Posts tagged Seasonal_November
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Tonight, I tried to watch this video without crying.  I failed.  I’ve tried to watch this a thousand times while keeping my composure, but I fail every time.  The video is entitled, “The Last Goodbye.”

When Mitch was home on hospice, his elementary school rallied together and made him a get-well DVD.  Contained in this video were messages from friends, students, and faculty who wanted Mitch to know he was missed and above all, loved.  The final commentary (as seen in this screen grab) was from the former principal, Mrs. Shelly Davis, who had recently transferred to a different school across the valley. The loving souls who made this video went out of their way to include her, and her loving comments made a deep impact on Mitch.  There is something quite special about this Principal.  She leads with love and authenticity and exemplifies the principle of servant leadership.  In every way, she was a tender mercy to Mitch, and I thank heaven she was part of his journey and made a difficult path a little less bumpy.

When we showed this video to Mitch for the first time, I turned my camera toward my son so that I could capture his reaction to the video.  It starts out sweet but gets progressively more tender. 

Toward the end, you’ll witness a sacred conversation between my son and me.  Every time he looked in my direction, he noticed my eyes pooling with tears, especially when Mrs. Davis came entered the frame.  There was a point near the end this video Mitch looked at me with an expression as if to say, “I’m not going to make it back to school, am I, Dad?”  When he gave me that look, the floodgates opened, and tears began streaming down my neck.  Thus, began the delicate conversations and the careful unraveling of Mitchell’s fate.

This video is as close to a conversation with Mitch that I’ll ever have in mortality.  The way he looks at me melts my heart, yet breaks it at the same time.  I loved this little boy so much, and it broke me to see him slipping through my fingers like a baby made of sand.

I remember kneeling before my Father that night, pleading for my son to be delivered from death; but if not, that we would have the strength to carry such a burden.  I wet my pillow with tears that night like I did the night before, and the night before that, even to infinity.

The next morning, I saw my little boy smiling, and my heart was made glad.  I had a distinct impression from my Father that my son would not survive, but that our backs would be made stronger … somehow, some way.  In that moment of joy, seeing my son smile, I sensed death drawing near.  I wrote in my journal later that morning, “Death is coming for my son. I can feel it in the marrow of my soul, but for now, I’ll treasure each moment I’m blessed to have him.”  

Over the next few weeks, I learned to acknowledge my son’s inevitable fate while learning to say, “But for now …”  Most painfully, I became a student of hardship and sorrow, learning to let go of tomorrow and live in the moment.  I’m not the first to write about such things, and I certainly won’t be the last.  In many ways, learning to live in the moment is a personal journey, and the lessons therein are layered.  Most often, we learn this lesson over a lifetime.  Perhaps what is why grandparents, rich with experience, savor their grandchildren so.                                                

Learning to live in the moment was something I had to practice, even in grief.  After Mitch passed, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper in grief and began to acknowledge, “I’m in so much pain.  I don’t know when this will end – or if it will ever end.  But for now, I’ll take things a step at a time.”                                                            

Thankfully, I’ve discovered, there is an end.  It isn’t because grief goes away (it doesn’t), but our backs will get stronger and, with heaven’s help, our burdens will seem light.  Today, I experience more peace than pain, but as sure as the sun will rise and set each day, so will the cycles of grief return with its associated darkness and sorrow. But for now, I’ll enjoy the peace heaven has afforded me; and when darkness returns, as it surely will, I’ll look heavenward and count our tender mercies, like stars in the heavens.  However dark the path may seem, there is always evidence of heaven’s hand, once before unseen.

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It was a cold November night when we arrived at grandma’s house.  Eager to stretch their legs from a 4-hour drive, our kids sprang from the car and ran to the front door only to be received with warm hugs and kisses from loving grandparents.  It was an especially tender time as our petition for a heart transplant was denied.  We were on borrowed time. 

In the marrow of my soul, I knew time was short, and that frightened me.  A few weeks before this photo, I sent a message to family letting them know Mitch was in trouble. 

In part of that letter, I wrote:

“Today Natalie and I sit with Mitch on the edge of an invisible cliff.  He can't see it, but my wife and I can - and the mouth of the abyss is yawned and inching to devour our son.  Yet, Mitchell looks out into the vast horizon unaware and envisions a long, bright future ahead of him.  In his little mind, he is already making big plans.  He wants to build a home next to ours with a tunnel connecting our basements, so he and his dad can watch movies and make popcorn.  He wants to work for his dad when he's older.  He talks about his own kids one day and how he’ll raise them as we raised him.  As he points to his vision of the future with youthful enthusiasm and a zest for life, he doesn't realize that he sits on the outermost edge and the ground from under him has crumbled away into the darkness – and his little body is hanging on by a pebble.  What Mitchell doesn't understand is the beautiful horizon he sees is only a mirage, and in reality, the sun is setting on his own life.

 Mitchell is too young to know what’s happening.  If he knew how close he is to completing this mortal journey, he would be terrified.  And we can’t bring ourselves to let him know the mortal danger he faces.  And we won’t.

 I write you today not to seek pity or sadness – but to alert you to his situation and invite you when you see him next, to give him a little more attention and love than usual.  We don’t know how much time we have with him, but the hour is late and midnight uncertain, so we want him to feel loved and appreciated during whatever time he has left.”

 I was very emotional at the time.  The simplest trigger would send tears streaming down my face.  A pothole while driving, a ray of light, or a fleeting memory that crossed my mind – everything was a trigger.  Though my heart was fragile, I tried to hide my sorrow from my son.  I didn’t want him to be afraid of something he had no control.  Suddenly, I understood like never before, how much a parent wants for their child’s happiness; and to see our children suffer is an agony for which there is no equal.

Suddenly, I understood like never before, how much a parent wants for their child’s happiness; and to see our children suffer is an agony for which there is no equal.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

So, when my mother said, “Mitch, I have a surprise for you,” and my little boy smiled, my heart was awash with gratitude.  My mother knew Mitchells’ favorite dessert was chocolate cake from Costco – and Mitch knew it, too.  As our kids gathered in the kitchen and Grandma began to slice into that chocolaty goodness, Mitch had a smile that made my heart sing.  It was a simple thing to remember Mitch and treat him with something he loved – but I’ve learned that the small and simple things are really big things.

As I tucked Mitch in that night, he said in a soft tone, “Dad, Grandma is so nice to remember I like chocolate cake from Costco.”  I paused a moment, and Mitch then asked, “Are you crying?”  I whispered, “Son, sometimes moms and dads cry when special things happen to their kids.  Our hearts explode, and it squirts out of our eyes.”  Mitch giggled a little and snuggled into a deep pillow, ready to visit a place of dreams.

Mitch knew there were sweeter things in life than chocolate cake – and as much as he loved that treat, he loved the sweeter things of life even more.  The loving kindness of a grandparent, a simple act of service, or a friendly hello meant more to Mitch than all the candy on earth.

As I reflect on my son’s journey, though it broke my heart, I am so grateful for my mother and the sweeter things of life.  For when all seemed dark, it was these little moments that broke through the shadows and shed a little light.  I will thank my Father when I kneel before Him tonight.


About a year after Mitch passed, Wyatt asked to visit the cemetery, so he could reflect on life and remember his older brother.  Young Wyatt began to notice his memories were fading and said in a tearful tone, “I’m afraid of forgetting my brother.”  Wyatt and I sat on the west side of Mitchell’s headstone as the sun began to set.  I just listened to Wyatt share what was on his young mind and little heart and how much he wanted to be a good boy and follow the example of his brother.   

... to be remembered is not the substance of life – but paving the way for others is.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

On Mitchell’s headstone, I could see Wyatt’s reflection inside his shadow and took this photo of what I saw.  I couldn’t help but think how quickly memories can fade if we’re not careful to record them.  I also began to think how quickly we can forget some of life's most important lessons.  I hope always to remember the people and the lessons – so that I might grow from the love I felt and the things I’ve experienced.  That’s why I do the work of remembering (writing about) little Mitch and our journey with him.

I recently read an article about grief where the author said the greatest fear of a parent who lost a child was having their child forgotten by others.  While that may be true for some, that’s not how I feel. 

It wasn’t many years ago I was working on a documentary and stumbled into an old funeral program from the early 19th century.  Printed on the cover was an almost daguerreotype image of someone reminiscent of the pioneer era.  Written boldly on the cover of the program were the words, “Gone but not forgotten.”  I immediately thought to myself, “If only that were true.”  There, in my hands, I may have been holding the only visual breadcrumb of that man’s existence … evidence he walked the earth and had an impact in his sphere of influence.  It was clear he would be missed by those who knew and loved him, yet generations had since passed, and that lone memorial somehow found its way into my hands.  As far as I could tell, the memory of that good man was all but a vapor.  His memory scattered like dust by the winds of time.

As I’ve reflected the harsh reality, I began to examine why I write of little Mitch. I determined that I don’t write to fixate on the past but to learn from it and change how I step into the future.  I don’t write to keep his memory alive in others – instead, to keep his memory alive in me.  I write so I can make sense of suffering and remember the lessons I’ve learned through heartache and a veil of tears.  I write so I might look heavenward and learn what I must – for all too soon, my time will be up, and I will fall into that deep sleep from which there is no return.  One day, I will be like billions before me --- gone and soon forgotten.  That’s fine by me; for, to be remembered is not the substance of life – but paving the way for others is.                                                                                           

I suppose that’s why I share my journals – so perhaps a flickering candle of faith might light the path for someone else walking a dark road.  When people write me private messages after having read an entry and share how they went their knees and asked their Father if He lives, and how they received an answer, I weep tears of gratitude.  When a mother or father shares how they’ve become more loving or in the moment with their child, my heart is made glad.  Those are the reasons I share stories of Mitch – not that people will remember my son, but that individual lives might see something anew and make a change for the better. 

This work of remembering (Mitchell’s Journey) is about the examined life and making a change for the better.  For it isn't enough to remember the people and events in our lives ... but instead to find meaning.  And if all these stories amount to helping a single soul, even if it’s just one;  my heart will be full, and an important work will be done.