I recently updated this video with more images that correspond to the stories I shared. The original talk did not have any slides presented - but over time I felt it appropriate to add some to this digital version.
In my funeral address, I describe 6 tender mercies extended to my son by a loving Heavenly Father. While only 6 were shared, countless tender mercies have been afforded Mitch and our family.
Transcript of Funeral Address
by Mitchell's Father | March 12, 2013
My son. Oh how I miss you. How I love you. I want you to know, dear boy, that even though much was required of you from our Heavenly Father, you were not alone. Not once. Heaven walked before you and made preparations for all that you were to experience. Your Journey … son … as difficult as it was … was filled with tender mercies.
There are many aspects to tender mercies I won’t address today – what they are, how we qualify for them, and to what end they serve. If you want to learn more, I suggest you read Elder David A. Bednar’s talk on Tender Mercies. For the purposes of this address, I will speak of Tender Mercies as heavenly interventions …. something Heavenly Father does for us to aid us in time of need.
I will now share with you five or six tender mercies that will show the world that our loving Heavenly Father will not leave us comfortless, nor will He leave us alone.
And while I only share a few, we have witnessed countless tender mercies extended to our family during this journey – and we are grateful to Heavenly Father for them.
TENDER MERCY #1: IMPRESSION AT BIRTH
At the very moment I first laid eyes on my sweet Mitchell I received a distinct impression something was wrong. With all that I was …. I knew it. Although he appeared healthy …. and for all intents and purposes (at the time) he was a perfect baby, I could not shake the impression that something was seriously wrong. It sat at the back of my mind like pebble in a shoe.
Over the coming months and years this impression kept pressing at the back of my mind. I would acknowledge it … I even spoke with some of my family members about it. It was often dismissed by those I told because he appeared healthy and there was no visible reason to think such things. But I, being his father, knew better – and no one could tell me otherwise. I simply had a persistent uneasiness about him ... I knew he would have a short life.
I came to understand that our loving Heavenly Father wanted me to know something was wrong. And indeed – something was very much wrong. He warned us . . . in effect prepared us to some degree for the challenges that lie ahead. And if He did that for us then, I know He’ll be there for us now and in the years ahead.
If ever I were tempted to question the reality of God, I need look no further than this experience alone. It was so profound. So undeniable. But, that is not my only experience to tell me that God lives …. there are some too sacred to share. But what I can tell you is that I no longer believe …. I know …. please appreciate the force of this distinction.
I know that God lives. I know there is life after death. I know that our Father in Heaven is loving and provides tender mercies to help us in times of need.
TENDER MERCY #2: GUARDIAN / HELPER
A few years prior to Mitchell’s birth Heavenly Father was directing the affairs of a very special person who would soon become an integral part of our son’s life. She, by every definition, was a long-standing tender mercy to our family and son.
Mitchell’s aunt, Sonya, who you just heard from had an interesting series of events that led her to work at Schriners Hospital, the institution that a few years later would soon care for our son.
Without going into the details, everything in her world fell into place and prepared her to be there for our son. This was no coincidence. Her personal and professional life (sometimes against logic) aligned in such a way that she could be a particular blessing to our boy. She became his second mother, his guardian and advocate. It was because of her that Mitchell was diagnosed at such a young age – and this allowed us to help and guide him and not expect things from him that were beyond his capacity.
Sonya was a tender mercy.
TENDER MERCY #3: IMPRESSION FROM A STRANGER
Five months prior to my son’s passing Heavenly Father inspired a stranger to help fulfill a tender mercy on our boy’s behalf.
In the fall of 2012, a mother of young children was doing some early Christmas shopping and got her hands on the rare and coveted Minecraft Legos set. She was excited to share it with her boys as she knew they wanted them so. When it came time to wrap her presents, something remarkable happened.
In her words, this is what she said to me:
“I wanted to tell you the circumstances of purchasing the Legos. I bought them in October, with the idea of giving them to my boys for Christmas. When it came time to wrap them I had the distinct feeling not to give them, but to save them. When I read Mitchell's story my mind instantly went to the Legos. I know now I bought those for Mitchell. While I know it is only a small thing, God truly is on the details of our lives. It has given me so much joy to know it has given [Mitchell] something to look forward to.”
Think about that a moment. To consider that a loving Heavenly Father would inspire a mother … a complete stranger to us … to stay her hand for reasons she didn’t understand at the moment …. so she might lift the heart of a young boy who would soon become very sick and very much in need of comfort.
To a sick young boy … was given a simple gift … a toy. In the grand scheme of things … something so small suddenly became enormous. You see, it wasn’t so much the toy … even though Mitchell loved it with all his heart … it was the act of charity and the pure love of Christ. Her gift to our son, was also a gift to his parents.
Another example of Heavenly Father’s concern … and compassion. That he would do something like that to comfort our son.
TENDER MERCY #4: COUNCIL FROM AFAR
During our stay at the hospital a woman from Anchorage Alaska stumbled across our Facebook page and started to follow Mitchell’s Journey. She felt impressed to reach out to us and offer council, perspective, and her own experience. You see, she lost a son about 3 years prior. She also brought her dear son home to die. She was prepared, by her own suffering, to help us in a time of need as she knew all too well what we were experiencing.
There she sat in the frigid darkness of an Alaskan winter, 2,000 miles away, and would quietly send us private messages under what felt was the direction of the Spirit … describing her experience, what she learned, how she coped and a bit of the spiritual nature of the transition of death and offered to help in any way.
This faithful member of my church … someone who we did not know … became a tender mercy … the spirit of her words and council became a lamp unto our feet as the path that lay ahead was dark and scary.
She received an impression. Acted on it. And became a blessing.
And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
TENDER MERCY #5: IN A MOMENT OF DESPAIR
Three days prior to Mitchell’s passing our hospice nurse was beginning to warn us that sweet Mitchell was about to enter the phase of active dying. As she described what we were to expect our hearts sunk into a deep despair. Words cannot describe the sorrow that took hold of my heart. The feeling of panic. The immense sorrow of loss as the little boy whom I loved so much was about to leave us and there was nothing we could do for him.
In the very moment of our deepest despair I received a phone call from Elder Paul V. Johnson on behalf of President Monson offering to come to our aid. Within an hour of his call we received a personal visit at our home.
As Elder Johnson sat in our home he told us something interesting …. he said that in well over a year he has never had a free afternoon. He, as you might imagine is very busy. But suddenly, in a foreseen turn of events, his afternoon freed. Within minutes of his schedule freeing up, he received a call that President Monson wanted him to visit our family.
The call, and the following hour with Elder Johnson was a profound tender mercy. Mitchell received a Priesthood blessing, as did my wife and I. Clarity, assurance and peace followed.
At the very moment I my heart sank into a pit of agony and despair, Heavenly Father put in motion a chain of events …. and reached out to help us.
There are coincidences and there divine interventions. And it takes spiritual eyes to know the difference. We know the difference. And we were grateful.
We have witnessed many other tender mercies we’ve seen along the way and thanked Heavenly Father for them – time and circumstance does not allow me to share them. But what I can say is among other reasons, these tender mercies were given to us to help us know that notwithstanding the hardships placed on our shoulders, Heavenly Father loves us.
To be clear, this has been an agonizing experience. I can think of no greater sorrow than watching your child slowly die. It is by all accounts the impossible … the nightmare of all nightmares.
But we also know our Heavenly Father loves us and is helping us through these difficulties.
TENDER MERCY #6: SUFFERING … TENDER MERCY
As paradoxical as it sounds, I believe suffering, too, is a tender mercy. It would seem that the very act of suffering would break down the pride and arrogance of man, the very things that would keep us from a relationship with Heavenly Father. And suffering teaches us to humble ourselves before God and learn what we might otherwise not learn, hear what we might not otherwise hear.
Conscientious parents of young children understand this to some degree. By helping our children learn to work through their own sorrows they become stronger, wiser, and more compassionate. We understand that to insulate them from hurt and sorrow is not only impossible, it robs from them an opportunity to learn and grow.
The last few weeks I have been pondering the meaning of human suffering and the difficult experiences we are sometimes required to endure. I have learned to appreciate an old Jewish proverb "Don't pray for lighter burdens, pray for a stronger back". It would seem that in all religious texts, God makes no apology for pain and suffering. In fact, I have come to understand there is a sacred relationship between suffering and spirituality, if we learn to listen and endure it well.
As we have been prayerful and watchful we have recognized [often in retrospect] that even the most mundane aspects of our lives fell into place like a beautiful, celestial symphony of tender mercies under heavenly direction. Sometimes in our sorrow we are tempted to feel alone or forsaken, but looking back, we recognize we were never really alone … nor were we forsaken. I believe that in our grief we are meant to feel alone in order that we might humble ourselves to talk to God and seek an understanding that defies mortal senses.
Pain and suffering is not the enemy – but our response to them can be. Suffering is a divine teacher, if we will allow it.
CS Lewis once said of suffering: “This is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backward and turn even that agony into glory. (The Great Divorce)
As our little boy approached death, I began to sense that Mitchell was much older than I realized. Beneath the veneer of a little 10 year-olds broken body was a spirit that was older and wiser than I appreciated. And while I will miss his tender face, his soft voice, and his beautiful soul … so very much … every-so-often I am beginning to get a sense of things as they really are. His spirit existed long before he came to this earth – as did all of ours.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
~ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
My little boy was no mere mortal. And neither are any of you. We have within us great potential – and it is the purpose of this life to seek after, understand that potential and become. And we can only do that in and through the Savior Jesus Christ.
I am not talking about bumper-sticker religion or religious platitudes that feed the mind but not the soul … I’m talking about a deep and active relationship with the One who came before us and the One that will go before us. Even Jesus Christ.
I love my little boy. I miss him terribly. I wish I could hold him, hear his voice, kiss his face and feel his arms around my neck. The pain of this loss is impossible to describe.
But as painful as this separation is, I know that my redeemer lives. And because He lives, so also, does my son ... and I will spend the rest of my days chasing after them – so that I might enjoy that sacred reunion and all that Heavenly Father would offer.