Last December, upon hearing of Mitchell's failing heart a good friend of mine, Russ Dixon, arranged for our boy to have a special visitor ... a Spartan from one of his favorite video games. It was an amazing Christmas gift for our son. Mitchell developed a deep attachment to the Halo characters because he felt those warriors were noble and fought for freedom and peace. 

This visit happened almost a year ago this Saturday. Mitch had no idea who was coming over and was so surprised to see this warrior come to spend time with him. Mitchell was just beginning to show signs of sickness that were associated with heart failure. He had a dull headache that day and within a few more days he was no longer feeling well enough to do much of anything. By Christmas morning he felt awful and spent much of his time lying down. We were so new to everything associated with heart failure that what we mistook what was happening for a common cold. We didn’t realize what little time we had. This was the beginning of the end.

This Spartan and my son played Halo together for about 40 minutes and it was a joy to watch because Mitch was a great gamer. When they played a few 1 on 1 matches I told our visitor to not give Mitch a break by playing easy and that he should play his best. So he hesitatingly played his best and he found that Mitch was a formidable opponent. Whenever I played games with Mitch he always made sure we were on the same team. I always took great comfort being by his side because he protected me and if we ever separated I became very antsy. Whenever I fell in any game, which I did often, Mitch would find me and revive me. My little boy took so much comfort in being near me … if he only knew what comfort I took being near him. I hope when I fall in life, which is often, that Mitch will somehow find me again and help me up. 

As this Halo visitor left our home he gave Mitch a few miniature Halo figures. They were each wrapped separately and, like a fortune cookie, you didn't know what you had until you opened it. One of them happened to be the very character that came to see him – and Mitch thought that was pretty neat. We are forever grateful for this special gift to our son because it made him feel special and loved and it sparked his imagination. 

This surprise visit was an act of love by my friend who put this in motion. It was also a labor of love by this grown man dressed as a Spartan, who a stranger to us, and volunteered his time to lift the heart of our sick son. I am sure he had a million-and-one other things to do. Christmas was around the corner and this man had his own family to love and care for – yet he set aside is personal interests to bless our boy. And for that, I am deeply touched.

It’s tempting to think heroes have perfect teeth, deep voices and muscle-laden bodies lathered in suntan oil … but those are not the marks of real heroes. The heroes that entertain us in books, video games and movies are a mirage dressed in tinsel and pixie dust. Real heroes are ordinary people being extraordinary … like this man who, despite his costume, was more a hero to me than the icon he represented. Heroes like my friend Russ, who saw a family who was hurting and made a few phone calls to put something in motion that would be a blessing to our son. Heroes like Pat Furlong with PPMD, who lost two boys to DMD, yet fights every single day to find a cure. Many of you are heroes to us because you reached out to Mitch and offered love and support.

And then there’s Mitch; he was then, and remains today, my hero. My son is not my hero because he died, but because of the way he lived. He was honest, compassionate, and obedient and had great faith in God. And when he faced the reality of his own death, he responded with dignity beyond his years, bravery worthy of the noblest warrior, and he cared more about his mother than himself. That he could set aside his own fears and hand peace of mind to his mother brings me to my knees. Our little boy, in all his brokenness, was as strong as any Spartan that ever lived or will yet live.

My little hero, broken beyond repair, showed me how to live well and die with courage. I wish I could have done in life for my son what he did so often for me in video games … that I could find him and revive him and keep him safe. I grieve deeply that I could not. And when the weight of such grief feels overwhelming to me, I am reminded of a sacred conversation I had with Mitch … where I cried tears of a broken father and told my son how proud I was of the young man he had become. I told him that while I have been scrambling to find a way to save him … in reality he was the one saving me. 

Perhaps, after all, my son continues to find me ... and with eyes unaware, he revives me.