At Egleston we went straight to the CICU with lots of cookies for the staff and a big bowl full of prepackaged munchies for the parents of patients. We got to see some familiar faces and give hugs. One doctor, Shri Deshpande, came up to us and said that just recently another baby was diagnosed with coronary fistulae (something they hadn't seen in a baby before Samuel), and he was in the exact same dock as Samuel was when he was first diagnosed. He said he thought of us.
As soon as we walked through the CICU doors, Caleb headed straight for Samuel's old dock. He was completely honed in on 2112, Samuel's spot. It was clear that he remembered being there. We introduced everyone to him by saying that they took great care of Samuel, and that seemed to really matter to Caleb. When we left the floor, Caleb told Bryan that he felt sad and "tears dripping." He laid his head on Bryan's shoulder and cried a little.
On the way to the hospital, Bryan and I talked about how important we felt like the trip would be for Caleb and Joel. Since they're so young, their memories of Samuel will mostly be from what we tell them and from pictures more than from remembering the actual times they spent with their baby brother. We really wanted today to spark some personal memories for them, to remind them that they really did get to see Samuel and be with him -- that what feels like a vague recollection really, truly did happen. I think the trip did just that -- especially for Caleb. We purposefully visited all the places where they spent time last year: the library, the lobby, the garden, and the gift shop. We let them do all the things they'd done before -- pick a book to read from the library shelves, push the buttons on a huge wall screen in the lobby showing different sea creatures, play hide-and-seek outside in the garden, and check out the cars and trucks in the shop. They had fun being there, and it was familiar to them both.
In the days leading up to today, we had talked to the boys about Egleston and going there, and Joel on more than one occasion said he was excited to go see Samuel. Even on the car ride this morning, he said it. When we addressed it again -- telling him once more that Samuel isn't there; he's in Heaven -- he said, "It wasn't me saying that. It was Mace." Mace was his Star Wars toy he brought in the car. Whenever we asked Joel questions about Samuel and where Samuel is, he always got them right, but clearly something in his mind must not have completely clicked. Thankfully he didn't seem at all distressed that Samuel wasn't at Egleston today.
On the ride home, we asked Caleb and Joel about our time there, and they both said they felt sad at some points. We asked them what they remembered from last year, and they listed off numerous things they could recall. I think it was good for them to feel more connected to their baby brother and to be sure his life was real.
Overall, I think today was the hardest for Bryan. He was visibly having a hard time, and on several occasions I saw him on the verge of tears. But we both think that having a hard time was probably a good thing for him, and he is really happy we went. We're both satisfied with our new tradition, this way of remembering Samuel and blessing others. We count ourselves so blessed to be Samuel's parents, to have had a month with him alive, and to have grown so deeply because of how he touched our lives. We want to share that blessing, and we are grateful for this small way to do that.
Here are some pictures of what we took (and of the mess I made baking it!):
This is the basket we put together for the parents. We wrote a letter to go with it. In case you're interested, here's what it says: