I’m sitting quietly under the canopy of night reading my journals. These worn out books cover over 30 years of my life: stories of struggle, despair, breakthroughs and spiritual awakenings. The sound of crickets makes this moment even more nostalgic.
I have over 200 new #mitchellsjourney stories I’ll begin to publish soon. But tonight, I wanted to look further back in time.
In an earlier essay, I made reference to a dream I had that was a foreshadowing of my journey with Mitch. I’ve had two of them, years apart, in fact. They weren’t ordinary dreams - they seemed to come from a much deeper place. It’s interesting to read the details of those dreams in my own handwriting; a kind of forewarning from so many years ago.
I don’t pretend to know what’s really happening in this life, I only know we’re not alone and that something divine walks before us, beside us, and guides our ways ... most often sight unseen. Only in retrospect do things make the most sense, it seems. All the pain, injustice, joy and opportunity I’ve ever known are deeply interconnected.
When I take the time to recognize and document the many points of light in my life, I discover a kind of new, fresh courage when I step into the unknown. Life can be bewildering and hard at times, but it is also sweet and good.
This was Mitchell’s last time at his grandmothers – the place, other than home, he loved to be above all others. I’m not sure if it was the chocolate cake from Costco she would get especially for him, or the small 4-wheelers he could ride into the woods, or if it was the escape from life as he knew it, maybe it was the unbridled love he received – but whatever it was, he wanted to be there.
As we stood at the door and said goodbye my mother reached behind Mitch, who is as shy as he is sweet, and kissed his cheek. I could tell Mitch felt so good inside. I think everybody deserves to feel good inside.
I captured this tender moment with my phone. As we left her place there was a certain heaviness in my heart. I didn’t know where my feelings were coming from – I just sensed something was happening. Something significant. As we drove away I struggled to swallow the lump in my throat. Had I known this was his last trip there, I would have begged to stay another day or two. My mother said after we left she just sat on the floor and wept. Perhaps her soul, not knowing the end was coming, was being prepared for this loss.
It was the last few days of November and the Christmas holidays were just around the corner. I could tell Mitch was excited to see what Santa would bring –but he was even more excited about the gifts he was going to give everyone else. Mitch always gave to others freely. I think deep inside he felt no matter how much he gave, he always got more in return.
Even when Mitch was home on hospice, he spent his hard-saved money on a collection of Warheads (very sour candy) and gave them away. I remember sitting with him on the edge of his bed as he separated the flavors. He softly pointed to the blue raspberry ones and said almost in a whisper, struggling to breathe, “These ones are rare. They’re my favorite.” He then grabbed my hand and put the precious 3 candies in my palm, then closed my fingers and pushed my hand back to me. I said to him, “Oh, no Mitchie, these are yours. You keep them because I know you love them.” As I reached to give them back he pushed my hand back to me with a gentle smile and said, “No, you keep them. And I want you to eat one right now.” My heart sank a little because I wanted him to have his favorite treats, but I realized in that moment that letting Mitch give was the gift he really wanted.
So, I opened one quickly and put it in my mouth. Mitch began to smile and giggle as I puckered and writhed over the intense sour candy that was destroying my taste buds. Mitch finally burst out in laughter as he saw me cry out “I can’t take it!” For Mitch, giving was a win to him. And seeing me almost gag over the super-sour candy was a second win that paid dividends of giggles and laughter.
I still have those other two candies in a special box that contains treasures from Mitch.
Mitch reminds me daily what it means to win. Sometimes life gives us double-wins when everything turns out as planned. Other times we do our best and appear to fail; but if we are honest and do our best we have already won, regardless of the outcome. What is winning, really? It is doing the right thing – no matter the cost. Mitch always did the right thing. And more often than not, he won twice.
With all his double-wins, my little boy lost his battle with life … yet he won his soul by the way he lived it. And, by the grace of God, while I stumble and fall a million times as I chase after my son, I hope to hold him once more. I hope to look into his innocent eyes and thank him for helping me understand to do good and be good is what it means to truly win.
You know those magic moments where time slows, and you wish you could stay there forever? This was one of those evenings. It was ordinary by all accounts. The Saturday chores were long done, our kids were bathed and getting ready for bed, and the sun was making its slow descent behind the hills. The summer breeze wrapped your skin like a warm blanket, and you could hear crickets begin to sing their soothing songs.
I had just stepped outside to take the garbage out when I noticed my two youngest. I smiled as I watched Mitch hum a song as he scooted about, while Wyatt had an imaginary conversation, tromping about the driveway in his tiny shoes. I can almost smell Wyatt’s freshly shampooed hair and feel the warm cotton of his pajamas, just out of the dryer. I miss those days. As I pulled out my phone to take a photo of life in motion, tiny Wyatt ran to his brother’s side, eager to make sure he was in the shot. Wyatt reached for the handlebar and pressed his baby index finger onto Mitchell’s hand as if to give him a tiny hand-hug and say, “That’s my big brother, and we’re buddies.”
As I look closely at this image, I can see the breadcrumbs of an extraordinary life hiding in plain sight. Mitch held a purple pencil in his hand and a teddy bear between his legs … evidence that children treasure the little things. Mitchell’s smile bore a fading milk mustache from lunch a few hours earlier. Wyatt wore his favorite Spiderman t-shirt and bore a similar mustache – except he also had crumbs from a cookie he’d recently gobbled down with a feverish giggle. There stood my two youngest kids … tiny, cute, perfectly imperfect, little messes. At this moment I was overwhelmed with gratitude; I was so glad to be a dad.
I was so swept up with this moment, I didn’t want it to end. I’m reminded of the phrase, “Can’t I stay a little longer? I’m so happy here.” That’s how I felt … and I wanted to live there forever.
Today, my heart says something similar. When I think back on my Camelot years, my heart whispers, “I was so happy then. If only it could have lasted. Can’t I just visit for a moment or two?” There is a part of me that wishes to go back in time because I’d relish moments in ways only a grieving heart can fully know.
In a way, I do go back in time. Only the events are fixed and, I am as a ghost visiting old times and familiar places in my mind. That’s what writing is to me: a time machine. These days 95% of my life is concerned with now and the future – but I will always reserve a little space to visit my past with a tender heart and pencil and paper.
I go back in time for at least 4 reasons:
So that I won’t forget the little things.
To make meaning of love, life, loss, and suffering.
To clean and dress my wounds.
To foster gratitude for what was and to better appreciate what I have today.
Going back in time can be tricky. If we’re not mindful, we can irritate our wounds in such a way they won’t ever heal. And sometimes, they’ll get infected. At least for me, intention has a lot to do with how I choose to heal. When I go back in time, I am always looking to understand the past, to mend what’s broken and strengthen my feeble knees. Sure, I cry -- but they are cleansing tears … the kind that keep the soil of my soul soft, fertile, and growth promoting.
The inevitable consequence of going back in time is my heart cries, “Can’t I stay a little longer?” But then the less broken part of me says, “Come as often as you like. Take what helps, heal what hurts, and find gratitude for all that ever was and is yet to be.” Those are the words that resonate deep inside of me.
With Halloween tonight, I can’t help but think of Mitchell’s last. In previous years, I the weight of grief was heavy on my soul – to the point, my lungs felt shallow and my chest heavy.
This holiday is different.
Though I miss little Mitch, I feel a great deal of love and gratitude for all that ever was. Yes, I wish I had the power to bring him back – but I am a mere mortal and can only bring his memory to my mind and heart. For now, that will have to do.
I want to re-share something I wrote in 2014 – just a year after having lost him. Lately, I’ve been re-reading my previous journal entries here and I’ve wondered to myself, “What’s changed?” I’ll share some of those observations soon.
Tonight, I’ll share what I posted just a few years ago. It’s a meditation on where the real treats of life can be found; and it’s found in the giving, not the getting.
Here is that earlier post:
Trick-or-Treating was always difficult for him. Because his muscles were wasting away he couldn't go very far … each year his Halloween adventures became shorter and shorter. Even though he had a motorized scooter, getting up and down, climbing a stair or two to reach a neighborhood door was exhausting for him. He usually couldn’t visit more than 6-7 homes before he could hardly walk and wanted to go home.
To help him, Mitchell’s brothers or sister would take his trick-or-treat bag to the door while Mitch sat in his scooter on the sidewalk. Generous neighbors would lovingly place candy in his bag as little Mitch smiled in the darkness. He was always grateful.
There was another aspect to Halloween Mitch loved even more than treasuring candy unto himself. Mitch loved giving candy away at the door. To some of his closest friends who approached the door, Mitch would give them his favorite candy from his own bag.
I took this photo of Mitch on his last Halloween. He wanted to stay home and give out candy instead of trick-or-treating himself. Each time the door would shut he would turn around only to have a big smile on his face.
Mitch learned early in his life that in giving he received so much more than those who got; a life lesson he never forgot.
Later that winter my mother came to visit for a few days. We were cuddled in the basement watching a movie when Mitch struggled to get up from the couch and waddled in his funny way over to his grandmother and offered her some of his favorite cheese popcorn from Popcornopolis. I don’t think my mother realized at the time (or even to this day) the physical struggle he went through to simply get up and share what he loved. I remember that moment so vividly. It wasn't the popcorn that really mattered to Mitch, it was the giving … and it was his struggle to give that made it all the more precious. To Mitch giving was getting.
Tonight is a tender evening for me – for I will remember my little boy who loved to give more than get. I will miss seeing that big smile on his little face and most especially his warm embrace.
Not a day passes I don't think of my son’s quiet example: he gave freely when he had so little to give, and now that is how I want to live. I often marvel and wonder, “How could it be? A little boy, mortally broken, who taught me how to see ...” One day, with a weary and broken heart, I will fall to my knees and thank my Father for sending me Mitchie.