It was mid-November and we were enjoying a mild evening at a park just across the street from the apartments where we temporarily lived. Like many times before, Mitch sat on my shoulders and tried to twist my hat as though it were a steering wheel. He would laugh and laugh as I walked in whatever direction he tried to turn my head. He thought pulling a tuft of my hair was like hoking a horn because I would yell “Ouch!” every time. It hurt, but I didn’t mind because I loved to hear him laugh.
As Mitch sat on my shoulders, he didn’t understand the terrible future that awaited him. Tiny Mitch didn’t know we had just sold our home because of him – so we could find a place that would accommodate his future needs. He didn’t know that we would have sold all that we owned to keep him safe and healthy. Mitch didn’t know much, for he was young; he just knew we loved him – and that was all he needed to know.
For almost 11 years, we carried Mitch on our shoulders and backs and always in our hearts. One might think it was a terrible burden to have a child with a fatal disease … a disease that would not only kill him, but would slowly take every part of him away. Certainly, carrying a muscle-wasting, fatal disease on our shoulders was a burden. But carrying our child with that hardship was also filled with blessings – and the blessings far outweighed the burdens; for when it comes to our children, no burden is too great.
The night Mitch passed away he couldn’t open his eyes, but he could squeeze our hands to tell us he was listening. I wonder what crossed his mind that night. I remember whispering to him as I wet his pillow with my tears … I whispered memories I had with him and told him how grateful I was to be his daddy. I hope memories like this photo crossed his mind and gave his weary soul comfort. I hope he found peace knowing we loved him and were proud of the young boy that he had become.
I did my best to carry Mitch on my shoulders. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. In strictly mortal terms, he was younger than me. Though spiritually, I began to sense his soul was much older than mine. I thought I was on earth to carry him and help him learn and grow – but as heavenly paradoxes go, the opposite was true. He was teaching and shaping me. Looking back, I was never carrying Mitch – I think heaven sent Mitch to carry me. This little boy was a tattered angel who was marked for a short life – heaven knew it long before he was born. And I sensed it the moment I first laid eyes on him. Perhaps, among other things, his mission was to save me from me.
Though he is gone now and my heart aches deeply because of it, I sense him from time-to-time. Not through butterflies and rainbows, but a distinct spiritual impression his soul is near and that he is doing the work of angels … guiding me quietly through whispers that are felt more than heard. I sense that he is tending to my broken soul – and I hope I am listening.
Thanksgiving is near and I have a great many things to be thankful for: faith and family are chief among them. I am also grateful that hidden somewhere deep beneath life’s burdens are also blessings – blessings that are earned by-and-through struggle. And whenever I get confused and wonder what to do, I think about my Father and my son ... and I ask myself, "Who's carrying who?"