I took this photo of Mitchell's brothers and sister last January. Standing in the frigid snow, I was startled to see 3 of my 4 children suddenly grown up. It seemed like yesterday a much younger version of these kids were gathered around Mitch loving and supporting him when he was home on hospice. Sometimes I forget how fast time passes. On the one hand, it feels like Mitch was with me just yesterday ... but then again, it also feels like a lifetime ago.
Later that night, I looked at this photo and recognized all three of my children have endured profound and private grief over the loss of their little brother. I don't write of their struggles because I respect their privacy. But they struggle in their own, tender, and very real ways. Because of this, I have spent many nights on my knees praying for their well-being and that heaven will help them weather the storms of life; today, and with whatever storms the future might hold.
Teenage years are hard enough - and having to deal with such a personal loss at such a young age only makes the storm of growing up even more difficult. Through it all, I can see my kids maturing in certain ways faster than I would have wanted.
Ethan (center) was Mitchell's closest friend and brother. Today he plays a vital role – a kind of sibling glue that keeps our kids together. He didn't ask for that responsibility, but he fulfills that role well as he's learning to honor the memory of his fallen brother and do his best to make good life choices.
Like all parents, I am constantly worried about their wellbeing. I’m also learning that the work of parenting will never really be done, it just changes as our children grow older. My heart thrills over their growth and it takes compassion when they hurt – and sometimes the protective father in me becomes a roaring bear. I stay up at night waiting for them to return home safely. I worry about the choices they make and the friends they associate with. I often remind my kids they’ll become the average of the 5 people they hang out with the most - so I encourage them to choose wisely.
Becoming a father has taught me more about the struggle of love than all the books I’ve ever read, more than all the songs that have danced inside my head. I wouldn’t trade any part of my life, not even grief for glee – for all of it has blessed my life and shaped my soul. All of it has made me, me.