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.   

WHEN WEAK THINGS BECOME STRONG THINGS

Toward the end, Mitch was becoming increasingly weak. His fate was slowly becoming visible – which was difficult to watch. You see, to have a child with DMD (or any fatal illness) is to watch your child die in slow motion.

I’m pretty sure if my little boy were still with me he’d add, “And help each other along the way. Life’s too hard to do it alone.”
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

On this day, we had just taken some family portraits - something I rarely did because I never felt I was very good at it. I preferred more candid photos of our family anyway. Mitch was so cooperative and tender when it was his turn – and because of that, we were blessed to capture a portrait of Mitch that was a mirror image of his sweet soul. I will forever treasure that photo.

When it was time to move on, Mitch said softly, “Mom, will you help me off the ground? I can’t do it by myself anymore.” Natalie’s smile faded slightly, and a pang of sorrow showed through her countenance.

By conventional terms, Mitch wasn’t strong – but he was strong where it mattered ... and that's all that mattered. The notion of strength these days seems to masquerade as brute force, chest-thumping, and vitriol. The irony of anger imitating as strength is when everybody is yelling, nobody is yelling anymore. Outrage becomes the new normal – and never have I seen a man more careless and weak as when he was drunk with rage.

Author Eric Hoffer observed, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” I’ve seen plenty of rude people in my life. Ironically, in their perceived strength, they were weakest. I’ve seen successful people fail at being true leaders when there was an opportunity to do a good work for humanity and mentor a rising generation with capacity and great desire. I’ve seen some of them abandon reason and their religion for madness and disillusionment. While they were pointing to the failures of others, the more searching question they ignored was who really failed who.

In contrast to those would-be-giants who took a low road, I see my son in this photo … weak, inexperienced, yet sincere at heart. Even in all his weakness, I discovered tremendous moral strength. Mitch learned what so many forget these days, to “Be nice to each other and be glad you’re alive. Nothing else matters.” I’m pretty sure if my little boy were still with me he’d add, “And help each other along the way. Life’s too hard to do it alone.”

I’ve been taught that we are given weaknesses in this life so that we might become humble. And, if we humble ourselves and seek God’s help, those weak things can become strong things. In matters of the mind and soul, weak things don’t automatically become strong. In fact, they will remain weak, and possibly become weaker still, if we aren’t conscious of turning those weaknesses into strengths. Heaven knows I have many weaknesses and I often seem to fall short of who I want to be. But then again, who doesn’t? Any more, I focus less on being discouraged over where I think I should be and instead more on what direction I’m headed. The journey is kinder and more rewarding that way. If you haven’t tried to see life through that lens, give it a try.

Just yesterday I was speaking with a colleague about whether the notion of “living with no regrets” is attainable. He thought for a minute and wondered where the truth was. I then said, “I believe that is a false promise. Everyone has regrets because everyone is human and makes mistakes. Instead, I believe we should learn how to turn regret into resolve. The most realistic aim in life is not to live a life of no regrets, but rather to live in such a way we’re glad we lived the life we lived. We’re glad of the joys and sorrows, successes and failures – because, if properly examined, they each contribute to making us wiser and stronger.”

Throughout my life, I have been injured by some who masqueraded their weakness as strength. In stark contrast, I’ve been inspired by a little boy whose weaknesses revealed his true strength. What’s more, my son’s journey taught me however much I stumble and fall; I have a loving Father who can help me through it all.

I am a lowly beggar in search of understanding and peace, and the heavenly paradox is it only comes when I try to bring others relief. As I get a little older, I worry less about the many and more about the one. In God’s arithmetic, it isn’t about the 99, but instead about the one. That is, and will ever be, where the work of the soul is done.

ECLIPSE

Last week, Natalie and I set out to do what millions of people did ... we took our kids, along with a friend, Jonathan Gardner, who we met through #mitchellsjourney to Madras Oregon to witness the total eclipse.

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We rented a van (almost a small bus) and went on a long drive to the coast of Oregon at first, then journeyed inland to an arid town (Madras) in hopes of clear skies and a glimpse of an astronomical wonder.

Along the way, we stopped to take photos of the Oregon landscape.

Our First Adventure, A Waterfall & the Ocean

Preparing for the Eclipse

We camped at SolarFest (local fairgrounds in the town of Madras) but then went to Solar Town (a plot of farm land just outside Madras) to see the actual eclipse.

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Great shot, Jonathan!

Great shot, Jonathan!

Wyatt enjoying a pineapple smoothie

Wyatt enjoying a pineapple smoothie

Another great shot by Jonathan of the campgrounds a the fairgrounds

Another great shot by Jonathan of the campgrounds a the fairgrounds

Solar Town - The Place We Photographed the Eclipse

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As the Eclipse Began

As the sun began to hide behind the moon, I was overwhelmed with a sense of humankind's utter nothingness against the backdrop of an infinite universe. It was a humbling to witness the majesty of two celestial bodies interact. As small as I felt, my feelings about Mitch loomed enormous.

A Moment for Mitch

As the Sky darkened I thought to myself how much Mitch would've loved to see what I saw. I know there are people who will say, "he was there with you" ... but he wasn't ... not in the way I wanted him with me.

So, before I began to take in the eclipse, I dedicated a small prayer in my heart so I might always remember my little boy and re-commit to be nice to others and be grateful for life.

The Eclipse Closing In

Here are a few photos of our experience and what we captured. Admittedly, our photos of the eclipse itself are unremarkable, inasmuch as they look like everyone else's photos. But these were our pictures and we were excited to take them.

The Moment of Totality, a 360° Sunset

At the moment of totality, we were surrounded by a 360° sunset. Mitch, having loved sunsets the way he did, would've been fascinated. I'm putting together a little video of the experience that I'll post shortly.

Unfortunately, this panoramic photo is blurry - but it still serves to show how dark the sky became during the 2+ minutes of totality.


The Sun's Corona


Our Favorite Photo of The Eclipse

The last photo in this series is my favorite. I took a burst of photos as the sun began to break over the edge of the moon and that photo represents one of them. Captured in that series show multiple sun flares. It was amazing to witness.


Hi Marlie!

The morning we returned home, Natalie and I went to our cousin's home whose family was watching Marlie for us.  THis was the look on her face after our being gone for 5 days.  It was as if she were saying, "Dad, is that you?  Where have you been?"  

This little pup who gave Mitch great comfort now serves our family in a similar way.


It was a fun adventure and I am so glad we saw it through. Wyatt and Ethan were anxious to photograph the journey so they could make videos and photo journals of their own. Jonathan (our family friend) and Natalie both took photos like a paparazzi.

I think it's safe to say, if nobody else on this planet shot the eclipse save our family, we'd have had it covered. 

For those who are following our Everyday Photography tutorial, this series can serve as an example of our photojournalistic style.  

GRATITUDE, JOY & LAUGHTER

Mitch never saw his glass half empty, nor did he see it half full. He was just grateful there was something in it.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

It was a hot, muggy and vaguely miserable summer-like afternoon. We were at a family reunion/vacation far from home. The days were long, and there was a lot of travelling and waiting in the heat. Even the shade of trees didn’t offer much comfort from the suffocating humidity. It was easy to feel miserable.

Mitch could tell Ethan was getting worn out by the heat, so he called out to his older brother, “Effie, come over here. I’ll give you a ride.” Ethan smiled with relief and ran to his little brother who wanted only to serve him. With a childlike thump, Ethan plopped his bum on the seat, and Mitch powered up his scooter. Just then, mischievous Mitch turned to his brother and began to blow on his face. “There, are you cool now?” Ethan grimaced, and they both began to laugh and laugh. Mitch never missed an opportunity to laugh or make any heavy situation seem light.

There is a layer to little Mitch I don’t often write about, and that is his sense of humor. As Mitchell’s body grew from toddler to young boy, his mind and soul began to grow in unexpected ways. On more than a thousand-and-one occasions, I was startled by his intelligence, deep insight or brilliant humor. I admired him and often said to myself, “Who are you, really?” I sensed a greatness in him that was just beneath the surface of that otherwise quiet little boy … I sensed an old soul slowly awakening and that he had a very special purpose on this earth. 

As I look at this photo, and many like them, I remember how often Mitch taught me the importance of laughing whenever you can. To this day, some of the funny things he did years ago still make me giggle – and my soul smiles. How I love that little boy. How I miss him.

At the time of this photo, Mitch was becoming noticeably weaker as compared to the rest of his friends. While they ran at top speed, he stumbled and could hardly walk the distance of a basketball court without his legs almost giving out beneath him. While they jumped, he fell to the ground. The world was closing in on little Mitch, and there was no escape from the muscle wasting that was slowly taking his life away from him. 

Life for Mitch was a lot like this hot summer day; it would have been easy to feel miserable. 

What I love about this ordinary image is how it captured his resolve for joy. Mitch never saw his glass half empty, nor did he see it half full. He was just grateful there was something in it. 

Oh, what a difference it makes to treasure what we have instead of measure what we don’t. 

Mitch taught me that when I find gratitude in what I have, joy follows. And where there is joy, there is laughter.

INSTAGRAM

For those on Instagram, I'm going to start posting unique micro stories of Mitch as well as snapshots of today; things Mitch would have loved and how we're carrying on after his loss. instagram.com/mitchells_journey

Little Mitch had an Instagram account as well and I'll soon share some of his unique captures that serve as windows to his little heart and soul. 

Stay tuned, here and there, and I'll share more of that little boy whose broken heart broke my heart... and somehow put it back together again.

SMALL PLATES & CHICKEN NUGGETS

Though at times, I may feel my plate to be small and my chicken nuggets few, I can find gratitude with what I have … for I have a plate and chicken nuggets.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

Little Mitch sat quietly at our kitchen counter ready to eat lunch. His dear mommy prepared a plate of warm chicken nuggets and a dollop of ketchup. Chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese were among his favorite lunchtime meals. Though we were struggling to make ends meet at the time, Mitch always felt like he ate like a king. It didn’t matter if he had a bowl of Top Ramen or a grilled cheese sandwich, Mitch appreciated everything.

While his older siblings were at school, Mitch found ways to keep himself company. Wherever he went, he carried little treasures with him. Every day, we would find them in his small pant pockets, his backpack, lunch pail and in his tiny hands. As I watched my little son, I began to discover these things were more than tiny treasures … they were symbols of his affection. Suddenly, I was reminded of the passage, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” When I saw my son’s treasures, I knew where his heart was. 

So, on this warm afternoon, I saw my tiny son carefully place his little treasures around his small lunch plate. On the left was his favorite racecar; Mitchell’s muscles were weak, but he was learning to be more active and he loved how he felt when he was on the move. This car was a symbol of his love for movement. Next to this car stood his puppy, which reminded him of our family dog and the love he felt for her. Then, a figure of a little boy which represented himself. Standing next to him was another figure Mitch called dad. Never did I see those two characters apart … they were always, always together. Finally, on the far right was Buzz Lightyear, his noble protector, a shield from anything that might cause harm to the things he loved. My heart melted when I saw this tender display of affection.

Later that day, I started to notice the same thing with my other children. Each had treasures unique to them. I wasn’t just fascinated by what they treasured, but how they treasured it and what each treasure revealed about their hearts. Every bookcase, drawer and collection revealed something about their little minds and hearts. What might have looked like a mess was actually a message. And suddenly, I was listening.

My sweet wife always seemed to notice our children’s treasures (and hearts) naturally … but I had to learn the slow way. But, at least I learned. 

What I learned from my children was everyone has tiny treasures, even adults. What we do, and cling to, is an evidence of where our heart is. 

What always struck me about Mitch was how he seemed to treasure everything and that he was grateful for whatever he had. During his darkest moments I heard him say things like, “Well, at least I can walk” or “At least I’m alive.” I may be guilty of many things, but I never want to be guilty of ingratitude. Little Mitch taught me that no matter how difficult a moment may seem, I can always find something to be grateful for.

Though at times, I may feel my plate to be small and my chicken nuggets few, I can find gratitude with what I have … for I have a plate and chicken nuggets.