On the corner of my wife’s dresser is a worn-out eraser that Mitch carried with him the year he passed away. His name carefully inscribed by his school teacher – a good woman who cared for her students and grew to love little Mitch. Next to the eraser is a framed photo of my son – which frame was given to my wife as a gift by a compassionate soul. And next to that, a little statue of a boy holding a golden heart. As a very young boy Mitch thought gold was pretty special, so this little statue has become deeply symbolic on many levels.

In the frame is a photo from one of my favorite memories with Mitch. It was a warm summer day and we had taken our kids to the park. Mitchell’s hair was long and floppy and twirled as he rolled down a grassy hill. When I see that image my heart swells with love and my eyes fill with gratitude. This little boy was mine to love and raise. And in a strange way, he kind of raised me. However much losing him hurts, having him in my life was worth every tear … every drop of agony.

Love and grief are identical in at least one respect. I remember when I first had a child, I would tell my still-single male friends how amazing it was … the love that I felt. I would sit on the edge of my seat and passionately try to describe fatherhood … the love that I felt, how my heart had multiplied and soul enlarged. My friends would step back and give me a strange look from the corner of their eye and say something like, “Okay, now you’re being weird.” Suddenly I remembered my life before children and thinking the same thing. 

I came to realize that it is impossible understand the depth of parental love until you become a parent. I cannot transfer, describe or in any way, share that kind of love; it is knowledge that comes only from experience. In like manner, one cannot know the hellish depths of parental grief until one has lost a child. There exist no arrangement of words or song that can cause someone to understand. It, too, must be experienced. That is how love and grief are identical. Both are spiritually seismic events that change the landscape of our souls forever. 

Both must be experienced: love and grief. Then and only then do we begin to understand the true value of peace. Each in order and in their special way: love first binds us, grief then grinds us, and peace eventually makes right and refines us. They must be experienced. There is no other way.