Just a few days before my son went into end-stage heart failure I sat on the edge of his bed and talked about what he wanted to do for the summer. It was the end of January and the winter air chilled us to the bone, so we stayed inside and took a little comfort dreaming of warmer days ahead. At the time of this photo, he was hanging by a thread and a pebble … hours away from tumbling into the abyss. I knew my son was in trouble but I didn't know he would die in a few short weeks. I thought we had more time; but then again, everyone does.
Mitch lifted his faithful puppy into his arms then told me he wanted to work for his grandmother at the ranch. Although he was still too young to work there he was anxious to take on more responsibility and earn some money. At 10 years old, Mitch was already saving up for a home and wanted to be sure he could take care of his future wife and family. I was surprised how often this young boy talked of being a husband and dad one day. Mitch had big plans for the future and was already taking strides to get there. Yet, even under the best of circumstances Mitch wouldn't have seen such days and I was pained to carry that secret in my heart. Death was coming for my son, no matter what.
I knew in my mind by the time Mitch would have been old enough to work at the ranch (about the age of 12-13, or two years from the time of this photo) his muscle wasting would have already reached a point he wouldn't be able to use his arms, let alone walk. From there, it would only be a matter of time before he could no longer breathe on his own. Such is the uncompromising burden of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It is brutal and spares no one.
So, as I sat on the edge of my son’s bed listening to the desires of his heart, my soul ached for him. As his father, I wanted only for his happiness and wellbeing. Though I knew I couldn't save him from DMD, I knew that I could love and care for him as long as I had him.
Mitch often spoke to me through his eyes and he did just that on this occasion. I remember being taken aback because his eyes spoke deeply to me this day … it was almost as if he knew the end was near and he wanted me to know that he sensed it.
Though we had great oral conversations, Mitch spoke to me in ways that transcended the spoken word. I have many, many photos where Mitch isn't just looking at me, he is speaking to me. What’s more, I found I could be across the room and see a look in his eyes and intuitively know just what he needed or was thinking. The same was true of him toward me. I always considered it a tender mercy to talk to my son that way.
I once heard a saying that changed the way I thought about communication. It reads, “Among the more meaningful and honest aspects of communication is hearing what is not said aloud.” I believe there is great truth to this. Perhaps it’s when we’re not listening to the conversation within the conversation, when we ignore breadcrumbs or don’t read between the lines … it is then that we get ourselves in trouble; in relationships, in business and in life.
Mitch trained me how to hear what is not said aloud; that hearing the inaudible is not only the language of relationships but also the soul.
I hope and pray that I will have ears to hear … everything.