A MEASURE OF WEALTH

True to the Make-A-Wish tradition, Mitch had just thrown his coin into the wishing pond. I don’t know what he wished, but whatever it was, I hope he got it. 

Everything seemed surreal back then. Mitch appeared so normal at the time and the effects of DMD were all but invisible to the untrained eye. We almost felt guilty going on a Make-a-Wish trip because he wasn't profoundly sick. But we saw the storm clouds on the horizon, we knew what was coming and decided to make the most of what strength he had. The decision to go then was a blessing we wouldn't appreciate until it would have been too late.

After little Mitch threw his coin in the water I sat on the edge of the pond then grabbed my son and gave him a big hug and kiss. Wyatt wanted in on the love and I hugged and kissed him, too. Not a day passes that I don’t show and tell my kids how much I love them. Not a single day.

Mitch was a little overwhelmed by all that was happening. As far as he was concerned, he was pretty-much normal and he wondered why everyone was making such a fuss about him. But Mitch didn't know what the doctors knew – that the path that lay at my son’s feet would soon become treacherous and one day his path would end. 

When I was younger and envisioned my future, my heart wasn't set on having a big home or fancy cars; I just wanted children to call my own. I wanted to be a father. I have had many professional titles in my life and none of them mean as much to me as father. I would sooner hear the word “Dad” from my children’s voices than any title or accolade the world could offer. I would give up everything I have if that meant I could be a father for one more day. 

There is a saying that goes: “the real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” When I look at my wife and children I feel like I’m the wealthiest man on earth. And if love is a measure of real wealth, than I am rich indeed – and I will spend the rest of my life sharing it in word and deed.

ONE THING FOR SURE

A few months ago a friend and colleague of mine shared an interview question he heard several years ago. The question goes: “What’s one thing you know for sure?” 

On the surface it might sound like a simple contemplation hardly worthy of a moment’s thought. But I have found it fascinating how deeply that question affects people: “What’s one thing you know … for sure?” Every time I've asked someone that question postures become upright, eyes search the air as if to find words and meaning. Suddenly things get real. No matter the person’s background, conversation gets deep and meaningful and thoughts invariably point to man’s search for meaning. 

I remember the day of this photo so well. We took our kids to explore some unfamiliar park across the valley. We have a family tradition each summer called “Park Hopping” wherein we pack a meal and explore a park we've never visited. Knowing how easy it is to get entrenched by the routines of life we made a habit of stepping out of our comfort zones and enjoying the thrill of discovery. 

On one occasion, when Wyatt was about 4 years old, we found a park we had never before seen and got settled on the grass. As I was playing with and taking photos of my kids I noticed Wyatt with his tiny hands reach into his little backpack and pull out a can of Febreze. He then started squirting a blanket we had just laid on the grass. He wanted to help out and thought Mitch might like the smell. With each squirt the wind would blow its mist in his face to which little Wyatt would quickly try and dodge. We all chuckled as this little boy who was trying to be helpful and domesticated. 

I thought to myself how lucky I was to have children of my own. And as much as I love them, they are not mine… they are on loan.

A few years later, on the day of this photo, Mitch was especially affectionate toward his mother and wrapped his arms around her and leaned his head into hers. This was the day I took one of my favorite photo series of Mitch and his mom – which series now hangs in my home on a very special wall. As I browsed my photos that night I stumbled into these images and didn't appreciate until that moment the portraits of love I was lucky to capture. With tears in my eyes I then wrote in my journal “It’s quite possible that it’s altogether impossible to love your child too much.” If I felt strongly about that then, I feel even stronger about it today.

What’s one thing I know for sure? I know that I love my family – and they are more valuable to me than all the treasures of earth. 

Just today I knelt by my son’s empty bed and thanked my Father for the gift of my son. I wept tears of sincere gratitude. I asked that He would let my son, who I know is also His son, know how much he means to me and that I miss him. What’s one thing I know for sure? I also know that God lives. I have seen His hand in too many things. There is no longer room for doubt; not because of what I've seen, but because of what I've felt. I know. 

Although there’s a tempest of sorrow that storms in my heart, one day it will calm. And when it does I will look across the glassy waters of grief - from a place of understanding and heavenly peace.

I don’t know much about a lot of things - but there are a few things I know … and I know them for sure.

 

HAPPINESS

Over the last few years my business partner (who has since become one of my best friends) and I would occasionally take our kids camping. Each location was radically different from one another – which made every excursion an uncharted adventure. From winter camping high in the mountains to settling deep in a canyon, our kids have experienced various types and places. 

On one occasion I remember taking our kids to the west desert. The ground was barren and dry, almost post-apocalyptic. Aside from a highway far in the distance, almost completely out of view, there was nothing but the desert. Night was fast approaching as we started a campfire and noticed thunderstorms far in the horizon that almost completely surrounded us. The contrast in light and color was mesmerizing - with the clear sky above and the deep, shadow-filled blues in the distance. As the sun set Mitch and I sat in a chair and watched towering mountains of cloud explode with light. It was magical. I have photos of that trip and will post them some day.

On another occasion [as seen in this photo] we took our kids high into the Uinta mountain range. Clay (my friend) was also a scout leader and helped our boys fulfill some requirements for a merit badge. The trip was a triple-win.

There wasn't a cloud in sight and because we were far from city lights we could see far into the heavens at night. I loved camping with my little boys because it was just one more occasion to cuddle with all of them. Each time we went camping Mitch and I would whisper to each other as we gazed through the tent into the stars – and this trip was no exception. 

The next morning we cleaned up camp and packed our cars when Clay suggested we play a game. The objective of this game was to line the kids up and have one child whose back was turned to everyone. While his/her back is turned the kids run toward the person (in this photo Mitch is the one whose back is turned). If he/she turns and sees someone moving, that person goes back to where they started. It’s terribly fun. 

Each child took a turn and it was so rewarding to see them laugh and have fun together. When it was Mitchell’s turn I remember seeing this shy, quiet boy smile. I will never forget the look on his face. He belonged … and he loved it. This experience, this look on my son’s face has never been far from my mind and it has brought me so much happiness.

Belonging, when he felt so apart from everything, meant so much to my son. And because it meant so much to him, it meant just as much to me. To see Mitchie visibly happy, to feel like he belonged … my heart leapt for joy this day. And it leaps again today.

As a very young boy I remember hearing my parents tell me they were happiest when they saw me well and happy … when they saw me learn and grow. I often scratched my head in confusion – sometimes I wondered if they were on drugs. But I have come to learn my parents weren't crazy and the only drug they knew was love. 

Being a father has taught me where my greatest joys are found … and they aren't found on the internet or in a store or a flashy box or sitting in a showroom for all to see. Real joy comes from those invisible moments [like this moment captured on camera] and those investments in time and attention with my family. Short of my relationship with God, I have known no greater joy. While my heart cries out with sorrow, it also shouts with happiness.

When I consider myself, a deeply flawed, imperfect father who stumbles again and again … yet I can find so much joy in the happiness in my children … how much more might our Father, who is perfect in every way, find joy in us, His children? Could it be that His happiness, too, is in seeing his Children well and growing? Indeed. 

Suddenly, the great plan of happiness becomes a little clearer and a lot more personal.

SOMETHING TO REMEMBER - (Part 2)

Excerpt from my March 7, 2013 post “Fingerprints on the Wall”:

“There is a poem I have long admired that reads: “It will be gone before you know it. The fingerprints on the wall appear higher and higher. Then suddenly they disappear.” 

While Mitchell’s fingerprints on the walls of our home may disappear, he has left an indelible fingerprint on the walls of my soul. In life, he taught me how to love deeply, how to laugh loudly, and how to play freely. In death, he taught me how precious and fleeting time really is. He helped me understand with great clarity time is finite and perishable. 

It is safe to say we are prepared for [the funeral] … except saying our final goodbye ... goodbye to the fingerprints on the wall. 

But alas, his fingerprints, the ones that matter ... remain.

THE VOLUME OF THINGS

During his final days Mitch became exceedingly weak. At night he would lie in his bed and watch his favorite shows, struggling to operate the apple remote. When it was time to go to bed he would ask me in a soft, almost breathless voice to keep the television on so his mind would not think of heavy things. As he drifted to sleep under the dim blue light of the TV, I would lay on the floor across the room watching his chest beat so hard it looked like a grown man was inside his body trying to punch his way out. My sweet son, who was tender beyond measure …. who only wanted to love and be loved, was being taken down by a mortal enemy that knew no mercy. 

Sleep became a burden. Phone conversations a chore. Thoughtful visitors who knocked on our door to offer love and support became agonizing interruptions. Time was all we had left – and it was running out in a hurry. Each minute that passed was an opportunity never to be recovered. Time was coming to an end for my son … I felt it in my bones. 

There were nights I wanted to wake Mitch from his sleep and spend time with him – as though he were about to embark on a long, dangerous journey from which I might never see him again. Indeed, he was embarking on the most dangerous of journeys … a journey that ends in certain death. I wanted to talk to him, hear his voice and feel his hugs and tell him again how much he was loved. But I could not bring myself to wake my son, for that would have been selfish .... he desperately needed rest and I, too, was in need of the same. 

During this time my sweet wife would come to his room every two hours to administer medicine that would give our son the best shot at more time. She was exhausted beyond all description; sleep was a luxury, for there was a labor of love to be performed. I marveled at my wife as she served our son with grace, dignity and more love than I had ever seen. I remember finding her sobbing in our closet on multiple occasions with a mountain of tissues piled to what seemed the ceiling. Behind the mask of my wife’s beautiful and contagious smile was a heart that was broken and slipping into the dark abyss of pain and sorrow. Yet for our son, she hid her pain behind a smile so as not to frighten our boy.

Anguish became our tutor; and a faithful tutor she is.

Everything in the world seems easier now. Make no mistake, the pain of this loss is as tender as the day we lost him, perhaps even more so. But everything else seems less heavy.

Among the many lessons I have learned from my son, I have come to know that the loss of a child is like watching a horror show that knows no equal. And while you can’t change the channel, you can control the volume.

Since the loss of my son the volume of the world has been turned down significantly. Things that might have caused stress or an emotional reaction are almost muted to silence. A chaotic and fractured world that screams with all its sound and fury to capture my attention has now become static interference far in the distance. 

Clarity has come. And it is that clarity I shall keep.