When we had Haley two months premature, she stayed in the NICU for 30 days. I drove to the NICU in the morning for feedings, vital checks, snuggles - and I was there almost all day. Every day. For 30 days. I remember thinking Why me? (I wrote a recollection about one night in particular here.) I was exhausted, I was longing to just have my baby at home, and I thought it was so unfair that all these other parents got to leave the hospital with their babies, and here I was having to come visit mine every day in the NICU.
I need you to understand typing the last sentence of the previous paragraph was very hard for me. Given the alternative, given where I have to go to visit Harlynn, I realize I didn't have it so bad three years ago.
To visit Harlynn, I have to drive to the cemetery. A trip I tried to make a few times, but was unsuccessful because of the flood preparation. A trip that finds me not in the midst of isolettes or nurses, not among machines monitoring the life and breath of babies, but among stone markers. Among silence. Friday, yesterday, I finally made it. All the way to her grave site.
Her grave site. The words alone sting.
When I pulled up, the first thing that struck me was the pile of dirt. "Dirt" is such a dry, empty word. At least it is for me now. It's still so fresh, losing her. Symbolically, the freshness of the entire ordeal was captured in the fact that her grave is still dirt - not grass, not stone, but raw ground. I got out of the car and walked over, forcing each step, because my knees didn't want to bend. I saw her name and picture on the marker the funeral home provided. I choked out a "Hi, Sweetie" before the tears clouded my eyes. I didn't have time to break down, though, because a minivan pulled up and parked in front of my car.
A mom got out from the driver's seat while her husband and son stayed inside. She was there to visit another son, I found out. He was still underneath snow, so she couldn't do what she had wanted at his grave. She crouched down next to me and said, "Hi." All I could say was, "It sucks that any parent would have to come here." She nodded. She told me her son, two sites away from Harlynn, had a brain tumor and passed away during surgery when he was 13 days old. My throat caught a knot. She looked at Harlynn's marker and asked, "Was she stillborn?" I nodded. "April 10th, that wasn't very long ago." I nodded again. She patted my knee and said, "I'll let you visit." She walked back to her van and they drove away.
I can't tell you the tangle of emotions I was feeling. Here I finally made it, after days of trying, to visit my daughter. Someone else came to visit their son, and couldn't because he was still under too much snow. While my heart ached for her - and every parent that has to endure this - I wanted time with my baby. Harlynn was under a pile of dirt. I wished she were still on the riser from the funeral. I wished I could see her casket. I fought the urge to start digging. I fought the urge to just lie across it and weep. I fought the urge to stand up and there in the middle of the cemetery just scream, "WHY?!" I sat down, thankful for the dry grass next to her, put my hand on the dirt, and cried.
When I could pull myself together, I took out the first little children's Bible Haley had when she was just a baby. I opened it up and told Harlynn I was going to read it to her. As I started reading, I realized she probably had already met the very people I was reading to her about. She probably already knew these stories, and in more detail than this little children's Bible shared. I turned to the story of Jesus' birth, and caught my breath in my throat. Do you see the color that adorns the angel's wings? I know it's just a children's Bible, with someone hired to produce the illustrations, but I found such comfort and reprieve in seeing it - purple.
When I finished reading, I told Harlynn about the beautiful day and how I would have walked her around our neighborhood in the stroller. How neighbors would have come out to meet her, and offer their congratulations on such a beautiful little girl. How her sister would have wanted to help push the stroller. I told her as much as I could about Haley, and what a good big sister she is. I sat there for an hour. I confessed to her I didn't know how to do this - I wasn't sure what to do at a cemetery visit. I told her I hoped she could have a window down from Heaven once in a while to see how much her mommy, daddy, and sister love her. I begged God to let her know who we were, to let her hold us all close in her heavenly heart and to recognize us before we're ever able to see her again. I stood up to leave, but found my legs once again unable to move. They felt so very heavy as I walked back to the car. I didn't want to leave her. Not again. Not ever.
I got in the car and turned to stare back at the dirt. I talked to her some more. I shed a few more tears. After a long while, I finally found the strength to turn the key and drive away. As I headed out, I saw wild turkeys walking around. It was comforting and bizarre at the same time.
I was relieved I was finally able to spend time there. Relieved, and completely and totally drained. I had to lie down for a nap after I got home, because I didn't have a single ounce of strength left within me.
I went back this morning to see her again. Yesterday after leaving, I wished I had taken some of the dirt with me. It might seem weird - well, it does seem weird - but I wanted to keep some. This morning I drove back to spend some time with her, and gather some dirt. When I got to her site, I saw deer tracks next to where I parked. I noticed her casket spray had been nibbled on as well. Sure enough, there were deer tracks across her site. Apparently she had a few animal visitors prior to my arrival.
I put some dirt in a jar, and filled a baggie with some as well. I told her my plans as I was filling the containers. The dirt in the baggie we'll use with the potting soil when we decide what to plant in her honor. The dirt in the jar will share that space with one of the roses from a bouquet from her funeral that I'm drying now. I know it seems strange, but if I had to "commit her to the ground", I wanted a piece of it. I wanted the ground to share.
I brushed some muck off her marker and kissed her little picture. I told her how much I loved her, and that it was another beautiful day. I told her what we would be doing today, and how we all wished she could be with us. As I was talking, I was interrupted....by gobbles. I smiled and shook my head. I told her the turkeys apparently had more important things to talk about than Mommy did.
I sat in the car for a long while again before I could leave. I blew her a kiss and drove away.
Thank you, Lord, for the smiles. Thank you for the sunshine. Thank you for showing me that you're holding both my daughter and me at the same time...that you've been holding us both through all of this. Thank you for my precious Harlynn.
Next: The Due Date