The night before Mitchell passed away we sensed time was running out. As the sky quickly darkened the air grew eerily cold … and with each breadth, we felt a heavy, somber feeling grow within our hearts. That abyss that was inching to devour our son had its mouth stretched wide and was beginning to swallow him up.
We were preparing to cuddle with Mitch in his room and read him stories to comfort him when we received a call from his best friend and next-door neighbor who wanted to see if he could play. Unaware that Mitchell was already slipping away and was coming in and out of consciousness (mostly out), we asked this young boy if we could speak to his mother. We told her Mitch didn't have much time and that perhaps her son would want to come over one last time. Within a few minutes of that call, this young boy came over to say goodbye to our baby, his best buddy.
Mitch absolutely loved Luke. Whenever he heard his friend knock on the door Mitch would yell out, “Lukey!!!” Mitch was always excited to spend time with him … so this last visit would mean more to Mitch than I think Luke realizes to this day.
What I then witnessed in the quite of Mitchell’s room was the most tender interaction between two young boys I have ever seen. It was a sacred exchange between two boys made of clay – each being shaped by experience, hardship, sacrifice, and love.
Lying on the bed was our young boy much too young to die. Standing next to him, another young boy holding his hand, bearing his young soul … much too young to say goodbye. It was not my place to ask God why such heavy things were required by hands of these two innocent souls. Instead, I began to ponder deeply and pray in my heart to understand what we were meant to learn from this hardship.
These aren't the only two children to experience this, and they won’t be the last. But they were our kids … and we loved them so. It hurt so very much to see.
This young boy, who had loved Mitch like a brother and faithfully served him with all his heart told Mitchell how much he meant to him, that because of Mitch he learned what it meant to be a true friend and that he would never forget him. Luke struggled to hold back the tears, his voice was broken with emotion, as Mitchell lay unable to move or speak. His eyes barely open, my little son listened to tender words of affection and friendship. My wife and I wept as we witnessed love and friendship in its purest form. I knew that Luke, Mitchell’s faithful little friend, was breaking inside.
Afterward, I hugged him and told him how much my wife and I loved and appreciated him. I told him I was sure if Mitchell were able to speak he would tell Luke that he loved him like a brother and that he appreciated how he was always there to help him when his muscles were too weak, and how much it meant to him that he always cheered him up when he was sad. I told Luke that he taught Mitchell and his parents what it meant to be “your brother’s keeper” and that we were so grateful to him.
Later that evening I couldn't help but think of that tender experience between these two young boys who were forced to grow up much too fast. I pondered the meaning of human suffering and the difficult experiences we are sometimes required to endure. I have learned to appreciate an old Jewish proverb, "Don't pray for lighter burdens, pray for a stronger back". It would seem that in all religious texts, no matter one’s religion, God makes no apology for pain and suffering. In fact, I have come to understand there is a sacred relationship between suffering and spirituality if we learn to listen and endure it well.
I admit the burden of losing my precious son has my knees trembling, hands shaking and my soul in tremendous pain. There exist no words in the human language to describe the depths of this sorrow. It is simply, utterly, bewilderingly heavy. But, like all suffering, the sting of that pain can make way to a deeper compassion toward others, a greater capacity to love, a stronger desire to reach toward God and understand His purposes.
The truth is, we are [all of us] no different than these two little boys. We are all made of clay. And with each choice we make, each reaction to events in our life, we carve out something beautiful or something hideous – something that loves or hates. We need only look at our own life experience to know this is true … we have all seen some let the clay in their hearts harden and become brittle or unmovable. Others allow the tears of suffering to keep their clay soft and pliable.
It has been an agonizing 1 year and 7 months since I have seen my precious son. My clay is still drenched with tears and soggy. One day the tears will eventually dry and I will do all that I can to remain pliable.