About a week before Mitchell was admitted to the hospital a package was delivered containing ~120 hand-written messages on paper hearts from concerned friends and neighbors. They had heard the news Mitchell’s heart function (EF) was operating at 5% and that therapies were not working. In an effort to lift our son’s spirits, these friends and neighbors, with charity in their hearts, wanted to show him how much he was loved.

Mitchell was so touched by all of the thoughtful comments from people; some he knew, many he didn't. I could tell by the look on his face he was confused why everyone was making such a fuss about him but that he was genuinely curious and touched by what everyone had to say. These notes meant a lot to him. Not a single heart was overlooked. He read every one of them - on more than one occasion.

Fast-forward a week and Mitchell was fighting for his life at Primary Children’s Hospital. We weren't sure he would even make it home. But, through the faith and prayers of many we believe we were blessed to get him home and love this little boy with all that we had.

These photos were taken on the same Monday evening Mitchell taught his Family Night lesson on love and service. Just after his lesson I asked if I could take his photo with all of the hearts. He was very weak and tired and I knew I had a small window to do this. So we made haste, shoved the couch to the side of the room and quickly put the hearts in a circle around a small stool. He was such a good sport about it all. After the photo he stood up, lifted his arms and started to shake his hips and do his happy shimmy. 

As sick as this little boy was, he found joy.

Over the last year Mitchell would take note of certain milestones of loss and point them out to his mother. He would say, “Mom, that’s strange, I can’t get up from the floor anymore.” Or, “Mom, I used to be able to get off the couch by myself, now I can’t.” He noticed the things he used to do with ease were either impossible or becoming very difficult. On occasion his losses would make him sad, but he would soon brush it off and find happiness with whatever remained. 

I often asked myself why a little boy who was finding himself able to do less and less would somehow find more and more happiness. I then remembered a great saying: “gratitude turns what we have into enough.” 

Mitch had gratitude for the smallest things, and because he was grateful for whatever he had, he always found a way to happiness. A sunset, a song, a funny photo, or just being around family … these made him happy. Because he always turned his focus to gratitude, it didn’t take much for him to erupt into some spontaneous expression of joy. 

A few days after these photos were taken I was giving my son a bath; Mitch was telling me about one of the video games he was trying to beat and his next strategy to turn a corner in the game. After a while he pointed to his PICC line (seen in this photo in his right arm) and would say what a pain it was to have. Moments later, after having thought about it, he said, “well … at least I’m alive.” In that very moment I was overcome with emotion. Swallowing the basketball in my throat, I held back my tears and told him I’d be right back. I quickly left the bathroom, turned my back to the wall and slid to the floor trying to catch my breath. I wept like a child. 

My experience with Mitchell taught me that trouble will come to all of us, whether we like it or not. It isn't possible to live in a state of constant joy - that is impractical and unrealistic and turns a blind eye and deaf ear to God’s purposes. And while it’s easy to pontificate the virtues of adversity … to academically talk of trials as a divine teacher (which they are), I find myself choking on the sheer size of this bitter pill. 

Yet even in our deepest sorrows we can find our way back to joy when we’re grateful for the things we have. The bitter taste of sorrow is what makes genuine joy so sweet. 

Despite the profound sorrow of having lost my boy, I have experienced some deeply spiritual impressions that have been equal to or greater than the sorrow I have felt by his loss. These feelings of joy come like flashes of light. They are exceedingly momentary, but they are real. 

Today I am grateful … grateful that I had Mitchell in the first place. I am grateful for my wife and three other children, who are everything to me. I am grateful for my dogs, my home, soft pillows and for fresh air. I am grateful for all that I have.

And while I may stumble and trip over pain and sorrow, I will not lose sight of the things that remain. The path to joy is gratitude.