March 2, 2013. ~1:30 AM
Night had fallen. So had our hope for one more day.
My weary, tattered son lay in his bed unable to move and barely breathing. Within the last 12 hours his heart had greatly enlarged which caused his chest to protrude; he looked deformed and it was disturbing to see. The candle of life was dim and flickering by the winds of change. I could feel the coldness of death lapping at my feet. Even though night had long since fallen, more than the sky was dark.
I had dozed off on the floor of Mitchell's room, next to my wife. Fatigue had taken hold of me ... I was so very tired. As I was beginning to drift into a deep sleep I awoke with a distinct impression to tuck my son in - something he asked me to do every night. "Hey Mitch ..." I said in a soft whisper, "I'm tucking you in, just as you like it. I love you son, so very much. Don't be afraid; remember what we taught you. Everything is going to be okay."
I'm told that hearing is the last thing to go for those who are dying. For reasons I have earlier posted I know my son heard me. Those were the last words Mitch heard in mortality. Within 30 minutes of that gentle whisper and kiss on his face, my precious little boy passed away. I hope he wasn't scared. I hope.
We've also been told that children who are about to pass away often wait for their parents to leave the room or they linger for permission to go because they don't want to hurt or disappoint. Knowing this, I wanted my weary son who so fought valiantly to live; this little boy of ours … who always wanted to make us happy … I wanted him to know that we loved him and that all would be well. No sooner had I drifted back to sleep Natalie had got up from the floor to administer Mitchell's medicine, which he was now receiving every two hours.
I'll never forget the sound of Natalie's voice. Her words pierced the silence of the room like a samurai sword through paper: .... "Chris." Suddenly, with the thunder of 1 million exploding suns, I awoke that instant only to see a mother's face that looked confused, scared and deeply bereft. I got up from the floor by Mitchell's bed and placed my hand on his chest. Nothing. Our precious son, our broken baby, was gone.
We could scarcely believe our eyes. Lying on Mitchell's bed was the form of a little boy we raised since birth and loved with all of our hearts. His body was still warm, and it seemed as if we could just shake him a little as if to wake him from a deep sleep and that all would be well. But Mitch had fallen into a sleep from whence there is no return.
As each hour passed we could feel his arms and legs get colder. Soon, only the center of his chest was warm, and it was cooling quickly. Then his body started to change. At about 3:45 AM I called the funeral home to pick him up and they were at our home within an hour. I asked them to hurry because I wasn't sure I could watch my son's body continue down the path it was heading.
Processing the death of your child is something of a bi-polar experience taken to the greatest extremes. One moment you feel peace then suddenly you confront feelings of horror – the likes of which you've never known.
With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness … a darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.
Yet, I've discovered something in all this darkness. Once I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies present themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened, and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.
To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black, and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see.
I can see.
NOTE: This essay is part of a 10 part series exploring some of the tender mercies we've discovered along Mitchell's Journey. My hope is that as you read these stories of little Mitch, you might discover points of light in your own life journey. What's more, I hope the discovery of your own points of light might bring you an increase of faith, gratitude, and courage to face your own dark times. While I've shared this story before, I wanted to share it again because this was the night I lost Mitch and the night my eyes began to open.