WHEN THE TIME COMES

WHEN THE TIME COMES

Recently, our family went on a short trip to spend time together and heal a little.  On the drive home, we saw a spectacular sunset, and I couldn’t help but think of little Mitch and his love of atmosphere and beautiful evening skies.  At that moment, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love and gratitude, peace and grief.  I wonder if I’ll ever get used to feeling so many things at once.

If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: our loved ones understand everything we feel.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

As Natalie was driving, I took a photo of my two favorite things … sunsets and my sweet wife.  How I love this woman and the goodness that is in her.  Whenever I’m with her, I am a better me.  A heavenly gift I don’t take lightly.

In this same moment, memories of little Mitch wrapped around me like a blanket, woven with feelings of the softest thread.  For a few moments, it felt like I was being smothered in Mitchell’s love.  Tears filled my eyes as I allowed those feelings to wash over me – and that, too, was healing.  I couldn’t tell if Mitchell’s spirit was nearby or if I was simply reveling in the love I have for my son.  Either way, I was grateful for this moment of supernal peace.

After a few minutes, I began to realize night was soon coming, and I wondered if my night terrors would return.  I now recognize that I suffered from a form of PTSD and had no practical support to guide me through the process of healing.  I just learned to write it out, here on Mitchell’s Journey.  Only recently have I not been afraid of the night – those moments between sleep and consciousness; where the rawness of loss would cause me to wake in the middle of the night in a heartbreaking panic, then I’d weep until I could hardly breathe.  I am grateful that no such nightmares visited me that night, as they have so many times before.  I think, for the most part, that part of my grief journey is over.  Even still, those nightmares visit me from time to time – and it is as though I lost my son all over again.

What I’ve discovered on my grief journey is moments of peace will come when I least expect it.  Then, in like manner, the terror of loss will take me to my knees.  Between those opposites, I also experience everything in between. 

At least for me, I’ve discovered something that helps along the journey of grief … and life for that matter.  I’ve learned that when the time comes, I’m better off if I allow whatever feelings I experience to take their course.  When joy comes, I embrace it fully.  I don’t feel guilty for being glad … instead, I’m glad that I’m glad. In many ways, that makes me even more glad.  When I’m sad, I don’t brush it away or pretend those feelings don’t exist.  The suppression or denial of feelings only serves to canker and become strangely malignant.  I suppose the only feeling I don’t entertain is hatred or anger – which, if left unchecked, poison the soul. 

Some people who grieve worry that feeling joy, peace or gladness is a betrayal of their love and loss.  That somehow stepping into a place that isn’t so painful is to step away from the one we lost and suggest no longer care for them.  That is simply not true.  We can grieve and grow at the same time or at separate times – and that’s okay.   Then there are some well-meaning, yet deeply misinformed people on the other side of grief who say foolish things like, “Be happy!  Don’t be sad; your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  That is blubbering nonsense.  If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: our loved ones understand everything we feel.  They’re not disappointed in us when we’re sad – they understand how much we love and miss them.  When we’re happy, they don’t feel betrayed – but glad for our own gladness.

This night, as I saw my beautiful wife and the evening sky that brought my heart close to Mitch, I felt a potpourri of feelings and I allowed them, unrestrained, into my heart and soul.  It was both painful and beautiful.  Mitch taught me that when the time comes, face it … whatever it is.  He did that in life and in the face of death.  When he realized he was at his life’s end, he faced hard things with dignity and courage.  Though I stumble drunkenly in his shadow, I try to follow his quiet example … when the time comes, face it and embrace it.   

HOSPITALS & COUNTRY CLUBS

Time was ticking.  We didn’t know when the biological bomb in my son’s chest would detonate.  We only knew the hour was late and there wasn’t much time left.  Would Mitchie’s heart stop on the drive home?  Or would we have a few precious days with him?  There was no way of knowing whether death would come suddenly or slowly … or whether it would be painful or peaceful.  The only thing we knew for sure was we has that very moment. 

... tender lessons are sometimes taught through hardship.  Losing my son broke me … boy did it break me.  But the new me, at least who I hope to be, is better because of it. 
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Little Mitch had just received his PICC line that pumped medicine through his arm and directly into his heart.  Within about 30 minutes of this photo we would leave the hospital with heavy hands, anxious hearts.  The blue bed to the side of Mitch (on the right) was where Natalie and I cried ourselves to sleep.  We never really slept.  We drifted somewhere between this world and that world of dreams.  With each beep of the heart monitor, interruption of the nurse, or any noise at all, we’d spring to our feet to see if our son was okay.

If he were to go, we wanted to hold his hand and let him know he wasn’t alone.  We were spared that agony for a few weeks, but soon came to know that hell in the quiet of a winter night.

In this photo, Mitch is looking at a photo I took with my iPhone of the sunset a few hours earlier.  Mitch said in a soft, breathless tone, “Is that from tonight?”  He paused a moment then said, “I wish I could have seen it with my own eyes.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll see something like it.”  I kissed the top of his head and said, “Son, I want to see a million more with you.”  My throat began to tighten and I struggled to find my breath – I was about to lose it.  Somehow, I gathered my wits and kept from weeping until later that night.

As we packed our things so Mitch could live out his final days at home, I struggled to reconcile with reality.  Mitch didn’t look sick and part of me kept thinking the doctors had it all wrong.  I also kept saying to myself, “Is this a dream?  When will I wake from this nightmare?”  But then I’d see the pump on his lap which gave his weary heart a steady drip of medicine and I was reminded of my son’s unforgiving truth.

As Natalie pushed our son in a wheelchair, Mitch looked up at me and smiled softly as if to say, “Dad, I’m so glad I’m going home.”  My eyes were bloodshot from a week of unending, salty tears.  I smiled back and once again fought the urge to weep.

The thought occurred to me that though Mitchell’s body was broken, he wasn’t broken where it mattered most.  I was grateful that hospitals weren’t like country clubs.  We had fantastic doctors and (mostly) amazing nurses who fought valiantly to save our son.  I remember the moment we were told Mitch likely had days to live – the chief cardiologist fought back tears as the father in him was pained over such hard truths.  When he saw the look of devastation on my wife’s face, he struggled to keep it together even more.  Opinions are divided as to whether doctors should be strictly clinical – but as a father, I prefer a human over a robot.  Compassion is a form of medicine, too.

What would the world be like if we traded country clubs with hospitals?  When I say hospitals, I’m not referring only to medical institutions … but places that have the potential to fix broken things.  The last time I checked, everyone has broken stuff.   Humanity could use more mending and less isolating.

I've seen people turn the very places meant to help and heal into places that hurt others. Whether at school, church, support communities, and other groups, sometimes people hurt others when they shouldn't. I then try to remember that hurt people, hurt people.

In our race to save my son’s life, I’ve come to understand that sometimes we are broken so that we might be set straight. I wish it weren’t so – but it seems the order of Heaven; tender lessons are sometimes taught through hardship. Losing my son broke me … boy did it break me. But the new me, at least who I hope to be, is better because of it. If everyone on earth is broken to one degree or another, perhaps we could all learn the healer’s art and help each other mend broken things.

 

The heavenly paradox is in helping others heal, we heal a little, too. That's a good thing.

ONLY SOULS

As I watched these beautiful souls talk it occurred to me that while age may divide us, it is our hearts that combine us. And, like little Mitch taught me, when we see with our hearts we see everything that matters. And when we do that, generations crumble to the earth and all that remains are souls.

A SPECIAL VISITOR

This morning we were visited by a woman we met through #mitchellsjourney as Mitch was beginning to die. Her son passed away a few years prior and because of her hardship, she was uniquely prepared to help us navigate the process of death and dying. I spoke of her in my funeral address and described her as a lamp unto our feet as the path before us was dark and very scary. 

In town from her home state of Alaska, she had visited us once before about, a year after Mitchell passed away. That, also, was a tender exchange. 

Today was a reunion just as sweet as these two mothers joined hearts in loss and love. Laurel, this kind stranger-turned-friend gave Natalie a children's book that had a most beautiful message about the love a mother has for her child. The book is entitled, "Mamma, do you love me?" 

As she read the book to Natalie they both cried, and I sat on the couch next to them and cried with them. I will always marvel at the beauty and power of motherhood.

 

TAKING TIME FOR THINGS THAT MATTER

Mitch had just finished having an annual checkup at Shriners Hospital. I was there with my wife to let Mitch know I loved and supported him. With very few exceptions, I was always there. I never wanted my son to turn around and see and empty chair where his daddy should have been. I wanted him to know I was with him every step of the way. It has always been that way … until his very last day.

As we were leaving the hospital I asked young Mitch if he’d like to go to work with me. He smiled softly and nodded yes. My heart leapt from my chest.

While driving to the office an old friend and colleague who owns a simulation business asked if I could stop by his office to discuss some upcoming projects. I told him I had my son with me but that I’d be glad to. He was not at all bothered to have my little one around – in fact, he welcomed it. This good man was a father, too, and had the same family values I held so dearly. 

We met briefly in his conference room and discussed some matters at hand. Sensing business could wait and that there was more important things to do, Reg leaned forward toward Mitch and said, “Hey Mitch, do you want to drive a real simulator?” Mitch was shy and didn’t want to intrude – but the little gamer in him desperately wanted to drive a real simulator. With that, my colleague and friend escorted Mitch to a warehouse attached to the back of his office. This was where he built prototypes. This good man and successful entrepreneur recognized an opportunity to lift a little boy’s heart and expand his horizons.

To think he took time for Mitch, to let my boy know he mattered enough to take time out for him … that warms my heart and soul. It stirs within me a desire to do more of that for others. He didn’t just give Mitch a gift that day … Reg gave me a gift; a gift that still comforts me to this day. I can still see in my mind the smile on my son’s face as we drove out of his parking lot. Mitch said, “Dad, that was awesome!”

Fast-forward a few years and I received an email from this good man … almost exactly a year after my son had passed. He said he felt prompted to send me a message that might bring comfort to my heart – a heart he knew was weary with grief. 

“Dear Chris,

I hope I am not trespassing on your privacy. I have been thinking of you this month and was prompted to write this that it may offer some comfort to you to know that your well-being is thought of by others …” 

The letter continued to offer compassion and then he recounted some of his own experience with grief and loss.

He described how he was in Heathrow Airport after completing a project in England and was about to begin his journey home. Prior to his flight, Pan Am located him and told him to call home immediately. He then learned his youngest twin daughter, Valerie, had passed away. I wept as I read his words … how he described his feelings of helplessness, guilt, vulnerability and so many other emotional horrors I knew all too well. My tears didn’t spring because of my own loss … I cried because of his. I knew his heartbreak and I was so sorry to hear how much he hurt. My tears were tears of empathy and compassion. Yet, in his very message, he was doing the same for me.

Once again, I experienced the supernal doctrine of mourning with those that mourn. What a powerful principle of hope, healing and a taste of heaven above … to care enough to feel another’s hurt and love.

The more I examine my life, the more I’m convinced everything matters. From trivial pursuits to things of deep importance … everything matters. The key is in knowing and pursuing what matters more. The most trivial of pursuits matter, not because they are important, but because they have the potential to keep us from things that matter more. Even still, when I consider all the things I feel are important, they are not all equal: the fact is, some important things matter more than others. 

I hope to always have discerning eyes – so I can know the difference. I am grateful for good friends, like Reg, who have compassionate hearts and good souls … who remind me to take time for things that really matter. In the end, that is all that really matters.

A LAMP, A STRING & A THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT

At about 8:15 last night we had a special visitor at our door. This was the woman from Alaska I spoke of in my funeral address. We were excited to meet her in person, for she played an unexpected but important role during our darkest hours. Once a lamp unto our feet, as the path we tread was dark and treacherous, this compassionate woman was now a light to our weary hearts.

After we spoke for while we showed her Mitchell’s room which has been relatively untouched since the time of his passing. I stood in deep reverence of these two mothers who loved and lost their boys. While my heart cries out in agony over the loss of my son, I recognize that a mother’s pain is different and deeper than that of a father’s. For they gave their child life and carried them in ways only a mother knows. 

A little over a year ago I sat at the foot of this very bed, trembling and in tears as my son was sick and dying. It was in this very place we received emails from this inspired woman who offered insight and council that came from her own experience. 

It seemed rather poetic that this woman, once a stranger to us; a woman who spoke peace to our hearts during the darkest time in our lives was finally in that same room. The thought of such a reunion had never entered my heart or crossed my mind. Yet there she was, once again, like a gift from heaven. 

Why do we suffer? Why do we stumble and fall? So we can learn the deeper meaning of love, compassion and service. For without such, we wouldn't know much at all.

My heavy heart once hung by a single tattered thread. Now it hangs by a thousand threads of light. A thousand tender mercies … a thousand things that give me sight.