WHEN THE TIME COMES
Recently, our family went on a short trip to spend time together and heal a little. On the drive home, we saw a spectacular sunset, and I couldn’t help but think of little Mitch and his love of atmosphere and beautiful evening skies. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love and gratitude, peace and grief. I wonder if I’ll ever get used to feeling so many things at once.
As Natalie was driving, I took a photo of my two favorite things … sunsets and my sweet wife. How I love this woman and the goodness that is in her. Whenever I’m with her, I am a better me. A heavenly gift I don’t take lightly.
In this same moment, memories of little Mitch wrapped around me like a blanket, woven with feelings of the softest thread. For a few moments, it felt like I was being smothered in Mitchell’s love. Tears filled my eyes as I allowed those feelings to wash over me – and that, too, was healing. I couldn’t tell if Mitchell’s spirit was nearby or if I was simply reveling in the love I have for my son. Either way, I was grateful for this moment of supernal peace.
After a few minutes, I began to realize night was soon coming, and I wondered if my night terrors would return. I now recognize that I suffered from a form of PTSD and had no practical support to guide me through the process of healing. I just learned to write it out, here on Mitchell’s Journey. Only recently have I not been afraid of the night – those moments between sleep and consciousness; where the rawness of loss would cause me to wake in the middle of the night in a heartbreaking panic, then I’d weep until I could hardly breathe. I am grateful that no such nightmares visited me that night, as they have so many times before. I think, for the most part, that part of my grief journey is over. Even still, those nightmares visit me from time to time – and it is as though I lost my son all over again.
What I’ve discovered on my grief journey is moments of peace will come when I least expect it. Then, in like manner, the terror of loss will take me to my knees. Between those opposites, I also experience everything in between.
At least for me, I’ve discovered something that helps along the journey of grief … and life for that matter. I’ve learned that when the time comes, I’m better off if I allow whatever feelings I experience to take their course. When joy comes, I embrace it fully. I don’t feel guilty for being glad … instead, I’m glad that I’m glad. In many ways, that makes me even more glad. When I’m sad, I don’t brush it away or pretend those feelings don’t exist. The suppression or denial of feelings only serves to canker and become strangely malignant. I suppose the only feeling I don’t entertain is hatred or anger – which, if left unchecked, poison the soul.
Some people who grieve worry that feeling joy, peace or gladness is a betrayal of their love and loss. That somehow stepping into a place that isn’t so painful is to step away from the one we lost and suggest no longer care for them. That is simply not true. We can grieve and grow at the same time or at separate times – and that’s okay. Then there are some well-meaning, yet deeply misinformed people on the other side of grief who say foolish things like, “Be happy! Don’t be sad; your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad.” That is blubbering nonsense. If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: our loved ones understand everything we feel. They’re not disappointed in us when we’re sad – they understand how much we love and miss them. When we’re happy, they don’t feel betrayed – but glad for our own gladness.
This night, as I saw my beautiful wife and the evening sky that brought my heart close to Mitch, I felt a potpourri of feelings and I allowed them, unrestrained, into my heart and soul. It was both painful and beautiful. Mitch taught me that when the time comes, face it … whatever it is. He did that in life and in the face of death. When he realized he was at his life’s end, he faced hard things with dignity and courage. Though I stumble drunkenly in his shadow, I try to follow his quiet example … when the time comes, face it and embrace it.