THE LAST BUTTON
There are some moments in life that burn an image into your mind with permanent marker – and some experiences so hard to bear, they change the shape of your soul. This was one such moment that broke me and reshaped me in ways I'm still learning to understand.
My dear wife was dressing Mitch at the funeral home. Our mothers were with us as well as our oldest sisters; each of whom played a precious and sacred role in Mitchell’s life and we wanted them to participate. Also, we were afraid of doing this alone.
Our once-little baby had grown into a beautiful, funny, thoughtful, and caring young boy; yet there he was laying quietly on a table – motionless and frighteningly cold to the touch. My sweet wife, along with these other good women, reverently dressed Mitch in preparation for his funeral - where we would honor the good little boy that he was. Natalie was doing okay until she got to the last button – then grief washed over her like tidal wave, thrashing her about on the inside. This was the last button she would ever fasten for our son – and that broke her heart. It broke mine, too.
I was a wreck that day. In fact, I was a wreck on the inside for many months afterward. Years, in fact. I think I've just begun putting my pieces back together again. Even still, I carry a father’s grief and it is a terrible burden. Yet as much as I hurt on the inside, I know my wife hurts in ways I cannot imagine - for I am a simple man. On the other hand, she carried him, gave birth to him and made sacrifices in ways only a mother can - and with that pain and sacrifice comes a love unique to that service and surrender. So, I consider her grief hallowed ground. I silence my own tears so that I might wipe hers and scoop up her shattered pieces. And when I can, I try to gather mine.
All too often I hear people suggest “there is nothing like a mother's love” – in a manner that seems to subordinate or dismiss the love of a father. In like manner, I hear less often the same of a father’s love as being more than anything else. It's almost as if they claim one love is greater than the other. Nothing could be further, yet at the same time closer, to the truth. They are correct in saying there is nothing like a mother’s love; in the same way there is nothing like a father's love. Both are different, both are beautiful and sacred in their own right. But to suggest one is greater or weightier than another ignores one immutable truth ... they are both parents and hurt deeply for the one they loved and lost. Maddeningly, some people are so focused on comparing grief they forget to simply honor it.
So when I look at this photo, I set aside my own sorrows and I reverence my wife’s. Her sorrow is as unique to her as her relationship was with Mitch. It was beautiful, vast and deep.
The last button. It seems in life the hardest thing is always the last thing: the last lap around the track – when your legs are about to collapse; the last conversation you will ever have with a loved one before they die; or simply looking back on a squandered moment realizing, in retrospect, that was our last and wishing we were different.
Neal A. Maxwell, a man I greatly admire, once wrote, “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” I love that statement because it reminds me of the importance of putting our blessings to good use - otherwise we are throwing our gifts away.
Mitch ranks among the sweetest of the many blessings I have received in this life. I vow every day, when I button my own shirt as I ready for work, to remember the blessing Mitch was in my life. And most importantly, to make that blessing count … to allow this experience to become an agent of change for the better. This image, burned in my mind and heart, reminds me to make Mitchell’s last button count – if not for anyone else, then for myself.