Mitch lowered his head into his lap, tired of hospital visits and anxious to go home to his friends and family. My son looked to his future with youthful enthusiasm; yet, what he thought was a beautiful sunrise on the horizon of his life was in reality, a darkening sunset. As his parents, we knew time was running out … we saw the sunset but didn’t want to frighten our son. So, we just held him and loved him the best we knew how and kept that terrible reality from his tender mind as long as we could. Medicine was failing us. Medical bureaucracy and antiquated transplant policies failed us. We hoped and prayed something might slow the destruction of his heart from DMD – but such was not the case. Last minute interventions were too little, too late.

I suppose there are a million and one reasons I could be angry with people, medical systems and God for all that has happened. But I am not. I am only grateful. I am grateful for what I did have; for I had a chance to love my little child for 10 amazing years. He became my friend and I became his student. Though I was his father, he taught me more than I ever hoped to teach him.

On my son’s journey through life and death there were many times I cried out in my mind and heart, “Oh, Father, this hurts. Where are you?” After my son passed away, my world darkened by a veil of grief and sorrow – such that I wondered when the night might end. I wondered if it would ever end … for I had never known a darkness so pitch. A grief so heavy. Behind my smile was a broken, weary soul stumbling over pebbles.

Two years later I can say with confidence the darkness fades and strength returns. In fact, light and life return. That is not to say I am over grief - because I’m not. Some days are as dark with sorrow as any day I’ve ever known. Grief is a chronic condition that I’m learning to live with. Yet, I’ve learned to carry grief in ways that won’t injure other parts of me. For that I’m grateful.

The question I hear over and over from others on Mitchell’s Journey is “Why?” I’m not sure it’s entirely possible to know why we experience what we do. When hardships come some people get swallowed up in rage and self-destruct. Others blame God for their suffering – as though they should be the only human exception from pain and sorrow. And there are others who insist a loving God wouldn’t let us hurt – therefore He must not exist, or that He is cruel and unkind. There are so many ways to look at pain and suffering. So many ways to learn from it, or run from it.

I shared this in an earlier post: “Whether we settle the question ‘Is God the author of our suffering?’ or not, is immaterial. If our suffering is caused by other means … be it our own poor judgement or the bad choices of others, or perhaps our suffering is just a result of life in motion … the fact of the matter is God could stop our suffering if He wanted to. That He doesn’t sends the most important message of all.” 

There is an ancient account of three God-fearing men who were to be thrown into a fiery furnace if they didn’t denounce their faith before an unscrupulous king. They boldly replied they would not. They also told the king (Nebuchadnezzar) that they believed God would protect them, but if not, they would remain true. 

But if not … those are easy words to say in Sunday School, Shabbat, or from a pulpit or stage. It is only when we utter those words in our own wilderness of afflictions that the true lesson and test begins. What I’ve learned is we cannot escape hardship: but we can learn and grow from it or we can revile and shrink because of it. I will not shrink.

I believe life is hard because we are meant to become strong as well as good. Despite my heavenward pleas to spare my son, a little boy I loved with all of my heart, I now find myself on the other side of that phrase “but if not.” What I do next with my reality matters. I can shake my fist at the heavens in anger – but that won’t change heaven, it will only change me … for the worse. Or, I can take a knee and plead for understanding and wisdom. I can pray for a soft heart and discerning eyes … to see past mortality’s deceiving guise. For when I hear the terrible ring of death’s loud toll, I am reminded to worry less about the body and more about the soul.