NIGHTFALL*

Night had fallen, and so had our hopes for one more day. My weary, tattered son lay in his bed unable to move and barely breathing. Within the last 12 hours his heart had greatly enlarged which caused his chest to protrude; he looked deformed and it was disturbing to see. The candle of life was dim and flickering by the winds of change. I could feel the coldness of death lapping at my feet and I was terrified. Even though night had long since fallen, more than the sky was dark. 

I had dozed off on the floor of Mitchell's room, next to my wife. Fatigue had taken hold of me ... I was so very tired. As I was beginning to drift into a deep sleep I awoke with a distinct impression to tuck my son in - something he asked me to do every night. "Hey Mitch ..." I said in a soft whisper, "I'm tucking you in, just as you like it. I love you son, so very much. Don't be afraid; remember what we taught you. Everything is going to be okay." 

I'm told that hearing is the last thing to go for those who are dying. For reasons I have earlier posted I know my son heard me. Those were the last words Mitch heard in mortality. Within 30 minutes of that gentle whisper and kiss on his face, my precious little boy passed away. I hope he wasn't scared. I hope.

We've also been told that children who are about to pass away often wait for their parents to leave the room or they linger for permission to go because they don't want to hurt or disappoint. Knowing this, I wanted my weary son who so fought valiantly to live; this little boy of ours … who always wanted to make us happy … I wanted him to know that we loved him and that all would be well. No sooner had I drifted back to sleep Natalie had got up from the floor to administer Mitchell's medicine, which he was now receiving every two hours. 

I'll never forget the sound of Natalie's voice. Her words pierced the silence of the room like a samurai sword through paper: .... "Chris." Suddenly, with the thunder of 1 million exploding suns, I awoke that instant only to see a mother's face that looked confused, scared and deeply bereft. I got up from the floor by Mitchell's bed and placed my hand on his chest. Nothing. Our precious son, our broken baby, was gone. 

We could scarcely believe our eyes. Lying on Mitchell's bed was the form of a little boy we raised since birth and loved with all of our hearts. His body was still warm and it seemed as if we could just shake him a little as if to wake him from a deep sleep and that all would be well. But Mitch had fallen into a sleep from whence there is no return.

As each hour passed we could feel his arms and legs get colder. Soon, only the center of his chest was warm and it was cooling quickly. Then his body started to change. At about 3:45 AM I called the funeral home to pick him up and they were at our home within an hour. I asked them to hurry because I wasn't sure I could watch my son's body continue down the path it was heading.

Processing the death of your child is something of a bi-polar experience taken to the greatest extremes. One moment you feel peace then suddenly you confront feelings of horror – the likes of which you've never known.

With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness … a darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.

Yet, I've discovered something in all this darkness. Once I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies present themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.

To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see. 

I can see


FIRE FOR WATER [repost]

I have had many, many people reach out to me in the last 48 hours, each carrying heavy burdens of grief of their own, trying to make sense of their own sorrows. My heart goes out to everyone who hurts – because I hurt, too. While I don’t repost my essays, I felt it would be useful to share this again because of the many private inquiries regarding my thoughts on God and suffering. 

The following is my original post:

Mitchell’s final days were so very hard. We had learned that excessive sleeping was a sign that death was near, and he began to sleep more and more. Perhaps what makes my son’s passing additionally hard for me is there was no formal goodbye. It wasn't like he was boarding an airplane, or car, or a boat – as if to go on a long journey. There was no clear demarcation where I could give him a hug and look him in the eye and say “This is it, son. Oh, how I love you. Thank you for being such a good boy and I am so proud of you. I’ll see you soon.” He was awake and talking one moment, then he just drifted back to sleep and never woke up. By the time we realized what was happening, it was too late, and he was unable to open his eyes or talk. I know he heard us the night he passed because he could squeeze our hands in answer to our questions. And that night we did tell him we loved with all of our hearts as we wet his hands and face with our tears. But my heart and soul wanted more.

For reasons I do not understand, this was my son’s journey and I wish with all of my heart I could have taken that journey for him. But such a path was not part of God’s plan for my son or my family. My son’s death has taken my own heart, a heart that already cried at commercials or subtle acts of kindness, down a path that has caused it to be tenderer, still. My broken boy broke me. But I am putting myself back together once piece at a time.

A colleague said to me recently “There are two types of people in this world: those who admit to being broken, and those who don’t.” A poignant reminder that we are all mortal and there are always broken things to mend.

When it comes to the death of my father or my son’s disability and death, I have never experienced anger. I’m told anger is a necessary part of the grief cycle – but I feel no anger. At least for me, I have accepted those hardships as something from which I am meant to learn. What’s more, what does anger toward God profit a man? I have seen what the fire of anger can do to one’s self and to others; it consumes and destroys. Water, on the other hand, renews and gives life.

So while my soul trembles with grief and sorrow, I don’t shake my fists at God; angry at the burden we must bear. Instead, I kneel before Him and ask for mercy as I stumble to learn what I must. And while I weep because I miss my son terribly, my heart is also glad that I was blessed to be his father. Some of the greatest blessings come at the greatest price. 

As often as possible I will trade fire for water; anger for tears. Instead of scorching the soil of my soul, I will water it with my tears and hope to grow.

NIGHTFALL

Night had fallen, and so had our hopes for one more day. My weary, tattered son lay in his bed unable to move and barely breathing. Within the last 12 hours his heart had greatly enlarged - causing his chest to protrude. He looked deformed. It was disturbing to see. The candle of life was dim and flickering by the winds of change. Even though night had long since fallen, more than the sky was dark. I had dozed off on the floor of Mitchell's room, next to my wife. As I was beginning to drift into a deep sleep I awoke with a distinct impression to tuck my son in - something he asked me to do every night.

"Hey Mitch ..." I said in a soft whisper, "I'm tucking you in, just as you like it. I love you son, so very much. Don't be afraid; remember what we taught you. Everything is going to be okay." 

I'm told that hearing is the last thing to go for those who are dying. For reasons I have earlier posted I know my son heard me. Those were the last words Mitch heard in mortality. Within 30 minutes of that gentle whisper and kiss on his face, my precious little boy passed away. I hope he wasn't scared. I hope.

We've also been told that children who are about to pass away often wait for their parents to leave the room or they linger for permission to go because they don't want to hurt or disappoint. Knowing this, I wanted my weary son, who fought valiantly to live; who always wanted to make us happy to know that we loved him and that all would be well. No sooner had I drifted back to sleep that Natalie got up from the floor to administer Mitchell's medicine, which he was now receiving every two hours. I'll never forget the sound of Natalie's voice. Her words pierced the silence of the room like a samurai sword through paper: .... "Chris." Suddenly, with the thunder of 1 million exploding suns, I awoke that instant only to see a mother's face that looked confused, scared and deeply bereft. I got up from the floor by Mitchell's bed and placed my hand on his chest. Nothing. Our precious son, our broken baby, was gone. 

My sweet wife sat by her little boy, sometimes draping over him as if to comfort him, holding his lifeless hand. She stayed there and wept for a few hours. She never left him - and deep inside she wished he had never left her. The look of anguish on my tender wife's face broke my heart. Baby Marlie curled around Mitchell's head earlier that evening as if to comfort him and never left his side. Mitch loved his puppy and always found her a source of comfort. 

We could scarcely believe our eyes. Lying on Mitchell's bed was the form of a little boy we raised since birth and loved with all of our hearts. His body was still warm and it seemed as if we could just shake him a little as if to wake him from a deep sleep and that all would be well. But Mitch had fallen into a sleep from whence there is no return.

As each hour passed we could feel his arms and legs get colder. Soon, only the center of his chest was warm and it was cooling quickly. Then his body started to change. At about 3:45 AM I called the funeral home to pick him up and they were at our home within an hour. I asked them to hurry because I wasn't sure I could watch my son's body continue down the path it was heading.

Processing the death of your child is something of a bi-polar experience taken to the greatest extremes. One moment you feel peace then suddenly you confront feelings of horror – the likes of which you've never known.

With all the lip service we give our religious beliefs, there is nothing so exacting as to see your child die and then to peer into the dark abyss of death. I have been taught that: "Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown ... must walk to the edge of the light, then a few steps into the darkness." My son's journey, Mitchell's Journey, has forced my wife and I to step into the darkness. A darkness that is as heavy as it is pitch.

Yet, I've discovered something in all this darkness. Once I allowed my spiritual eyes to adjust and look upward, I started to see the stars. Against the backdrop of all that is black and frightening I can see little flecks of light, tender mercies that were always there but I didn't have eyes to see them. And the accumulation of these tender mercies present themselves like heavenly constellations so I can find my way. If I look down or to the side, all I see is darkness. Like ancient navigators who looked to the heavens for bearing I can see the fingerprint of God in all that has happened and I now have a sense of direction. I know we're not alone.

To be clear, it is still nightfall and my heart is heavy with a sinking sorrow. There are days that are blacker than black and the waves of grief threaten to pull me under. But when I look to the heavens I can see. 

I can see.