I was working in my home office one night, volunteering my time and energy to help a small start-up find its way. I was under a lot of stress – I was deeply worried about my son’s heart condition while at the same time trying to deal with a myriad of complications at work. Like no time before in my life, I began to search for balance between work and family. I knew time was short and my son didn’t have much time left.
Mitchell walked softly into my room, pulled up a chair and sat next to me. He said, “Don’t worry, Dad, keep working. I just want to sit by you.” I nearly lost it. Though I was worried over work things, Mitch was all I thought about. I swallowed the lump in my throat and fought back the tears only to see his smiling face and kind eyes. I grabbed my cell phone and took this photo then said, “I love you, son.”
I put work away and Mitch and I just talked about his day.
Hanging from the bottom of his shirt were cables connected to a pocket-sized heart monitor that he was asked to wear for a few days. His cardiologist wanted to get a better sense of what was happening to our son’s heart and discover a possible cause for its rapid and unexplained decline. The miracle of medicine had no effect. Despite the promise of powerful drugs that might stay his heart’s decline, it was as though heaven itself was calling my son home – and all the medicine of man was but a vapor.
Neither Mitch nor myself realized that a few weeks from this photo he would be fighting for his life … that his tender heart would flutter and stop in the quiet of a winter night. We simply didn’t know how quickly things would come to an end. We just had this moment and I tried to love him with all that my heart could offer.
Raising children is hard. Losing them to death is even harder.
Tomorrow at midnight will be the 3rd anniversary of my son’s passing. In my mind it seems like a lifetime ago and in my heart it feels like yesterday … and here I am learning to live in the middle of those two. I can say with confidence that I am healing, but I am also hurting. I have come to accept that I will always hurt. Some days the hurt runs deep … into the marrow of my soul. Other days the pain of loss feels like a scrape. But I always hurt for him. I long to talk to him like I used to. I want to cuddle with him and watch the movies he so enjoyed. I miss helping him do what he could not … and I see now that in my efforts to help him, he was actually helping me. My Father knew that – and though this reality of life and loss is painful beyond measure, I am grateful for the things my son is teaching me.
There are many kind-hearted people who try to soothe those who grieve by suggesting our child is in a better place or just around the corner, perhaps in the next room … or some derivative of that thought. I am always grateful for their compassion and I have learned to listen to their intent more than their words. But let me make it clear, while my child may, indeed be in a better place, he is not in this place. He is not with me like he used to be – and that is why I grieve.
I will never forget this tender exchange with my son. I am glad I didn’t brush him off or ask him to leave because I had other things on my plate. I am glad I didn’t think myself too busy to give my child the time and attention he deserved. As a father, I stumble more than I get it right – but on this occasion, I got it right. Though I hurt when I see this photo, it is a happy hurt … if there is such a thing.