Posts tagged Halloween
THE REAL TREAT*

With Halloween tonight, I can’t help but think of Mitchell’s last.  In previous years, I the weight of grief was heavy on my soul – to the point, my lungs felt shallow and my chest heavy. 

 This holiday is different. 

Though I miss little Mitch, I feel a great deal of love and gratitude for all that ever was.  Yes, I wish I had the power to bring him back – but I am a mere mortal and can only bring his memory to my mind and heart.  For now, that will have to do.

I want to re-share something I wrote in 2014 – just a year after having lost him.  Lately, I’ve been re-reading my previous journal entries here and I’ve wondered to myself, “What’s changed?”  I’ll share some of those observations soon. 

Tonight, I’ll share what I posted just a few years ago.  It’s a meditation on where the real treats of life can be found; and it’s found in the giving, not the getting. 

Here is that earlier post:

 

Trick-or-Treating was always difficult for him. Because his muscles were wasting away he couldn't go very far … each year his Halloween adventures became shorter and shorter. Even though he had a motorized scooter, getting up and down, climbing a stair or two to reach a neighborhood door was exhausting for him. He usually couldn’t visit more than 6-7 homes before he could hardly walk and wanted to go home. 

To help him, Mitchell’s brothers or sister would take his trick-or-treat bag to the door while Mitch sat in his scooter on the sidewalk. Generous neighbors would lovingly place candy in his bag as little Mitch smiled in the darkness. He was always grateful.

There was another aspect to Halloween Mitch loved even more than treasuring candy unto himself. Mitch loved giving candy away at the door. To some of his closest friends who approached the door, Mitch would give them his favorite candy from his own bag. 

I took this photo of Mitch on his last Halloween. He wanted to stay home and give out candy instead of trick-or-treating himself. Each time the door would shut he would turn around only to have a big smile on his face. 

 
 
 

Mitch learned early in his life that in giving he received so much more than those who got; a life lesson he never forgot.

Later that winter my mother came to visit for a few days. We were cuddled in the basement watching a movie when Mitch struggled to get up from the couch and waddled in his funny way over to his grandmother and offered her some of his favorite cheese popcorn from Popcornopolis. I don’t think my mother realized at the time (or even to this day) the physical struggle he went through to simply get up and share what he loved. I remember that moment so vividly. It wasn't the popcorn that really mattered to Mitch, it was the giving … and it was his struggle to give that made it all the more precious. To Mitch giving was getting. 

Tonight is a tender evening for me – for I will remember my little boy who loved to give more than get. I will miss seeing that big smile on his little face and most especially his warm embrace.

Not a day passes I don't think of my son’s quiet example: he gave freely when he had so little to give, and now that is how I want to live. I often marvel and wonder, “How could it be? A little boy, mortally broken, who taught me how to see ...” One day, with a weary and broken heart, I will fall to my knees and thank my Father for sending me Mitchie.

 
HAPPY HALLOWEEN

This was Mitchell’s last October. We went to a local farmer’s lot to pick out some pumpkins to carve. Autumn had slipped away and we were deep into fall, each day getting colder and colder. Except this day was unusually summer-like and the evening sun warmed our skin as if from a nearby fireplace.

In honor of my son, I will look for those whose bags are a little empty and try to fill them with love and encouragement. Where I can, I will try to carry those who stumble, though I often stumble myself. For the key to happiness, I’ve discovered, is found in giving, not getting.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Because his leg muscles had wasted away, Mitch had trouble walking around the uneven terrain. He tripped and stumbled a few times and he was much slower than the rest of the children. I couldn’t help but notice the look on my son’s face as he saw other kids race past him. He had a look of gratitude and determination. At one point he just smiled and said to me, “Dad, I’m just glad I can still walk.” 

After a lumbering about the pumpkin patch for a while, we each took turns giving our boy a piggyback, so our little boy’s legs could rest. Though he was getting bigger each year, carrying him was never a burden but in fact a great blessing.

Halloween was just around the corner and I wondered what my boy wanted to do. Each year, trick-or-treating became more and more difficult. In the beginning, he used his electric scooter to go from home to home. As each year passed his muscles became weaker and trying to climb up a neighbor’s stairs to knock on their door was exhausting for him. The year prior to his last Halloween, he just parked on each drive way and Luke or Wyatt would take his basket and trick-or-treat for him. That wasn’t much fun for Mitch because, like so many other children’s activities, he sat on the sidelines and watch the party from afar. No matter his disappointment or wanting to do what other children did, Mitch bore his burden with a tender smile - grateful to be alive.

So, as I carried my son on my back this warm October evening in the Pumpkin patch I asked Mitch what he wanted to be for Halloween. He said, “Dad, I just want to stay home and give candy to other kids.”

“Are you sure Mitchie? I will carry you door-to-door if you want.” I replied. 

He responded with a soft whisper, “No, I want to stay home with you. Plus, I like giving to others more.”

True to his word, Mitch stayed home Halloween night and handed candy out to other children. Each time he shut the door he had a big smile on his face. Giving to others brought more joy to little Mitch than getting ever did. Although his Halloween bag was empty that night, his heart was overflowing. So was mine.

To our surprise, later that night, thoughtful friends knowing he was too weak to trick-or-treat brought him some of their candy. 

Though Halloween was different that year, in every way that matters, it was a happy Halloween.

In honor of my son, I will look for those whose bags are a little empty and try to fill them with love and encouragement. Where I can, I will try to carry those who stumble, though I often stumble myself. For the key to happiness, I’ve discovered, is found in giving, not getting.

MATTERS OF THE HEART

Without realizing it, my sweet wife often put her hand on Mitchell’s chest as if to somehow read, like fingers tumbling over braille, the fatal secrets his body held. We were waiting to learn the news about Mitchell’s heart and expecting to hear all was well and that the therapies put in place earlier that spring were working. 

A few minutes after this photo Mitchell’s mild-mannered cardiologist entered the examination room and invited our daughter to take Mitch on a stroll down the hall so we could have a conversation. He would then tell us he was gravely concerned Mitch was at risk of sudden death because his heart function was dangerously low. We immediately petitioned the medical board for Mitch to qualify for a heart transplant. A few weeks later he would be denied because it was thought his diagnosis of DMD was a contraindication to transplant. 

It was Halloween that night and Mitch was excited to trick-or-treat. He would only visit a few close neighbors before he became too weary to carry on. Mitch was always careful to ration his candy and never ate it in excess. In my estimation, restraint is a hallmark of maturity – and Mitch had a great deal of restraint and self-discipline. In truth, Mitch was most excited to go home and give candy to kids who came to our door – for he much preferred giving than receiving. To me, that was a beautifully quite measure of this young boy’s heart – for he would rather give than receive. 

When I think of my dear wife and son, both with broken hearts – I change a little on the inside. I care less about things of the world and outward appearances and I ponder deeply on matters of the heart. For matters of the heart are also matters of the soul. In the end, those are the only things that matter.

A few months later, as Mitch began to slip into the abyss while at the hospital, then home on hospice; Tyson Breckenridge an old High School friend, collaborated with another old friend, Tyler Streeter, who has become a talented artist. Together they selected a photograph of my son and Tyler began the labor of love by paining my son’s likeness. Our family was so wrapped up in the calamity of our son’s failing heart and then his death we didn't know they were performing such a kind gesture of love and service. Then, one day, a not long after my son had passed I received a package in the mail with a handwritten letter. Tyler wrote, “It is so ironic to me that a young boy with a malfunctioning heart could fill so many other hearts with so much love.” He continued to describe how painting my son was an emotional experience for him and that he cried many times while painting my boy. 

I wept when I read his letter. I even wept today when I read his words again. This gift from these two great men was more than an original painting … it was a gift from the heart and soul. I will forever be indebted to them for their kindness. The original paining, so artfully crafted by Tyler and lovingly orchestrated by Tyson, now hangs in our home on a very special wall, in a very special room. Tyler entitled the painting, “The Gift.” You can see a beautiful time-lapse video of the painting here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxsptlwyk8E

A title aptly given … for if none else, Mitchell was at least a gift to me. As a young child I never considered that a gift might hurt. It never entered my mind that a hardship as heavy as losing my son might break me in places I didn't know existed, yet still be a gift. Who would have thought such strange things? Indeed, heavens ways are not our ways … and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways … His thoughts, than our thoughts.

Heaven’s gifts aren't always easy to see; they hide in plain sight or obscured by our vanity. What’s more, our Father’s gifts aren't always comfortable or easy – sometimes they hurt or bring us to our knees. That’s the gift! That’s what I've learned, you see: sometimes heaven is only as far away as our knees. A gift my son and broken heart would painfully teach me.

THE GOOD FIGHT

At the head of my son’s bed lay his favorite Halo mask and toy gun. 

I purchased that mask when Mitch went to work with me, just before his last Halloween. He loved to have pretend battles with his friends; many of whom would call him “Sir” or “Master Chief” to show their willingness to follow his lead. While Mitch was physically weakest among them, he possessed a strength and influence that transcended muscle and bone. Mitch, unaware, was a quiet but natural leader. 

Even to this day, almost two years since I lost him, he leads me in the battle field of life. Whether I wrestle with enemies of the mind and heart, or take refuge from a sudden onslaught of grief, Mitch has shown me what it means to fight the good fight and to endure suffering with a grateful, loving heart. Though I cannot always control the struggles of life, I can decide how to respond to those struggles. How I respond makes all the difference.

I draw strength and inspiration from my timid little boy who struggled to walk, breathe and eventually live. I'll never forget little Mitch laying in this very spot, saying in shallow breath, “I don't think I can survive.” That quiet utterance broke my heart then and it breaks it again today. 

Little Mitch faced an implacable, fatal enemy; and though DMD took his life, he fought the good fight, and he won. Mitch reminded me the battles that matter most in life have less to do with the body and more to do with the soul. 

He taught me how to look past my troubles and find gratitude with what I have. Mitch taught me whatever I have is enough … and when there isn't enough, to share anyway. Mitch taught me how to bear my burdens with a glad heart and cheerful countenance. He showed me a heavenly paradox … that to lift another’s burden strangely lifts my own. These lessons, and many others, have sunk deep into my bones.

My sweet boy fought the good fight, and though he died, he won. As I face different battles I hope to fight the good fight so that one day, on some distant field, I might see my son.