This was the night before Mitch slipped into end-stage heart failure. His heart was already failing, we just didn't know it at the time. But this was our last night of normal.
Young Mitch was so tender. So frail.
“Hey Mitchie, it’s time to go to bed,” Natalie said softly. “Mom, will you help me off the floor? I don’t know what’s happening, but I can’t do it by myself anymore,” Mitch said with an even softer tone. Natalie reached down and scooped up our son with love and tenderness. She knew Mitch wanted to be independent, so she helped him to his feet, then he slowly walked to the bottom of the stairs. Then, he turned to his mother again as she lifted him once more and ascended the stairs.
I overheard Mitch say, “I love you, Mom,” as she carried him up the stairs. My heart swelled for a moment, then I sensed something terrible was about to happen, and my heart fell to the floor and I scrambled to catch my breath.
Soon little Mitch would drift off into that place of dreams. Each night, I knelt at my son’s bed and prayed to my Father that Mitchell’s dreams would be sweet. I prayed for his health and well-being. I prayed that I could somehow take that bitter cup and suffer for him – so I might spare my little boy such hardship.
It was something of a bitter irony that at the moment of this photo we prayed for Mitchell’s health, then a week later we found ourselves frantically praying for more time. Soon our prayers changed again, and as death drew near, we prayed for a gentle, yet quick death. We desperately didn’t want Mitch to suffer - and we knew so much could go so wrong. We were terrified … and we soaked our pillows with tears.
The night Mitch passed away, Natalie wept over our son’s body for hours. She has since shared with me on several occasions the tender and sacred impressions she received that night. Though Natalie was in deep agony, she also felt moments of Mitchell’s tender presence. She wasn’t looking for it – instead, those impressions came distinctly and unexpectedly. During those sacred moments, she felt Mitchell’s soul was allowed to linger and that her soul was touched by little Mitch who was about to travel to that place beyond the hills, that place we cannot see. It was almost as if he said, “I’m okay mommy.” Natalie was overwhelmed with an impression (different than a feeling) that Mitch had a particular purpose on this earth, and though painful to carry the weight of sorrow, she suddenly felt profoundly honored to be Mitchell’s mother. When she shared that with me, I nearly fell to my knees and wept. In that moment, I was reminded of the sacred relationship mothers have with their children – and that I was merely a small part, perhaps even a spectator, of a much greater plan.
The work of motherhood, I’ve observed, is quite different than that of a father. I’m not talking about sharing household duties, shuttling kids from one place to the next, or helping them with homework; I’m talking about the sacred and spiritual bond a mother has with her child. It is a relationship unmatched in all the universe – and I stand in reverence of it.
I think Kate Bush said it best in her song, “This Woman’s Work”:
I stand outside this woman's work
This woman's world
Ooh, it's hard on the man
Now his part is over
Now starts the craft of the Father
I believe one day when this life is over our eyes will be truly opened and we will see mothers in all their majesty and greatness. Men will have been a small player on a much grander stage. We will discover the greatest work that will ever be done in this life is raising children – and none compare to influence of mothers. Therein we see the craft of our Father.
When I think back on this tender evening, the night before we learned time was running out, I see a mother’s burden, and I also see her greatest blessing.