“Dad, will you open the blinds so I can look out the window?” Mitch said softly as he sat up on his bed.
Reverently, I lifted the blinds so Mitch could look out the window unobstructed. I was quiet about it, too, for this was a sacred time when death was near, and the veil was thin. It was a cold, wintery day and snow covered everything. The light of late afternoon had become soft and warm as if to compensate for winter’s chill.
Mitch looked out the window in silence. At that moment, his countenance changed from that of a young boy to one of an old soul emerging. I asked him what he was thinking, and he shook his head as if to say, “Not now, Dad.” Mitch then said, “I’ll tell you later.”
He knew he was going to die, but he didn’t know he only had a few days left. None of us did.
I watched my son in silence – respecting his need for space. I searched for words, but there was none. I wanted to hold him tight, help him feel safe, and tell him all would be okay. But things weren’t safe, and he wasn’t going to be okay. The end was coming; man and medicine were powerless to stop it.
I said a prayer in my heart, “Oh, Father, please … I’ll pay any price. Can I take his place?” I guess that was my way of bargaining – and I did it a million times a day. With all my prayers, I knew that none of us could escape death – nor can we escape hardship. I understood that it rains on the just and the unjust and we must learn to bear our burdens patiently. I understood the wisdom of an old Jewish proverb, “Don’t pray for lighter burdens, pray for a stronger back.” Although I always prayed for a way out - I also said, “But if not, please help us carry this burden.”
Little Mitch never told me what he was thinking that day.
This sweet boy lived out his remaining days as gently as he came into the world. As death was gnawing and gashing at our door, Mitch surrendered his soul to God with the faith of a child and the heart of an angel. He was a giant among men, and I was then, and remain today, deep in his shadow; for I am less than a shadow of a man.
In my darkest moments, I searched for words and found none; until I learned to quiet my mind and heart so I could see all that God had done. It was then and only then I found gratitude in the midst of grief
One day, when I go to that place beyond the hills, I will thank my Father for loaning Mitch to me. My son, my brother, my teacher – a gift burdened by adversity who taught me how to see.