“Hey little Mitch,” I said with a soft voice, pointing to the inside of a book. “Will you put your arm here so I can trace it?” Mitch looked at me with a soft but curious expression, “Okay, Daddy.” Mitch flopped his tiny arm on the book and said, “Huwwy, Dad. I have to play wiff fwends.” 

Fighting back my tears, I carefully traced his little arm and even smaller hand. Anxious to go outside and play in the summer sun, Mitch didn’t know this book told a terrible tale about what he would one day experience. He only knew his mommy and daddy loved him and that they would always keep him safe. Mitch, like many young children, worried about monsters hiding in closets or under beds. I worried about the monster hiding inside his body. A monster so frightful and mean, all the science and medicine on earth could not stop it. 

When I was done tracing his chubby little hand I kissed Mitch and said, “Daddy loves you.” With that, my little boy dashed away without a care in the world. Inside, I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.

For nights-on-end, I sat weeping at my kitchen table as I read this book … a book which, at once, read like a medical text and a horror novel. Though slightly dated, this was the only content I could find at the time that was unflinching in its description of DMD and offered candid advice on how to cope with the harsh realities of muscle wasting. I cried, and I cried. And when I felt pulverized by sorrow, convinced there were no more tears, grief found deeper reservoirs of the soul, and I cried some more.

It wasn’t until my son died less than eight years later that I discovered there is no end to tears. For if there is no end to love, there is no end to grief. At least while I’m mortal.

I believe one day grief will change. Not today. Not in 50 years. As long as I’m mortal, I will grieve over the loss of this little boy I love so much. Grief is a heavy burden of the soul. With each day I carry the weight of grief, I feel myself getting stronger. With each fallen tear, I am learning a deeper compassion for others who hurt. With every heartfelt prayer for relief and understanding, I draw closer to my Father. I know He is there, and I know He cares. I believe He wants us to be strong as well as good – and that is partly why we suffer. I am not strong, and I don’t think I’m very good … but I’m trying. I will never stop trying.

I found this book the other day as I was preparing for a Mitchell’s Journey presentation at a medical school. I had long forgotten I traced Mitchell’s tender hand so many years ago. When I opened the book my heart fell to the floor. I cried that moment like I cried way back then. Only my tears were from loss, not the anticipation of it.

This little hand is evidence my son lived. Though he is gone now, the memory of Mitch lives in my soul, and I cannot get him out of my mind. I am grateful that his memory isn’t a source of agony anymore – but instead a source of deep love and joy, and yes, still pain. Because of Mitch, I have gained a deeper appreciation for life, family, and love. I have learned what it means to be a father and a son. Though imperfect and flawed, each day I try to be a better one.