NOT THROUGH WORDS, BUT DEEDS

It was cold and snowy outside when we heard a tap on our front door. It was Rodney Thornell, a neighbor and friend who lived just a few blocks away. Standing beside him was his own puppy whose face peered upward with the innocence of a sweet child. Rodney and his family named their dog Dragon. Mitch thought that was neat because he loved dragons … and puppies. Mitch later told me, “Dad, what a cool idea. If I get another dog, I want to do the same thing.”

This good man, knowing our son was home on hospice and running out of time, came to our home to cheer Mitch up and offer a smile or two. Mitch laughed and laughed as he watched his tiny puppy bark and jump about as if she were a credible match to her much larger play friend. In Marlie’s mind, she was as big as or bigger than Dragon. It didn’t matter that Dragon’s head was about as big as Marlie’s entire body – she had made up her mind and that was it. 

Unaware of his size and relative strength, Dragon’s playful paw would knock Marlie over and she would summersault forward a time or two. Like a snowflake or tiny ninja, Marlie would bounce back to her bitty paws as if nothing happened and go at it again with her adorable little bark. She was a fighter. Just like Mitch. 

Mitch loved to watch those dogs play – and so did we. 

I don’t think this good man knows what he did for our family and especially little Mitch. He could have sat on the other side of his computer screen, watching our posts and feeling after us. He might have also offered a prayer or two on our behalf. Instead, this good man, who happened to also be our family dentist and had cared for our son’s teeth in previous years, cared also for his heart and soul. He served our family with love and compassion. It is amazing how a little love can lift a broken heart and soul. 

Rodney was always kind and considerate to our family. He never stayed too long; just enough to lift our son’s spirits, then he was on his way. He came a few times – which really meant a lot to our family - especially Mitch. 

I remember walking him to the door on his last visit before little Mitch passed away. I had a sinking feeling in my heart that would be the last time little Mitch would see them. I swallowed the lump in my throat as my friend walked away. Later that night I prayed that his family would be blessed 1,000-fold for the goodness he showed us.

There is a saying (there are many variations) that goes something like this: “In all things, teach others about [God], and when necessary, use words.” I am grateful for my neighbor, friend and family dentist who taught me heavenly things… not through words, but quiet deeds.

CRACKED & TATTERED

This was the summer we took our kids park hopping. I am sure many others do this, but it was a special family tradition we liked to call our own. Each Monday evening we’d pack a picnic and drive to some random, undiscovered park and explore the jungle gyms and grassy fields and have dinner there. Because each park was unique it never got old. 

Mitch had the most endearing, mischievous side to him. Though I am terrified of spiders, I find myself catching and keeping them to study and observe. Mitch, knowing my fear of spiders, would often put large plastic spiders in strange places around the house. He would never put them in obvious places, like in the middle of a room for all to see. Instead, he put them in the shadows, barely out of view … or in corners and other places you would most likely see them. I fell for every one of my son’s little traps. When I would stumble into one I would always scream out in terror – only to hear Mitch down the hall or in another room giggling that I fell for another one of his shenanigans.

On this evening we were visiting some undiscovered park. Little Mitch saw that Ethan was about to drink from a fountain. Knowing the water pressure was unusually high he quickly approached Ethan from behind and turned the water on full blast, squirting his brother in the face. Mitch ran away laughing. Ethan was a good sport and laughed with him. They were the best of friends. 

My memories with my family are as warm to my soul today as the evening sun was on my face back then. 

I've never felt it a burden to spend time with my family. To the contrary, I have always considered time with them an investment that would pay a lifetime of dividends. When I look at images like this, and remember those good times, I cash one of those emotional checks and my heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude. 

Perfect moments, you know … the kind you wish you could bottle up and save forever, they come and go so quickly. I wish they’d stay forever – but I know that’s unreasonable. I guess that’s why I’m always on the hunt for them. I suppose, after all, that is how it should be … because what is rare is valuable. To think that our children are more than rare … they are unique in all the universe … which makes them valuable beyond mortal description.

Just last night I took Laura-Ashley on a daddy-daughter date. We went to dinner and a movie and had a great time talking. As we drove home we passed the cemetery and she said when she takes the bus home from school she’s always sure to sit on the side of the bus where she can see Mitch. I smiled and said, “Mitch sure loved you, Ash.”

We both talked about her little brother for a while; we laughed at the funny things he did and said and recalled our favorite adventures together as a family. I wasn't sad (well, deep inside I’ll always be sad that he is gone) … but my heart was so happy and it was overflowing with love and appreciation for my family. I was grateful that I had Mitch – even if only for 10 years. At the same time I was grateful I had Laura-Ashley – and that she is turning into a wonderful young woman with whom I am so proud. I told my daughter how much I loved her and how proud I was of her. I hope she felt the meaning behind my words – for words, too, are mortal and flawed. 

I am grateful for perfect moments back then and today. I do all that I can to scoop them up and treasure them before they evaporate. And while my cup is cracked and tattered with grief and weakness, it still runneth over … far beyond what I deserve. And I am grateful.

DANCING IN THE RAIN

I hesitate sharing a highly used/overused quote, but I think its appropriate. Vivian Greene wrote, “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...It's about learning to dance in the rain.”

To live with grief is to live with all manner of rain and sorrow; from subtle mists to deep downpours ... there is no escaping it. I've learned there isn't a raincoat or umbrella that will shield you from grief. Despite our heartache and pain, we're learning to dance in the rain.

Mitch had a very fun side. Because he was more interested in others than drawing attention to himself, he was usually quiet and observant around others. But if he let you in, you would get a first-row ticket to wit and humor that would have an adult in stitches. Mitch was a very funny little boy.

At home, we have so many fun traditions, each of which always brought Mitch a great deal of happiness. So, in honor of Mitchie, yesterday we participated in some family shenanigans. 

This is for you little Mitch.

THE HOUR IS LATER THAN I THINK

When my kids were especially little I started a game called “Gut Busters” – which was basically human bumper cars. The title of this game became something of a metaphor for the participant and observer – whether through smashing or laughing, it was a gut-busting experience. This idea isn't new – but to my kids it was –and that was all that really mattered. We would stuff pillows from the couch in their pajamas and they would run into each other and fall to the floor. Everyone would giggle and laugh and it was a great way to get their wiggles out before they went to sleep.

It was the evening of my birthday (2007) when these sweet boys wanted to have an honorary smash-up-derby. I’ll never forget how much Wyatt looked like SpongeBob, how energetically Ethan flexed his little chicken wings, and how precious Mitch, who always felt physically awkward, pointed his finger in the air meaning to do a thumbs up. Mitch wanted to be strong and powerful like his brothers – but in the end, his life traded physical power for a power of a different kind.

A few weeks prior to this moment with my boys, I stumbled into something songwriter Guy Lombardo said, “Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.” For some reason, that quote pressed against me like a cold breeze and I couldn't shake the feeling the hour was later than I knew. Yet, there was no indication Mitch was in any trouble of any kind. For my son death would surely visit – but it wasn't supposed to happen for another 20 years. It would only be 5 years from this photo before we would learn Mitchell’s heart was beginning to fail. Less than 6 years before the end.

Not knowing the perils ahead, we took heed to those quiet whispers that told us the hour was later than we knew. Though my heart cries out today over the death of my son and I am very much pained therewith, I am grateful we responded to those whispers and drank in the moments the best we knew how.

Do I have regrets for time poorly spent? Absolutely. But mistakes are part of our human experience. I carry regret the same way I might walk away from a conversation saying to myself, palm to forehead, “Oh, I should have thought to say ____.” I don’t carry regret as a burden or an instrument to lash self-punishment. Rather, my regrets serve as a reminder to do better next time.

Were I to live out my days in regret for the things I could have (or should have) done better, I would not have the presence of mind to enjoy life. Though I carry the weight of grief and sorrow over the loss of my son, a weight so heavy I can scarcely shoulder, I have 3 other children whom I love just as much. And I will enjoy my time with them while they are with me. Because, even still, the hour is later than I think.