My daughter took this photo on my last birthday with Mitch, October 2012. I remember this day … this very moment, as though it happened an hour ago. After the birthday party was over Mitch came behind me, like he so often did, and hugged me. 

I think we hugged each other 100 times a day. It never got old or routine – every hug was deep and heart-felt. I miss that deeply affectionate part of my son. I miss every part of him. Almost every morning Mitch would sit quietly on the couch and wait for me to go to work. I’d hear him say from a distance, “Mom, is Dad still here?” When he would see me, he would struggle to get off the couch because his muscles were weak … then come running in his awkward gait to give me a big hug. “I love you, Mitch.” I’d say in a soft voice. “I love you, too, Dad.” This little boy was sweeter than sweet.

So when Mitch came to hug me at this moment, it was really the only birthday gift I wanted. My family knows I’m not really interested in receiving gifts – I just wanted to be with them, for children is the greatest gift any father could ever have. Even still, each of my children chose a gift that was unique and perfectly … me. It’s interesting how a thoughtful gift is a gift twice. 

At the time, I wasn’t aware of the look on his face as this photo was taken; I can’t help but wonder if Mitch was having a faint sense time was short. I know he knew his life would be short – and I think this was about the time he knew he was running out of time.

As my birthday was approaching this month, Natalie asked me if there was anything special I wanted to do. I said, “I just want to spend time with you and the kids.” And that’s just what we did. Yesterday was a beautiful day. I posted some of those photos on Instagram.com/mitchells_journey

There are so many complex layers to grief and healing. Yesterday was filled with peace and joy … yet I still had a private moment where I wept. It didn’t last long, but I wept hard. On balance, I feel happiness and peace in my heart regularly – and for long periods of time. There was a time in the beginning I wondered if that day would ever come – for the gravity of grief made even breathing difficult. That is not the case today and I’m grateful for this. In many ways, I think it is safe to say I have moved on. But the truth about grief and longing is that it still goes with you. You don’t leave grief behind – it goes with you … only it has less power to take everything from you.

Each day I am learning to take happiness and joy back. Yet I know deep sorrow will be my quiet companion the remainder of my days. I suppose that stark contrast makes moments of joy I feel in my heart all the sweeter, for I have come to know the bitter taste of tears.

One day, in that place beyond the hills, Mitch and I will hug each other again … and I will flood the earth with my tears. Only this time my tears won’t be born of sorrow. On that day when we shall meet, my tears will come from a place of love and healing and they will be sweeter than sweet.

Until that day my boy and I shall meet ...