It had been two days since Mitchell passed away and I walked into my son’s room with a quiet hope in my heart everything was just a nightmare. Instead, I found my wife in quiet agony. There she lay on his bed holding his small teddy bear, which still bore the scent of our son.
Our home was suddenly barren, our hearts desolate.
Just a few days prior our home was filled with family to support us while our son was dying, each believing they were helping us in our hour of greatest need. What they didn't realize, what none of us realized, was that was the easy part, by comparison. Hell, with all its thunder and fury, happens in the aftermath … long after everyone leaves and you are left to navigate the bewildering wilderness of grief and desolation. It seems that everyone has it all backward - but that is a conversation for another day.
Contrary to what many think, holidays aren't as difficult as one might imagine. Oh, they’re plenty hard, but because you know it’s coming and you’re expecting it to be hard, you brace for impact and it somehow doesn't knock you off your feet. At least most of the time.
While holidays are difficult, there are harder things still. It’s the ordinary Saturday mornings when we work as a family to clean the house. I look to the windows my son used to faithfully wash, or the floor he would carefully mop … and he is not there, nor anywhere. It’s the absence of ordinary things that take your breath away and bring you to your knees. It’s the empty bed, the vacant chair at the dinner table, the unfinished Lego projects, or spiral notebook with handwritten stories Mitch wrote; it’s the saved games in The Sims or Minecraft that show a world Mitch worked hard to build … forever frozen in time. It’s the ordinary stuff we miss, the very stuff we take for granted. Among its many layers, grief is a deep longing for the ordinary.
So, as I entered Mitchell’s room and saw my dear wife in pain, my heart sank to the floor. I missed my son with all of my soul – and though my heart wished otherwise, I realized my greatest nightmare was my reality. I fell to my knees and wept ... longing for the ordinary. I hurt for my tender wife and family. I hurt for my son. I later wrote in my journal, while pondering this moment of grief, “At the end of the day all we have is what we've done.” That saying came to my mind with great force and conviction. All the things we work so hard to gather unto ourselves, the riches of earth and the praises of man can all be taken in an instant. I began to think about the memories we made and the things we did as a family and the love we shared. Though death can take away my son, it cannot take away the things we've done. Though death and absence can hurt our hearts and wrench our souls, it cannot take away the love we shared or memories we hold; for love and memories cannot be bought nor can they be sold.
At the end of the day, indeed, all we really have is what we've done.
It has almost been a year and a half since I lost my little boy … my little soul mate. Though the weight of grief isn't as constant as it was last year, it is as heavy and visceral as it’s ever been.
There is a Jewish Proverb that says, “Don’t pray for lighter burdens, pray for a stronger back.” It is to that end I pray; that my back will be made strong so that I might carry the inescapable burden of grief with a glad heart and cheerful countenance. Although in the shadow of the moon, or the quiet of my closet, or deep in my wilderness I weep for my fallen son, I can still feel the light of the noon day sun and happiness returns as I recount my many blessings – each of them, one by one. Indeed, all I really have is what I've done.
I have three other wonderful children who I am also losing. Though I am not losing them to death, I am losing them to time. Before I know it, they will graduate from high school, go to college, find their own purpose in life and start families of their own. Everything I have today, everything I’m tempted to take for granted, will soon no longer be. One day, in the not-too-distant future, I will long to have my little ones back with me.
I choose this day to make my moments matter, from here to evermore. I have come to understand with greater depth, because of my fallen son, all we really have is what we've done.