About a year after Mitch passed, Wyatt asked to visit the cemetery, so he could reflect on life and remember his older brother. Young Wyatt began to notice his memories were fading and said in a tearful tone, “I’m afraid of forgetting my brother.” Wyatt and I sat on the west side of Mitchell’s headstone as the sun began to set. I just listened to Wyatt share what was on his young mind and little heart and how much he wanted to be a good boy and follow the example of his brother.
On Mitchell’s headstone, I could see Wyatt’s reflection inside his shadow and took this photo of what I saw. I couldn’t help but think how quickly memories can fade if we’re not careful to record them. I also began to think how quickly we can forget some of life's most important lessons. I hope always to remember the people and the lessons – so that I might grow from the love I felt and the things I’ve experienced. That’s why I do the work of remembering (writing about) little Mitch and our journey with him.
I recently read an article about grief where the author said the greatest fear of a parent who lost a child was having their child forgotten by others. While that may be true for some, that’s not how I feel.
It wasn’t many years ago I was working on a documentary and stumbled into an old funeral program from the early 19th century. Printed on the cover was an almost daguerreotype image of someone reminiscent of the pioneer era. Written boldly on the cover of the program were the words, “Gone but not forgotten.” I immediately thought to myself, “If only that were true.” There, in my hands, I may have been holding the only visual breadcrumb of that man’s existence … evidence he walked the earth and had an impact in his sphere of influence. It was clear he would be missed by those who knew and loved him, yet generations had since passed, and that lone memorial somehow found its way into my hands. As far as I could tell, the memory of that good man was all but a vapor. His memory scattered like dust by the winds of time.
As I’ve reflected the harsh reality, I began to examine why I write of little Mitch. I determined that I don’t write to fixate on the past but to learn from it and change how I step into the future. I don’t write to keep his memory alive in others – instead, to keep his memory alive in me. I write so I can make sense of suffering and remember the lessons I’ve learned through heartache and a veil of tears. I write so I might look heavenward and learn what I must – for all too soon, my time will be up, and I will fall into that deep sleep from which there is no return. One day, I will be like billions before me --- gone and soon forgotten. That’s fine by me; for, to be remembered is not the substance of life – but paving the way for others is.
I suppose that’s why I share my journals – so perhaps a flickering candle of faith might light the path for someone else walking a dark road. When people write me private messages after having read an entry and share how they went their knees and asked their Father if He lives, and how they received an answer, I weep tears of gratitude. When a mother or father shares how they’ve become more loving or in the moment with their child, my heart is made glad. Those are the reasons I share stories of Mitch – not that people will remember my son, but that individual lives might see something anew and make a change for the better.
This work of remembering (Mitchell’s Journey) is about the examined life and making a change for the better. For it isn't enough to remember the people and events in our lives ... but instead to find meaning. And if all these stories amount to helping a single soul, even if it’s just one; my heart will be full, and an important work will be done.