THE ECHOES WE MAKE

It was summer and the color of the evening sun had poured into the room like a glass of warm orange juice. Grandpa hiked his pant legs a little as he sat down to tell my small children some tall tales. My little ones sat around him (Mitch on the right), captivated and smiling as their grandfather lovingly wove a story of fiction, magic, and a little bit of nonsense.

Mitch tugged softly at my arm as he pointed to the glowing lint floating in the air as it crossed paths with the window. He said in a whisper, “Dad, it looks like space.” I put my arm around him as he began to lay his head into my chest. Time slowed to a near halt as we had one of those perfect moments you wish could last forever. There were no digital screens to look at, no earbuds drowning out the world, no text messages, RSS feeds and other suffocating distractions … nothing but each other, love and the lost art of storytelling.

I remember admiring my father-in-law [a man who is as kind-hearted as he is good] connect with my children in his own, unique way. I was grateful for this soft moment. As my children were swept away in story, my mind drifted to other things. I couldn't help but think of my son, a little boy who had done the world no harm yet was a victim to a deadly disease from which there was no escape. Although he appeared healthy, I knew that he was dying faster than the rest of us. And that broke my heart.

When I leaned down to kiss Mitchell’s forehead, he put his hand on the side of my face as if to keep me there and whispered, “I love you, dad.” My eyes welled as I whispered back, “I love you more.”

I then lifted my head and looked at a wise grandfather investing his time and loving attention with my children. I began to think about the passage of time and the natural order of life. It occurred to me that before we know it, age will catch up to this wonderful man and he will soon pass away. Whatever material possessions he may have accumulated will matter not one bit. Neither will popularity or prestige. The only thing he will take with him is what he has become. And the echo of his influence and choices will be the only lasting inheritance he will pass on to the generations that follow.

As I sat in this room surrounded by a family that I love deeply, I began to contemplate the echoes we make, the ripples our choices have on ourselves and others. They can build or destroy. They can be loud as thunder or soft as whispers. They can last generations or be silenced in less than one.

Author Peggy O’Mara said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I found this to be true, at least for me. I hope that any inpatient or unkind word I may have ever said to my son was drowned out by how much and how often I tried to love him. And I hope that when my son was passing that he found comfort in his inner voice – that he looked forward with faith, not fear. That he knew he was loved by those of us here ... and the many that are over there.

As I peer into the abyss of death, unable to see with mortal eyes what exactly lies within, I can hear the echo of my son; his goodness, his love, his obedience, and faith. I hope that I carry his echo forward.

Losing my son (or anyone) is a painful reminder that suns set, seasons change, leaves fall, and so do our bodies. And if that's the case, I do well to remember that I only have a few minutes on this planet and I had better make the most of it. Of all the things we give and take, perhaps nothing is so important as the echoes we make.

WHEN THINGS ARE RARE

I took Wyatt to sports clips today. When we were asked to check in at the kiosk, I saw Mitchell‘s name on the register.  This was the same place Mitch used to get his haircut on occasion.  He always loved to get the deluxe package where stylists washed his hair and massaged his scalp. 

... time is common to all of us –being in the moment is rare
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

During one of our visits Mitch said softly, “Dad, I really like it when they run their fingernails through my hair. Sometimes I almost go to sleep.”  I chuckled and kissed him on the forehead and said, “Me too!  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could do that to us every day?”  Mitchell nodded as his eyes turned down as if to think about what I said. After a few moments of thought, he responded, “Yeah, but then it wouldn’t feel so good anymore because I’d get used to it. I like it better when things are rare.”

That sweet exchange and many other memories I had filed in the back of my mind began to wash over me the moment I saw my son’s name on the kiosk.  It was an unexpected, painful reminder that my sweet son is no longer with us.

I’ve been happy lately – but I admit, my heart deflated at this moment.  And when Wyatt tugged my arm and said, pointing to the kiosk, “Hey dad, look, it’s Mitchell’s name.”  I felt a second wave of hollowness in my heart – an echo in the caverns of my soul.  Suddenly, I felt a deep longing to have that sweet little boy back in my life.

I can see how reading this blog can be misleading to some who might think I sulk about with my head hung low, constantly picking at my wounds.  What they don’t see is 90% of my life is occupied with my wife and children, work and other dreams I’m pursuing.  When I sit down to write stories of Mitch, I’m opening the door to the public to my personal therapy sessions – except I’m both the patient and the therapist.    Writing is how I grieve and how I heal.  It works for me.  When I write, I’m creating a grief moment – and those are healthy for those who will hurt for the rest of their lives.  What made this encounter with my son’s name so difficult today was its suddenness.  There as no warning … no way to prepare.  It was a trigger, and because of it, I wept.  They were refreshing tears.  Healing tears.

While this tender breadcrumb pointing to my son’s absence may have pained my heart, I was grateful for the reminder of my son’s philosophy on things that were rare.  Mitchell’s heart was a treasure chest in which he kept the sweetest things.  I suppose this journal is a record of the things he kept close to his heart and a missive on the things he’s teaching mine.

Mitch had a maturity of mind and soul that was itself rare.  He was careful never to let things he loved be over-used or taken for granted and he always delayed gratification so that the reward was both rare and deeply appreciated.  One year, Natalie challenged our children to not eat any candy for a year, and she’d pay them $100.  Mitch was the only one who met the challenge.  I even offered to make Halloween exempt from that challenge, but he chose to be true to his original promise.  On January 1st the following year, Mitch earned a crisp $100 bill.  To little Mitch, it wasn’t the money that mattered as much as the accomplishment.

Even more than material things, Mitch treasured moments like none I have known before.  I have yet so much to learn from my son.  Today I was reminded to treasure things are rare.  Specifically, while time is common to all of us –being in the moment is rare.   By looking backward and examining my life, I can’t help but appreciate the moments that are yet ahead of me.  Because of Mitch, I’m going to take extra care to treasure moments – for they are special.  They are rare.

WHAT EVER YOU DO, DO IT WITH LOVE

When Mitch was a tiny boy he’d softly say in a childlike tone, “Dad, come wiff me, I show you sumping.”  With that, his chubby little hand would grab my fingers and gently tug me toward something he discovered.  He was never overbearing but with great love in his heart would gently lead me along.   Until his dying day, that softness never left my son – though he probably could have found any number of reasons to be angry with his lot in life.  He was kind and pure and overflowing with a faith I scarcely comprehend.  I think when my mortal eyes fall away and I see my son for who he truly is, I will see that he was my older brother and that he was here to teach me.

I can almost hear his whisper now, ever so softly in my mind.  Only this time he see’s things that I cannot – for he has traveled down a path far from mortal view.  So, I must listen closely now … I must listen with my heart and mind; for gems of the soul are, on purpose, not easy to find. 
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

 I was always fascinated by the things he found interesting; the way an ice cube melted on the kitchen table, or how bees would land on a flower and not fall off the petal, or the sheer magnificence of a sunset that captured his heart.  Little Mitch was easily entreated and marveled at the little things in life.  To Mitch his cup was always overflowing and he stopped at nothing to drink it all in.

 On this spring day, while taking a walk as a family, my sweet little boy offered that familiar invitation “Dad, come wiff me, I show you sumping.”  With a little tuft of grass in his hand he led me to a corner behind a tall tree and said in his tiny voice, struggling to pronounce the letter “L”, “Dad, wets make a fort.”  I don’t remember the other things he said … I only remember getting choked up by his tenderness.   I wrote in my journal that night, “How great are these little ones.  Indeed, of such is the kingdom of heaven.”             

When I look at this tender photo of my son I am reminded it isn't what we do together as families that matters as much as how we do it.  My most treasured memories with my family aren't the big trips to Disneyland or other attractions, which things were always significant financial investments.   Instead, the memories I treasure the most were the emotional investments in my children … it was the tiny adventures just down the street from where we lived; it was the cuddles on the couch, the heart-felt talks about whatever was on their mind, or the wandering conversations on the grass.  Those memories are where my heart yearns to go – for they were woven with love.  I would rather have one loving conversation with my children than a thousand trips to all the wonders of the world.  In every way that matters, our children are the world’s greatest wonders. 

Even in his later years, before he passed away, Mitch would often come to me and just as tenderly say, “Dad, come with me, I want to show you something.”  I was always anxious to see the world through his eyes.

I can almost hear his whisper now, ever so softly in my mind.  Only this time he see’s things that I cannot – for he has traveled down a path far from mortal view.  So, I must listen closely now … I must listen with my heart and mind; for gems of the soul are, on purpose, not easy to find. 

Sometimes, when I’m listening, I think Mitch still beckons me to see the things my mortal eyes are blind to, yet my spirit seeks eagerly.  

 I am so thankful for my little son who taught me one the most important lessons on earth and heaven above: whatever you do, do it with love.

TO HURT & TO HEAL

When Mitch was tiny, he injured his hand and began to cry.  He was more frightened than hurt, but he was hurt just the same.  After a moment of sorrow, Mitch realized his hand was going to be okay his mother picked him up and held him as only a mother knows to hold her child. To a young one, there is a certain comfort that comes from blankets and Sippy Cups, but then there’s the comfort that comes from a mother; and no blanket on earth can replace the warm embrace of a loving mother.

Though not an envious man, I am sometimes sorely tempted, when I see the tender bond between mother and child. Though my heart loves deeply, I recognize there is a sacred place for a mother’s love. I wish I had a piece of that because it is beautiful beyond measure. Instead, I’ll take what I can get while sitting on the sidelines and consider myself blessed. 

So there I stood, in my dorky way, trying to comfort my son. I didn't stand a chance against the blanket and Sippy Cup, let alone his mommy’s embrace. I made funny faces and danced like a fool for him, and he started to chuckle. His smile, this very smile you see here, and eyes shrunk-wrapped in tears melted my heart. Though I offered a little sideshow entertainment for my boy, the real performance was already underway by his mother.

Our journey of grief, like everyone who hurts, is painfully unique. It’s a delicate balance of looking forward to sights unseen while permitting myself to hurt because I’m still a human being. That’s the thing nobody told me … healing hurts. 
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I think, on some level, I’m beginning to understand Kate Bush’s lyrics “I stand outside this woman’s work … this woman’s world. Ooh, its hard on the man, now his part is over, now starts the craft of the Father.” There is a sacredness to motherhood, something far beyond my reach. Though I do my best to be a good dad and husband, I am beginning to realize I am a small player on a much grander stage. Though I do my best to do my part, however important, it is minor in comparison.

Neal Maxwell wrote, “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing…” 

When we started our family, we had no idea what we were doing. We still don’t on some level because each phase of child-rearing, at least for us, is an undiscovered country. Yet we’re learning things each day that we try to apply in the things we do and say. I wish I could wield the parenting power my wife seems to shoulder so gracefully. Such is the power of motherhood, I suppose. I’m just an ordinary dad with more weaknesses than most. So I’ll try to pave the way, moving obstacles where I can and make life a little easier for her each day. 

Our journey of grief, like everyone who hurts, is painfully unique. It’s a delicate balance of looking forward to sights unseen while permitting myself to hurt because I’m still a human being. That’s the thing nobody told me … healing hurts. 

Though I’m still hurting, I’m also healing … and that is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

 

---

Originally Posted in 2014

MAGIC MOMENTS

The fall Mitchell’s heart was failing we took our kids to a local skate park so they could watch budding athletes perform their craft. Natalie, sensing Mitchell’s longing to be healthy and strong like the other children, said in a sweet tone, “Hey Mitchie, I have an idea.” Mitch was on the verge of being sad, but smiled a little because he knew his mom loved him.

Moments later, our broken boy was giggling with a kind of glee only children know as he started playing his favorite game: “run your brothers over with your wheelchair.” This was a magic moment.

During this time of trouble and worry, Natalie turned a sad time upside down ... a hardship into a measure happiness. I love her for that. I love her for so many things - but tonight, I love her for being a light in the darkness.

This weekend, I’m going to follow my wife’s quiet and loving example. I’m going to create moments that bring a measure of happiness to my family. Sometimes those magic moments just happen spontaneously, but more often they are a function of choice. The most ordinary moments can become magic. And as far as I can tell, even the most ordinary moments aren’t that ordinary after all ... for a moment well-spent pays dividends of joy and gratitude for a lifetime. This image ... this moment remembered, brings my heart hope and healing. Heaven knows I need that now and I’ll need it in the future.

A BETTER WAY

In November 2012 we were nearing completion of our basement in preparation for putting our home on the market.  We wanted to get into something more suitable for Mitchell’s growing medical needs and hoped to simplify our lives a little.  Though everything seemed to fall into place at the time, things didn’t turn out as we planned.  In retrospect, I can see that all that happened was, in fact, Heaven’s plan. 

While construction was underway, we received two large cardboard boxes, each containing a bathtub.  Wyatt and Mitch immediately staked their claim on each box and wanted to make forts of them. 

Every morning Wyatt would come up with a new way to configure his fort, and we’d find him breaking his box down more each day.  His box was akin to cardboard origami, and we never knew what shape it would assume each day.  It wasn’t long he broke his box into oblivion. 

By contrast, Mitchell’s box was always in mint condition.  In our living room, he carefully placed his box fort next to an electrical outlet on the wall.  He then approached me and whispered, “Dad, will you help me cut a hole in the box?”  I giggled as he pointed to the outlet.  Mitch then ran a cable through the box so he could charge his iPod.  He also asked me to cut a few secret flaps, allowing him to get a beat on people who were approaching him.

When visitors came to our home, they’d enter our front door and see a large box just a few feet away.  It never bothered us.  While we always keep our home clean and orderly, Natalie was never caught up with pretense, pomp, and show.  She cared far less what others thought, and instead focused on helping our children learn and grow.  I’ve always loved that about Natalie – she always chose the better way.  For years, our China cabinet was a showcase for Lego creations, not fancy dishes.  And when it came to any part of our home, it was dedicated to children’s youthful adventures.

Mitch slept in his box fort almost every night for well over a month.  Sometimes he imagined his fort a pirate ship flying through a sea of stars; other times, his cardboard box became a log cabin deep in a dark forest. 

At bedtime, we’d tuck him in, and he’d fall fast asleep surrounded by his dreams before dreams. 

When I examine my footpaths as a parent, I always find myself treasuring the little moments far more than the big ones. I hope to always remember what I learned from Mitch; at the end of the day it's not the things we get but how well we play. 

I love moments like this … building blanket forts, box forts, or cuddling on the couch.  Fancy things are great, and all … but they get old and decay.  And to worry about the opinions of others ... well, that just gets in the way.  But the soul of a child is forever, and they are here to stay.  So doing things that build their minds and hearts is always the better way.

 

THE MAGIC OF STORYTELLING

As far back as I can remember, storytelling has been a special part of our children’s lives.  At night, the kids would huddle around me as I played music in the background and narrated stories that came to mind as I listened to the mood of the music.  None of us knew where we would go – we only knew every turn was an adventure.  Sometimes we’d laugh, other times they’d clutch their pillows in anticipation – but every time, we’d make memories in real life and imaginary worlds at once.

The magic of story was something Mitchell held close to his heart.  One day, probably soon, I’ll share a story he wrote with his own handwriting in his special journal.  For Mitch, and my other children, stories were not only a means of escape, they became a window to possibility, and a candle that illuminated strengths I saw in them. 

Over the last year I’ve been slowly assembling some content to help other families enjoy the same thing our children did.  I’ll be posting some of this content here over the next few days.  Some of the videos share tender stories of Mitchell and his love of stories, others give ideas on how you can try this form of storytelling with those you love.

I share this because storytelling was a big part of Mitchell’s life.  Even during his final weeks on hospice, he wanted to get swept away in story so he could take his mind off heavy things.

So, whether you have sick kids or healthy kids, young ones, or old ones … this content is for you and anyone willing to experience the magic of storytelling.