WHEN THE TIME COMES

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.

If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: our loved ones understand everything we feel.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

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.   

ECLIPSE

Last week, Natalie and I set out to do what millions of people did ... we took our kids, along with a friend, Jonathan Gardner, who we met through #mitchellsjourney to Madras Oregon to witness the total eclipse.

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We rented a van (almost a small bus) and went on a long drive to the coast of Oregon at first, then journeyed inland to an arid town (Madras) in hopes of clear skies and a glimpse of an astronomical wonder.

Along the way, we stopped to take photos of the Oregon landscape.

Our First Adventure, A Waterfall & the Ocean

Preparing for the Eclipse

We camped at SolarFest (local fairgrounds in the town of Madras) but then went to Solar Town (a plot of farm land just outside Madras) to see the actual eclipse.

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Great shot, Jonathan!

Great shot, Jonathan!

Wyatt enjoying a pineapple smoothie

Wyatt enjoying a pineapple smoothie

Another great shot by Jonathan of the campgrounds a the fairgrounds

Another great shot by Jonathan of the campgrounds a the fairgrounds

Solar Town - The Place We Photographed the Eclipse

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As the Eclipse Began

As the sun began to hide behind the moon, I was overwhelmed with a sense of humankind's utter nothingness against the backdrop of an infinite universe. It was a humbling to witness the majesty of two celestial bodies interact. As small as I felt, my feelings about Mitch loomed enormous.

A Moment for Mitch

As the Sky darkened I thought to myself how much Mitch would've loved to see what I saw. I know there are people who will say, "he was there with you" ... but he wasn't ... not in the way I wanted him with me.

So, before I began to take in the eclipse, I dedicated a small prayer in my heart so I might always remember my little boy and re-commit to be nice to others and be grateful for life.

The Eclipse Closing In

Here are a few photos of our experience and what we captured. Admittedly, our photos of the eclipse itself are unremarkable, inasmuch as they look like everyone else's photos. But these were our pictures and we were excited to take them.

The Moment of Totality, a 360° Sunset

At the moment of totality, we were surrounded by a 360° sunset. Mitch, having loved sunsets the way he did, would've been fascinated. I'm putting together a little video of the experience that I'll post shortly.

Unfortunately, this panoramic photo is blurry - but it still serves to show how dark the sky became during the 2+ minutes of totality.


The Sun's Corona


Our Favorite Photo of The Eclipse

The last photo in this series is my favorite. I took a burst of photos as the sun began to break over the edge of the moon and that photo represents one of them. Captured in that series show multiple sun flares. It was amazing to witness.


Hi Marlie!

The morning we returned home, Natalie and I went to our cousin's home whose family was watching Marlie for us.  THis was the look on her face after our being gone for 5 days.  It was as if she were saying, "Dad, is that you?  Where have you been?"  

This little pup who gave Mitch great comfort now serves our family in a similar way.


It was a fun adventure and I am so glad we saw it through. Wyatt and Ethan were anxious to photograph the journey so they could make videos and photo journals of their own. Jonathan (our family friend) and Natalie both took photos like a paparazzi.

I think it's safe to say, if nobody else on this planet shot the eclipse save our family, we'd have had it covered. 

For those who are following our Everyday Photography tutorial, this series can serve as an example of our photojournalistic style.  

USUALLY MORE THAN ONE*

When I close my eyes and think back on this moment, I can still smell that faint, earthy whisper of fallen leaves as my boys wrestled in a freshly gathered pile. The ruffles and crunches, blended with the giggles of my boys still play in my ears as though it just happened. “Hey, Effie, let’s throw leaves in the air again”, Mitch prodded his older brother. “We can pretend we’re in Lord of the Rings or something.” Ethan, not knowing what little Mitch meant, reached down and began to gather leaves in his arms. Mitch, eager to make believe, already had his armful.

I laid on the ground quietly and took photos from the perspective of a field mouse, looking up at my little boys who had a giant imagination. I loved this moment and the moment immediately after this photo was taken when the sky was filled with golden snowflakes made high by little boys who loved to play.

I recently stumbled across this quote: “Isn’t it strange how autumn is beautiful, yet everything is dying?” I love this quote, not just for the arrangement of words, but for the meaning it conveys. I have discovered that beauty can be found in almost anything if we look for it.

To be clear, seeing my son slowly die was not beautiful – in fact, it was a horror show that broke my heart and soul. Yet, when I look back on the tender mercies we received during that time from a loving Father, I know we are we are not alone. I know that heaven walks before us and prepares the way for all that we experience. The truth is, we are rarely spared suffering, but we can be given comfort in times of need … and there is a certain beauty in that.

For every difficult thing I’ve experienced, I’ve learned something about its counterpart. Poverty has taught me the value of a penny; suffering the splendor of peace. Death has taught me to appreciate life; grief has shown me the value of time.

When the skies darken and I'm tempted to give up, I stop and count my blessings ... I name them one-by-one. For every negative, I have discovered a positive – and usually more than one. It is humbling to see all that God has done - not just for me, but my precious little son.

 

IN THE CLASP OF OUR HANDS

This happened almost 4 years ago. It was the first of November as we went to a local park as a family. The day had drawn to a close, and we could tell winter was just around the corner. The grass was cold to the touch … about to go into its deep, yellow sleep for the winter. As the sun set behind the mountains, the evening air had a familiar, wintery chill. We were excited to go home and make hot chocolate and sit by our fireplace to warm up.

Just moments before I took this photo, Mitch breathed deeply through his nose, as if he tried to smell the entire earth at once. He exhaled and said, “Dad, Fall smells so good.” Mitch loved the earthy smell of fallen leaves and was grateful to be alive. I smiled softly and reached down to hold his hand. At the same time, he reached up to hold mine – it was as though we knew what each other needed at that moment.

Though I didn’t exactly know Mitch was about to die, I sensed death was near in the same way I could sense the season about to change. Mitch didn’t exactly know his time was short, but he sensed it, too. This was an unseen tender mercy, for our loving Father softly nudged us to be in the moment because the hour was later than we knew.

Little Mitch had just watched teenagers perform tricks at a skate park. This night was the first time I ever heard him wish for something he didn’t have. He said, “Dad, I wish I could be like regular kids and do the things they do.” Though Mitch wanted to be a healthy boy, he was just grateful to be alive. And I was grateful to be his father.

I am grateful for warm moments like the one you see here. I store them up in my heart for times of trouble; and when sorrow and disappointment come, as they surely will, I am reminded of life’s good things.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

This was one of those moments in life where I deeply appreciated what I had in the clasp of my hands. Not just Mitch, either. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my wife and all of my children. Each of them was so dear to my heart, and my cup was overflowing that night.

Though we would soon sit by a crackling fireplace that night and drink warm things … my soul was already stirred with feelings of love and gratitude. There was no winter that could chill my heart.

I am grateful for warm moments like the one you see here. I store them up in my heart for times of trouble; and when sorrow and disappointment come, as they surely will, I am reminded of life’s good things.

If ever I’ve stumbled in life, I believe it has been because I didn’t fully appreciate what I already had in the clasp of my hands. What we clasp with our hands says a lot about what’s in our heart. If I cling to material things, there is my heart, also. If I hang on to distractions or things that waste time, that has a measure of my heart, too. I wish I could say I clasp on to all the right things … but I am human and I make mistakes. But I've learned to view my mistakes as teachers, not tormentors. When I stumble, I bounce right back, shake it off and keep trying.

For all my mistakes in life, all I know is this night I got it right. There, within the clasp of my hand, was a tender son who needed reassurance. Around me were my wife and other children, each of whom I loved and adored – and though I wasn’t holding their hand at this moment, emotionally they knew I had them in my hand and my heart.

Rose Marie Whiteside wrote, “You will make mistakes, change your mind later on the wisdom of a decision, and hope to find better ways of doing something, but if you outline your values and determine the links to those values, the errors won’t count.”

I love this statement. I believe in it, too. Mistakes matter less if we know we value and try to live true.

GRATITUDE, JOY & LAUGHTER

Mitch never saw his glass half empty, nor did he see it half full. He was just grateful there was something in it.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

It was a hot, muggy and vaguely miserable summer-like afternoon. We were at a family reunion/vacation far from home. The days were long, and there was a lot of travelling and waiting in the heat. Even the shade of trees didn’t offer much comfort from the suffocating humidity. It was easy to feel miserable.

Mitch could tell Ethan was getting worn out by the heat, so he called out to his older brother, “Effie, come over here. I’ll give you a ride.” Ethan smiled with relief and ran to his little brother who wanted only to serve him. With a childlike thump, Ethan plopped his bum on the seat, and Mitch powered up his scooter. Just then, mischievous Mitch turned to his brother and began to blow on his face. “There, are you cool now?” Ethan grimaced, and they both began to laugh and laugh. Mitch never missed an opportunity to laugh or make any heavy situation seem light.

There is a layer to little Mitch I don’t often write about, and that is his sense of humor. As Mitchell’s body grew from toddler to young boy, his mind and soul began to grow in unexpected ways. On more than a thousand-and-one occasions, I was startled by his intelligence, deep insight or brilliant humor. I admired him and often said to myself, “Who are you, really?” I sensed a greatness in him that was just beneath the surface of that otherwise quiet little boy … I sensed an old soul slowly awakening and that he had a very special purpose on this earth. 

As I look at this photo, and many like them, I remember how often Mitch taught me the importance of laughing whenever you can. To this day, some of the funny things he did years ago still make me giggle – and my soul smiles. How I love that little boy. How I miss him.

At the time of this photo, Mitch was becoming noticeably weaker as compared to the rest of his friends. While they ran at top speed, he stumbled and could hardly walk the distance of a basketball court without his legs almost giving out beneath him. While they jumped, he fell to the ground. The world was closing in on little Mitch, and there was no escape from the muscle wasting that was slowly taking his life away from him. 

Life for Mitch was a lot like this hot summer day; it would have been easy to feel miserable. 

What I love about this ordinary image is how it captured his resolve for joy. Mitch never saw his glass half empty, nor did he see it half full. He was just grateful there was something in it. 

Oh, what a difference it makes to treasure what we have instead of measure what we don’t. 

Mitch taught me that when I find gratitude in what I have, joy follows. And where there is joy, there is laughter.

INSTAGRAM

For those on Instagram, I'm going to start posting unique micro stories of Mitch as well as snapshots of today; things Mitch would have loved and how we're carrying on after his loss. instagram.com/mitchells_journey

Little Mitch had an Instagram account as well and I'll soon share some of his unique captures that serve as windows to his little heart and soul. 

Stay tuned, here and there, and I'll share more of that little boy whose broken heart broke my heart... and somehow put it back together again.