I knew the Nerf battle was going to be short when Mitch closed his eyes, leaned toward the wall and put his frail hand out to keep from losing his balance. The war game Mitch organized had just started and my son asked to wear my paintball mask as part of his costume. Knowing his oxygen was low and breaths shallow I only let him put it on the moment we started and told him he could wear it for 30 seconds. The moment I saw Mitch close his eyes I took his mask off, kissed his forehead and whispered “Son, you are the strongest warrior I have ever known.” He whispered to me, “Dad, can I still play?” I told him he could and he smiled softly. Mitch hardly had the strength to lift his Nerf gun. Within a minute of that short exchange it was clear Mitch couldn't stand. The battle was over in less than two minutes. 

Natalie scooped Mitch in her arms and whispered to him, “I love you” and carried him back to his room. The next morning Mitch would tell us in a slurry voice, “I don’t think I can survive.” My wife and I quietly wept tears from the deepest well of the soul. My son never left his room alive.

Within a few days of my son’s passing I received a private message from a military officer who wrote: “I've seen a lot of things in the past 54 months I've spent in Afghanistan as a Special Forces Green Beret, but nothing could have ever prepared me for what [I've seen on Mitchell’s Journey].” I wish Mitch could have seen what this military officer [and so many other uniformed officers] wrote about him. Mitch never thought himself as strong – but in things that mattered most, he was strongest. My son was so much stronger than me.

A board member of a company I run occasionally sent care packages to Mitch to let my son know he cared. Each time a box arrived it was addressed to “Man of Valor.” I couldn't help but get emotional each time I saw that. As I would bring each package to Mitch I would show him the label and describe what valor meant. Mitch would listen carefully to my words but I could tell he was confused why someone would say that about him. My son thought himself as ordinary, which made him all the more extraordinary. 

Mitchell fought an implacable, mortal enemy – and though he died, he won the greater battle. My son, this two minute warrior, this little man of valor who fought bravely to live and love to the very end is my hero. The battlefield upon which we fought to keep Mitch alive is empty now and I can still hear the haunting echo of my son’s voice. 

I thought death was hard, but I've come to learn grief is infinitely harder. But each day we are learning to rebuild our lives amid the rubble of broken hopes and dreams. 

And so it goes, as one battle ends another begins … each day a battle of the heart, mind and soul in search of inner peace. I have discovered that inner peace is no trivial thing. Nations, civilizations, corporations, families and people are built or destroyed, sustained or compromised, by their relationship to inner peace. 

Today I find myself on the battlefield of grief learning to fight an invisible war of loss and sorrow. My heart still trembles and soul shakes over the death of my son because he was so dear to me and I miss him greatly. 

As I fight this battle of grief I have found inner peace because long ago I understood my core values, my priorities were clear, and I lived what I valued. I gave my son and family, who are most important to me, all that I knew to give. I didn't do it perfectly and I fall short daily – but I have never stopped trying or doing … and because of that I have found new armor, the armor of inner peace.