Evening was drawing near when Mitch asked if our family could go on a ride around the neighborhood. His muscles were getting weaker by the day, and walking distances of any length were more than he could bare. As the world was getting bigger for healthy kids, Mitchell’s world was getting smaller, his options more limited. But Mitch smiled anyway and was glad to be alive.
Whenever possible, Mitch wanted to go outside to feel the wind on his face and experience any part of life. Sometimes I wonder if my grief is magnified because I know how much my son appreciated being alive – and my heart is pained that his life was taken away. But those are the thoughts of a mere mortal, and I know that there is more to life and death than we imagine. Even still, death hurts me so.
So, on this peaceful evening, Ethan took point on his bicycle, ensuring the path was clear for his brother while Mitch tugged his sister on skates. Mitch enjoyed giving others rides because it allowed him to do something nobody else could. What made him different also made him special.
Like Mitch, I loved the atmosphere of sunsets and always paused to appreciate the beauty of natural light. Just as I was admiring the sky, Mitch looked up at me and said, “Dad, isn’t it beautiful tonight?” I smiled and said, “Yes, Mitch, it is beautiful. Just like you.” I leaned down and kissed his head only to catch the faint scent of shampoo; a hint bedtime was near. I thought to myself, “How I love having children.”
When I think back on my most treasured memories as a father, they’re found in the most ordinary moments – those times and occasions that seem to hide in plain sight. They’re the things I am tempted to overlook and take for granted. I don’t know that I’ve ever confused shallow things for significance – but I have sometimes overlooked the simple things, not recognizing how significant they truly were.
I have written in the past that grief is my teacher – but what does that mean, exactly? One example, at least for me, is grief has taught me the very things I long to do with those who are gone are the things I should seek after with those who are now living.
I don’t grieve that I can’t take Mitch to a theme park, I grieve that I can’t sit on the couch and read books to him. I don’t long to go on vacation with my son, I long to tuck him in and listen to him talk about his day and share his hopes and dreams. I don’t miss taking him to a fancy restaurant; I just want little Mitch to sit by me at the dinner table again and hold my hand like he used to. If it’s the ordinary stuff I long for, then it is the ordinary stuff I should seek after and cultivate.
Looking back, I can see how easily one can get swept up in grief and sorrow – so much so, it becomes a paralytic. Yet, my grief doesn’t paralyze me; it mobilizes me. You see, the irony of death is it has taught me how to live. My pain, for example, has led me to my life purpose. I don’t know that I would have found it otherwise. I suppose I can thank my Father for that. It seems to me that pain in life is inevitable, finding purpose is a choice.
If my son’s journey has taught me anything, it’s taught me slow down and find significance in simple things.