THE ECHOES WE MAKE

It was summer and the color of the evening sun had poured into the room like a glass of warm orange juice. Grandpa hiked his pant legs a little as he sat down to tell my small children some tall tales. My little ones sat around him (Mitch on the right), captivated and smiling as their grandfather lovingly wove a story of fiction, magic, and a little bit of nonsense.

Mitch tugged softly at my arm as he pointed to the glowing lint floating in the air as it crossed paths with the window. He said in a whisper, “Dad, it looks like space.” I put my arm around him as he began to lay his head into my chest. Time slowed to a near halt as we had one of those perfect moments you wish could last forever. There were no digital screens to look at, no earbuds drowning out the world, no text messages, RSS feeds and other suffocating distractions … nothing but each other, love and the lost art of storytelling.

I remember admiring my father-in-law [a man who is as kind-hearted as he is good] connect with my children in his own, unique way. I was grateful for this soft moment. As my children were swept away in story, my mind drifted to other things. I couldn't help but think of my son, a little boy who had done the world no harm yet was a victim to a deadly disease from which there was no escape. Although he appeared healthy, I knew that he was dying faster than the rest of us. And that broke my heart.

When I leaned down to kiss Mitchell’s forehead, he put his hand on the side of my face as if to keep me there and whispered, “I love you, dad.” My eyes welled as I whispered back, “I love you more.”

I then lifted my head and looked at a wise grandfather investing his time and loving attention with my children. I began to think about the passage of time and the natural order of life. It occurred to me that before we know it, age will catch up to this wonderful man and he will soon pass away. Whatever material possessions he may have accumulated will matter not one bit. Neither will popularity or prestige. The only thing he will take with him is what he has become. And the echo of his influence and choices will be the only lasting inheritance he will pass on to the generations that follow.

As I sat in this room surrounded by a family that I love deeply, I began to contemplate the echoes we make, the ripples our choices have on ourselves and others. They can build or destroy. They can be loud as thunder or soft as whispers. They can last generations or be silenced in less than one.

Author Peggy O’Mara said, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I found this to be true, at least for me. I hope that any inpatient or unkind word I may have ever said to my son was drowned out by how much and how often I tried to love him. And I hope that when my son was passing that he found comfort in his inner voice – that he looked forward with faith, not fear. That he knew he was loved by those of us here ... and the many that are over there.

As I peer into the abyss of death, unable to see with mortal eyes what exactly lies within, I can hear the echo of my son; his goodness, his love, his obedience, and faith. I hope that I carry his echo forward.

Losing my son (or anyone) is a painful reminder that suns set, seasons change, leaves fall, and so do our bodies. And if that's the case, I do well to remember that I only have a few minutes on this planet and I had better make the most of it. Of all the things we give and take, perhaps nothing is so important as the echoes we make.

DIVIDENDS FOR A LIFETIME *

Mitch was at the hospital for a routine checkup with his neurologist. The frequency of visits had gone up because he had reached the age doctors wanted to start benchmarking his muscle wasting. I was always sure to clear off my schedule so I could go to the hospital with Natalie and Mitch. I never wanted Mitch to be scared and see an empty chair where his dad should have been. I never wanted him to feel alone. Until his dying day, I always tried to be there for him.

I have come to learn when I invest in my family, it pays dividends for a lifetime.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

As we waited for the neurologist to arrive, Mitch and I sat at the examination table and had a make-believe battle with some toys the hospital gave him. When it came to parenting, I never lost sight of my responsibility to teach him correct principles and encourage him to govern himself. But when it came to playing … I always got on his level and played as though we were childhood peers. Mitch would get swept away in the little stories we would co-create. On this occasion, we imagined the exam table was the top of a snowy mountain … so high in the atmosphere, gravity was light, and you could see the stars at noonday. The fate of the universe was at hand, and the two of us were battling it out.

Mitch giggled as he found a creative way to defeat me and win the universe. I remember this moment like it was yesterday and it will always be close to my heart.

I have never regretted prioritizing my family. Not once. Though I’m an imperfect parent, I have come to learn when I invest in my family, it pays dividends for a lifetime. This moment was just such an investment, and my heart is paid with gratitude and love … and that heals me.

Tonight, I will invest time in my children like I did this day with little Mitch. I will try to give them all of me and let them know how much I love them. For not many years from now, I will look back on today and either pay the price of regret or win the glad dividends of doing the right things at the right time and be glad I lived the life I lived.

 

When it came to his imagination, little Mitch left no detail behind.  His imagination was intricate and full of endless possiblities.  

 

THE PEASANT & THE GLASS SLIPPER

I remember nervously asking Natalie to join me at a family reunion in Nevada. I was a college student, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was just a goofy guy – a geek on every level. She worked in a law office and always intimidated me. In her mind, she quietly felt as though she lost her glass slipper, an intruder at the ball, and that she wasn’t anything special. To me, she was a princess, unaware – more beautiful and remarkable than she had eyes to see. How often I tried to say, “If you don’t believe your eyes, please believe me.”

So when she said yes to my invitation, I almost couldn’t believe it.

I remember the long six-hour drive to Mesquite, Nevada. I worried about boring her. I worried that if she discovered the real me … you know, the ordinary, flawed me … perhaps she would lose interest. On so many levels, I felt like an impostor; for I felt far less than what I might have seemed. But I set those self-doubts aside and trusted where my heart was leading me. All I could do was be me and hope for the best.

Nineteen years have passed and this humble princess who felt like a peasant has become, at least to me, the most beautiful and courageous person on earth. I remain, and will ever be, deep in her shadow. For her light shines brightly, so often helping me to see. Me, the true peasant, and she, royalty.
— Christopher Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I’ll never forget that long drive. We talked and laughed and before we knew it, the 6-hour drive felt like 30 minutes. At one point, our arms were resting on the center console and they almost touched … my heart nearly exploded. It was on this same trip Natalie and I sat at the edge of a swimming pool under a moonlit sky when I asked her if she would marry me. I didn’t have a ring in my pocket – I just had a lot of love in my heart and I wanted to give it all to her.

Somehow this extraordinary woman said yes to a most ordinary boy.

We started our lives together in humble circumstances. We lived in a dark, spider-ridden basement apartment. We had old furniture and used dishes, hand-me-down books, and thrift-store decorations. We were poor in things of the world – but we were rich in the things that mattered most. As I’ve grown up a little, I’ve discovered the material things we think we want in life often take us away from the things we need.

It wasn’t long before we started our family. Each child was a remarkable gift. Laura-Ashley, our first, was a precious little girl who was smart and sassy. She is almost 18 years old now, and she is still smart and sassy. Ethan soon followed; a loving and sincere boy who was as funny as he was creative. Then came Mitch, a quiet and docile child whose love was transcendent. He would capture our hearts, break them and put our faith to the test. Wyatt soon followed … an alert, passionate and loving boy who would become a ray of light during life’s darkest moments.

I had no idea that the girl who swept me off my feet and made my voice tremble and hands shake as a college student would soon become my soul mate and that our life journey would take us down such unexpected, soul-stretching paths. I wish I could say life went according to plan. To the contrary, our greatest nightmare became our waking reality. We’ve had wins and losses. We’ve endured famine and weathered terrible storms. During times of trouble, we clung to each other and held on the best we knew how.

Nineteen years have passed and this humble princess who felt like a peasant has become, at least to me, the most beautiful and courageous person on earth. I remain, and will ever be, deep in her shadow. For her light shines brightly, so often helping me to see. Me, the true peasant, and she, royalty.

When we’ve reached our golden age, when our lives are nearly done, I’ll look back and count my blessings and know that Natalie was the biggest one.

 

 

IN TIME

This photo not only holds a tender story of a time long gone, but a metaphor for today. I find myself where Wyatt once stood in this photo. Next to me, on the edge of the unknown, Mitch, my son and brother, points into the dark water at things I cannot yet see … and he whispers to my soul words meant just for me.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

I can still hear the evening crickets on this nearly magical summer eve. Like a sunburn, I can feel the warmth of summer on my skin. Mitch pointed into the dark water as Wyatt listened intently. “See, those fish? They are a family.” Wyatt replied, “Do they like gummy worms?” Mitch furrowed his brow a moment and thought … then said, “Probably. But I think they like Doritos best.”

I chuckled at my little boys. I wanted to hug them that instant but refrained because this was their moment. My heart was overflowing with a kind of fatherly gratitude I had never experienced until that moment. I dreamt of becoming a father, but I never imagined a love so deep. Part of me wanted to freeze this moment in time and live in it forever; but I knew tomorrow would bring new blessings – so I welcomed the passage of time as both a blessing and opportunity for new discoveries. 

When Mitch first learned he was going to be a big brother, he was so excited. He wanted to usher his wee brother into a big world filled with wonder. With a heart filled with love, I often found Mitch kissing baby Wyatt’s hand while he slept. In time, not many years later, I would find Wyatt kissing Mitchell’s hand as he slept, barely breathing and slipping away. A brutal irony that pains me and heals me at the same time.

Just before Mitch was admitted to the hospital, I called my neighbor who was also my Bishop at the time (a religious leader in my church). I could hardly talk through my tears and broken voice as I said, “Will you please give my son a blessing?” Within minutes this inspired, selfless man came rushing over. As we lay our hands on my son’s head, tears streamed down my face. I quietly gasped for air (a few times it was audible) and fought to keep my composure as I heard this good man share words of comfort, blessing and heavenly insight. He fought back tears, too, as he shared inspired words our Father wanted Mitch to know. A few minutes after the blessing, Mitch said in a whisper to his brother Ethan (observing our tears), “It felt like it was raining.” Such were our tears.

There were many times while Mitch was home on hospice, as he slept, that I wet his hands and neck with my tears. I prayed mightily to my Father for a way out – I begged that He would take me instead. But a way out would not come and soon I would lose my little son. In time, I would find myself in a hell I was afraid to imagine. Yet there I was, in the darkness and heavy in sorrow. I wrote of grief, “There are days … sometimes agonizing moments … the gravity of grief is so great it feels like I’m walking on Jupiter. It’s a place where your chest feels so heavy even breathing is difficult. I have come to learn that once you lose a child you leave earth’s gravity forever. You may visit earth from time-to-time, but Jupiter is where your heart is. And from what I can tell, we will live the remainder of our lives in the gravity well of grief.” (see essay, Walking on Jupiter, June 3, 2013) 

In time, after much weeping and soul-searching, I would find myself leaving the Jupiter of which I spoke. The gravity of grief no longer had the power to take my breath or steal my joy – at least not all the time. This journey from Jupiter was welcomed by my weary soul – for I wondered if the prison of such sorrow was a life sentence. Thankfully, it was not. I still cry for my boy. I wept while writing this very piece. But I feel more love, peace and gratitude now than I have ever felt sorrow – and that’s a lot. 

This photo not only holds a tender story of a time long gone, but a metaphor for today. I find myself where Wyatt once stood in this photo. Next to me, on the edge of the unknown, Mitch, my son and brother, points into the dark water at things I cannot yet see … and he whispers to my soul words meant just for me. 

In time, I will see.

THE TROUBLE WITH TIME

The trouble with time is we always seem to think we’ll have enough of it.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

The look of panic on my sweet wife’s face is forever etched into my mind. The time we feared most had come. Mitchell’s urine bore evidence of catastrophic organ failure, his vitals were on a steady decline and we didn’t know if we had days, hours or minutes left with our son. 

The drugs we administered to Mitch were both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because they kept him from suffering from the pain of organ failure and a curse because they kept his mind foggy and distant. We were blessed with the greatest hospice nurse to ever walk this earth. She was exactly what we needed during this dark time … a tender mercy for which I will thank Heaven the remainder of my days. She was there to guide and council us every step of the way – but because she didn’t live with us, we were left to face the majority of our time alone with our boy. That scared us.

Prior to hospice, all we knew was children’s Tylenol and sunscreen … then suddenly we were administering morphine and other powerful drugs to our child. All we wanted was to go back to the days of macaroni and cheese and band aids, scraped knees and children’s books. But that was not our lot in life.

I’ll never forget our first encounter with our hospice nurse. She was so kind and compassionate, yet strong and direct. She was immediately soothing to Natalie and me … parents who were fragile and frightened. This hospice nurse reminded us of what our DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form meant. She told us that if Mitch was is in trouble that we were not to call the ambulance, perform CPR, or any procedure that would prevent death. Now that he was home on hospice, her job was to help our son’s transition to death happen comfortably. After this good nurse left that first day, I remember going to my bedroom, closing the door and falling to my knees. I wept and wept. I prayed like I have never prayed before. “Take me!” I pleaded with my Father, “Please, take me instead. I would endure any suffering if it would spare my son.”

After a period of deep, tearful grief, I found myself back on my feet again. With feeble knees, I tried to bear the burdens of my family on my shoulders – but I soon realized I could not take away my family’s suffering. I could only walk with them and love them and do all I could to support them. Though I wished to carry it all, I realized that was not the purpose of life and that we must all experience joys and sorrows on our own if our souls are to truly grow.

Though I tried to be strong for my family, this good woman, my dear wife, was the strongest among us. I will always honor her for her strength and wisdom during this impossible time. I stood then, and continue to stand today, deep in her shadow. 

So there we sat on the edge of the abyss, our son hanging by a pebble and slipping into the darkness. I sat on the edge of his bed in tears wondering how I could have been a better husband and father. I made plenty of mistakes and those mistakes weighed on my soul for a season. I wasn’t so upset with the occasions I might have been more patient with my children – for I knew we all make those mistakes and I always made things right with my kids. Instead I began to contemplate the time I wasted pursuing lesser, trivial things. I wanted to go back in time and invest that squandered time into my family. It wasn’t a lot – but enough to hurt. Enough to cause a little regret.

The trouble with time is we always seem to think we’ll have enough of it. It seems that only when we stand to lose everything do we find which things really matter. My family matters more to me than anything – and I have discovered how and where I spend my time matters just as much. 

THIS HAPPENED

When Mitch was tiny, he would sit in the back of a trailer attached to a 4-wheeler while his uncle drove short distances at a quick speed. Mitchell’s chubby little fingers gripped tightly the side of the trailer as he screamed and laughed like a baby pirate in pursuit of childhood treasures. Laura-Ashley and Ethan sat beside him and giggled at how fearless their little brother seemed. 

Afterward, I would show Mitch the photos I took and he would say, “Dat made my tummy gig-go.” I would burst out in love-filled laughter, then hug and kiss his cheek. To this day, I can almost feel his little arms around my neck as I hugged him.

As he grew older, Mitch loved rollercoasters. He was fearless and enjoyed the rush and thrill of any ride – no matter how big and scary it may have seemed to an adult. During his last few years, I would have to reach over and hold his head steady on rollercoasters because his neck muscles were getting weaker. Sometimes while Mitch was laughing on a ride I would find myself crying; the combination of tears and the rushing wind blinded me from seeing my son’s smile. I cried because I knew everything my son enjoyed was coming to an end; not through death per se, but because DMD was destroying his muscles and I knew there would come a time he wouldn’t have the strength to lift his head from a pillow. A bitter irony for a little boy who drank life in by the goblet and spared no opportunity for adventure. 

When I look back at this time with tiny Mitch, and the million-and-one other times just like this, my heart overflows with gratitude. Yes, heartache happened, but so did indescribable joy and fulfillment. Hurt is the eventual price we pay for love – whether we love a parent, sibling, child or pet … one day, we will lose all of them to time, circumstance and death. But that hurt is a small price to pay for a shot at love. I wouldn’t trade all the hollow pleasures and treasures of earth for this kind of love. It simply doesn’t compare.

This little boy happened … and with him came a hurt I never imagined, not even in my darkest nightmares. But so also came a love and joy I never supposed, not even in my most heavenly dreams. 

This happened, the good and bad, and I am better for it. I thank my Father every single day on bended knee; for I know love and sorrow, and now I see.

I am posting a few other photos from this series on Instagram:
instagram.com/mitchells_journey

 

IN TIME

I can still hear the evening crickets on this nearly magical summer eve. Like a sunburn, I can feel the warmth of summer on my skin. Mitch pointed into the dark water as Wyatt listened intently. “See, those fish? They are a family.” Wyatt replied, “Do they like gummy worms?” Mitch furrowed his brow a moment and thought … then said, “Probably. But I think they like Doritos best.”

I chuckled at my little boys. I wanted to hug them that instant but refrained because this was their moment. My heart was overflowing with a kind of fatherly gratitude I had never experienced until that moment. I dreamt of becoming a father, but I never imagined a love so deep. Part of me wanted to freeze this moment in time and live in it forever; but I knew tomorrow would bring new blessings – so I welcomed the passage of time as both a blessing and opportunity for new discoveries. 

When Mitch first learned he was going to be a big brother, he was so excited. He wanted to usher his wee brother into a big world filled with wonder. With a heart filled with love, I often found Mitch kissing baby Wyatt’s hand while he slept. In time, not many years later, I would find Wyatt kissing Mitchell’s hand as he slept, barely breathing and slipping away. A brutal irony that pains me and heals me at the same time.

Just before Mitch was admitted to the hospital, I called my neighbor who was also my Bishop at the time (a religious leader in my church). I could hardly talk through my tears and broken voice as I said, “Will you please give my son a blessing?” Within minutes this inspired, selfless man came rushing over. As we lay our hands on my son’s head, tears streamed down my face. I quietly gasped for air (a few times it was audible) and fought to keep my composure as I heard this good man share words of comfort, blessing and heavenly insight. He fought back tears, too, as he shared inspired words our Father wanted Mitch to know. A few minutes after the blessing, Mitch said in a whisper to his brother Ethan (observing our tears), “It felt like it was raining.” Such were our tears.

There were many times while Mitch was home on hospice, as he slept, that I wet his hands and neck with my tears. I prayed mightily to my Father for a way out – I begged that He would take me instead. But a way out would not come and soon I would lose my little son. In time, I would find myself in a hell I was afraid to imagine. Yet there I was, in the darkness and heavy in sorrow. I wrote of grief, “There are days … sometimes agonizing moments … the gravity of grief is so great it feels like I’m walking on Jupiter. It’s a place where your chest feels so heavy even breathing is difficult. I have come to learn that once you lose a child you leave earth’s gravity forever. You may visit earth from time-to-time, but Jupiter is where your heart is. And from what I can tell, we will live the remainder of our lives in the gravity well of grief.” (see essay, Walking on Jupiter, June 3, 2013) 

In time, after much weeping and soul-searching, I would find myself leaving the Jupiter of which I spoke. The gravity of grief no longer had the power to take my breath or steal my joy – at least not all the time. This journey from Jupiter was welcomed by my weary soul – for I wondered if the prison of such sorrow was a life sentence. Thankfully, it was not. I still cry for my boy. I wept while writing this very piece. But I feel more love, peace and gratitude now than I have ever felt sorrow – and that’s a lot. 

This photo not only holds a tender story of a time long gone, but a metaphor for today. I find myself where Wyatt once stood in this photo. Next to me, on the edge of the unknown, Mitch, my son and brother, points into the dark water at things I cannot yet see … and he whispers to my soul words meant just for me. 

In time, I will see.