“Dad … can I sit by you?” Mitch said softly. It was mid-January and I was working from home that day. “Sure Mitch! I love it when you’re near me.” I then patted my hand on an extra chair, inviting him to sit with me. Mitch sat down holding his baby puppy close to his chest. Marlie looked at me as she snuggled deep into his arms. Mitch thought himself blessed to have a furry friend like Marlie. 

I turned my camera toward Mitch and he just stared into the lens. He didn’t try to posture himself for a photo – he did exactly what I always wanted … absolutely nothing. You see, Mitchie knew I wanted to capture moments unrehearsed … I wanted to capture life, not the imitation of it. So, Mitch gave me the moment. 

His almond eyes and soft expression my heart melted. In this same moment he gave me a curious look as if to say, “Dad, something’s wrong.” He didn’t need to say any words – I sensed it, too. Like a cold wind from the north, I felt a brooding sense that we were on the edge of a great and terrible change and my soul began to shiver. At the time, I didn’t know what was about to happen, I just knew something hard was coming. How hard, I knew not. For almost 2 years this feeling was growing. Looking back, I believe heaven warned me and helped me make the most of time I might have otherwise squandered.

As death drew closer, Mitch would begin to ask me deep questions about the purpose of life, death and what happens when we die. At the tender age of 10, an age that he should have been playing with toys, he faced the stuff of philosophers and theologians. He wanted to understand what too many adults often dismiss for cheaper thrills. 

In less than 6 weeks from this photo, Mitch would lay on his bed unable to open his eyes or speak as his body was shutting down. It is frightening to think how quickly our worlds can be turned upside down and inside out.

This same puppy who was at first frightened to be away from her mother, received great comfort from Mitch, and would soon return the favor with honor. The night he was slipping away, she would use her nose to lift his hand and nestle under his palm as if she knew he needed to touch her. Though he couldn’t open his beautiful eyes, he could move his fingers slightly. So, there on the side of this sacred bed, I filmed Mitchell’s tender fingers running softly through her baby coat. Eventually, when the end was upon Mitch, this little puppy curled around his head on his pillow. Then, within an hour, my baby boy slipped away.

I am a simple, flawed man and I don’t know much; but I know a few things for sure. One thing I know is, we are not alone. I know it all the way to the marrow of my bones. The moment I first laid eyes on newborn Mitch, my Father warned me with a distinct impression something was wrong. That impression persisted for three years until his diagnosis. Then, almost 2 years before he passed away, my Father returned and began to stir my soul with a great uneasiness. I didn’t know all that He was trying to tell me, I only knew He was preparing me for a spiritual winter. A time where darkness would become my home. Then, as my spiritual eyes began to adjust to the darkness of grief, I began to see little flecks of light … little tender mercies. Though I was in hell, I saw evidence of heaven and a Father who cared.

Yes, my heart is still broken and my soul is weary with grief. I long to find my son so that my mind might find some relief. My soul searches as if he were lost in some great wilderness. But alas, it is not he that is lost, but me. So I journey through the wilderness in search of heaven. I pray for ears to hear and eyes to see. Somewhere, out there, my little son waits for me.