The night Mitch passed away a caring friend, knowing death was near, offered to have our youngest son stay the night at their home. Our family was about to suffer one of life’s greatest blows – and they wanted to help.
That next morning little Wyatt returned home and entered our front door, unaware his older brother had just passed away. “Wyatt, sweetheart, will you meet Dad and I in our room? We want to talk to you about something”, Natalie said softly. Wyatt dropped his pillow and blanket to the floor and said, “Sure thing, Mom.”
As young Wyatt entered the room, we sat on the floor at the foot of our bed. “Wyatt, I’m so sorry ... Mitchie passed away last night,” Natalie said with a cracked and tattered voice. That very moment, Wyatt’s eyes filled with enormous tears and began streaming down his cheeks. “Can I say goodbye?” Wyatt said in a trembling tone. “I’m afraid you can’t, sweetheart, he is already gone. I’m sorry.”
Wyatt buried his head into his mother’s embrace and wept. For the next 30 minutes, I sat breathless as I saw my wife, a tender-hearted mother, grieve deeply over the loss of her son while at the same time trying to comfort her youngest. In a way, coping with the loss of a child while helping our children can feel like we’re trying to save someone from drowning while we're drowning ourselves. That heavenly paradox keeps us afloat: for when we comfort others, we somehow find comfort.
In this tender moment I, too, wept for Mitch, for my wife, for my children. I wept for the whole world. I didn’t want anyone to suffer and would have given my life to save my family (or any family) from such sorrow. Sorrow, it seems, is a mortal’s birthright.
After an extended period of tears, Wyatt lifted his head. Just then, Megan (our pet dog) worked her way between them to kiss Wyatt’s cheek. It was as if she knew how badly he hurt. Wyatt smiled softly as Natalie continued to embrace our son.
For the next year, young Wyatt was afraid to be alone. Though we often talked about life after death and our knowledge that Mitch was in another place, Wyatt’s young mind struggled to come to terms with the finality of death. Often, while playing in our living room, if Natalie stepped into another room or was out of sight, Wyatt would yell out with a worried tone, “Mom?!?” Sometimes his tone was that of a startled and drowning child - he was so afraid to be alone. In time, Wyatt learned that he would be okay and that he needn't worry about his own mortality. Those are difficult lessons for a 7-year-old child to learn.
There are people who ask why God would allow such suffering to happen to an innocent child, as though He were indifferent or uncaring. I have a different view of my Father, and I fall to my knees with gratitude, despite the sorrow my family has experienced. Although Wyatt experienced the trauma and sorrow of losing his brother, he also had profound experiences with prayer during that time … almost as if it were a Heavenly compensation. Wyatt had personal experiences that taught him he is not alone. Through his own suffering, Wyatt gained a deep testimony of prayer. He no longer believes in my words, he knows for himself. As a father, that is the best I can hope for … to teach my children what to do, then get out of the way and let Heaven do its work … so they may know for themselves.
I am not grateful for pain and sorrow; in fact, the mortal in me wishes to avoid it. However, I am grateful for the heavenly lessons we can learn from hardship. For as that old Zen proverb states, “The obstacle is the path,” the very things that challenge have the potential to change us for the better, if we allow it.
My Father knew it. I came to know it. Now my little son knows it. The obstacle was, and always will be, the path.