I WISH YOU’D STAY

It was a beautiful late-summer day high in the mountains.  Natalie’s family had a reunion at Aspen Grove, a family-centered resort just a few miles up the road from Sundance, Utah.  The sun had fallen behind the mountain peaks, and you could feel the cool air rushing down the canyon – as if nature had turned on the air conditioning.  It was an almost perfect night.  Almost. 

We just watched a performance in an outdoor amphitheater when Mitch said to me, “Dad, everything is so beautiful.  Do you think this is what heaven is like?”  I smiled and said, “As long as you’re with me, I know I’m close to heaven.”  He smiled softly … and so did I.

The evening was drawing near, and I needed to go soon.  I was leaving for a business trip to Australia the next morning – and although I was excited to visit that country, I wanted very much to stay with my family.  Mitch had an especially soft demeanor about him that night.  He knew I had to go, even though he wished I’d stay and it seemed as if his gentle ways, his stillness, was his way of drinking in the moments.  I was so captured by his spirit; I had to take this photo.  It’s out of focus, but what’s in focus is all that really matters.

As I was about to go, Mitch held my hand and said, “Dad, I wish you’d stay.”  My heart sank, and I felt a lump in my throat begin to grow.  “Oh, Mitchie, I wish I could stay, too.  I’ll be back in a few weeks.”  Mitch squeezed my hand as if to say, “Okay, Dad.”

I decided I’d spend a little more time, so just after this photo, I took Mitch and my kids to an ice cream shop just out of view of this photo, on the left.  The conversation I had with them and the memories we made that night was sweeter than all the ice cream on earth.  While getting ready for my trip was important, the time I spent with my son was significant – both for him and for me.

In many ways, this gentle evening feels like it happened yesterday.  At the same time, it feels a lifetime away.

Mitchell’s birthday is this Sunday, April 29th.  He would have been 16 years old.  That’s hard for me to imagine … sixteen.  For as long as I walk the earth, young Mitch will always be my 10-year-old son. 

I think I’m going to cry more than usual this weekend – tears of grief, gratitude, and a deep resolve to live a life of quiet significance.  The longer I live, and the more I experience cycles of hurt and healing, I’m convinced a life of significance is often invisible to the casual observer.  Instead, significance is found in the quiet, meaningful things we do.  I’ve observed that a life of significance isn’t found in the things we own – for in the end, if we’re not careful, they end up owning us.   Nor is significance found in popularity or prestige – those are only figments of social imaginations.  At least to me, living a life of significance is found in doing things that matter with those who matter most to us. 

When I see this photo, I’m reminded what a life of significance looks like … what it feels like.  Yes, we must all work, pay bills, and manage adult things – that’s important.  But the difference between importance and significance matters; in the same way difference between being productive or simply being busy, or the difference between feeling happy or hollow.

Fast forward a little, in what felt like the blink of an eye; I remember kneeling by my son’s bed as he was softly dying.  I thought back on this perfect moment with Mitch, and I remembered his tender words to me.  I then whispered in a weepy tone, “My sweet son, I wish you’d stay.”  To my heartbreak, he didn’t stay – but I have found other ways to keep him with me – through writing, examination, and prayerful meditation.  It’s not the same as having him actually with me – not by a long shot – but keeping him in my heart is the best I can do.  There isn’t a day I don’t think about him, and I often wonder what kind of young man he’d have become.  I don’t cry like I used to.  But I always think of him.  Always.  And sometimes I cry.

Though I wish he had stayed, there are a few things my son left behind.  Little Mitch taught me about the art of stillness.  He taught me about the gift of gratitude.  He taught me how to slow down and drink in the moments.  He taught me to understand the difference between what’s important and what’s significance. 

ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS

I was asked by a mother from Colorado if she could make a t-shirt with Mitchell’s saying, “Be nice to each other and be glad you’re alive.  Nothing else matters.”  Their local school district dedicated today to promote kindness, respect, and peace – and this sweet family wanted to offer Mitchell’s message to the conversation. Their focus today is to have a day without hate.  A beautiful, hopeful, and timely message Mitchell’s Journey can get behind.

This sweet girl, Isabella, has known of little Mitchell’s story for more than half her life now and she’s grown attached to his messages of love, courage, and kindness.  I remember her mother sending me a video shortly after Mitchell passed away.   A much younger Isabella pointed to a beautiful array of colors in a dimly lit sky and said in the tenderest of voices, “It’s Mitchell.”  She knew Mitch loved sunrises and sunsets and wondered if he was there, somewhere in the beautiful horizon.

So, when Isabella’s mother sent me these photos last night, my eyes welled with tears of gratitude.  She even used purple and gold, Mitchell’s two favorite colors.  I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for good people like the Lozano family – who we’ve come to know and love. I also felt grateful for the many people on this earth who share goodness and love – for in the end, as little Mitch taught me, that’s all that really matters. 

Perhaps all of us, wherever we live, can do something today that promotes kindness, respect and peace – in memory of little Mitch and in hope for a better world.

#D3DayWithoutHate

 

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A much younger Isabella who grew up learning Mitchell's message of hope and love.

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Another Image of Isabella - promoting awareness of DMD, the disease that took our son's life.

Another Image of Isabella - promoting awareness of DMD, the disease that took our son's life.

 
 

DEAR MITCH*

DEAR MITCH,

I remember the exact moment you took your first breath, fifteen years ago today. Your tiny little body was so sweet and tender. So perfect. I marveled over your every little detail; your fingernails, your tiny feet, the soft hair on your skin. You were a miracle made mortal and my heart was overflowing. I remember holding you in my arms and kissing your face with a father’s love – a love until such time, I had never imagined. As you slept peacefully in my arms, I thanked Heaven for sending your sweet little soul to me.

When you first left, I was stumbling over pebbles … barely able to breathe. Now, dear son, I am learning to climb mountains.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

It would take 3 years before doctors discovered what I sensed the moment I laid eyes on you: your body was fatally broken and you would live a short life.

In your brokenness, I have learned deep empathy. I have also discovered my own brokenness, and in that brokenness, I hope to become like you, strong where it counts.

When you were young, I was excited to introduce you to the world and be your father, teacher, and mentor. But heaven had a different plan … and soon you began teaching me. Through your tender ways, you would teach me about love, family and the how to make ordinary moments matter. Although you were a quiet boy, your actions spoke loudly. You taught me, by your example, about sacrifice, service, obedience, and kindness. In every way that matters, you remind me of the saying, “Teach people about God at all times, and if necessary, use words.”

I wish I could hold you again – and there is an ache inside me because I can’t. Four years have passed since you left us and I still feel the weight of grief on my shoulders. I have learned grief will last as long as my love lasts. It is a heavy burden, but I am learning to carry it differently – and I can tell my shoulders are getting stronger. When you first left, I was stumbling over pebbles … barely able to breathe. Now, dear son, I am learning to climb mountains.

One day, when I see you in that place beyond the hills, I will run at reckless speeds to hug you and thank you for breaking me. Then I will look heavenward and thank my Father for picking up my broken pieces and carefully reshaping me.

Happy Birthday, son.

With all my love,

Dad

Mitchell's headstone today (April 29, 2017)

Mitchell's headstone today (April 29, 2017)

Natalie met her mother and sister for a picnic at Mitchell's place of rest today.

Natalie and her sister, Sonya.  Both played an enormous role in Mitchell's life.

Today has be a beautiful, sunny day.  Mitch loved these mountains and always liked to sit on our porch and watch the sun set on this magical formation of rock, snow and trees.

Today has be a beautiful, sunny day.  Mitch loved these mountains and always liked to sit on our porch and watch the sun set on this magical formation of rock, snow and trees.

Later that night, we returned to say goodnight.  This is all we can do to tuck him in.