"Chris Jones is someone who you'd look at and think had it all. By his presence, you would never guess he's suffered some of the most unimaginable grief anyone could think of -- the death of a child. Since losing his son Mitchell in 2013, Chris has helped hundreds of thousands of people with the grieving process through his platform, Mitchell's Journey. In today's episode Chris and I talk about the grieving process and how to find meaning after incredible loss." ~ Baya Voce
Bismarck 7th Grader Raises Funds for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller | 6/8/2016
Mitchell Jones taught his father many things, and first and foremost was to be a parent and to be a father.
“I learned what it’s like to be a son or a daughter of God,” Christopher Jones, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said. “I was a son, and I was a father to my son, and I learned how the Father in heaven loves everyone.”
The boy changed him, Jones said, when he had to look deep and hard into his own faith to find direction as he faced the knowledge that he was losing his own child.
Mitchell Jones, 10, died March 2, 2013, of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). He left behind his parents, siblings, extended family and friends and more than 300,000 worldwide followers of “Mitchell’s Journey” on Facebook. Later this year, Jones will be releasing a book based on the essays he posted.
The father’s story of his son caught the attention of KSL5 News, an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, where the family lives. The 30-minute documentary, “Mitchell’s Journey,” won a 2015 Gabriel Award from the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals. The award acknowledges “outstanding artistic achievement in media that entertains and enriches with a true vision of humanity and a true vision of life.”
The judges called “Mitchell’s Journey” a powerful and touching documentary about “a boy with a broken heart” that, through social media, helped change, heal and strengthen the hearts of others. They noted that “the messages flood the world with hope and provide comfort and direction for people of many faiths.”
Jones, a self-described entrepreneur, was an English major in college with a passion for writing and creating videos. So it was natural for him to be constantly filming and photographing his family.
“I took photos like I breathe,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “My kids just kind of tuned it out, just kind of forgot that dad was always taking pictures, so the photos became more authentic. When Mitchell was diagnosed at age 3, I turned that camera on overdrive.”
On July 11, 2005, doctors told the couple that their son would be in a wheelchair within four to five years and that DMD would likely take his life by his mid-teens. The neuromuscular disease, almost exclusive to boys, is progressive and incurable.
Jones will never forget “the look of bewilderment” on his wife Natalie’s face that day. He tried to remain calm, but when they left the hospital, he sat on a bench that looked over the valley, and he wept.
“When you first have kids and they’re healthy, you take that part for granted,” he said. “I learned very quickly that I could not take my children for granted. With Mitch being sick, and with a fatal diagnosis, I realized that I had to take the moments more seriously. I realized that whether your child gets sick and dies or grows up and moves away, every moment counts. You have to really focus on the power of the moments. In the end, that’s all we are going to take with us, and that’s who we are. After I lost Mitch, I began to reflect on moments that I won and moments that I lost.”
‘Just trying to be a dad’
During Mitchell’s illness, Jones started writing about those moments in a journal that he made for his family, and his Facebook postings went viral.
“I was just trying to be a dad to my son,” he said.
Through his eyes as a father, he inspired others to embrace and believe in the moments that matter and to be clear on one’s values “and what’s truly at our core,” he said.
Jones and his wife have three other children: Laura-Ashley, 17; Ethan, 16; and Wyatt, 10.
The family tried to give Mitchell the ordinary life of being a little boy. He went to school, he played with his friends, and he went skiing with adaptive equipment. He smiled and lived life to the fullest knowing that something was not right, that he wasn’t like other kids, but not knowing that his days were numbered.
Mitchell had plans and dreams, and in his innocence, he envisioned a long and bright future. He wanted to build a home next to his parents with a connecting tunnel so that he and his dad could make popcorn and watch movies together. He wanted to work with his dad, and he wanted to be a father, too, and raise his children like he was raised.
Heartbroken, Jones and his wife felt like they were sitting with their son on an invisible cliff and that the abyss was inching closer to taking him.
Most children with DMD live into their late teens or early 20s. But in November 2012, when Mitchell was 10, the specialist disclosed that his heart was prematurely destroyed and that he was at risk for instant death.
Mitchell had chest pains on Jan. 22, 2013, and he was afraid.
“We didn’t know if we had 24 hours or 24 days,” Jones said.
They took him shopping to spend $200 that he’d saved. Ever frugal, he said that he’d spend just $40.
“He wanted only Lego characters, and he wanted to buy toys for his friends,” Jones said. “Natalie knelt down with him and said, ‘Just spend your money. This is the time.’ I was in the background crying my heart out.”
Mitchell’s 11th birthday was on April 29, but the family decided to celebrate it on Feb. 14. Toward the end, Mitchell knew he was dying, and from his family life and from Sunday school, he had learned to love Jesus and understood that there was life after death. He was courageous, his father said.
Jones and his wife slept on Mitchell’s bedroom floor. Jones drifted off around 1 a.m. March 2 but woke up to again tuck in Mitchell, who was barely breathing. “Don’t be afraid, everything is OK,” he whispered. “I love you, son. So much.” He kissed him and squeezed his hand, and lay back down. Natalie soon got up to give Mitchell his medicine and found that he had passed away.
Jones wrote about “The Last Button,” watching his wife dress their son for the funeral. He wrote about grief and pain and finding “tender mercies” in looking up to the stars, not down to the darkness.
“While there are many today who have abandoned belief in God, we stand resolute with an absolute knowledge of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ,” Jones said. “We have seen him work in our lives, warning us, preparing us and lifting us when we hardly have the strength to stand.”
Jones lectures about grief and healing, and through a parent group, advocates for awareness of DMD and support for research. He talks about parenting and the multiplying of love for each child.
He says that without question, being a father has been the most rewarding experience of his life, one that he would not trade for all the riches in the world.
“During this journey, when Mitchell was still with us, I was just a dad trying to sort things out,” he said. “After he passed, I connected with other fathers all over the world, and there are so many out there who can’t find the words to describe how they’re feeling. They’re hurting, just like me. I am also in touch with fathers who just want to be better dads. They want to figure this out and make good memories.”
Jones noted that he has “tremendous respect” for the Catholic Academy’s mission to “celebrate all that’s good in the world.”
“That’s how I feel about my journey, that we have so much in common with just about everybody,” he said. “I talk to all kinds of Christians, and those who are not. We all love our families, and we all believe that someone up there cares for us.
“We might understand it somewhat differently, but we all feel the tender mercies and that God cares about us. It’s about faith. It’s about family, and it’s about keeping what I learned in my heart.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
By NATALIE PORTER
In a world where more evil and despair seem to be found with every turn, thousands of people joined together on a Facebook page titled "Mitchell’s Journey," in a spirit of love and encouragement. They've hoped, prayed and, more recently, are grieving together. Through this Facebook page, the Jones family teaches a number of life-long lessons that can apply to all of us, no matter the personal challenges we face.
When Mitchell was only 3 years old, his parents, Chris and Natalie Jones, were given news that every parent fears. Mitchell was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle-wasting disease which destroys all voluntary muscles — eventually the heart and breathing muscles in later stages. Their life was turned upside down all over again as the disease rapidly attacked Mitchell's heart in 2012. Mitchell was only 10 years old.
Take the time to live in the moment and share those moments with those you love.
In the summer of 2012, Mitchell’s father began to recount the journey that he and his family were going through at Mitchell’s side on Facebook. With talent and feeling Chris shares insights into the good times and the bad. The constant presence of Mitchell's terminal illness is a reminder that each day, each moment, is a gift.
If you focus on the good, you'll find it
As you read you find the courage of a little boy. On some days he smiles and tells jokes, on other days, the hurting just doesn’t stop. But he is quick to trust in God and put others first.
When a wildfire came close to their home and everyone ran about preparing for evacuation in a panic, Mitchell was found kneeling in prayer. He spent tender evenings spent with his brother, good days spent playing with friends. With no more strength than a small squeeze of the hand, a “hand hug,” Mitchell comforts his weeping mother and assures her of his love.
The faith, hope and strength of this family are clearly felt, no matter the circumstances of the day. Chris Jones wrote, “While this has been a journey of tremendous hardship and sorrow, it has also been a journey of profound tender mercies from a loving Father in Heaven who has and continues to help us through this difficult time. There is more love and happiness than there is pain. We are grateful.”
Look for ways that you can lift others and you'll all feel better
Thanks to the modern world and social media, Mitchell’s Journey quickly gained followers. Originally intended for friends and family, the Facebook page now attracts thousands of sympathetic parents or patients who are familiar with muscular dystrophy, classmates and complete strangers who would check in on Mitchell and his family.
Some visitors offered words of encouragement and love. Others gave to an account that would help with medical bills. All over the world people were praying for Mitchell and his family. It seems that all who heard and read their story were touched and gave back in whatever capacity they were able. Life dealt them a hard hand, but as their story was shared, a collective strength was found.
Never underestimate the influence of small acts
Despite hopeful plans for a surgery that might extend his life, Mitchell left this world behind him on March 2, 2013. Many will continue to fight to find a cure for muscular dystrophy in Mitchell’s honor. But Mitchell’s Journey hasn’t ended there. This one little boy, who bravely faced a painful illness that quickly took his life, has inspired many. Just weeks before his death, his father shared a conversation he had as he cuddled his son late one evening.
"...but you, my little son, you have helped me. Because of you I want to be a better daddy, husband, and person. Thank you for helping me. Because of you I will never be the same. I kissed his forehead and he continued to cry tenderly and began to burrow his frail little body into mine and we cuddled deeper than ever before. He said to me, 'Dad, I am so happy.' I wept a strange potpourri of emotions as he drifted off to sleep. There in my arms, barely alive, was the most profound and painful gift of my life. I was so grateful for him and what he has meant to me."
Mitchell's story is touching and Chris’s reflective insights urge us to hold our loved ones a little closer and to see the hand of God and the lessons to be learned in both the good and the bad. Let us take the time to really feel the emotions that come with each day and reflect upon the precious gift of life we have each been blessed with. Let us find good in each day. And let us be there for each other, that we might all help one another’s burdens to be just a little bit lighter.