A few years ago we took our kids to feed some ducks at a local pond. At one point, as the sun was setting, Mitch pulled his iPod out of his little pocket and took this photo. Later that night, after he was tucked in bed, he sent it to me because Mitch wanted me to have a copy of the beautiful image he captured. The moment I received this photo I ran to his room to tell him I was so proud of him and that I loved his photo very much. Mitch smiled as if he were being tucked in a second time. I’ve learned from my children that tucking in has less to do with positioning blankets and more to do with letting them know they’re safe and loved. So, I kissed Mitch goodnight a second time and told him I loved him.

I treasured this photo then, but I treasure it even more today. I loved seeing the world through his eyes. What Mitch didn’t know was I took a photo of him taking this photo – which to me, is even more beautiful than any sunset. I don’t think he had any idea what a light to my heart and soul he was, and continues to be. 

I haven’t mustered the courage to go through Mitchell’s iPod yet. I know it will be a tender and emotional experience because locked within that little device are movies he made with his friends, photos he took, elaborate Minecraft creations, playlists, audio recordings and much more. One day I will. One day.

This image from my sweet boy reminds me that as grief subsides the sun will rise, but it will also set. As assuredly as the sun will rise tomorrow, I will experience peace and joy. But grief will return, too.

I just received a private message from someone who just discovered Mitchell’s Journey and began to describe her own grief journey. She lost her father to ALS (which, when it comes to symptoms and fatality, is fairly similar DMD) and shared how heartbroken she was to see him go. After his passing she was strong for her family but never had an opportunity to truly grieve. She said that when she read my essay, “OKAY, BUT NOT OKAY … AND THAT’S OKAY” the floodgates opened and said she “never cried so hard in [her] life” and that it felt good to release her sadness. I had tears of gratitude for her healing.

At least for me, I have discovered some of the purging and cleansing effects of deep grief. Any more, I’m beginning to see grief as a sweet release. Though it is painful and hard to bear, it is also necessary. The irony of grief is that when we allow ourselves to hurt we also allow ourselves to heal. I don’t know much … but one thing I do know is healing hurts and hurting heals. 

To lose a child is like being an emotional amputee. Yes, there can be healing around the site of the wound … but you will always want, reach and long for that which was lost. Like an amputee, you will never be the same … ever adapting to your new, compromised reality. 

I was reminded of my emotional amputation yesterday. I was in a public setting when I saw some sweet children about the age of Mitch when he passed away. Suddenly I felt the waves of grief overcome me. I kept my head down so as to not draw attention … but I let the tears flow. Like a summer storm, it was strong but it passed quickly and I was on my way. 

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my son a thousand times. I’m grateful that my heart only breaks 500 times … the other 500 times are warm and peaceful. That’s progress and I can live with that. 

As assuredly as the sun will rise ... with feelings of hope and peace, it will also set ... where grief will visit and my heart reset.