One year ago today a beautiful, smart and curious young seven year-old boy named Lile went for a hike on his family’s ranch. It was the same ranch where he searched for arrowheads with his Dad and Mom, where he learned the true meaning of explore and freedom, and where his Grandmother spoiled him rotten. It was a place he loved, a place he proudly called home.
On March eleventh, 2012, a rock fell while Lile was hiking with family and struck him in the part of his head that stopped him from breathing. It is an accident too horrible to imagine, too heart-breaking to fathom. Yet for his parents every day they must live without their precious son who gave so much light and love to their life. They must ask, “why?” and be met only with silence.
I never met Lile in person. I cannot try to describe the beauty of who he was in life, because in this case there are no words large enough, perfect enough for me to pretend to have in my limited vocabulary to describe Lile Mecom Mullins. About six months after Lile died, a friend brought his mother and I together, and I began walking with her in this loss. That gives me no right to say anything except that Lile was an angel to this family and that I am a better person from knowing his mother and Lile in spirit.
When a child dies, everything inside of me cries out. It feels as if the world is cheated, most especially the parents/family. There is nothing in this that feels okay. As a grief counselor I struggle with the lack of words or the ability to hide my own anger and willingness to reason with anything anyone could say to the empty hole that is left inside of a family as the result of a child’s death. So, instead I get quiet. Very quiet. And I try to listen.
The past six months I have listened to Lile. Before I pick up the phone to call his mother at our scheduled time, I stop and ask him, “Lile, what do I say today? What can you give me to tell her?” When I sit in that stillness, there are often tears and almost always something inside of me breaks, but most often this little boy musters up enough courage for himself and me both to have the conversation needed to get his mother through one more day without him. He gives us laughter at the stupidest things and brings us closeness through our shared love of him (yes, indeed, I love this boy and his mother though I have met neither in person). Sometimes Lile shows me pictures, sometimes he gives me the perfect words for her, sometimes he just lets us sit in that place of ache and hurt and allows me the honor of being a witness to her loss because he knows I’m strong enough to be there and because he knows that she is going to crawl and claw her way through this pain and somehow find all of the courage and curiosity and joy and love of life that he has left behind for her to find for herself, even though in this case it will have to be without him there in person.
I will not pretend to understand or have any kind of reason or explanation for death, especially the death of a child. Somehow I have been called, though, to be a part of the aftermath in some people’s lives. I would never have guessed this would be my calling. Yet, when I meet parents who lose a child, I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Often times, it is the child who ‘has left this earth’ who is my greatest advocate in helping the family. It is my highest honor to connect to the one who has passed, to feel the love and missing they feel for those they left behind. It is painful for me and it hurts beyond any words I can give you here or ever. Yet all I can tell you is that in being a part of this process, I am a better human being. They have shown me a sweetness, a tenderness from where they are on the other side, a place here on earth we call heaven. I may be living between two worlds – life and death- but each day I know how much each breath, each sunrise or sunset means. I know how blessed I am to send my sons off to school with lunch money and homework in hand, to go to the store to buy them snacks and groceries to make them dinner. I take nothing…nothing…for granted.
As some of you may know, the Daily Awards are tonight. These are the hockey sportsmanship awards given in honor of Kathy, Tanner and Shea Daily. I have nothing to do with the planning of these awards. This year they had a hard time finding the day when the awards would be. This year March 11 was the only day that would work. When I realized it was the same day that would mark Lile’s one- year anniversary of being away from his family on earth, something inside of me knew there was meaning. I sat in that stillness and listened for an answer.
On top of a high hill, with low grass blowing in the distance and rocks towering around I saw three figures together, standing strong. Tanner, Lile and Shea stood there. Three children taken from this earth by a rock. Three children bonded and held together by love for their families. Three children that will be honored and loved today—and every day.
Lile Mullins, I am so sorry. I am so sad for your family and for you. I am so, so sorry that your life was cut short and that all of the gifts you had to give our world can’t be shared and furthered. You know that I love your mother and will always be here for her and all of your family. I will honor and bless you in any way I can. Please show me how I can best do that.
May your life live on, Lile. May you give your family rainbows and artifacts and curiosity and the courage to keep taking one step in front of the other. Peace, Lile…give them peace.