This summer Mitchell’s Aunt Sonya married a wonderfully loving man. On the evening prior to her wedding we attended a family gathering at my in-laws to celebrate the union of two noble souls who each had their share of hardship and sorrows and were blessed to find one another. It was a moment of rest and reunion, a celebration of love and family and a testament that clouds do break even though the storms of life can seem to last forever.

As we sat in the warm shadow of the hills there wasn't a breeze within 100 miles, I’m sure of it, and the sounds of evening began to softly fill the air. It was a beautiful evening … the kind of evening Mitch, who loved nature, would have come to me and said “Dad, you have to come outside and see this.”

Each of Sonya’s brothers and sisters took turns offering well wishes and honored a woman who spent her life in the service of others. Many made reference to our fallen son and recognized her tender relationship with him. There was a spirit of love and gratitude that night that seemed to reach the heavens and beyond. On this evening an ordinary backyard became hallowed ground. 

When it was Natalie’s turn to honor her sister she struggled to speak through emotions that weighed heavy on her soul. Sonya was a faithful friend to Natalie and in many ways a second mother. She was also one of Mitchell’s most ardent champions, always looking out for his medical needs and helping us navigate a bewilderingly vague landscape of “what’s next”. 

Natalie told her sister how much she loved her and how grateful she was for being there in times of trouble. Two conversations were taking place; one was spoken and the other felt. On the one hand there were words of love and appreciation and on the other feelings of tremendous sorrow. At the end of her tear-filled tribute, I remember seeing my wife hug her sister and they both wept at the loss of a little boy they loved deeply. The look of love and anguish on my wife’s face broke me. 

I found myself taking more photos than normal this day so as to hide my face that, despite my best efforts, was racked with emotion. All I wanted to do was crawl inside a bush or a forest or a deep cave and water the earth with my tears. Yet despite the pain of this moment, seeing my tender wife suffer a parent’s greatest loss, I also saw beauty.

Aristotle had it right when he said we become what we repeatedly do. 

In this moment I saw two women who spent their lives offering love and grace to others and in turn they received the same from many. Sure there have been some dark souls who didn't reciprocate their tender love and goodness. But they never let the darkness of others get to them nor the hardships of life make them bitter. They continued to love and lift others freely and make the best of whatever difficulties befell them. These two women became what they repeatedly practiced. 

We often think of shields as being hard and impenetrable. But there are other shields that cannot be seen and sometimes they present themselves as an earthly paradox. Some shields are strongest when they are soft; and in matters of the soul it is a paradox with a heavenly promise. In their case, these two women became what they repeatedly practiced: soft and graceful. And when hardships came and threatened to destroy them, the grace and goodness in their hearts became a shield unto them. The softness in their hearts protected them from becoming calloused, hardened or resentful. Instead of letting life’s hardships make them bitter, the grace in their hearts made them better. 

As I think upon this tender moment I cannot help but see great sorrow by the loss of my son. But in the depths of this sorrow I also see grace. And where there is grace there is beauty.