I WILL STAND BESIDE YOU
I remember looking across the alter at my wife as I held her hand and said “I do”. We made a promise that we would love and support each other the best we knew how; in sickness and health, in death and everything in between. On that special day, it never entered our minds or hearts that we would have a child who would be a cause of so much joy and so much sorrow. I just held my sweet wife’s hand at the alter and thought myself the luckiest guy on earth.
Fast forward about 15 years and my sweet wife and I found ourselves almost in the same position, only this time we had our dying son between us. We didn't see this coming the day we married. Few do.
As I held my son’s hand and looked at two souls I loved with all of my heart, I was reminded of our wedding day and the promises I made. I knew I wouldn't be perfect, but I would be true. Together we would stumble and fall, but always, we would see each other through.
Mitch was having a painful procedure performed by the hospice nurse. He was nervous and wanted it to be done quickly. At the time, Mitch wasn't aware we were desperately doing all we could to buy him another day, or hour. If ever our son walked on thin ice, it was never as thin as this. As the procedure began Mitch squeezed my hand and I gently gave him a hand hug to let him know I cared. My tender wife caressed his face and kissed his cheek to let him know she was there.
Brave Mitch wore his Call of Duty shirt my sister gave him as a welcome home gift. I couldn't help but think my son a fighter of a different kind, far behind enemy lines. His biological enemy, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, was merciless and invisible and eventually gave him a fatal blow. There are no medical weapons, yet, to defeat such an enemy. DMD is aggressive and 100% fatal – it is only a matter of time before there is none.
Two weeks later I would once again hold my boys hand in much the same way as this day … with my wife quietly weeping at his side as my best buddy was slipping into oblivion.
I've spent a great deal of time contemplating the notion “time heals everything.” I have had many tell me time does heal and just about as many (even after 50 years) say it does not. Which, then, is true? I say both – but both statements are answers to different questions.
Healing and restoration are not the same. I believe those who eventually make peace with death come to know the difference. I wonder if part of the struggle of grief is confusing restoration with healing.
Were I to talk to a war veteran who lost a limb 20 years ago, I am rather confident time will not have restored him. Surely there will be healing; the site of injury will seal up and scars may fade over time, but his limb will still be missing. It will always be missing.
I have lost a child who depended on me for protection and love; I would have rather lost all my limbs, my sight and hearing than lose my son. For me, losing Mitch is infinitely worse – for a child is more than a limb, they are an extension of your heart and soul. Like a lost limb, he will always be missing from my life and I must learn to walk and live without him. At least in this life, I am coming to terms that I will not experience restoration, however much my broken heart desires it.
Like an amputee, I will always be missing a part of me. Yet, thankfully I am healing. There has never been a day, or an hour, I don’t think of Mitch … that I don’t reach for him. I have, at long last, finally reached a point with grief where there are days I do not cry. However, I seem to make up for those days when I do cry. But I don’t cry all the time. Until recently, I used to. The passage of time will not restore my son anymore than an amputee can regrow a limb, but time will allow my wounds to close if I dress them properly.
One day, in a time and place different than this, I will see my boy again and I will fall to my knees and weep. Until such things are restored, I am thankful that time and patience has seen the bleeding stop. The site of my wound is as tender as it’s ever been; tears and heartache are just a memory away. But, with heaven’s help I am healing, however slowly, a little more each day.
In moments of profound grief, when I fall to the earth and can’t help but weep, I will remember the promises I made and promises I shall keep … on the day of our wedding when I held my wife’s hand, and this very moment when I held my baby made of sand. Come whatever, come what may, I will stand beside you until my dying day.