AT LEAST I’M ALIVE
Little Mitch was so cute this night. He always loved to take baths … I think in part because he was able to float in the water and that helped him feel a little relief from the relentless tug of gravity. As his muscles grew weaker from DMD, any rest was a good rest.
I always loved sitting with him, playing with toys on the edge of the tub. Whenever I spent time with Mitch or my other boys, the little boy in me would emerge and we would get lost in imagination. I could care less about a football game or stretching my legs to the news … my world was (and remains) my family. In an instant the bath was no longer a tub, but an ocean with an ever changing landscape of bubbly mountains. The faucet became a mammoth waterfall and the various bottles of shampoo, towers to a soapy fortress. Our adventures were epic and endless.
I'll never forget the sound of my son’s voice pointing to the tender spot around his PICC line saying, “Dad, I wish I didn't have to have this.” He paused a moment, catching his short breath and said, “Well … at least I’m alive.” I smiled softly as my eyes gushed with tears and then ran down my face. I kissed his forehead and quickly excused myself, then slid my back down the hall and wept like a child.
Little Mitch was just glad to be alive yet I found myself wanting for death because losing him hurt so much. I pleaded that night to my Father; I cried out like a child and wet my pillows with my tears. That night, and endless nights since, I visited the darkest parts of the human soul.
Those words will haunt me the remainder of my days: “Well, at least I'm alive.” Mitchell’s words were a declaration of gratitude for what little he had, not a complaint about what he didn’t have. If ever I’m tempted to complain or get discouraged, I will remember those fateful words of my son … “At least I'm alive.”
Some might ask why I continue to post stories such as this … stories wrought with profound sorrow and loss. It begs the larger question as to whether revisiting painful moments like this agitates a wound that may otherwise heal if left untouched. But, what does it mean to not touch the wound?
The truth about grief, especially the loss of a child, is you can never not touch the wound. That is a fiction, in Shakespeare’s words, “told by an idiot.” Not a day passes I don't think of little Mitch. Were you to ask any parent who lost a child, no matter how many years have passed, you will most likely hear them say what I just said; that not a day passes they don’t think about their lost child. Not a single day.
Every day, those who grieve the loss of a child touch the wound. It is normal. It is unavoidable. It is part of healing.
I think the key to processing grief isn't about not touching the wound … pretending it doesn't exist. That’s impossible. Rather, it is how we touch and dress the wound that matters. I can say with confidence, every day I'm healing on the inside. Yes, my heart is still broken and tears flow regularly – but I'm not as broken as I was a year ago and I'm grateful for that. Make no mistake, I'm still broken … broken in ways that are deep and rending and will take a great deal of time to mend. But I'm mending … and guess that’s the point of healing. Progress, however fast or slow, is progress.
At least for me, part of my own grief journey is journaling. I don't write to fixate on sorrow. Instead, I write to process these moments in my own mind and heart and determine what meaning they have for me. With each painful moment I address the pain of my wound, then I dress my wound with meaning and context. That, with Heaven’s help, is how I choose to heal.
Though the pain of losing a child is so great at times I may wish for death, I seem to always come back to the thing my son figured out at the age of ten, “At least I'm alive.”
I am alive … and I intend to make the most of it.