The morning after Mitchell was released from the hospital he wanted to play Minecraft. His hands, finally free of bandages, medical tape and IVs were able to do the things he loved. It felt like a dream state … my sweet son was home. My cup was full, and running over.
Eager to spend every waking moment with Mitch I sat with him and his friend Luke while the three of us, on separate computers, began to play in his digital sandbox.
Within about 20 minutes Mitch had carved out a fascinating labyrinth of halls, rooms and secret passages nestled deep in a mountainside. He had Luke and me building out rooms deep beneath the surface of the earth. I wanted to do a good job for him so I carefully carved out a mansion … I laid carpet, installed an indoor swimming pool, hung lights and more. I wanted to make a digital fort for my son that would be the dream of any boy. After a while I realized Mitch and Luke were no longer near me and for a moment I felt like a child accidentally left behind at the mall. The boy in me panicked because I wanted to be near my loved one. I searched for Mitch and couldn't find him and then realized he had gone to the surface with Luke to build something interesting.
I took a photo the moment I discovered what he had done.
Mitch and his friend created a large waterside that went down the side of a mountain (see left image). He then placed a raft at the top and rode down the artificial river as if it were a theme park attraction. Each time he would say aloud “Weeeeeeeee!” Mitchell had so much fun. I had even more fun watching him. My heart was full.
This was the last time Mitch played Minecraft on a computer. The rest of his gaming adventures would happen on an X-Box or his iPod. We were grateful that Mitch was able to play video games until the end. These games played a vital role in keeping his mind active, filled occasional voids and offered moments of escape while his body progressively shut down.
Today I roam his carefully crafted landscapes as if they were ancient Aztec ruins. I see the castles and fortresses he built with great care – each an expression of his creativity and mindset. It is haunting on some level because I often expect to see his avatar appear, like it did when we played together. But he is not there and never will be – at least the way he used to be.
These vast digital landscapes that contain my son’s creations are like modern-day archaeological finds. I have scarcely scratched the surface. There are courtyards, forts, secret caves, cities in the trees my son has created that have yet to be explored. Like an archaeologist that studies ancient ruins … searching for clues of a people long gone, I will search these maps out and discover breadcrumbs my son left behind. And I will wonder.
Technology presents a new and complex dimension to mourning. There are more than drawers, backpacks and closets to explore; there are now enormous digital places that consume no physical space. And unless we look carefully we may miss out on the digital breadcrumbs our loved ones leave behind.