Mitch was barely home on hospice. The hourglass that counted down our precious days and hours was all but invisible, and we didn’t know if his little heart would give out in 5 days or 5 minutes. So we clung to each moment like a weary traveler might hang to a flask of water in a desert.
During this time, Candice Madsen, a producer with a local news agency (KSL), had been telling our son’s story on the news. She was professional and courteous … and most importantly, she was deeply compassionate. At one point, she sent me a message asking if a former BYU football player, Andrew Rich, might come over to wish Mitch well. During the height of his athletic career Andrew thought football was the most important thing in his life, but then he had a baby and, like me, his world turned upside down and right side up. When he learned of our little boy’s struggle, his heart turned to our son with compassion.
So, on this cold February night, Andrew brought the warmth of humanity into our home. He sat on the edge of our couch, next to Mitch, and shared a few photos of his little baby who also had heart complications as an infant. Then Andrew did what great humans do, he turned attention away from himself and encouraged a person in need. He told little Mitch how strong he was and that he cared. I sat on the couch and fought back a river of tears as I knew Mitch needed every ounce of courage and strength he could get. In truth, so did we.
After a while of conversation, Mitchell’s energy began to fade, and he asked to lay down. Natalie rushed over and scooped our little boy in her arms; his hands seemed so heavy. Just then, Andrew reached out and held Mitchell’s hand and squeezed it – as if to give him a hug. I saw a look of compassion and love in his countenance that warmed my heart.
Mitch was touched by his kindness and wondered why anyone, especially a stranger to him, would even care. He often said things like, “I’m just a kid,” struggling to understand. Later that night I sat on the edge of his bed as Mitch asked me why so many strangers took an interest in him. My eyes filled with tears as I explained that people care because they know how precious children are. Then, I could barely utter the words as Mitchell’s eyes filled with tears, “You, my son, are the very best part of me and I want to be good, just like you.” Mitch reached out his tired arms gesturing for a hug. We both wept, father and son, as we held each other – trying to lift each other’s heavy hands.
Mitch would have another good week ahead of him. He played with friends, spent time with family, and got to do many things he loved. I put my entire world on pause and tried to love this little boy with everything I had. It was a tender and fragile time: both beautiful and heartbreaking.
After that magical week, death came clawing at our door. Another week would pass, and Mitchell’s vitals would deteriorate as we felt death’s coldness breeze seeping into our home. Saying goodbye was terrifying beyond all description and broke every single part of me. Then came grief – a journey that would break my broken pieces.
I have spent the better part of 3 years processing the death of my child. I still grieve deeply, though writing has become my therapy and helped me process the meaning of things. Yet, in moments of deep grief, when my hands (and heart) feel especially heavy, I have learned to turn my attention to others, and I try to lift heavy hands, just like Andrew Rich. I love that heavenly paradox: when we lift others, we too are lifted.
May we spend this year in the service of others, lifting heavy hands; for we are all weary travelers and we are meant to help each other along the way.