In a letter addressed to my family November 7, 2012 I described an invisible cliff upon which Mitchell sat but couldn't see. My wife and I could see it ... and we could see the mouth of the abyss yawned and inching to devour our son. Mitchell, unaware, looked out into the vast horizon envisioning a long, bright future ahead of him. In his little mind he was making big plans. He didn't understand that he was sitting on the outermost edge of the cliff and the ground from under him was crumbling away into the darkness. His body was hanging on by a pebble. What he thought was the beautiful horizon of the future was a mirage and in reality the sun was setting on his own life.

Almost 3 months to the day, all that I wrote had become a horrifying reality and my son was admitted to the CICU for end-stage heart failure. 

During our time at the hospital and at home we carefully and prayerfully managed information for Mitch. Because we were told he had only “days” - we chose not to tell him right away. Mitchell’s nature was to worry and we knew him well enough to know this would consume him and ruin what precious time he had. We wanted him to be a little boy as long as possible. For soon, life would require him to grow up much too fast. 

So we carried in our hearts the heaviest of secrets to spare our son unnecessary hardship. We helped him have an early birthday party, a handful of Nerf gun wars, video games, movies, and all the kisses and cuddles he could ever want. He was able to leave our home for three short trips; one to Olive Garden to eat his favorite “Tour of Italy”, another to Best Buy and finally a trip to Target to buy some toys he had been saving for. All the while, behind the veneer of soft smiles and gentle hand hugs we were living the worst nightmare. Tucked within Mitchell’s bag containing his Milrinone pump was this blue piece of paper signed by two doctors and my wife and I with instructions to not resuscitate him if an event were to happen. The medical committee felt this was the most compassionate means of dealing with our son. 

As the end neared, there came a point that we had to tell him. 

As Natalie and I sat on his bed, each holding one of his hands, we told him mom and dad couldn't save him. We told our little son he was going to die. Forever etched in my mind were Mitchell’s reassuring words “It’s okay mommy.” It wasn't so much the words he said that brought me to my knees, but the way he said them. Lying on his bed, struggling to breathe and sick beyond repair was a little boy who should have been playing with Legos and video games, watching cartoons and doing everything little boys enjoy. Instead he was contemplating the heaviest of life’s experiences. And that giant of a man, who was clothed in the body of a little boy, set aside his own fears of death and dying to comfort his mom and let him know he was okay. My son … is my hero. 

A few minutes later he asked if we could help sit him up. At this moment my little son, who was only 10 years old suddenly became 110. He didn't say much. He just looked out the window with a look of deep contemplation. He had done this before, but this time was different. This time he knew the end was coming. This photo was that very moment, just two days before he passed away. I will never know what thoughts crossed his mind and I wished so badly I could have joined the conversation in his head … to help soothe his troubled mind and worried heart. 

I remember praying with all my heart later that evening … pleading that somehow, some way, that God would take me instead. With all that I was, I meant it. I wish I could have fallen on the sword for my son and spared him. There is no bullet, no train, no torture or cosmic calamity that I wouldn't stand in front of to shield my children from harm. 

There are moments of truth in our lives that reveal our true character; not the characters we pretend to be to our neighbors and friends – but moments that reveal the true nature of our souls. What we have become. 

I’m reminded of the old Chineese proverb “there are no secrets of the soul that conduct does not reveal”. Our little Mitchie, when faced with an implacable, mortal enemy revealed his true nature by setting aside his own feelings to comfort his mother’s broken heart – which was an act of love, compassion, selflessness and charity; of bravery and dignity.

In this moment of truth, my little boy, who was still in elementary school suddenly became a master teacher. I have taken notes and I am doing my homework. Homework of the soul.