THE THINGS WE CLING TO
Natalie helped tiny Mitch waddle to the edge of a puddle that hugged a gravel road. Mitch, like all young children, was entranced by water and wanted to splash in it, maybe throw a pebble or two and watch the ripples dance across the surface. Though he looked healthy, his legs and body were already weakened by the relentless muscle wasting of DMD and this sweet boy needed his mommy to keep him from falling over. With a tender love and patience, only a mother can know, Natalie held his tiny hand as he reached down to feel the cold water on his fingertips.
As I watched my sweet wife and tiny son, I remembered something Euripides once observed, “Oh, what a power is motherhood, possessing a potent spell. All women alike fight fiercely for a child.” Oh, how my dear wife fought fiercely for our child. She rose like a lion with wings of fire, her eyes broken, yet determined. So many times I felt dwarfed by two giants: Mitch and Natalie. I still stand deep in their shadow and will honor them all the days of my life.
It is something of a terrible irony that the very things we are tempted to dismiss in ordinary life and take for granted are the very things we are desperate to hold on to once our loved ones are gone.
I don’t speak only of the stark contrast between life and death; I speak of life and the passage of time. For, I have been startled how the phases of life can slip through our fingers unaware. I think back when Wyatt was a very young boy and how sophisticated he was in word and thought. I recorded a few of our late night conversations, which are priceless and comical – but I wish I would have recorded more. At the time, his cute voice and tender thoughts were familiar to me, even ordinary. It is so easy to think things will always be the way they are, but everything changes. Everything. Even now, my dear daughter, Laura-Ashley is going to graduate from high school a year early and go to college later this fall. It seems like yesterday she was my little girl with a plastic clip in her hair and a sippy cup under her arm, who wove fantastical stories with me in the vast expanse of our imagination. It feels like just yesterday. Time waits for no one.
So when I think back on this cool summer afternoon in the heart of Wyoming, my heart swells with gratitude because tiny Mitch was blessed with a mother who knew the value of a moment and never let a chance to experience life slip by. Natalie taught me to cling to moments, not digital distractions or things, so I look back on my life my heart will always sing.
I recognize that much of this blog is focused on Mitch and my reflections on life because him. I think clinging to memories is what so many on the other side of grief don’t understand; some wonder why we want to talk about our lost ones, not realizing what we had is all we have left. We don’t get to make new memories … all we have is what we’ve done. Sometimes we talk because we’re afraid of forgetting. Other times we just need to cry. Still, other times we’re trying to make sense of a nightmare known only to those who walk in such darkness. We cling to our memories, both good and bad, because in the end, that’s all we have.
When I cling to this gentle memory of Natalie and my tiny son, it reminds me to put my phone down and splash while I can – because everything changes. Everything goes away, eventually.