms stretched we said, “Welcome home.”
When Mitch was diagnosed we sold our home and built a new one with the hope our son could use a wheelchair more easily, when the time came. Between the times we sold our home and moved into our new one, we lived in an apartment for about 2 years and most of what we owned was in storage. I wrote the following in my journal: “Living in an apartment has reminded us of what’s truly important – although I don’t know that we ever lost sight of that. Materialism is a state of mind – not a condition of possessions. We own our stuff - it doesn't own us. And while we have a lot of crap in storage, we aren't itching for it – however, admittedly, it will be like Christmas in the summer when we unpack. Yet, if a tornado or a burglar came sweeping by and it all vanished in a moment – it is only stuff. What is most important is the living, breathing bodies and souls that live in our dwelling.”
My feelings have not changed since I wrote that entry 7 years ago. Home isn't a shelter for things or a place to hoard away the treasures of earth. It is more than a place to eat and sleep. To me, home is a most sacred place – a place to forge the most important relationships we will ever have.
When I look upon this photo and see my son, whose love for family was overflowing, I can’t help but feel his loss. As my home felt empty without my wife, it feels profoundly empty without my son. I don’t limp about or spend my days licking my wounds or feeling sorry for myself – but I do long for him. I do miss him. And I do cry for him.
Welcome home. That is what I want to say to my son, but I cannot. And in my heart and mind I write letters to him in the same way he wrote his mom … with the word “love” repeating to infinity. There aren't words in the human language that can express my love for my son and how I yearn for him to be home, with me.
But then again, this isn't really home. Our real home is over there … in that place beyond the hills. And one day I will see my son and he will say to me, “Hi Dad, welcome home.” And I will weep.