It was bedtime and little Mitch wanted to visit his big sister in her room. Mitch loved Laura-Ashley and she loved him. A tenderer sibling relationship there never was.
My daughter, an honors student, always had a lot of homework to do and the stress of meeting her assignments was ever-present – but this young woman valued love and family above all else. No matter what was on her plate she was always quick to set everything aside in order to give Mitch her mind and heart. In my mind I can still hear the sound of her sweet voice whenever she spoke with him. Her tone with him was as unique and tender as their relationship.
Mitch sat on the edge of her bed and they talked for a while. Soon Mitch yawned and she knew it was time for her little brother to sleep. So, Laura-Ashley hoisted this tired boy on her back and carried him up the stairs, knowing his muscles were too weak to climb them anymore. I was so humbled to see this act of love and service.
I took this photo about two weeks before Mitch went to the hospital. He was dying and we didn't know it.
When I see this photo I can’t help but remember the night I knelt by this very bed and gently woke my daughter to tell her Mitch was gone. We both cried. I hurt for my daughter. I hurt for my son. I hurt.
I wish the death of a child didn't hurt so much. But it does.
Every room in my home reminds me of my son. Without warning a memory will flash through my mind as though I were watching a grainy home film of a moment long gone. For the most part these memories, these echoes of the past, are beautiful and I love them. I can still see Mitch sitting on the end of the couch every morning quietly waiting to give me a hug before I went to work. I miss that. I can see my three boys laughing as they had Nerf wars in the basement. I can see my daughter helping Mitch with homework at the kitchen table - and my wife at her desk helping him with an art project. I can see Mitch everywhere but nowhere.
As a grieving parent, I've discovered euphemisms like “he’s there with you” don’t help. Mitch isn't waiting on the couch for me. It is clear to see the couch is empty. My son is not in his room. His bedroom is profoundly empty. His wheelchair, covered in cloth, remains unmoved. Everything echoes. He is simply not there … not the way he used to be. And for a grieving parent that’s the point: the ones we love are gone from our lives.
As I have contemplated the echoes of emptiness I also recognized the echoes of memory and experience. One echo is hollow and the other is full … and it seems they are not mutually exclusive. At least for me, when it comes to grieving I think the key is to acknowledge both; to hear the emptiness but hear also the echoes of memory and love.
Never have my knees been more bruised – either from falling in sorrow or pleading to God. Though our empty rooms echo hollow, my heart is full of echoes that come from love and life experience.
Yet there are other echoes that come from neither emptiness nor memory. These echoes come from a place before time and mortality. B.H. Roberts once wrote “Faith is putting trust in what the spirit learned eons ago.” That is why certain things ring familiar and true. I have come to understand learning (especially spiritual learning) is but a remembering. Perhaps better said, it is an awakening.
Indeed everything echoes. My home echoes empty without my sweet son. My heart is filled with echoes - memories rich with love and feeling. And if I calm my soul, I can hear echoes from that place beyond the hills. Despite my broken heart, bruised knees and legs on the brink of collapse, I can hear echoes that bring spiritual understanding. I hear an echo that reminds me if I am not my body – neither was my son.
So in this place of echoes, where everything is empty yet full – I know there are echoes yet unheard that are meant to teach my soul.
I am listening.