Saturday, August 1, 2015

To Samuel on his 6th Birthday

My dear, wonderful Samuel,

Happy 6th Birthday, my love!  Oh, how I love you, boy of mine.  I miss you ever so much and wish I could give you a hug and a bunch of smooches until you would wriggle out of my arms on this birthday.  Though I would never want to take you away from Heaven, I do wish I could pop in to celebrate with you for awhile, to snuggle you close, and to see your face as it grows and changes, and you move more firmly into boyhood and out of those early years.  I wonder what you'd want on your cake if you were here and how you'd want to spend this day.

Your namesake, Uncle Erik, is here this weekend along with your cousins Charlie and Grady.  Uncle Erik spent your last night of life with you along with Auntie Marta.  After they flew in with Grammie to meet you, they took the final shift, so Daddy and I could get a few hours of sleep.  (Daddy and I tried to stay together as much as possible and not divide up the hours between us because we wanted to walk through your life and death together, and we clung to each other every minute of those days.  God has faithfully used those days of connection to keep us close and grow and bless our marriage through our grief.  Many marriages of parents who lose a child end in divorce, but thankfully God has bound us together instead of allowing our sorrow to create a gulf between us.)  When your daddy and I walked into the CICU very early on your final morning, Erik and Marta walked toward us to give hugs and head to bed, and over their shoulders we watched your stats plummet.  We knew in that moment that you were ready for Heaven.  You got a night with your aunt and uncle, and you waited for us to hand you over to Jesus.  I'm so thankful for that.

Yesterday we went to Egleston on our yearly trip to remember you and to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and staff in the CICU.  As always, it was both hard and good.  I love to remember you in this specific way, but it's also gut-wrenching.  This year we took care bags to the families of kids on the cardiac floor thanks to a family friend, Allison Russell, who came up with the idea to give 31 Bags to the families.  People could sponsor a bag, and she ended up with 54 bags.  Guess how many beds on are the cardiac floor?  27 in the CICU and 27 in the Step-Down Unit.  We didn't know that going in.  How amazing is that?  Another little way God showed up in our Samuel story.  Each friend who sponsored a bag made my heart happy.  I love that people remember you and continue to honor your life.  I love that Allison had this idea and that each bag had a tag on it saying, "This bag was assembled for you with love in honor of Samuel Apinis, a very special little boy whose life touched many."  You did touch many -- mine maybe most of all.

This was the first time I went to Egleston and wondered what it would be like if you were with us to go back.  Would you want to go and thank the doctors and nurses and marvel at the place where your life started, or would it be a place of stress and fear and knots in your stomach?  I wonder what your associations would have been.

Yesterday we saw one of your amazing nurses for the first time since you went to Heaven.  Mary Beth was your day shift nurse the last 3 or 4 days of your life.  She was so tender with you and so devoted.  I remember her telling us her first morning with you that when she knows a child is dying, she is extra attentive and gentle and works especially hard to take good care of her patient.  She did just that.  She was frank with us but compassionate.  She was very present and kind.  On one of her breaks, she took me through the staff corridors and treated me to a frappuccino.  She was a sweet blessing to us.  She was there the morning you died, but she was assigned a bed near yours.  Someone must have covered her child for her because she came over to us after you went to Heaven, and she gave you a bath and dressed you for the first time.  She helped Nurse Richard clean you up and wrap you in a blanket.  She was good to us, and it was so good to hug her and thank her.  Many amazing people made a tremendous difference in our lives over that month, and we're grateful for every chance we get to express our deep thanks.

As we enter August, I am always a little surprised by the crash of grief that comes over me. Even 6 years later, my longing for you can feel so raw.  A piece of our family is forever absent in this life.  I always live in that truth, but usually it's a quiet undercurrent.  As I was baking cookies to take to the hospital, I had an image of a zero entry pool that ultimately extends into the ocean.  If that pool is grief, normally I live in the shallow end with water just over my toes or maybe up to my ankles.  But as I move into August, I steadily wade deeper into the waters and my body begins to submerge.  After six years, I only end up chest deep, but that's a lot more than my toes being wet.  In that first year after you went to Heaven, I lived underwater, and sometimes the ocean encroached upon the pool, and a full-force wave would crash over me, and I'd wonder if I'd ever come up for air again.  But I always did.  And now the waves are very infrequent, though ever unexpected.  August continues to be weightier than the rest of the year, but it's always a beautiful reminder of just how much healing God has done in our hearts since we said goodbye to you.

Normally your birthday has some lightness to it since it's a day to celebrate your life and that God made you -- which I do! -- but this year it feels heavier than usual, I think because Mary Beth was such a part of your last few days, and that's when Erik was here, too.  So my mind has jumped to your Homegoing.  I will try to spend the rest of the day focusing on your birth, and the great joy we felt and still feel in becoming your parents.

Samuel, I can't tell you how much I love you because words fail me and could never do my love justice.  Just know I am so utterly and thoroughly grateful that God chose US to be your parents and that He made you just the way He made you.  I really wouldn't change our story.  It is so beautiful.  You are such a beautiful part of who we are.  God has done amazing things in us through you.  The me that loves you is a much better me than the one who hadn't met you yet or been heartbroken by your absence.  I love how you've shaped me and our family.  And I love telling Anna and Eliza about you and how they have been God's healers in our hearts.  Anna asks a lot of questions about you, and she already can't wait to meet you one day in Heaven.  Get ready, kid.  You've got one talkative, energetic, sunshiny, beautiful sister coming your way some day with oodles of questions about you and about Heaven.  :)

Samuel, thank you for being you.  Thank you for entering our lives and changing us forever.  Thank you for the gift of you.  I love you exactly as you are, little boy.  (Joel would never have let me call him "little boy" at 6!  Maybe you'll indulge me a few years longer. :))

Happy Birthday, Samuel Erik Apinis.  I love you to Heaven and back again.

Love, Momma