The night before Mitchell passed away we sensed that time was running out. As the sky quickly darkened the air grew eerily cold … and with each breath we felt a heavy, somber feeling grow within our hearts. That abyss that was inching to devour our son had its mouth stretched wide and was beginning to swallow up my son.

We were preparing to cuddle with Mitch in his room and read him stories and comfort him when we received a call from his best friend and next-door neighbor who wanted to see if he could play. Unaware that Mitchell was already slipping away and was coming in and out of consciousness (mostly out), we asked this young boy if we could speak to his mother … which we did … and described what was happening. We quickly learned that Luke wanted to come over and say goodbye to our baby, his best buddy.

What I then witnessed in the quite of Mitchell’s room was the most tender interaction between two young boys I have ever seen. It was a sacred exchange between two boys made of clay – each being shaped by experience, hardship, sacrifice, and love. 

Lying on the bed was our young boy much too young to die, standing next to him another young boy holding his hand, bearing his young soul … much too young to say goodbye. It was not my place to ask God why such heavy things were required by hands of these two innocent souls. Rather I began to ponder deeply and pray in my heart to understand what we were meant to learn from this hardship. These aren't the only two children to experience this, and they won’t be the last. But they were our kids … and we love them so. And it hurt so very much to see.

This young boy, who had loved Mitch like a brother and faithfully served him with all his heart told Mitchell how much he meant to him, that because of Mitch he learned what it meant to be a true friend and that he would never forget him. Luke struggled to hold back the tears, his voice was broken with emotion, as Mitchell lay unable to move or speak as he listened to tender words of affection and friendship. My wife and I wept as we witnessed love and friendship in its purest form. 

I knew that Luke, Mitchell’s faithful little friend, was breaking inside. I hugged him and told him how much my wife and I loved and appreciated him. I told him that I was sure if Mitchell were awake he would tell Luke that he loved him like a brother and that he appreciated how he was always there to help him when his muscles were too weak, and to cheer him up when he was sad. I told Luke that he taught Mitchell and his parents what it meant to be your “brother’s keeper” and that we were so grateful to him.

Later that evening I couldn't help but think of that tender experience between these two young boys who were forced to grow up much too fast. I pondered the meaning of human suffering and the difficult experiences we are sometimes required to endure. I have learned to appreciate an old Jewish proverb that basically states "Don't pray for lighter burdens, pray for a stronger back". It would seem that in all religious texts, no matter your religion, God makes no apology for pain and suffering. In fact, I have come to understand there is a sacred relationship between suffering and spirituality, if we learn to listen and endure it well. 

I admit the burden of losing my precious son has my knees trembling and hands shaking and my soul in tremendous pain. There exists no word in the human language to describe this pain. It is simply, utterly, bewilderingly heavy. But, like all suffering, the sting of that pain can make way to a deeper compassion toward others, a greater capacity to love, a stronger desire to reach toward God and understand His purposes.

The truth is we are [all of us] no different than these two little boys. We are all made of clay. And with each choice we make, each reaction to events in our life, we carve out something beautiful or something hideous – something that loves or hates. We need only look at our own life experience to know this is true … we have all seen some let the clay in their hearts harden and become brittle or unmovable. Others allow the tears of suffering to keep their clay soft and pliable. 

Today my clay is soggy. But the tears will eventually dry and I will do all that I can to remain pliable.