WHILE YOU SLEPT
When I was a young child I remember being awoken by light emanating from the hallway as my parents opened my bedroom door to check on me. Sometimes they would quickly shut the door, afraid to wake me. Other times they lingered a moment and looked on as if to ponder. As far as I can remember, I always awoke when they checked on me but pretended to be sleeping.
I remember wondering why my parents did such a strange thing. After I became a father I finally started to understand. When my children were infants, my wife and I would gush and fawn over the crib as we saw our tiny baby breathe so softly. “What miracle is this?” I would think to myself, humbled at the beauty of life and family. As they grew from toddler to child, that tradition of looking at our sweet children while they slept evolved; we would often giggle at how they passed out with toys in their hands or books on their faces. I have a photo of Laura-Ashely passed out at the top of our staircase, face smashed against the carpet. I still giggle when I look at that photo.
We loved to look at our children while they slept because they were our creation and in every way that matters, they had become an extension of our heart and soul. As exhausting as parenting can be, I have discovered a certain renewal happens when we know they are safe at home.
After Mitch was diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, I found myself almost nightly kneeling at his bedside as he slept, pleading to my Father for my son’s well-being. My tradition of checking on my children turned into a nightly, tear-drenched ritual of prayer and pleading to my Father … for I knew that I, too, was a child who was loved and hoped that He might hear my trembling words. I pleaded for a miracle, that I might trade places with my son, and that somehow I might suffer for him. If only my son knew how often I poured out my heart and soul heavenward while he slept. If only he knew how oft I watched over him at night and begged that this bitter cup might pass under the canopy of a dim starry light.
In this photo Mitch was home on hospice, unaware his days were numbered. He asked me to tuck him in, so I decided to cuddle with him for a bit. We talked for a while. He told me about a fort he made in Minecraft and he wanted to show it to me, I smiled and told him I couldn’t wait. I told him I loved him 100 times that night and that I was so proud of him. He would smile and say, “I wuv you too, Dad.”
Soon I began to drift to sleep – I wasn’t sleeping much and I was so very tired. At some point Natalie came to check on us and she took this photo with her phone. Little Mitch was still awake, cuddled under my arm. Only this time he was watching me while I slept. I wonder what he was thinking. More importantly, I hope he felt loved. Though he sensed mortal danger was near, I hope he felt a little safer in the clasp of my arms. I hope.
Oh, little child, how I watched you while you slept. So sweet and soft … it was my heart that you kept. Now you live in that place beyond the hills … on the far side of the sea … a place I hope to visit in the quiet of my dreams. And if Heaven will be so kind, my heart will open up and you will read what’s on my mind. You will know that I would have fallen for you, if I had the opportunity … it is true. I fought to save your life, you see. But then I realized it was you who was saving me. I am different now. At least I hope to be. One of Heaven’s strange ironies.