My daughter took these photos the day after Mitchell came home. He was so excited to be surrounded by all that was familiar to him. My wife and I were anxious to hold, hug and kiss him without the spider web of cables, tubes and IV’s. It was a surreal time for us. 48 hours prior to this very moment Mitchell had a team of 12 medical professionals all working vigorously to keep him alive. At home he had 1 hospice nurse whose job was to help him feel comfortable and usher his body through the painful process of organ failure and death.
For Mitchell, touch was very important to him. There was no blanket that could replace the warmth that came from his parent’s embrace. Ever since he was a baby he would rub his forehead against mine -sometimes for minutes at a time. He wouldn't say a word and neither would I; we didn't need to. We spoke more in our silence and gestures than could ever be communicated by words alone. This was one of his ways of loving deeply and I never tired of it. I yearn to do it again today and my heart sinks to the depths of my soul that I cannot.
Within a few days of this photo Mitchell lost the ability to smell. It never came back. He would tell me later how much he missed smelling the things he loved. He yearned for the scent of his favorite shampoo, the smell of popcorn and his dad’s cologne. He had an appreciation for the little things in life and I admired that about him greatly. A week before he passed away Mitchell asked if we could go to the store to buy shampoo that had a stronger scent … so that maybe he could smell again. I hugged him and quietly started to cry. Oh, the little things we so often take for granted …
I will never smell things the same again. Never a scent my nose encounters that I don’t thank my God for all that I have.
Over the last 2 years I would occasionally ask Mitchell what advice he would give people about life. Without fail he would respond “Be nice to each other and be glad you’re alive. Nothing else matters.” With this philosophy he never varied. I found it fascinating that a child so young was so attune to the intrinsic value of life. What’s more, he understood the deeply spiritual value of kindness. Most young children seem to worry more about play things and consumption (perhaps too many adults do, too) – but Mitchell possessed a sobriety about life and relationships that was far beyond his years. It was as if his soul knew what was to come long before his mortal body failed him.
I was raised to accept the reality life is tough, because it is. And at some point the world tells us we have to suck it up and take it like a “man” or a woman, or a lion or a bear. But I also realized in the privacy of our bedrooms or the quite of our minds there is often an unspoken dimension to us . . . a part of us that is vulnerable and mortal. A part that loves deeply and hurts honestly. Years ago I stopped pretending to be a lion or a bear. I decided to be human – and that has been liberating.
Three weeks after this photo was taken Mitchell’s weary and scarred heart, after having fought valiantly to survive, fluttered and stopped.
I would give everything I own, or could ever hope to be, to have my little son back with me. His broken heart, a heart that loved deeply and hurt honestly, was more noble and worthy than all the lions and bears on earth. Mitchell reminds me what it means to be human and that the lions and bears we often pretend to be are an emotional mirage. My son taught me there are no lions or bears, only humans. And to pretend otherwise is to cheat ourselves.