Mitchell’s casket had been removed and all that was left was his scooter, gently adorned with his little shoes, a bottle of water he loved to drink, and a few memorial gifts and flowers. My cousin-in-law, a professional photographer, took this photo just after my family was escorted into the chapel where my tender-hearted wife and I would give the most painful address of our lives.
The last thing on my mind was this scooter that was left behind – so, weeks later, when I stumbled into this photo, I wept. Then, I caught my breath and wept some more. Vacant and alone, this ordinary image of my son’s abandoned scooter stood as a stark reminder of what really matters in life. This was a moment of significance for me.
I remember kneeling at Mitchell’s bedside just a few days before he passed away. I remember almost everything, in fact, with vivid clarity. To carry such vivid memories has been both a blessing and a burden. With great sorrow I watched my little baby made of sand slip through my fingers and into the abyss. As I sat by my little boy, who was struggling to breathe, and I ran my fingers softly through his hair and tickled his arms as we just talked about stuff that was on his mind. My sweet ten-year-old only wanted to run, play and be like all the other young children he knew. At one point during our conversation at the side of his bed Mitch lamented, with great feeling, how much he wished he could be like “regular kids.” My soul, already broken, broke some more.
With tears in my eyes and love pouring out of my soul, I said, “Oh, little Mitch, you are so much more than a mere mortal. If only you could see who you really are and what you may one day become. Just remember: our bodies are temporary, our souls are forever. You, my little boy, are so much more than you know.” Mitch smiled softly, closed his tear-filled eyes and drifted to sleep. I kissed his face and then prayed to my Father that my back might be strengthened so I could carry such a burden as grief. How heavy it would soon become, I knew not. Soon, my legs would buckle and my hands tremble from the weight of grief. The hell I knew was just a foretaste of what was to come.
A few days later my little boy was gone and I journeyed through the deepest, darkest recesses of the soul. All that I thought I knew of sorrow … all my mental and emotional preparations for his death failed me. I thought I was prepared, but I was not. The grief I felt prior to my son’s death was merely a whisper. A faint shadow. A feather … as compared to the heavy and harsh realities of death. New to this form of grief, I had to remember what I told my son, “Our bodies are temporary, our souls are forever.” Though I know that the soul lives on, that knowledge doesn’t take the sting of death away. It provides context and meaning, but it offers no insulation from sorrow. Though I have also experienced a comfort and peace that defies my human understanding, those moments of heavenly peace come and go just like the tides of grief.
I’ve heard it said, “Those who mistake success for significance, will lead a deeply unfulfilled existence.”
My little boy’s journey through life and death has taught me to not ask why, but rather “What am I to learn?” That, it seems, is the gateway to significance. To think less about the why of things, and more about what they mean.