Tonight, Natalie and I went on a walk around a nearby reservoir. During summer months, Mitch loved to visit the sandy beach here and splash in the shallows. Sometimes his older sister or brother would take him to the deep while he sat in the safety of a little raft. Mitch would say, ‘Whoa, it’s deep out here” and then he’d cling tightly to the side of the inflatable boat.

Natalie comes here often to keep a promise she made Mitch when he was home on hospice. I'll never forget how softly he asked her, "Mom, will you be sure to take Marlie out on adventures?" Though he never used the words, "When I'm gone," that was the meaning behind his words. He knew his time was short, yet he loved his puppy and wanted her to enjoy the world.

Natalie, ever the faithful mother in life and in death, has kept that sacred promise to her sweet little boy.

When I think back on the tender mercies along my son’s journey through life, and beyond, this little dog is a bright star among a sometimes-darkened sky. She played such a unique role comforting Mitch in his darkest hours – and I have stories I’ll share in March about that. Some of the photos and stories will be hard to process – but they are necessary because they are true. Often, life’s most profound discoveries are buried deep in our greatest struggles.

To this day, little Marlie provides a great deal of comfort to our family. I adore the special love Marlie seems to have for Natalie – and I know that would make my little boy smile.

When I took this photo of my darling wife tonight, little Mitch and these words crossed my mind, “A promise made, a promise kept.” Though I missed my son, I smiled inside instead of wept.