To read the story of our precious Harlynn Renae, start here and follow the "next" links at the end of each post. Thank you for coming and sharing with us in this journey.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Greatest Of All

I'm sitting in my living room listening to the gentle thunderstorm taking place outside. These are my favorite kind of thunderstorms. The rain falls straight and gentle, but with purpose. The thunder rolls softly, but with authority. There is nothing to fear in these storms. No claps of thunder to startle you, no wind to steer the rain in different directions. Just gentle, but purposeful reminders that we are small creatures in a big world.

It's comforting to me. I feel a powerful sense of grace in the ability to seek comfort in a storm. It's very timely. As it gets closer to me returning to work, I'm getting somewhat anxious. I'm nervous, I'm sad, I'm ill-prepared... It's one more thing I have to do to "let go" of Harlynn. I don't want to return to the real world. I don't want to pretend there is a "normal" I once knew before her existence. I don't want to be the person who causes others to feel awkward or who makes them feel like they have to walk on eggshells. I don't want to be the person who falls apart because others aren't walking on eggshells. I feel like I've somewhat painted myself into an emotional corner. No one can win. But I have to take this step. I have to go back to work. I have to do this. I have to.  Not just because I have bills to pay, but because I need these little victories in order to help my heart recover.

My heart, while still broken, has been incredibly blessed these last few days. I've had a chance to sit back and reflect on things from the outside looking in. I don't usually have those moments where I can see this from another perspective. Usually I'm struggling to stand from underneath the weight of it all, or unable to see anything more than my own pain and sadness. But the last few days, I've had a stark realization, and it has brought me tremendous blessing.

There's a verse I use to pray over people. I want you to keep it in the back of your mind and I'll come back to it in a little bit.  It's found in Ephesians 3 and reads:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Yesterday I went to the cemetery to find two special treasures on Harlynn's grave. One was a picture drawn by Little Miss A, a special friend of Haley and Harlynn's. It was laid on Harlynn's grave held in place by two rocks. A beautiful picture of a princess walking a dog, with clouds above and grass below, and "To Harelen" written on the side. From the heart of a 6 year old. Beautiful. The second treasure was a plastic tote filled with notes and gifts to us - from Harlynn. I'm not entirely sure who left it there, but I wish I could express what it means to me - to my family - to have that. I cried. Then I cried more, and harder, and more, and then when I was done, I cried some more. Not just for the items and the words that were in that tote, but because there are people who love us with hearts big enough to do something like this for us. Us. We are nobodys. But we are so loved.

We are so loved. I know from the cards we continue to receive, from the messages we get on facebook or in email, from the gestures our friends, family, and complete strangers make the effort to present to us, and from the hugs, texts, and visitors I receive. I know this from the heartfelt gifts we've been given. I know this from the tears you've shed with me. I know this from the promises of others that Harlynn will never be forgotten. We are loved, and it didn't hit me until just yesterday or the day before, how very much.

I have heard now and again of other people going to visit Harlynn's grave - on their own time, of their own volition - and I just can't aptly express how that warms my heart. I wish I knew who all has been to see her, or who goes to spend a little time with her. I want them all to know how much it means to me that they would take the time and make the effort to go visit our little Harlynn. It means so. very. much.

The verse in Ephesians came to mind when I was reflecting on not just the fact that our family is loved, but by how genuinely and deeply that love is expressed. The verse talks about knowing how wide and high and long and deep the love of Christ is - and friends, I can tell you that you have shown me through your actions and with your hearts, the very heart of Christ. I can see it. I can sense it. I can feel it. We are loved. Harlynn is loved. This entire situation, as horrible and awful as it is, isn't for naught. This love surpasses knowledge, and bit by bit, little by little, I am being filled with the measure of the fullness of God.  The very passage of scripture I pray over others has blessed me ten-fold. I understand it with new depth today.

Thank you.  I pray you continue to show our family how Harlynn has touched your hearts. I pray we can love you to the same measure you've shown love to us. I thank God for your gentleness, your generosity, and your continued graciousness to each of us. I know you don't realize - you can't realize - how much it means to me. To us. I pray, though, God will bless you double from how you've blessed us. And that, folks, is an immeasurable amount.

Gift from E.B.

Flowers from A, A, and F on the one-month anniversary of Harlynn's passing
My view from my weekend getaway with my dear friend M
The sand bottle was one of the items in the plastic tote on Harlynn's grave. The angel/dove was a gift from R & J, and the Willow figurine was a gift from K. Harlynn's name card was another gift from C.
Next: My "Good Fortune"
Prev: Morning Mumbles

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Morning Mumbles

There's something about this morning that makes it one of the most beautiful mornings I've experienced. Especially since losing Harlynn.

I'm not sure what it is. It could be that there's hardly a breeze at all disturbing the trees. They're standing stoically - almost like neighborhood guards, standing at attention, protecting us.  The lilac bushes are in full bloom. The flowering trees are adorned with colorful petals (of allergen-infused beauty). The birds are singing. The sky is gray, but not gloomy. Everything is so peaceful. So serene. Sitting here in my newly-arranged living room with my hot cup of coffee, I'm soaking up the comforts of the day. I can't explain it, I can't describe it, but I know the Lord is giving me peace I would otherwise be incapable of experiencing.

Today marks seven weeks from the night I went in to labor. Seven weeks. We expected our lives to be forever changed because of Harlynn. We never expected how that change would actually occur. It's not anything any parent ever expects. It's not something any parent can comprehend. It is the definition of the unthinkable.

As I sit here in my living room, with a minuscule dose of the "peace that passes all understanding", I think back to that moment when we learned the news. The disbelief that racked my being. Holding Harlynn in my arms and feeling her soft hair. She had so much hair. She was at peace before ever experiencing a single ounce of this world's suffering. I envy her. I miss her. I long to feel the level of peace and joy she experiences every moment of every day. I long for her embrace and hearing her call me "Mommy!"  Lord, just come.

It's hard for me to believe that a week from now I'll be sitting in my office, working, participating in the "normal" life I once knew. That life seems so foreign to me now. If you think of it, will you pray for me as I prepare to return to work? That I can function. That I can once again be a contributing member of society. That those around me would be gentle when I'm fragile, and supportive in my moments of strength.

For today, and for the rest of this week, I'll focus on making the most of the moments I have. Haley and I have already had such an enjoyable morning together. We've done laundry - and she is an excellent laundry helper. We've done other housework, and we've had fun doing it. Not too many people can say they have fun doing housework. We've played together, we've shared story time, we've danced. Haley is such a joy. She provides pure delight to those around her. Especially her Mommy.  Later, we'll try our hand at shopping for our first plant-based-meal. If there's one person who likes vegetables less than I do, I birthed her. It should be interesting.

Today I thank God for the morning he's given us. I thank him for carrying me through these last seven weeks. I thank him for allowing me to hold Harlynn in my heart since I can't hold her in my arms.

Next: The Greatest Of All
Prev: Sea Of Sorrow

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sea Of Sorrow

I never know when it will happen. I never know what will set me off.  A word, a song, silence - suddenly I'm wrestling with the waves of sorrow, trying to find my footing. Trying to stand while being beaten against the shore. When the waves are done with me, I'm left exhausted, gasping for air, and completely devoid of strength. Yet the first thing I do once I stand again is return to the shoreline. I will never leave this place.

Over time I'll learn how to ebb as the tide does. The waves will batter me, but I'll be used to their tactics. I'll be better able to withstand their ferocious blows. It won't hurt any less, but I'll be accustomed to how it feels.

These last few days have been filled with joyous moments. I celebrated ten years of marriage. Brent and I had a wonderful anniversary together. My parents are here and we've been enjoying our family time together. Dad has put on his Superman cape (figuratively speaking, I don't have one of "those" dads) and helped Brent complete the shower repairs downstairs. We've cried together, but we've also laughed together.

Today, I've been knocked down by the waves of sorrow.  A few days ago, I took my parents to the cemetery to see Harlynn's grave.  Harlynn previously had grass seed spread across her grave site. When I took my parents there, fresh grass was sprouting up. At first I found it somewhat comforting. Then, however, I realized Harlynn's grave was becoming just like all the others. There would be no distinction. There would be no difference. More than that, though, there would be no loose ground. For some reason, having her under grass makes losing her that much more final. Once I let it sink in that grass was growing over her, my heart ripped wide open again. I will never get her back this side of Heaven.

When Haley was in the NICU and I was there every possible moment, I remember Dr. J telling me something that powered me on through the rest of our preemie journey. He saw me for the bazillionth time in a row as I stood at the sink and washed my hands to go spend time with Haley. He stopped, smiled, and said, "I see you here all the time! You are such a good mommy."  My heart grew three sizes when he said that. I was doing the best I could. I was being the best mother I knew how to be for Haley.  I do the same for Harlynn. I go to the cemetery as often as I can. Sometimes a few times a day. This time, though, there is a different kind of reception. I'm greeted by the rustle of the leaves as the wind blows through the trees. I'm greeted by the chirping birds or the gobbling turkeys. There is no one to smile and tell me, "I see you here all the time! You are such a good mommy."

Just this morning I felt a phantom kick in my belly. I put my hand up against it and caught myself about to talk to her. She isn't in there. That kick wasn't a kick at all. I started to rub my tummy just as I did while I carried Harlynn. It soothed her when I rubbed a circle over where her back was. I would give anything to soothe her now. Selfishly, I want her to be here to soothe me. I don't want to be mourning the death of my child. I want to be changing her diaper. Watching her smile for the first time. Feeling her soft hair. Touching her pouty lips. I should be taking my parents to her crib to watch her sleep. Not to her grave site.

This morning at church, Haley made a new friend (read: she was flirting with a college boy during the service). He asked us afterwards if she was our only child. I turned away and winced as Brent answered, "Yes."  Our only living child. Every Sunday at church when I fill out the "Keeping In Touch Form" with the names of our children, I pause and wonder, Will I ever stop writing Harlynn's name? Will someone who doesn't know what we've been through wonder why I write two names but carry only one child in my arms?

I stand on the shore as the waves lap at my feet. For now, they're peaceful. Consoling. But in the blink of an eye, I'll be rolling beneath them once again, struggling to catch a breath. Fighting to survive. Clamoring to stand.  And when it's all said and done, I'll return to that very spot on the shore.  I will never walk away from this struggle. I will never abandon my grieving-mother post. I will never leave this place.

Next: Morning Mumbles
Prev: A Mother's Love

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Serious Stuff

I can't believe in a couple of days, Brent and I will be celebrating ten years - an entire decade - of being married. To each other. The whole time.  I'm not going to scan any of our wedding pictures to post because I'm technologically-lazy, but I will post one of my favorite pictures of us ever.

To say marriage is a lot of work is a bit of a misnomer. Work is 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. You get to clock in and clock out, delegate tasks to other people, volunteer to be on committees, attend business meetings, and go home without thinking about your job again until the next morning.  Work is nothing like marriage. Marriage is 24/7. No clocking in. No clocking out. No committees. No delegating just because you don't feel like doing something. Everything you do in your day, with or without your spouse, will affect your marriage in some capacity. Marriage isn't "a lot of work."  Marriage is a way of life.

Sometimes you have to work at loving your spouse. Sometimes you have to compromise and just let them do things their way (no matter how incorrectly he loads the dishwasher).  Sometimes you have to stay up until the words are nice and the tears are slowed before you can go to bed. Sometimes you have to hold your spouse when they lack the strength to stand on their own. Sometimes you have to hold each other in a pile on the floor because neither of you can stand, period. Sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness because what you said, did, or both, was completely hurtful. Sometimes you have to forgive when forgiveness hasn't been asked for. When you love unconditionally, you leave yourself vulnerable to the battle scars of proving that love. Brent and I have battle scars.

Sometimes you will laugh until you can't breathe. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to believe you found a spouse as awesome as the one you're married to. Sometimes you will become so overwhelmed with joy in your heart, there will be no words to express how blessed you are. Sometimes you will love so much you'll hurt. Sometimes you will get lost in their eyes and pray thanks to God for joining you together. Sometimes you will look across the room as he makes those game-faces while playing his xbox, and even though you're annoyed he plays that game at all, you'll be so enamored with his cute little lip-pursing, you don't even care about the game anymore. When you love unconditionally, you leave yourself vulnerable to the blessed joy of basking in that love. Brent and I have basked.

Ten years has had its share of struggles. Heartache. Despair. There have been times both of us have been ready to walk out on our vows. There have been times we've shown our teeth more from gritting them than from smiling. We've let the sun go down on our anger. We've put our own needs ahead of our spouse's, and for that matter, ahead of God's word. We've been to the brink, but we've come back.

Despite everything, Brent has become the man I always wanted. Not only the man I always wanted, but the man I always needed.

In the beginning, I was crazy about him because he was crazy about me. Then I was just crazy, and couldn't handle being with someone who was crazy about me. We had a rocky relationship. It wasn't because of one thing or another - it was because we were both human. We were both immature and selfish (though I would say I was more so than Brent). We were both new to this "committed relationship" thing. The pastor who did our premarital counseling told us - to our faces - he had doubts we were going to make it. There were times we had doubts, too. But here we are - and I can tell you with confidence: neither of us is going anywhere.

We have endured hardships. We have had tremendous heartache. When I was pregnant with Haley, my husband nearly lost both of us. I was knocking at death's door, and we had no idea. When I was pregnant with Harlynn, she died in my womb. We lost our daughter. My husband has been through more than any man should have to face. He buried his child. Our child. We have been through things no couple ever expects to have to go through. We have walked through some of the hardest, darkest days any person has to face. And because he has stayed alongside me, we've both come out the other side.

He has had to support me in every possible meaning of the word. Financially. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. All-other-allys. He has been my nurse, my therapist, my handyman, my mechanic, my landscaper, my chef, my plumber, my chauffeur, my pest-controller. He has been my strength, my support, my heart, my head, my very will to keep on going. He has been and continues to be my everything. He is my hero. He is my husband.

There are not enough words, and certainly not any words that contain adequate meaning, to express to you how wonderful Brent is as a man, as a husband, as a father. My vocabulary falls entirely short in describing his worth and value as my better half.

There are days he drives me crazy. There are moments he infuriates me. There are times he makes me so mad I could spit. But if I ever had to be without him, I would be incomplete. I would be empty. I would be absolutely lost. Lost.

When Brent and I met, God put something into motion we never could have imagined.  Celebrating 10 years of marriage means more to me today than it meant walking down that aisle. My wedding was one beautiful day (sick as I was, it was still beautiful), but our marriage is a culmination of commitment, love, and faith. Our marriage is more beautiful than any one day.

Ten years ago, I married a man I thought the world of. Today that man is my world.

The preacher who married us, the one and only JP Morgan, read the following scripture from the book of Ruth during our ceremony.

"Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me."

"What God has joined together, let no one separate." God joined us together. God kept us together. Marriage is a lifestyle - yes - but it is nothing without God. Brent and I would not be the couple we are today, and would not have made it through the trials and joys we've walked through, were it not for God's faithfulness.

Brent, my are my very heart. I love you, I admire you, and I cannot imagine a single day of my life without you in it. For the next ten minutes, and for the next ten decades - I Do.

~ Our First Dance as Husband & Wife ~

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Honeymoon is Over

Another rainy, gloomy day. Also, a bird has just flown into my window four times. The same bird. I'm sitting here watching it. Either it's having a worse day than I am, or it really, really loves chest-bumping picture windows.  In an effort to distract myself from the impending carnage, I'm going to continue the series of the early years of us.


One week before my wedding I had gone to get my hair highlighted. I came home and pulled the sides back only to find there were a few spots - literally, circular spots - of blonde that I wasn't crazy about. Also, I felt like total doo. My throat was sore. My head was killing me. My back felt like I was lying on a bed of nails. I just didn't feel good at all.  I decided to go to the doctor.  Within ten seconds of being swabbed for strep, it was positive. Strep throat. One week before my wedding.

I went home and called the hair salon to make sure I could go back and get my highlights corrected. While I scheduled my revisit, I got another call.

"Is this Valerie?"
"Yes it is" I croaked.
"Valerie this is (name I have forgotten) from the Wyoming State Health Department. I'm calling to let you know the sample you submitted has tested positive for salmonella."

Let me back up a little bit.  The restaurant where I worked as a server had come under fire as at least three dining patrons had come down with food poisoning.  It was determined contaminated cans of mushrooms (that arrived contaminated from the distributor) were the culprit. Each employee had to submit two consecutive samples testing negative for salmonella before being allowed to return to work.  The health department was calling to tell me I had tested positive. I don't eat mushrooms. Never have. The only thing we later determined was when a coworker and I ordered the same sandwich, and I ordered mine without mushrooms, they cut hers first, and used the same knife to cut mine. I had salmonella from cross-contamination.  Back to the phone call.

"I'm sure you're mistaken - I just went to the doctor and I have strep throat. I'm sure that somehow interfered with the test and gave it a false positive."
"Valerie, I'm sorry, but the fact is you do, actually, have salmonella. Have you been experiencing symptoms?"

Yes, I had been - but I attributed it all to the stress of planning a wedding, and of course, the recent diagnosis of having strep throat.  I ended the phone call, hung up, and broke down. I was getting married in a week. I was sick as a dog. I couldn't work. Even if I had felt fine I couldn't work because I was "contaminated". You cannot be serious. This cannot be happening.

I was on an antibiotic for the strep throat. It wasn't helping the salmonella.  When I walked down the aisle on my wedding day, I put on a brave face - but I. Felt. Miserable.  I was praying I wouldn't have an "accident" in my wedding gown. I was praying I wouldn't throw up on anyone's shoes. I was praying I could stand up long enough to get through the ceremony and reception.  I felt like I had been drug behind a semi truck. The vows said "in sickness and in health" and we had no idea that meant in sickness from that very second.  I don't remember much of the ceremony. I remember it happened, though, and we were married. It was official.  Somehow in the adrenaline of the day, I was able to make it through the entire ceremony and reception without getting sick.

Brent had just started a new job and therefore had limited time off for a honeymoon.  We had decided to go to Rapid City, SD - since we could drive there and get a lot done in a short amount of time. We had a blast, and crammed as many activities as we could into three days. We went to caves, we went to the Cosmos, we went to a petting zoo, we went to Storyland, an awesome mini golf course - we did everything we could. Including taking in the sights of Mount Rushmore.

When we had parked the car at the presidential mountain, Brent asked me if I needed my...we'll call it "tummy medicine."  I had been having a good day and knew I was about over the whole salmonella thing, so I told him no.  He asked me again, "Are you sure?" I know my body....I was sure. It would be fine. "Take the pills." he said. I assured him, as I began crossing the street without him, it would be fine. Fine.

We walked up through the state flags, and could see the faces carved in to the mountain side. After taking pictures of everything and nothing, we decided to take one of the trails around to get the full experience of Mount Rushmore. I didn't want to take the longest possible trail, so we took the second longest. Off we went.

About halfway through our adventure, it hit. Stomach cramps. Big time. And those led to one thing. There was no escape, there was no restroom, there was nothing. I sat down on a bench, clutching my stomach, and began to cry. The pain was so intense, and there was nowhere to hide. People were walking by, giving strange looks, and who really could blame them? Here I was rocking back and forth on a bench in tears, and my husband was standing against the rail of the walkway, arms across his chest, as he was embarrassed and upset. He had tried to ask me. He had tried to warn me. Now I was causing a scene, and he was none too happy.

After several long, painful minutes of my display, Brent had enough. We had been married for about two days, and he marched over to me to put his husbandly authority to good use. He got within inches of my face, and was visibly upset.

"Val, if you ("mess") your pants, I am NOT taking you back to the hotel to change. I TOLD you to take the pills."

I looked at him in disbelief. I was in tears, in pain, in distress, and here my husband of 48 hours was verbally putting me in a corner. I was being disciplined. He was putting his foot down. And he meant business. I could tell. Anyone could tell. Within seconds of him scolding me, another person walked by, and we both smiled and said hello - as if I was not feeling like I was dying, and my husband had not just scolded me.

I knew I couldn't sit and rock on that bench all day. I had to make a run for it - no pun intended. I stood up and sprinted. Then I sat down. I sat and rocked until I could sprint again. Brent was walking behind me. I sprinted. I sat. I sprinted. I sat. I sprinted. I sat. I made it to the end of the trail. There was a bathroom. THERE WAS A BATHROOM!  I sprinted inside.  Brent took a picture of the bathroom so we would always remember. Thank you for that, honey.

We made it back to the car. I took some pills. The rest of the trip, that bottle of pills never left my side.We enjoyed the rest of our honeymoon, but I had definitely overdone it. On the drive home, my strep was still really bothering me, and I could have slept for days. Days. I was so very sick. And Brent was so very sick of me being so very sick.

Brent and I have both grown up a lot since the early days. I've learned to listen to him, because by golly, he's smart. He's taken care of me in some of the sickest times of my existence. He's put up with a lot of crap. (I just went there...)  I have grown to love and respect my husband more over the years than I ever thought possible. I'll get to the serious stuff later.

Later when people would ask how long we'd been married, they would joke, "Oh that long? The honeymoon is over!" and I would say, "Praise Jesus. Praise Jesus."

(Stay tuned for: The Serious Stuff)

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Proposal

It's a rainy, gloomy day at home today. I've cried twice, and I can't get motivated to do everything that was on my to-do list for today, (though I've crossed off some) so I thought I would just continue with the history lesson in Brent's and my relationship.  Chapter deux.


After breaking up with Brent (twice) and going to school 1600 miles away from him, the end of the school year brought with it some make-or-break decision making. Should I go back to Tennessee? I had so many wonderful friends there, was enjoying my time at school, grew to appreciate being the first Wyomingite ever to enroll in that university....but I would be leaving my family another year. I would be leaving Brent behind, and the stress of being so far apart had already taken its toll once.  Plus, the bugs were a bit more than I could handle at times.  There's something about a 6-inch, 6-legged winged creature falling out of a tree and on to a person that makes me about wet myself.

The weekend before the semester ended, and before I would be picking Dad up from the Memphis airport so we could drive back to Wyoming together, Brent said something during one of our phone calls I never expected any boyfriend of mine - ever - to suggest. "Maybe I should go spend some time with your parents before you get back. I haven't seen them in a while."

Um, what? Voluntarily? Without me? ....why, exactly?

After the initial shock of his statement wore off, I began to smile. Thankfully he couldn't hear me smile through the phone. I knew what his visit meant. He was going to ask their permission for my hand in marriage.  Either that, or he had eaten some poisonous mushrooms and was completely delirious.  ....Either way, it made me smile.


I had told Brent how I wanted to be proposed to. (Remember the part from the story earlier about me being a heartless, immature snot? Proof...)  I wanted to be in my happy place - Artist's Point (lower falls) in Yellowstone. It would be grandiose - surrounded by beauty, having tourists take our picture because they were there when some sweet guy proposed to his unsuspecting damsel, in such breathtaking surroundings - grandiose.

It was a Sunday. Mother's Day to be exact. May 12th, 2002. Brent had come to visit us for the weekend. I say us, because I was fresh home from college, living with my parents. The whole family. He and I had ridden to church together that morning, and afterwards, stopped at the grocery store to buy Mom her favorite pie - lemon meringue. Actually, I think her favorite pie is pecan, but since I'm not a big fan of that, we went with her second favorite. (more proof...)

Dad had barbecued a wonderful Mother's Day lunch for us all and it was time for dessert. I sliced and served us pie. After the first bite, I thought I'd be cute and smear a finger-full of meringue on Brent's face. He warned me not to. I didn't listen. He responded by smearing a handful of meringue on my face and neck. I think it was at this point Mom started yelling, "Don't get any on my floor!"  The pie fight continued. I was left with only a small bite of custard, and a whole lot of crust. And a kitchen floor to clean up. (Sorry, Mom...)

Brent changed his clothes and went to put his pie-saturated laundry in his car. While he was outside, I locked the screen door. (Okay, at this point, I'm embarrassing myself with how childish I was...) He asked me - several times - to let him back inside. I giggled and shook my head no. Finally, I relented and unlocked the door.

That's when things got weird.

He stepped inside and had the most adoring look on his face. He put his hands on my shoulders and just stared at me. I don't know about you, but people staring at me, not speaking, makes me a tish uncomfortable. Do I still have pie on my face? He pulled me in for a tight hug.  He pushed me back, hands still on my shoulders, and again did the silent stare. I gave him a sideways glance. He pulled me in for another tight hug. He pushed me back, and just stared at me, smiling. At this point, I'm beginning to put more stock in the assumption he had found some poisonous mushrooms. Again, he pulled me in for a tight hug.

"Brent... What are you doing?"

He pushed me back from him and let his hands drop down from my shoulders. He got down on one knee. I gasped. He smiled. He cleared his throat. He held my hands in his.

"Do you want to see your ring?"

^Brilliant, by the way. A 100% guarantee to get a "YES" while proposing.

I put one hand over my mouth and fought back tears. I nodded. He pulled my ring out of his pocket and placed it on my hand. It was beautiful. He was so handsome. We were so happy. He stood up and we hugged again, this time I was crying.

I wanted to see how long it would take my family to notice my new piece of jewelry. It was a while. Mom scored points for the best reaction by exclaiming, "It's about TIME. I've been waiting and waiting ever since he asked us if he could." (A whole two weeks. We're good at being patient...)

There was no waterfall. There was no applause from strangers. There were no pictures snapped. There was a pie fight in a kitchen, and a proposal in my parents' living room. And it was perfect. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

That day I answered a question (unspoken but implied with the whole ring and all...) that would change my life. I answered to marry my perfect match. I was going to spend the rest of my life with Brent.

(Stay tuned for: The Honeymoon is Over)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How It All Started

As I'm coming up on my 10 year wedding anniversary, and as I could use every excuse possible to focus on the happy times in my life, I thought I would share a few stories of me and my groom. There was a time, for several years actually, that I was not at all comfortable sharing the story of how Brent and I met. People would ask, and I would tell them we met at a gas station. This wasn't a lie, per se, but it wasn't the whole truth. I didn't want the judgments, the assumptions, or the cross-glances, so I didn't like sharing the story. But my how times have changed. We live in a completely technologically-dependent world now, where anything that happens online is "the norm" I no longer shy from sharing. Brent and I met.....(drum roll)

It was March of 2001, or what we'll call the "pre-e-harmony-era". There was no online dating. There were no personality profile match makers. It was just creepy rapists hanging out in chat rooms looking for their next victim. OR not, because obviously neither Brent or I fit that description. But seriously, there was some scary stuff happening in those days.

Mom and Dad had gone to Vegas for the weekend to attend my aunt and uncle's wedding. They somehow talked me out of attending and instead convinced me to stay and house-sit/pet-sit for them. I'm still confused as to the details of how that worked so well in their favor, but there I was in their large house with four completely non-conversational animals. I was bored.

I hopped online (and I use the word "hopped" very loosely, because this was in the days of dial-up internet. It probably took me a good four minutes to get my homepage to open. Four minutes, people.) to a Wyoming chat room on Yahoo!  The first conversation I witnessed was a woman talking about how dissatisfied with her appearance she was. I of course went and looked at her profile picture and determined in short order she resembled me quite a lot. I told her maybe....just maybe....she should no longer use the word "ugly" to describe herself and we could both feel a little better about ourselves. I didn't know this woman, but we started talking and forming a little friendship. I think it was two years later, I was the maid of honor in her wedding. Racheal and I are still friends to this day.

As Racheal and I began talking, we of course did what young, naive, single women do: we started male-bashing. One guy came to the defense of males. Brent sent me a PM (that's chat-talk for private message) and said, "Hey...we're not all that bad."
"If I had a dime for every time I've heard that..." I replied.
Thus began our four hour conversation. We talked about everything: school, work, beliefs and spiritual convictions, sports, food....we covered a lot of ground.  Come to find out we both were huge 49ers fans. We were both conservatives. We were both English majors. We both believed in Jesus. And we both hit send at the same time to describe our favorite snack in the exact same words: "Tortilla chips with shredded cheese, zapped in the microwave."

Obviously we were meant to be together.  

He lived in Gillette at the time, and I was living in Cody.  It was a four hour drive over the mountain, and that's a haul to meet someone who might be crazy in real life.  One week after our online meeting, Brent decided to risk it and make the drive.

I had him meet me at the busiest gas station in town. It was on a busy intersection, well-lit, and had a pay phone that was in clear public view. I told him to call me from that phone when he got to town. He did. I drove up to meet him, nervous as all get out.  I got out of my car, and came face-to-face with this guy sporting a big smile. He had changed some since his profile picture. Come to find out it was his senior high school picture and he had graduated five years earlier. We hugged, made awkward small talk, then he followed me to dinner.

Our dinner destination was an iconic, historic restaurant downtown, where my coworker and her husband were meeting us. We had discussed an "all clear" signal.  If they approved of him and did not find him to be a complete creep, they would show said approval via "the signal". It wasn't too long into the evening, they both approved. Brent was a genuine, good guy.  We enjoyed our dinner, laughing and trying to eat politely in front of each other. I still remember what I wore that day. A lavender v-neck sweater, jeans, and white vans-knock-off tennies. Twelve years ago, and in that outfit, I was one smokin' hot cutie. He had no chance of resisting me, really.

This was the start of our relationship. Brent decided after knowing me for three days, he was in love. And he told me so. My response was something like, "Oh...okay...."  I then broke up with him not quite three months later.

Insert record-skidding-stop-the-music-sound-effect here.

Yes. I broke up with him. Ask my psychologist, I don't know - I just couldn't handle being in a relationship with a good guy who actually cared about me. It freaked me out. Everyone else had left me when boredom or jitters or another woman settled in.  So he was gone when I realized he wasn't going to break up with me first.

Fast forward through the muck, we ended up getting back together before I broke up with him again.  By this time I was going to school in Tennessee, there were a lot of cute college boys who were right there, and Brent was 1600 miles away. I'm no math expert, but it seemed the perfect equation for long-distance-relationship-demise.  

Are you following? I broke up with Brent twice. Twice.  Maybe I was a heartless snot. Maybe I was immature. Who am I kidding - I was a heartless, immature snot.  It was right before Christmas of 2001 when we decided we would be a couple again. Now who's the crazy one, taking back the woman who broke his heart twice?

Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for Brent's total and complete lack of judgment on the day he agreed to get back together with me for the third time. I would be absolutely lost in this life without him.

To think it all started with "Hey....we're not all that bad."  You were right, Brent. You're not all that bad. In fact, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me.

(Stay tuned for: The Proposal)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dear Diary...

Brent's best friend, and my brother-by-association, came to visit us a couple of weekends ago. Eric has been a part of Brent's life for near 25 years, and a part of mine for 12. I don't really remember the details of the first time I met Eric, but I remember the first time I heard his voice: on the other end of Brent's cell phone, as Brent called to tell him he had met the woman of his dreams. (Those weren't his exact words, but the meaning was strongly implied.)  Brent's words (and his strongly implied meaning) garnered a, "Wow. Really?" from Eric. And here we are...12 years later...Brent swears he wouldn't trade me, and Eric has the little sister he never wanted but ended up with anyway.

When Eric came to see us recently, and be there for Brent as only Eric can, I was reminded of the fact that we can never control who ends up in our lives - but every single one of them has a reason for being there. I won't tell Brent and Eric's story - they probably don't realize they have one - but I will say this: my husband has a close circle of life-long friends, and I'm honored to know and love them too. They are a great group of guys, and if Brent can't find the words to tell them, I will: you guys have a special place in our hearts, and Brent wouldn't be the man he is today were it not for your friendship. I personally thank you for the influence you've had on my husband.

All of you.

As I was saying, Eric came to see us a couple of weeks ago. He was talking to me about my blog. This very thing I'm typing right now, he will probably end up reading. His words were encouraging, and humbling as well. Brent was agreeing with him on nearly every point and I was trying to process the fact that my "brother" had found my diary and was then talking to me about it. That's what this is like for me. My diary. I sometimes forget people read this. I forget I'm not just talking to myself. Yet I write because one day I want someone to remember Harlynn because of something I've said. I want someone to have hope because they've read what we've survived. I want someone to get a chuckle from Haley's antics. And I write so that I can look back and remember this journey called life, and how I've grown through each part of it. "I survived even that."

Eric made a point about my writing style. I almost laughed. I don't have style in anything. I can't piece an outfit together to save my life, I have no idea how to pronounce "Louboutin" (nor would I have any idea how to walk in one of his shoes), I don't fix my hair, I resonate with everyone and no one, and I just kind of .... exist.

To me, the word "style" represents a personal, individual expression. I emit a visible cry for help when it comes to "expressing" myself in style. I have to take friends shopping with me, and not just for the social aspect of spending time together. It is because I need someone to do the shopping for me while I cower in the fitting room and wait for things to be handed to me because the racks of clothing overwhelm me.  When Eric talked about my writing style, I had a mental picture of a fashionista in a cute little outfit, maybe even some skinny jeans, with coordinating accessories and a handbag matching her shoes. My style is more like someone who gets dressed in the dark. Nothing goes together, few things fit, I'm missing essential pieces, but I manage to somehow get something on to cover me appropriately and I call it good. That is how I dress, and that is how I write. That is my style.  Unkempt, thrown together, and somehow passing as acceptable.

Since Eric's depiction of my writing, however, I've received other comments, other compliments. Maybe there's something to this style of expression. Maybe there's something to this avenue of how I process my thoughts and now especially, my grief. Maybe this is more than me talking to myself.

If you read this (all four of you....and hi, Mom...) I thank you for being in my audience. I thank you for walking this road with me. I thank you for wanting to know what goes on in my head, my heart, and my home.

And who knows...maybe one day I'll come out after getting dressed in the dark, and I will have inexplicably hit the mark. My paragraphs might become chapters, and my story might become imprinted on a publisher's pages - or better yet - imprinted on the heart of someone who needed to hear it.  If you are that one person who ends up benefiting from something I've written about - I praise God for it. I share my story so you can understand yours.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Mother's Love

Yesterday was probably one of the hardest days I've had since Harlynn's funeral. Yesterday was Mother's Day. A day to celebrate having a mom, knowing moms, and being a mom. I know Brent wanted to make it as easy of a day for me as possible. He took good care of me.  I tried to make the best of my time with Haley. She and I had a mommy/daughter date and went to the zoo, we ate dinner at Noodles & Company, and we topped off our date by returning to the cemetery to sit with Harlynn. I enjoyed our date. She made me laugh and we even had a full conversation in our made up language. It was all I could do, however, to hold it together. One of my daughters was missing, and it was certainly not the Mother's Day I had looked forward to having this year.

We started our day by taking a family trip to the cemetery to place flowers on Harlynn's grave. Purple flowers. There was another woman there, who walked over and introduced herself to us. She was the mother-in-law of the mom I met the week before. She had three grandchildren buried within feet of each other. She wanted to hug me and let me know she was so sorry, and she knew what this pain felt like. We cried as we hugged.  These weren't just tears of understanding - these were tears of suffering for having to visit the children we love by coming to their resting place. I knew in life, Harlynn would be adorable enough to draw complete strangers in to admire her, and strike up conversation. I never imagined in her death, how many people she would bring into our lives to comfort us, encourage us, or come alongside us as we mourn losing her.

I spent much of the day fighting tears and thinking about the fact that only half of my children were with me. I thought about what made me a mommy. I thought about the long road Brent and I had to walk with even bringing Haley into the world, and how we were so excited to be able to give her a younger sister. To laugh with. To conspire with. To love as only sisters can. I thought about the moment they placed my precious, lifeless Harlynn on my chest. I thought about what I had imagined this Mother's Day to be like, and what it was instead.

As nightfall set in, I became restless. I couldn't sleep, and I was using all of the strength I had left to avoid breaking down. Brent and Haley were so wonderful, and I didn't want to add to any emotional stress they may have been feeling in trying to make it a good day for me. As I lay in bed facing the wall, I noticed the two pictures hanging up. I bought them probably eight or nine years ago at JC Penny in Billings. I was struck by their sudden representation. On the left, three jars with wispy flowers, sparse but present. On the right, one vase filled with vibrant, full, purple flowers. Our family pictures. Three plus one. Three together trying to figure out how to live, one separate, flourishing and fully alive. I clutched my comfort bear and cried silently until I could hear Brent sleeping beside me.

I ended up going into Haley's room to check on her as she slept. I knelt down beside her bed and placed my hands on her. I cried so hard and so intensely, but still as quietly as I could. I thanked God for Haley and all she has brought to our lives. I thanked him for what a genuine blessing she is to us. For how much love I feel for her. For the privilege of being her mommy. I begged him to protect her - from evil, from harm, from sickness. I asked him to help me be the best mother to her I can be. To mother her the way she needs me to, at every stage of her life. That she and I can have a relationship she always appreciates. That she would be able to know and understand how much I love her.

I am a mother to two beautiful girls.  I love Haley, my mini-me, more than I can aptly express.  I love Harlynn. I always will love her, and just as intensely as I love Haley. It doesn't matter if Harlynn lived 37 weeks, 37 years, or 37 decades; it would never be enough time for me to show her how much I love her. No matter how much time I have with Haley on this earth, I'll never be able to shower her with enough love.

There are moments I find myself questioning how we've made it this far, this long, without our little Harlynn. There are moments I find myself questioning how we'll be able to make it any further. There are moments where I cry out in anger and sadness for not having the chance to be the family I yearned to be with her. There are moments I am so consumed by grief I can't do anything but weep.

But there are moments where I have Haley in my arms, when I hear her giggle, and I know that being her mommy is the greatest honor there is. There are moments when I kiss her owies and fix her dolly's dress that qualify me for being her hero. There are moments when she gives me hugs and kisses that make tantrums and timeouts worth the struggle.

There are moments where even when my heart is aching for what we've lost, it beats because of what we have.

Next: Sea Of Sorrow
Prev:  What's In A Name

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What's In A Name

I am obsessive compulsive. I won't share all of my oddities, but I have a thing about even numbers, light switches in the same position, and books in order of height to name a few. My sister and I have the same initials, and I think it's safe to say that's because my Mom is a little OCD as well. Really, if we all evaluate our habits and behaviors, there's a little OCD in all of us.

When we were picking names, I was set on an H name. I grew up with a sister who had a V name, and wanted the same name-theme for my kids. I just liked the idea. Brent wasn't so much a fan, but bless him, he went with it. I had a short list of boy names and girl names, and there was one name at the top of both, only varied in spelling, that my heart was hoping for.

There are three Fargo couples in particular who are very special to Brent and me. Two of them are like adopted parent-couples, and one couple is like our older brother and sister. Maybe I should say big brother and sister instead of older. You're not "old", guys.  These couples have as much adopted us as we've adopted them, and we've grown to love them like family. Plainly, we'd be lost without them.

One of our adopted parent-couples has been a strong emotional support for us. They've supported us as we've walked through some murky waters in our marriage, and in our spiritual walk.  They've encouraged us, and mentored us. They've even helped us with some nitty-gritty home repairs. They've prayed with us, for us, and because of us. They've loved us in spite of knowing us. Their last name is Harlan.

Yes, it's an H name. It was at the top of my list for either boy or girl. Spelled like their last name if we had a son, and spelled "Harlynn" if we had another little girl. Not just an H name, but a name indicative of how special our little girl was, and how our lives had been influenced by a couple God had lovingly placed in our lives. Harlynn.  I told Mr. Harlan not to "get a big head" once he heard the name we decided on. I teased him a bit.  I don't think he knew we decided to name our child after them.

Brent wasn't 100% sold on the name at first, but it grew on him. I told him since he "agreed" to name our daughter Harlynn, he could pick whatever middle name he wanted. I was willing to relinquish the requirement of having an L middle name, so that she and her sister would have the same initials. He chose Renae.

My very best friend, my other half long before Brent came to be in my life, is Tiffani. She and I have been best friends since the 8th grade, and I know you won't believe me when I say this, but that was 20 years ago. When I moved to Wyoming, I was in Tiff's homeroom. We instantly hated each other. Yes, you read that right. She was unique in that she had a huge fro of naturally curly hair. Then I moved to town and guess what? I had a huge fro of naturally curly hair. I was infringing on her turf. I don't really know if that's why we hated each other or not. Who knows. I was the new girl, and nobody liked me. Especially Tiff.

One day I saw her crying. I didn't like her, but more than that I didn't like to see her cry. I wrote her a note and shoved it in her locker. I found a note shoved in my locker in reply. We communicated this way for weeks, never actually speaking to each other in person - just through notes. I don't remember the first time we talked to each other. I don't remember what we said. I just know that about the start of the second semester of 8th grade, we were becoming best friends.

Tiff is basically my brain in another body. We mostly think alike. We say things the same way. We share the same feelings on a lot of issues (and non-issues). Whatever I would do for her, she would do for me. We put each other in our place. We love each other with the tough love that only best friends could get away with. The day we came home from the hospital after losing Harlynn, she showed up on my doorstep. Unannounced. She drove over 700 miles to be there. I saw her walking up the driveway, I opened the door, I hugged her and I sobbed. I told her "If you had asked, I would have said 'no'." She said, "That's why I didn't ask." She was there when I needed her, and I can't love her enough for that. I hope everyone in their life has a best friend like Tiff.  Tiffani's middle name is Renae.

Harlynn Renae. A name with purpose. A name with meaning. A name that is so very special for so many reasons.

I ache for the fact that no one will get to know Harlynn and who she would have been as a person. I ache because Mr. and Mrs. Harlan will never get to bounce her on their knee. Never get to have their picture taken with their little namesake. I ache that my best friend will never get to hold her pseudo-niece, or be enchanted by her little coos and giggles. Instead my best friend, her second namesake, has to hold me as I cry.

It isn't fair. It isn't.

Harlynn Renae is more than just a special name. She's a special baby. She's a special sister. She's a special daughter. She's a special light of our lives that we'll always hold on to.

I thank God for the special people he's surrounded us with in our lives. I thank him for giving us people we can lean on, now especially. We'd never survive without them. I thank God for my little Harlynn Renae. And I thank God for the people who helped us give her a name.

~ Tiff & Val ~

Next: A Mother's Love
Prev: Membership Nonrefundable

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Membership Nonrefundable

I'm part of a new club now. I never asked to be admitted, and I certainly would never willingly apply for membership. I don't have a membership card, and I won't be getting monthly newsletters. There won't be any galas or wine-and-dine events. I'm a member of the grieving parent club. I had to lose a child to get in. A price far too high, and one I would give anything to have refunded. Do over. Wake up from this nightmare.

Four weeks ago tonight I went into labor after hearing the devastating news Harlynn's heart was no longer beating. These last four weeks have been such a blur - going far too fast as the world still spins around us. I have just a couple of weeks before I head back to work. As much as I want it to, time refuses to stand still. I decided today I have to make the most of it - no matter how hard it is. I have to do what I can to embrace each day.

Today I picked Haley up from the sitter's at noon. I brought her home for lunch and made our bed cozy so she and I could nap together. She wanted to talk to her teddy bear instead of sleep.  Finally, after about 25 minutes, she was out. And so was I. Unfortunately, that only lasted for about 37 minutes. She was wide awake. I guess it's just too exciting to be napping in Mommy and Daddy's (awesomely comfortable) bed.

We put our shoes on, grabbed our water bottles and bubbles, and headed out. Haley really wanted to go to the park today, and I really wanted to take her to Harlynn's grave site.  Luckily for both of us, the two venues are next door neighbors.

I pulled in to the cemetery and Haley asked, "Mommy? Is this the cemetery?"
"Yes it is, Sweetie."
"Where is Harlynn?"
"She's up in front of us here."
"Mooo-ooom, no! She's up in HEAVEN!"
"That's right. She is. And who is she with up in Heaven?"
"She's with GOD!"
I pulled over on the side of the dirt road and parked the van. "Is she buried under the dirt, mommy?"

Why does any three year old have to ever ask that question about their baby sister?

We walked over to Harlynn's grave. I pulled Haley's Hello Kitty bubbles out of my pocket. "Look what Mommy brought. Do you think Harlynn would like to see how you blow bubbles?"
"YEAH! Harlynn, I am gonna blow you bubbles!"

She did. She blew and blew until I thought she might pass out. She loved blowing bubbles for her baby sister today.  I made her take a little break, since she was wearing more bubbles than she was producing. She came over and sat on my lap.  We sat and talked about the grass growing, Harlynn's picture on her site marker, and where the deer and turkeys might be hiding since we didn't see them out and about today.

As we sat there next to Harlynn, I heard a car drive up and stop. I didn't want to look. I didn't want it to be what I thought it was.

Haley was getting antsy to go to the park. I told Haley to blow her sister a kiss and say, "We love you, Harlynn!" She obliged, and I did the same. I stood up and turned around and there walked another mom, carrying a big pinwheel and some other toys to place at her child's grave. Haley started to make conversation with her, amazed at the big pinwheel. The mom smiled and started to walk over as I brushed dirt off my pants.

"You lost your baby?"
I nodded.
"Can I hug you?"
I nodded again.
We hugged there in the middle of the cemetery and both started to cry.

Why do so many parents have to know this pain?

I told her Harlynn was stillborn. She glanced over and saw her name and picture on the marker. When she learned Harlynn's name, she said the North Dakotan phrase I've always found so....North Dakotan. "Oh, for cute!"  She continued, "It will get easier. It will. But it will always come in waves. It's been 12 years for me." I gasped. I told her how I struggle day to day, and I cannot wrap my mind around how parents deal with this for years. Years.

She lost her son when he was eight days old. She lives in a town about 45 minutes away, I learned, and had to make special plans to come visit her son, Max. She told me I would be in her prayers. I told her the same.  Haley told her goodbye, and we walked back towards the van. Haley asked me, "What is that lady doing here?"
"She's here to visit her son, just like we were here to visit Harlynn."
"Is her son buried?"
"Yes, sweetheart. She lost her baby 12 years ago, like we lost Harlynn."
"Oh. Is she sad?"
"Yes, she's sad. Just like we're sad sometimes when we miss your baby sister."
"Can we go to the park now?"

I wanted to change the subject, too.

We drove out of the cemetery, while Haley called out to the deer wondering where they were. We didn't see them today. We headed on to the park where Haley did her all-time favorite activity: swing.  She wanted to be pushed higher and higher and was letting out little, "woo hoo!"s with each push. It wasn't too long before I realized we were in the blazing sun, and I hadn't thought to bring any sunscreen with us. Before our pale skin got fried, I managed to talk her in to leaving to buy some sunscreen. And M&Ms.

We headed to the store, and my heart broke not only for us as a family, but for the mom I met today, and all the parents who are members of this exclusive club. I'd give anything not to be a member. More so, I'd give anything for the club not to exist at all.

Next: What's In A Name
Prev: Don't Speak

Monday, May 6, 2013

Don't Speak

People often ask me how I'm doing. Usually up until that point I'm fine. Or at least holding it together. Then I hear those words, "How are you doing?" and if I allow myself to go there, if I allow myself to stop and think about the truth behind the answer, I fall apart. The truth is I'm not doing well. My heart is across town at the cemetery, in the ground next to a tiny pink and white casket. Every morning I wake up - after a pill-induced full night's rest - because there was no hungry baby to wake me from my slumber. How am I doing? "I'm hanging in there."

Barely. By a thread. On the wings of prayers uttered by other people. For Haley's sake so she doesn't have to wonder why Mommy can only cry. For Brent's sake so he can have some strength for himself instead of constantly being mine. For my own sake so I can complete just one task, just get through part of my day.

I'm hanging in there.

There are so many things people - well-meaning, loving, sweet, dear people - say to me that make me wish I could hold up a sign that says, "Please don't say that again."  These are things that probably help other people in other grieving situations, or maybe even help other people who are in the same grieving situation I'm in. But I'm a different cat. We all know this. There is no one quite like me...thank the heavens above.

Words that sting...I'm going to compile a list.

"It will get better with time."  I've already said I hate hearing this. My daughter is dead. There is nothing that will be better about that. I know I will function more readily as time goes on. There will be better days. There will be days when it's harder to cry and easier to smile. I know my grieving will become less prevalent, less intense. I will never be convinced, however, that I will ever find it "better" to go through life without my little Harlynn.

"You shouldn't..._(fill in the blank)_" Usually that's followed by "Think those thoughts" or "feel that way" or "be worried about that right now."  Tell me - how is thinking, feeling, or worrying any differently going to bring my daughter back? It isn't. Let me think, feel, and worry how I have to right now. It's part of this whole, dark journey.

"I wish I could take some of the pain away." Thank you. I appreciate your intent, and that's so very sweet. However, this is all I have to carry with me. I have to ache for my daughter. I have to ensure that every time I hurt in longing for her, someone knows what a beautiful baby she was. How much joy she brought to our home from within my womb. The reason I have pain in this is because Harlynn was a loved baby. Deeply loved. Loved so much by her Mommy, her Daddy, her big sister - this is why we have pain. Because we loved her. Even if you could take some of the pain away, you'd be taking some of our love with it. Sometimes the pain I feel is the only realization I have that all of this actually happened.

"God needed another angel." No he didn't. He didn't take her because he's trying to ramp up his angel army. He didn't take her because he has some slackers up in Heaven and he's needing to increase his work force. He didn't take her. Her heart stopped. There are thousands upon thousands of parents who have lost their baby this way. God didn't take them. They died. People die. Babies die. We live in a fallen world where death is a certainty. He didn't need another angel. He didn't kill my baby because I didn't need her as much as he did.  He didn't pick her over someone else. Her heart stopped beating and she died.  She's with him now, but it's not because he took her from us. God is no monster. He is a just God. He doesn't take babies from parents, especially for the reason being he "needs" them. His heart aches with ours. He knows our pain. He certainly didn't cause it.

"She's in heaven now!" That phrase itself isn't a bad phrase. It's the tone that's used when it's said. The tone that says, "How can you be sad, when you know she's in the presence of Jesus? Rejoice for her! You'll see her again!" I feel like instead of saying "She's in heaven now!" the person could just as easily say, "Ain't no big thang!" Like I can just roll all of this agony and sadness away and get on as if I did not just bury my child. As if I did not just have my entire life turned upside down by losing a lifetime with Harlynn. Like my entire family did not just lose their daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece... Never have I thought about how far Heaven is - until I've begun looking forward to going. Heaven is, as one friend put it, so. far. away.

If you're reading this and thinking, "Oh crud - I'VE said that...." don't worry. The truth is I don't remember who has said what. I don't remember when it's been said. I'm not blaming anyone, and I'm certainly not bitter towards anyone. It's human nature to want to say and do something to make someone feel better. If you take anything away from this, let it be this: there is nothing you can say, there is nothing you can read, there is nothing you can reference that will make any of this any better, any easier, any less painful. Given the choice, I think it's safe to say we all would have written a different ending to this story. I know I would have.

Next: Membership Nonrefundable
Prev: Our Stillbirth Storm

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Our Stillbirth Storm

It's hard to be a family of four, and only have three people to show for it. It's hard to know how to answer that question, "do you have children? Oh! How many?"  It's hard to not feel like I'm ambushing someone with the unexpected when I say I delivered my second child still. Silent. Straight into Heaven.  

In trying to somehow sort out the reality and navigate through the sea of grief, I have tried to create several projects to keep Harlynn's life remembered. I try to find ways I can help Haley be a big sister when she doesn't have a little sister to yell at, play with, cuddle... I try to find ways I can help Brent memorialize the Daddy's girl he'll never hold again on earth. I try to find ways I can cope. Ways I can hold something - anything - since I can't hold my precious girl.

I went to Hobby Lobby a few days back to try to tackle my own memorial project - a shadow box of the flowers Brent, Haley, and I wore during Harlynn's funeral, and one tiny rose I plucked from her casket spray. I wanted to make a floral-family-photo. The four of us. Together. An entire family.  I ended up buying two shadow boxes, because I wasn't sure which one would be the best size. After getting them home, I knew I would need to take the smaller one back to Hobby Lobby.

The day I was going to make my trip back, we got the mail, and in it was a name card made special for Harlynn. I suddenly had a different idea for the smaller shadowbox.  I had forgotten to get stickers, though, and I would need those as part of the floral-family box, so back to Hobby Lobby I went anyway.  I searched a long time for the perfect stickers. I never did find them. I found some that would work, though, and would work well.  I picked them up and started meandering around the store - mostly because I just didn't want to go back home. When I finally muster the strength to leave the house, it's sometimes hard for me to return.

I wandered over to the yarn aisles, just to browse. Everyone knows I have plenty of yarn (and then some) so I had no intentions of purchasing anything new. I just like to look and see what's available and imagine what other people will make with it.

As I was browsing, my eyes fell upon some purplish-mixed yarn. "Well that's kind of....messy looking" I thought. I picked it up and turned it over in my hands. Yes, definitely messy looking.  I turned the label to read the color.  The color of this yarn was "Storm".  

Standing there, holding this stuff in my hands, I couldn't help but let out an almost-laugh. You know the kind, where you kind of force air through your nose and crack your lips in a smirk. Storm is right. This is purple...kind of....mixed with an awful shade of green, looks like it has been drug around behind an off-roading vehicle, and it's almost...intense. Just like what we've walked through these last couple of weeks. Just like what we've had to endure. Storm indeed.

I bought five skeins. I didn't know what I was going to do with it. I just knew I had to do something. Make something representative of both the color name, and of our journey.

I came home and showed Brent the stickers. He peeked in the bag and said half sarcastically, "And you bought yarn....ooooh....."  I felt I had to defend my purchase. "It has purple and the color name is storm. I'm going to make something for Harlynn."  I imagine there will be more impulsive purchases as time goes on. I imagine I won't regret any of them. It's what I have to do to heal. At least for now.

I pieced the shadow boxes together and decided on the way I want them arranged on the wall when we hang them. Thankfully my first attempt at doing a shadowbox of any kind turned out to work. I'd give anything - anything - to be framing a family portrait instead. But because I can't bring my baby back, I'll take what I can get. For now, I can get a shadowbox with flowers that have a significant meaning to each of us.

I moved on to the yarn. I didn't know what to do with it. I finally decided I would crochet a lap blanket, and when the next "life storm" came my way, I would snuggle in the comfort of remembering my precious girl. Crocheting seems to move faster than knitting and I can't stay focused enough these days to have something other than an immediate result. I don't consider myself a crocheter. I have dabbled in it, and I have made some pretty cool things - but all by chance. I really have no idea what I'm doing, and if it's anything other than simple, I won't attempt it.  I just wanted this to work, and I wanted it to be quick.

I walked up to get my crochet hooks, and grabbed the first one that looked like it would do the job.  It just so happens, it's a purple hook.  After getting settled on the sofa, I started chaining. I thought I had better check and see what size the hook was, in case I lose it and need to find a different one the same size to finish the job.  Isn't that's a size "H".

I chained 100 stitches. I decided to do that, because after entering some simple math in my smart phone (because I cannot even focus on simple math), I discovered Harlynn was born on the 100th day of the year. I started making the blanket and decided every 12th and 16th rows, I would double crochet. Harlynn was born at 12:16, and was our second child.

This blanket isn't much to look at. It isn't a work of art. But it holds an entire story within its stitches. It holds the legacy of our precious baby girl who was stillborn, yes, but she was still born. Her name is etched on our hearts, and her short little life was not in vain. In those 37 weeks, she brought us joy and excitement. She brought us laughter. She brought me to my knees (to dry heave, because of being in pain, and to pray...). She brought us together, tighter, as a family. She brought us love. She brought us hope.

One of the verses we had read at Harlynn's funeral was John 16:33. It reads, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  In the forty-five seconds I've allowed myself to say an actual prayer since this happened three weeks ago, my prayer has been something in relation to this verse. Yes, you've overcome it. But I haven't. I've been overcome by it. I'm overcome with grief. My child is gone. My hope is you come take all of us home, and you come take us home soon.

In this world you will have trouble.  Certainly that is the case. But this trouble, Lord? You couldn't spare me this trouble? I prayed against this pain! I prayed I would never walk this road, lose my child. When I crumble beneath the weight of my tears, I have to hold my hands over my heart because it feels like it's going to fall out of my chest. I feel as though I could physically fall to pieces. Why does any parent have to know this trouble? So that in me you may have peace. I'll get there. I know I'll get there. And it will only be because of you. I know this. I believe it. I'm just....I'm so overcome, God. With grief. With anger. With heartache. But take heart! I have overcome the world. 

God, grant me comfort in this storm.

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