I think that nightmare scenario crosses every parent’s mind at one point or another and we ask ourselves: “What would I do if I lost my child?” In every way that matters, we are asking ourselves what would happen if we lost part of ourselves – for that is what our children are to us. That’s what our children will never understand until they have children of their own: they become more important to us than we are to ourselves.
Just after we were told Mitch had days to live, Natalie’s mother and father came rushing to the hospital to offer love and support. Over the next few weeks, my wife and I would keep the knowledge of our son’s impending death from Mitch. Peace of mind and childhood was our gift to our son – at least for a little while. You see, we didn’t know if he was going to die in an hour, or a day, or in a month and we wanted to help Mitch make the most of what time remained.
Palliative care workers circled our room and visited daily asking for permission to talk to Mitch about his death. Each time we told them no. Knowing our time with Mitch was short weighed heavy on our souls. We hid our broken hearts behind a soft smile and we put away our dashed hopes and shattered dreams under a blanket of hugs and loves. Though we didn’t know how to protect him from death, we could protect him from worry and fear. And that is what we tried to do. That was all we knew to do.
When these good parents arrived, Natalie and her father found an empty room in the cardiac intensive care unit. A curtain was drawn and a tender conversation between a daddy and his little girl ensued. Tears of deep grief and anguish fell to the earth. I wonder if the heavens wept just a little that day – not out of sorrow, but empathy. I don’t know what they talked about. I only know that empty room became hallowed ground between a good father and his little daughter.
I stayed with Mitch and his grandmother in his CICU room. My mother-in-law is as good a woman as there ever was. Her heart was broken for Mitch and her daughter and our family. I’ll write of her another day.
After some time had passed Mitch asked me to get Natalie. When I went to get her I stumbled into a most tender and beautiful scene. I saw a good father embrace his daughter as she wept. In her trembling hand was a pamphlet about how to talk to your child about death and dying. That impossible scenario we couldn’t imagine living suddenly became a harsh reality.
When I saw my wife and her good father I sensed something similar between our Father. I thought of those times I knelt by my bed with bruised knees pleading for a way out for my son; the nights seemed to stretch out into infinity as I wet my pillow with tears. I felt the words in my heart, “I cannot take your troubles from you, but I will walk with you and lift you when you fall.”
Somewhere out there lives my son. And when I see him next I will drop everything and I will run … boy, will I ever run. The heavens will weep once more – but this time out of joy – for a family will be reunited with their young, fallen boy.
When I think of my own children, two of whom are teenagers and my youngest now ten, I know that I cannot take their troubles away. But, like this good father I will walk beside them … even with bare feet and broken bones. Until my dying breath, I will walk beside them and try to lead them home.