THE FIRST MILE IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST
As far as I can remember, every time I've encountered a catastrophe in life I was bewildered by the challenge in front of me. “How can I possibly do this?” I would think to myself, “I’m not capable or prepared.”
When we learned of Mitchell’s diagnosis the road ahead appeared broken and treacherous and seemed to stretch for miles and miles … even to infinity. Those were days that had me struggling to catch my breath and steady my step. One thing I've learned on Mitchell’s Journey is the first mile is always the hardest.
The truth is, we've had many first miles. The day Mitch was diagnosed with DMD was a first mile and the road ahead was obscured by fear and the fog of the unknown. Often, for the first while, I found myself stumbling over … everything. The weight of grief was new to me and I had to learn to adjust to new burdens. Over time, the journey got a little easier. It wasn't that the obstacles were different or burdens removed, but my ability to navigate grew stronger. I have my Father to thank for that – for He has been my tutor in matters of the soul … perfectly kind and infinitely patient. One day I will fall at His feet and thank Him for everything.
At various points along our son’s journey we would encounter new challenges and new first miles. The day we learned Mitchell’s heart was failing was a new first mile, a new challenge. Six months later I would take this photo as we learned therapies weren't working: another first mile. Never had a hallway felt so long. Before we knew it we learned sweet Mitch was experiencing end-stage heart failure … another first mile. Finally, in what seemed in the blink of an eye, my son died and I had to walk the longest, loneliest mile of my life. Heaven felt next door, yet so far away.
Just yesterday I visited Mitch at the cemetery. I wanted to place two solar lights that might shine on his headstone at night. While there I met a woman whose husband died tragically just over a year ago. He is buried just a few plots away from my son. She had 3 beautiful children and a kind demeanor. My heart went out to that family and I grieved for them. My heart went out to those young children who are without a father. I prayed in my heart they would find comfort and peace.
At one point I asked how her grief journey was going and she replied just as I suspected … a mixture of progress and pain. She then told me how others tried to prepare her for the 1 year milestone … that somehow everything would get easier after that. To her disappointment, the one year anniversary passed and nothing changed – grief remained. Her loss and heartache was the same. I identified with her and said I heard the same nonsense from others. I told her I thought what she was feeling was normal and that I felt the same way.
I had the words in my mind, but I didn't think to say them to her; I just said to myself, “The first mile is always the hardest.” As I drove home I began to ponder what the first mile means to me. It isn't measured by time or anniversaries (such a thought is foolishness) … to me the first mile is a metaphor that points to deeply personal journey of grief. It can’t be seen or measured – only felt. Some people seem to run the first mile quickly, others walk, some crawl … but at some point in our journey with grief we make it past the first mile.
How do we know when we've passed the first mile? I’m not sure I know the answer … but at least for me, I think I have passed that threshold because I don’t live in a constant state of grief. Today, I have grief moments, almost daily, but I don’t live in a constant state of grief. Yes, I still weep and long for my son, but like a summer storm, it passes and soon I see the sun.
To be clear, grief is the longest mile I've ever known. Indeed, the journey of grief seems to stretch out to infinity; but I know where that road leads, even to eternity.
Yet, I am still mortal … I see so little, and understand even less. Though I know my son’s soul lives on, the father in me is empty and bereft. Thus, the pain of grief remains. Though my legs are weary and I often stop to catch my breath, this much I know: I've passed the first mile and I hurt a little less.