Posts tagged Broken Things
HOLDING BROKEN THINGS TOGETHER

I remember this cold winter night when Natalie tucked our sweet boy in.  Mitch loved to be tucked away before he slept and the closer his tender little life came to the edge of the abyss, he seemed to want that comfort more and more.  I believe part of him, sensing time was short, was afraid of the night – for what if he didn’t wake?  Mitch didn’t want to die; in fact, he very much wanted to live.  Though his muscles were getting weaker and he was able to do less and less, he wanted to hang on to whatever life he could.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, he wasn’t a glass half empty/full person … he was just glad there was something in it.  For Mitch, even the smallest drop in his cup was cause for gratitude.  Oh that I could be a shadow of him.

The heavenly paradox, I’ve discovered, is when we help others through their troubles we somehow find ourselves helped. That is how we hold our broken pieces together.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

After talking for a while, Natalie reached over to Mitch and they gave each other a warm embrace.  My heart swelled as I saw these two remarkable souls hold each other as if to say to each other, “I’ll hold your broken pieces.”  Natalie fought valiantly to keep Mitchell’s broken body together while his sweet soul seemed to hold her broken heart and keep it as one. 

There was never a night that little Mitch didn’t get this same hug from his mother.  She was his greatest comfort in life and he loved her so.  Though I tried to be there for my son in every way I knew how, there is simply no equal for a mother’s love.

This photo was taken January 12th, just a few days after we learned his heart was collapsing and that therapies were not working.  He was denied a heart transplant because he had a fatal disease and all we had left was precious time.  We didn’t know how much time – we just knew the end was coming.  Natalie and I cried every night under what felt like an ever blackening sky – for hope had faded like the evening sun.  In the darkness, fear of losing him loomed heavy like a thick fog and we didn’t know where to go or what to do.  We just knelt and prayed for help.

Two weeks later Mitch would be admitted to the ER for end-stage heart failure … and though we already felt broken, we were about to be broken further than we could imagine as we watched our boy slowly die.  Then came grief, which broke our brokenness even more.

My greatest heartache in life was then, and remains today, knowing that we couldn’t save him.  That is a grief of another sort … a grief added to his death.  A grief twice.

Since Mitchell’s passing, Natalie and I have learned how to hold each other’s broken pieces together.  It isn’t always easy, especially when we feel like we’re falling apart ourselves – but we find a way to set aside our sorrows and be there for each other … and that is what makes the difference.  The heavenly paradox, I’ve discovered, is when we help others through their troubles we somehow find ourselves helped.  That is how we hold our broken pieces together.  Mitch was scared, yet he tried to comfort his mom anyway.  In return, he received great spiritual comfort.

I know that Mitch and my Father are holding some of my broken pieces together, pieces unknown to me.  I can sense heaven’s hand in my life – and for that I am grateful.  Though I carry great grief, I also carry gratitude for feelings of peace. 

 

                                                                                 

BITTER PILLS CAN BE BLESSINGS

Immediately after Mitchell’s diagnosis, he was put on a rigid dose of steroids. For reasons not completely understood by doctors, these steroids are known to keep these young boys ambulatory a little longer. The moment DMD children stop walking, they are introduced to a host of new troubles. So, keeping them on their feet as long as possible is important.

I can’t think of a hardship in my life that hasn’t been an agent of change and growth. Those bitter pills I’ve had to swallow in the past have helped me – sometimes immediately, but more often over time.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

For the first few weeks I remember watching my sweet wife break into tears as little Mitch would spit the medicine out, not wanting to take them. “How do I help my child do this important thing?” she asked. It wouldn’t take long for tiny Mitch to accept his new reality and that taking medicine was part of life for him. 

I remember this moment so vividly. It was a warm summer morning and our kids were anxious to play in the back yard. Mitch sat on our kitchen counter and looked at his mommy, wanting only to make her happy. Such is the heart of a child. He swallowed a bitter pill with a smile and then dashed off to some childhood adventure. He didn’t know why he needed to do that unpleasant thing – he trusted his parents that it was helping him.

And that is how things went over the next few years. Little Mitch always trusting and obedient, Natalie ever faithful and true to her baby boy. Never have I witnessed a more beautiful relationship than between these two. Mitch wanted only to make his mommy proud, and Natalie wanted only to keep her child healthy and happy. That is the most beautiful yet agonizing thing about parenthood – the moment we have a child our happiness and fulfillment comes in and through our children. If that is how it works for mortals, I can only imagine how it feels to our Father.

Fast-forward a few short years, in what felt like the blink of an eye, I found myself trembling at the knees as my son was dying. Mitch wanted to live and desperately didn’t want to hurt his mother’s feelings. I remember just as vividly that quiet winter night when he clung to life by a tattered thread. I imagine he, at least in spirit, looked toward his mommy in this same way. Eyes filled with love … wanting only to make her happy. Such a vision in my mind breaks me on the inside.

I remember being awoken by an unseen influence. It was as real to me as anything I have ever known in mortality. I was in a deep sleep on the floor beside his bed – exhausted beyond measure – then suddenly I was wide awake. I had a distinct impression I needed to tuck Mitch in. I rose to my feet, then fell to my knees beside him. With one hand holding his and another on his forehead, I leaned in and whispered to Mitch that I was tucking him in, just as he liked it. I told him to not be afraid. I told him I knew he was tired and in need of rest – that he could go and we would be okay. I told my son how proud his mother and I were of him. I told Mitch that he was all we ever hoped he would be, and so much more.

Thirty minutes later, he was gone. I know he heard me. I know it. 

The death of my son has been the most bitter of pills to swallow. I have never known an agony of the soul such as this. Grief is a daily dose of sorrow that is bitter to the taste. Yet grief need not make us bitter, for I believe it has the power to make us better.

Since the passing of my son I have thought often about the bitter pills, we must swallow in life and the bitter cups from which we must sometimes drink. They are awful in the moment. Sometimes they are terrifying. But they are necessary if we are to grow. I have come to learn that bitter pills can be blessings. I can’t think of a hardship in my life that hasn’t been an agent of change and growth. Those bitter pills I’ve had to swallow in the past have helped me – sometimes immediately, but more often over time. I have discovered that with heaven’s help, the things which seemed to hurt me actually helped me. 

So, when I have moments of grief … when it seems I am choking on that bitter pill … I will follow my son’s example and trust my Father; I will have faith that my struggles are helping me be something I don’t yet have a mind to see.

AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU, I’LL CARRY YOU

There was a point where Mitch was on the razors edge of ability and disability. This was the point in his life he began to witness his physical strength slip through his fingers like sand on a windy day. No matter how much he tried to keep his strength, it simply would not stay.

Because he seemed vaguely normal, it was easy for others to dismiss his physical needs. Mitch often grappled with whether or not he should drive his scooter or try to walk. For a while he asked his mom or myself to carry him so he could go distances, then be set down to walk on his own and not stand out from the crowd. He wanted to feel normal as long as possible. Natalie, his tender mother, spared no inconvenience to help him feel normal and empower him to be all that he could be.

On this day I remember hearing Mitch ask in his soft voice, “Mom, will you carry me?” Natalie whispered, “Oh Mitchie, as long as I have you, I’ll carry you.” I’ll never forget how Mitch smiled as he wrapped his arms around his mom and how she carried him down a sidewalk. Mitchie smiled at me as if to say, “Dad, I’m the lucky one.”

I cannot remember a single time Natalie ever complained about caring for Mitch. That’s what love does, you see: it turns burdens into blessings. Sure there were days of exhaustion and discouragement, even moments of grief and fear. But in the end, caring for our little boy meant we still had him - and having him was worth the weight of everything.

Sometimes when I look at all that weighs heavy on my shoulders I can be tempted to think my burdens are my enemy … after all, they hurt and they’re heavy. But when I quiet my heart and try to look at life through heaven’s lens, I know whatever burdens I encounter are not only tender teachers … they are my friends.

Still, when I examine my life honestly, I wonder why my Father even puts up with me – a soul so rebellious and proud as mine. The child in my heart wonders if I’m more work for Him than is worth it. Then, like a whisper, I feel a nudge back to this moment with my wife and son. I remember how much I love my child, no matter how broken he might have seemed; my love for him is infinite and stretches to eternity. 

If I would carry my son gladly … patiently … might my Father do the same to me? Something tells me we’re all being carried in ways we cannot yet see. 

Perhaps, when all is said and done, we’ll look back on our lives ... hardships and all ... and say, just like little Mitch, “I’m the lucky one.”

THE EXAMINED LIFE

Each year Mitch was invited to go to the mobility lab at Shriners Hospital where technicians would attach sensors to his body and, with the help of sophisticated computers and cameras, model his mobility and muscle decline. I was always there to document the experience. While doctors were capturing his muscle movements, I was there to capture his beautiful, tender soul. Most importantly, I wanted my son to know how much I cared about him. I never wanted him to turn around and see a cold, empty chair where I should have been. I did my best to cheer him on until the very end. Although his body was getting weaker with each visit, I saw his countenance and kindness grow ever stronger. Sometimes the strongest angels have broken wings.

In this photo Mitchell’s Aunt Sonya, a pediatric physical therapist at Shriners, ran with Mitch and turned what might be a scary experience into something fun for him. She was a special tender mercy to our family. She loved little Mitch with all of her heart, and he loved her like a second mother. Sometimes guardian angels blend in with the rest of us.

Mitch smiled as he faithfully completed each task. With each routine doctors had him perform, their computer models of our son began to replay his movements with incredible detail. On their screen was a wireframe of a person walking, jumping, or standing up from the floor exactly as Mitch did moments prior. The same technology to capture body movements for movies and video games was being employed for medical purposes and Mitch thought it was fascinating.

What might have been a trivial set of routines for a healthy child was much more difficult for Mitch and he always left the hospital exhausted. One of the early challenges DMD parents’ face, while their children can still walk, is hearing comments from people who seem dismissive and comment on our child’s large calf muscles. “Look how strong his legs are!” they say with a slap on your back, “You guys are going to be fine” not realizing what looks like muscle is actually scar tissue. The truth is, the stronger (bigger) their legs look, paradoxically, the weaker they are. Thus enters the very real feeling of being misunderstood and further isolated from the world. 

Gathering mobility data from Mitch was not only important for tracking his own health, we felt a responsibility to the DMD community at large, to contribute whatever we could to a much needed body of knowledge. We were just a tiny, invisible family and what little we could offer, we gladly handed over.

As we left the hospital I began to think deeply about our experience that day. I wondered what would happen if we applied as much effort to examine our inner selves as we do our outer selves. It is so much easier to observe and tend to broken bodies, than tend to broken souls. 

So, when I stumbled across this image early this morning, I immediately wept for my son. I saw my little boy who loved his life, and suddenly it was done. I then renewed my promise, to my Father and my son, to live a life examined and to love everyone. 

Yes, there are broken things to mend and I am sure to stumble a million-and-one times … times ten. It won't be easy … in fact, I know it will be hard. And when I reach the finish line, I am sure to have some scars. But all of that will be a small price to pay, including grief and pain, for those are the things worth examining from which we stand to gain.