NOT FOR A SECOND

It was the end of a long day at Universal Studios in Florida. We were about half-way into Mitchell’s Make-A-Wish trip and he was having the time of his life – and so were we. Attached to my camera pack was a carabiner that tethered gifts and other souvenirs we picked up here and there – but that wasn't the real gift I carried this day. The greatest gift was my family – and that wasn't lost on me … not for a second. 

As we made our way out of the park Mitch drove his scooter near me, like he always did, and reached up to hold my hand. I loved holding his hand and I yearn to do it again today.

I always dreamed of being a father. I loved my kids long before I ever laid eyes on them. As a young man I used to wonder what they would look like, the conversations we might have and the adventures we would enjoy together. While other boys were catching frogs or setting fire to empty fields, I dreamed of being a dad. Oh, I've had my share of youthful shenanigans and misadventures. I've even caught a few frogs and set a few fires. But my heart always wondered what fatherhood would be like. 

I remember early in my professional career overhearing some of my older colleagues talk to their kids on the phone. I was young and single and would act like I wasn't paying attention but I was listening and I wondered what it would be like to have little kids of my own. While not an envious man, I was sometimes sorely tempted when I saw others with children. I was so excited to have kids of my own.

Twenty years later I have found my wish granted beyond my wildest dreams. Although my cup is cracked and tattered by grief and sorrow, it is overflowing with love and gratitude. 

There’s a saying: “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time. Because when you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life that you’ll never get back.” I’m not always the best at this. But I try. And when I fail, I try harder the next time.

I don’t know a lot of things. But one thing I do know is when I am old and dying I won’t be reaching to hold on to car keys, fancy things or any thing. Instead I’ll be reaching to hold the ones I love. For they are my real treasures - and that won’t be lost on me. Not then. Not now. Not for a second.

 

A MEASURE OF WEALTH

True to the Make-A-Wish tradition, Mitch had just thrown his coin into the wishing pond. I don’t know what he wished, but whatever it was, I hope he got it. 

Everything seemed surreal back then. Mitch appeared so normal at the time and the effects of DMD were all but invisible to the untrained eye. We almost felt guilty going on a Make-a-Wish trip because he wasn't profoundly sick. But we saw the storm clouds on the horizon, we knew what was coming and decided to make the most of what strength he had. The decision to go then was a blessing we wouldn't appreciate until it would have been too late.

After little Mitch threw his coin in the water I sat on the edge of the pond then grabbed my son and gave him a big hug and kiss. Wyatt wanted in on the love and I hugged and kissed him, too. Not a day passes that I don’t show and tell my kids how much I love them. Not a single day.

Mitch was a little overwhelmed by all that was happening. As far as he was concerned, he was pretty-much normal and he wondered why everyone was making such a fuss about him. But Mitch didn't know what the doctors knew – that the path that lay at my son’s feet would soon become treacherous and one day his path would end. 

When I was younger and envisioned my future, my heart wasn't set on having a big home or fancy cars; I just wanted children to call my own. I wanted to be a father. I have had many professional titles in my life and none of them mean as much to me as father. I would sooner hear the word “Dad” from my children’s voices than any title or accolade the world could offer. I would give up everything I have if that meant I could be a father for one more day. 

There is a saying that goes: “the real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” When I look at my wife and children I feel like I’m the wealthiest man on earth. And if love is a measure of real wealth, than I am rich indeed – and I will spend the rest of my life sharing it in word and deed.

THE GREATER GIFT

It was the most ordinary of days when Mitch received a package in the mail addressed just to him. 

As if that didn't make him feel important enough, this package contained a very special key that would soon open a very special door. Attached to the key was a letter that told him to keep it safe, for it would be the key to unlock his wish. Mitchie, with magic in his eyes, looked at his key with great curiosity. We loved seeing our little boy so excited … and it’s fair to say there was a little magic in our hearts, too. 

Mitch was only 7 years old at the time and we struggled with the decision to take him when we did. “Perhaps he’s too young to really appreciate it”, we thought to ourselves. “What if we wait a few years? Maybe his wish will be different when he matures a little.” But we also knew the longer we waited the weaker he’d become. Yet Mitch was supposed to live to his mid-20’s and it stood to reason we could wait a little longer before things got much worse. But somewhere, deep in our hearts, we felt time was not on our side and we needed to go then. In retrospect I can see there was more than a hunch at play.

It wasn't long before Mitch was invited to meet the Make-A-Wish team in Salt Lake City. They were all so kind and loving and we were humbled by their goodness. It was clear that the people of Make-A-Wish genuinely cared and wanted to lift heavy hearts and give children a reason to believe that good can happen despite the difficulties they face.

During this visit Mitch would use his key to open a special door to a most unique room. I’ll never forget the look of wonderment on his face as he saw a room completely filled with light. I had never seen anything like it, and haven’t since. Every surface was luminescent and softly changing color. The floor seemed to hover over a large pool of what felt like healing waters. This room was magical. Mitchell’s eyes grew big as he cautiously made way toward the center of the room where he would leave his hand-written wish. 

As we drove home that evening my innocent son had a look on his face I had never seen before. Though he looked out the window of our car, his eyes seemed to look past the visible horizon into a place of dreams and wishes. A place of hope. As his father, knowing what DMD would soon do to his body, I couldn't help but gaze with Mitch ... out there, to that place of hope … praying my son would be spared. 

A few weeks later Mitch was invited back to the Make-A-Wish building to be granted his wish. He was then given a stain glass star upon which he wrote his name and some of the things he loved. It now hangs with the many hundreds stars from other children who also had their wish come true. One day I will go back there and try to find Mitchell’s star. But, for now, my heart is much too tender and I don’t think I could see through the tears.

Our family would soon go on a week-long trip to Florida to visit the theme parks and stay at “Give Kids the World” (think Disney meets Wisteria Lane, minus the drama). Mitch loved roller coasters and had such a good time. For an entire week all that weighed heavy, was made light. We just had each other and memories to make.

I am humbled by the love and generosity of Make-A-Wish, its incredibly kind and compassionate staff and donors who gave my broken son the greater gift … the gift of hope. And hope is no small thing.