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  • Tracy N. Coley

An Indelible Love

For Kelli —

My cousin Kelli lost her oldest child Mitchell last week. Mitchell was nearing his 25th year, a miracle that his family never took for granted with each year of his life.

By all accounts Mitchell was a happy young man. His smile cupped two beautiful blue eyes beaming with sunshine. He was not a complainer, never asked for much, was always content to listen. And he held all secrets told him in confidence, making him a steadfast friend to many.

Despite the cerebral palsy that bound his body for almost a quarter of a century, Mitchell was full of life and love. He couldn’t speak the words “I love you” to his mom, but she knew how he adored her. And he knew her unconditional love that enveloped him every day of his life. I think Mitchell also knew how much he was loved by his dad Matthew, sisters Kamryn and Shayne, Grandma Arlys, his dogs Tycen and Vinny, and all who had the honor of knowing him.

Mitchell used his disability as his superpower. His love and kindness outshined his physical and verbal challenges and melted hearts everywhere. There is a big hole in the world where Mitchell was, but the imprint he left is indelible.

Mitchell was a year older than my Bekkah, and our children’s collective special needs diagnoses drew a natural bond between Kelli and me. When we lost Bekkah on a beautiful spring day nine years ago today — the time since has been both fleeting and stagnant — Kelli was one of the first family members to reach out to me. Like me, she fought hard to keep her child alive. Having a medically fragile child is a road fraught with uncertainty. While we always know there’s a chance anything could go wrong on any given day, to have them survive the most difficult days to only be lost on the least extraordinary day is heartbreaking. Like me, she lost her child when she was away. My heart breaks for Kelli and her family because I know their journey ahead. There are so many conflicting emotions, as the what-if scenarios ebb and flow through the fog of days forever changed, when muscle memory of daily intensive care presents a painful reminder of loss and a different daily routine, a new unrequested freedom.

In the nine years without my sweet Bekkah, I’ve ridden the waves of grief, knowing somehow that tomorrow will bring a better day. In the darkest days that come without warning, grief has pulled me into the undertow and tossed me about in the sand amongst the broken shells of heartache, with my sorrow as fresh as the day I lost Bekkah. The last couple of years has been particularly difficult with every loss from our family. Some days I wonder when the loss will stop, when will the lifeline be thrown and we’re allowed to cruise into the sunset without heartbreak.

But humans are not immune to loss and suffering; the cycle of life is something we are all required to endure. Death has brought me to the intersection of grief and faith and challenged me to think in terms of everlasting love, both the Divine love of God and the kind of love that remains within me from those who’ve died. What returns me from the undercurrent of grief time and again is the love from family and friends who extend an understanding lifesaver of grace and time to catch my breath. For the moment, I am deeply grateful to be above the sea of grief, taking a deep inhale of peace before the next wave.

Kelli, my prayers are innumerable for you and your family. Among them, I pray that Mitchell remains a part of you, not gone, but simply in a different place, accessible by thought. I pray that Mitchell visits you in your dreams with unhindered body, contagious laughter and words that fill your hearts with peace. I pray for every tear that falls, a smile emerges with a beautiful memory of the young man who was —is — pure love and who remains with you.

And I pray that Mitchell and Bekkah are dancing together in an unforgettable heavenly family reunion with their grandpas and aunt and uncles and all we’ve lost in the last two years.



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