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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Brent Ryan

Every once in a while, I post a super mushy blog about how wonderful my husband is. Then we usually end up engaged in some intense fellowship over something petty and we won't even remember what started it. 

This is one of those once-in-a-whiles. He is reffing football right now, so the fellowship will wait until later.

Today is a day I love to celebrate. And it, indeed, is worthy of celebration. On this day in 19-somethingseven, the world was graced by the birth of Brent Ryan Kleppen. Today is his birthday. A day I cherish. A day worthy of noting.

Brent is a good guy. I'm not just saying that because I'm his wife. I'm saying it because it's true. We've been together for over 12 years now. But you've probably already read about that.  Sometimes he makes poor choices. Sometimes he doesn't think. Sometimes our intense fellowship is solely his fault. A lot of sometimes. But all of the time, even when he's a turd, he's a good guy.

I could tell you about the time we were dating and I had strep throat (which seemed like it was every other week) and it was Valentine's Day. I couldn't go out to dinner, so he brought me Chinese food and a teddy bear and sat with me while I was miserable. In my parents' house. I was miserable because of the strep throat, not because I was in my parents' house. Well.... no, okay, strep throat. (hee hee)  I could tell you about the time we weren't going to see each other for 17 days right around Easter, and I got a basket with little plastic eggs in it. I was supposed to open one a day. There were 17 eggs. Each one had a little candy wrapped in a sweet quote. I could tell you about the innumerable times I've been sick, and he has taken far better care of me than I've ever taken of him. I could tell you how he has held me and let me cry, offering the best hugs big strong arms can muster. I could tell you how he has led some of the most powerful, spirit-filled prayers I have ever heard. I could tell you how I turn to goo when he sings. I could tell you how he is one of the hardest-working people I've ever met. I could tell you how much I admire him wanting to do things right. I could tell you how cute he is when he talks in his sleep. Not so much when he snores, though. I could tell you of the many times he's made me laugh until my sides hurt. And you can tell by watching him with Haley for five minutes, that he is an amazing, adoring, wonderful father. I could tell you about the things no husband, and no father, ever wants to have to face. And how Brent navigated those waters with poise, wisdom, and strength most men in his shoes would long for. I'm proud of the man he is. I'm proud of you, Brent.

I used to throw him a party every year. And every year he told me how much he'd rather have a quiet, no frills celebration. And every year I thought he was just being modest. Until I realized he is not the same socialite I am. So we have modest celebrations. Because it's what he likes. And when I do throw him parties, he goes along with it. Because he also likes me. And because...well...he's a good guy.

So Brent - in the most modest way I can muster - Happy Birthday, Babe! This is my favorite day - because without it, I'd be without you. And nobody wants that. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Laughter is the Best Medicine

I love to laugh. I always have. There's something freeing about a throw-your-head-back-belly-laugh you just can't create in other activities. Then we lost Harlynn. I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to laugh again.

Those first few weeks were intense. Intense. Everything made me cry. All I could do was cry. I didn't want to talk to anybody, I didn't want to do anything. Especially laugh.

It was during the days that followed and family surrounded us. My sister had told me a long time before about a video she took of my nephew, around 20 months at the time, was singing along to Alicia Keys' "Fire" song. Now that we were together, I asked to see the video.  I watched, and I laughed. Hard. I really laughed. It came as naturally as the tears had in the days and minutes leading up to that moment. And it felt good.

Laughter didn't come easily in those days following saying goodbye to Harlynn. Sometimes I wondered, even though I laughed so hard at watching the video of my nephew, if I would ever be able to laugh like I used to. If I would ever be able to find the humor in every day situations and circumstances.

A couple of months ago, I was asked to take part in planning and organizing the women's ministry fall kick-off event at our church. I am not at all a serving body. When I have people over to the house, I can't stand it to have people helping me in the kitchen. I know how I need it done and I just want to do it. In that same vein, I will rarely ask someone if they need help in their kitchen. I expect if they do, they'll tell me what to do, and I'll gladly do it.  But I won't ask and feel like I'm in the way. I know it's weird, but it's how I'm wired. Anyway, this characteristic follows me in every aspect of service. So when I was asked to help, I agreed, but not before confessing this isn't my gift. I do what I'm told, and I do it well, but I don't jump at the chance to stack chairs or set tables. Thankfully, God loves me anyway, and so do the women in charge of women's ministry.  

In one of the planning meetings, the topic of who would be emcee came up. I caught a knot in my throat. I was the emcee last year, and had a blast. It was my "thing". I loved it. But this year....this year was different. I was different. Sherri, who I believe has come to know me pretty well, spoke the very words that were caught in my throat. "I know that sometimes, after experiencing a tragedy like you have, being up in front of people can bring up some .... emotions."  I nodded. That's exactly where I was. I agreed. Yet as I agreed with her, I felt this nudge. This little, inner nudge, that gave me pause.  "But maybe," I began, "it would help me."  Did I just say that? Did I just basically say being in front of a room of 150+ women, trying to keep the program light and flowing, would help me? Am I insane?  The evening's verdict was I would pray about it, and let them know at the next meeting.  I went home and told Brent. His response was, "And you'll do it, because you love it."
"No, Brent, this is different. I'm going to pray about this. I don't want to say I'll do it if I'm not supposed to do it."
He looked at me, slightly bewildered, and said, "Well....good, then. But I hope you do it."

It was two weeks. Two weeks of me coming up with more than every excuse why I should not emcee. Why I shouldn't stand before a room of women, some of whom knew what my journey had been. Last year when I was emcee, I was seven weeks pregnant. With Harlynn. What if that's all I could remember; how I was trying not to throw up on stage and give away my "secret" of being with child? And now I was without her. Would I crack under the sentimental flood of memories? If I talked myself out of it once, I talked myself out of it 1,000 times. And each time I did, I felt that same nudge. That same inward flicker. And I felt a peace, a tangible feeling, come over me. I was supposed to do this. I was supposed to emcee.

For someone who isn't a do-er, for someone who doesn't get her kicks from setting up or providing a food spread, the emcee role is about perfect. I show up, I talk, I leave. Or so I thought.

So, one week ago, I showed up at the church. I walked in. We prayed for the event. We prayed for the participants, for the audience, for the evening as a whole. Dinner was served. Then, it was time. I stepped up in front of everyone, seeing a room full of women, staring at me - waiting for the evening to get underway. And I have no idea what came over me. I have no idea what happened. I don't remember 60% of the things I said - but I, rumor has it, nailed it. I made women giggle, I made women belly-laugh, and I'm pretty sure some even peed a little.  I was on. I was on. For the first time in almost six months' time, I was the one making others laugh. And I was having a blast. I was enjoying it. I prayed prayers from the very depth of my own soul. They were prayers I needed to pray for myself. I worshipped in a no-holds-barred fashion that I haven't been able to find myself capable of for a long while. And I felt God moving in that building. I felt His power. I felt it.

Afterwards I had women telling me how much they enjoyed my being up there. How much fun I had made their evening. One even asked me if I was a comedian by trade. (I am wondering if these ladies need to get out more.)  I know I'm not that funny, so I am convinced the Spirit lowered their expectations a little bit and gave them the giggles. I'm going with that.

I came home and I told Brent how much I needed that. How much I got out of being the emcee. How much I needed to take part in that way. The fact that others enjoyed it was just a bonus. I'm not convinced God led me to emcee for the sake of others so much as I was led to do it for my own renewal. Brent told me, "I'm so glad you went, so you could know you still have this spark. You're still this Val."

And I see how very important laughter is. Yes I am still wracked with grief. Yes I am still fragile. Yes I can still cry with no warning. And I do. But I can laugh. And if Harlynn ever gets a window from heaven, she'll have the chance to see her mommy throwing her head back, cackling like a crazy person, and she'll see, "That's my mama. She seems fun." 

Prev: Family Tree

Friday, September 20, 2013

Family Tree

I drove down the long pathway to the infant's section in the cemetery. I parked and took those all-too-familiar steps to Harlynn's spot. I cleared some leaves from her marker, adjusted her little pinwheels, and I sat to spend time with her. 

I had a lot to tell her. As I fought off the mosquitoes and bees, determined not to let them influence my time visiting Harlynn, I stopped to glance around. The leaves are turning on the trees. They're falling to the ground. The grass is preparing itself for winter and cold. The deer were all around, grazing on what's left of the fresh morsels. Everything in the cemetery will be bare in a few months. Everything will be dry, brittle, and void of vibrancy.

But come spring....they'll all come back to life. Grass will green. Trees will sprout leaves. Flowers will bloom. Life will return.  Yet no one resting underground there will. 

It isn't fair. I don't suppose we've ever believed that life would be. But of all the unfair things....this.... this just isn't fair. 

I turned back to Harlynn's spot, tears in my eyes. Oh I wish love was enough to keep her. How I wish any amount of tears could bring her back. I begged her, as I do every visit, to come and see me - somehow, some way, show me who and how she is. Let me hear her voice. Let me see her adorable chin. Her bright eyes. I asked her a few favors. Told her a few secrets. Whispered a prayer.

As I walked back to the car, and startled the deer nearby, I saw a doe with two fawns. She wouldn't take her eyes off me as her babes grazed nearby. "I won't hurt them," I promised. "I envy you a little." She stood a little straighter, glanced at her fawn who had laid down behind her, then bowed her head a little in my direction. She was a proud, protective mama. We both were.

I don't know what the future has in store for us. Wherever this road takes us, and whatever lies ahead, however, will not be untouched by, or ignorant of Harlynn's influence. She is still a branch on our family tree. She will bear fruit for always.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

As The Seasons

The leaves are turning. The sky is gray. There is a chill breeze rustling through the green and gold trees. There are periodic flurries of squirrel tails running through the yard. Football games on every TV and radio station. Fall is here, and soon, winter will be upon us.

This morning, as I do most Saturdays, I'm sitting in my comfy spot, drinking my coffee, watching the sun come up and thinking about what might have been.  I would be knitting Harlynn a hat for fall and winter. I'd be making sure she had a pair of woolen booties. Baby mittens. I'd be cradling her in my comfy spot and drinking water instead of coffee. I'd be helping Haley hold her baby sister. I'd be watching Haley go out of her way to make her sister giggle. I'd be laundering bibs and burp cloths. I'd be telling Haley she used to wear these pajamas. And this was the outfit she had her first blowout in, and now baby sister is doing the same...

But I sit and drink my coffee. I reflect on all the ways we've been blessed, even in this darkest journey. I think of all the grace and mercy we've been shown. I think of the little things we've been given that mean so much. The hugs. The meals. The cards. I think of a few of the ridiculous things I've heard people say. I thank God they don't know any better. No one should.  One evening I heard the friend of a loss mom say, "Maybe she lost her baby so we could be pregnant together!" I hope she never expressed that sentiment to her friend. I wanted to throw up when I heard her utter it. Losing her baby had nothing to do with you. There is never a reason any mother should loser her child, let alone to coincide with something you desire. I'm sure the friend was grasping for some encouragement. Some sense. I pray she realized that statement was anything but, however.

I dread winter every year. It's so cold. So long. So isolating. There is a reason we were voted as the Weather Channel's worst winter city. And yet it's just around the corner. And we'll muddle through it as always before. This winter, though, brings a set of challenges apart from the cold and snow. 

It snowed the day I delivered Harlynn. It snowed the day we were supposed to bury her. It snowed each Wednesday for a month after losing her. Will I be able to visit her grave site this winter? Will I be able to know where she lies, hidden beneath inches, or even feet, of snow?  Will I be able watch the snow fall without thinking of that day as I watched it from the hospital window? From my living room, as I clutched the booties she was supposed to be wearing?

She was delivered at 37 weeks. Coincidentally, 37 weeks from the day I delivered her is December 25th. Christmas. The day that marks when I will have been without her as long as I was with her. Brent and I have decided we'll be spending this Christmas as a family of three, reveling in the gift of each other as we work through what should have been Harlynn's first Christmas. Last Christmas we were in Wyoming, and revealed to my family we were having a little girl. Now we'll be learning how to manage holidays without her.

The rain has begun to fall as I finish up my coffee. I wonder if in some small way, angels cry a little for me. These past five months I could have given this rain a run for its money with my own tears. But this morning I sit without shedding any. Sometimes it's just a preoccupied reflection rather than an emotional instance. Sometimes I'm too tired to cry. Sometimes I'm even too hopeful to cry. Hopeful we'll be taken up in the night and reunited. Hopeful I won't have to wait for Heaven.  Hopeful I can think about Harlynn and how happy she makes me even still. How many lives she's changed. How many lives she will change going forward.

Yes it's fall. My favorite time of year. New knitting projects, new baking recipes, more excuses to cozy up in favorite blankets and drink more coffee. And you know what? I think I'm going to knit Harlynn a hat after all. No, she'll never wear it. But I will be doing something I love, for my daughter. I'll make a matching one for Haley. And when I see it keeping Haley's head and ears warm, I'll know I'm doing the best I can to mother both my girls. No matter the season, I'll mother them both. The world will never be able to take from me the fact that I am Harlynn's Mommy. 

Next: Family Tree
Prev: Life Will Never Be The Same

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Life Will Never Be The Same

My morning began around 2:00. I've had a hard time falling asleep lately, so by that time had only been in dreamland for an hour or so. I heard her calling "Mama?" from her room. Brent got up before I did and went in there. She fell apart. She started crying saying "I'm in big trouble!"  We thought she had wet the bed. I went in to her room and asked what was wrong. She was talking about animals in her covers and worms crawling on her walls. Through incoherent sobs that was all we could make out. I sat her on my lap but that made things worse. She thought my leg was an animal with a black beak. I told her it was my leg. She kept touching it, wanting to believe me, but she was convinced it was an animal with a black beak. She didn't want to get back in her bed. There were still animals and worms. I brought her to bed with us.

We noticed yesterday evening she felt warm and had checked her temperature. It was right around 102. Brent gave her a bath and she perked up a bit before bedtime. We gave her some Tylenol and tucked her in after prayers. We weren't anticipating her fever to spike or for her to begin hallucinating.

When she was in bed with us, we had her stripped to her skivvies, to try to cool her down. We had a cool cloth on her head, but that couldn't stay long because she was afraid of what animal it could be. She didn't want it.  She wasn't sleeping at all - she kept trying to climb on top of me and grab my arm, and she was wide awake. Finally about 4:00 I started to fall back asleep. About 30 minutes later I woke up as she grabbed my hand that had been resting on her stomach, saying, "The bugs are crawling on me!" I told her it was my hand. "See Haley? Mommy is squeezing your hand. It's just Mommy's hand." "No! The bug is crawling on me! Mommy, get the bug!" She was hallucinating again. She was very much awake. This wasn't talk of an incoherent sleepy head. This was a girl who couldn't distinguish what was reality, and what wasn't. 

Brent took her temperature. "Whoa." 
"What?" I asked.
He took her temperature again. Reluctantly he told me, "104.7"
"Take her in. Let's go."

We got her dressed. I gave her some water, grabbed a blanket because she was shivering, and we headed to the ER. I sent some people a text, asking for prayers. Immediately upon pulling out of the driveway, Brent grabbed my hand. We prayed. I tried to keep myself calm. I tried to tell myself it was a fluke. I tried not to be apprehensive. The last time I was in that ER it was to be admitted for labor. To deliver my deceased daughter.

We parked, and thankfully, were the only ones in the ER. The nurse took her temperature. 103. That was better than 104.7. We were seen by the doctor. Strep was negative. Some ulcers in her throat indicated it was a viral infection. Stay on top of the Tylenol. Use Ibuprofen also if we have it. Get better, have a good day.

We went home, relieved. Everyone was tired. Back to bed we went. I slept for another two hours. I was so tired I could have cried. The little morning snooze did me good. Haley and Brent were still asleep when I left to go to work.

Later in the day I was asking Brent for updates. At one point he texted me she was still very feverish. He texted another temperature reading. 104.7 again. After all day on Tylenol, her fever wasn't going down. I told her to strip her down again, apply a cool cloth, wait a few minutes, and re-take her temperature. I waited. No answer. I called. 105.

"I'll meet you at the ER."

I drove to meet them there, arriving well before they did. I was pleading with God. "I can't lose another child, Lord. I can't. Please don't let this be serious. Please don't let this be happening. Not to Haley. Not again." I prayed for the doctor we would see. "Please let whoever we see be sensitive enough to do whatever he can to save my daughter, and care for our fragility."

I managed to keep the tears at bay as I watched them pull in to park. I registered her, and we were called back in short order. The admitting nurse took her temp. 102. Brent and I shot each other a look. "Maybe we need a new thermometer."

We were seen by another ER doctor. Dr. Hamilton. I have no doubt Dr. Hamilton was a direct answer to my prayer. He was a God-send. He was exactly what we needed.

Not only did he spend time with us evaluating Haley, answering our questions, and diagnosing her ailment(s), but when he saw my chin quivering, he became a Dad. A husband. A friend. He became a man we have more respect for than we can even understand ourselves. He became our answer to prayer.

Haley is on antibiotic now. Her fever is still high. But after a bowl of chicken soup and her new medicine tonight, she was starting to perk up. Her bags under her eyes got a little smaller. Her need to cuddle grew a little less. I saw signs of our old Haley.

Dr. Hamilton told me Haley looked great. She seemed great. She would be fine. While he was talking, though, I was choking on my retort. That's what they said about Harlynn. She looked great. She seemed great. My pregnancy was fine. Beautiful. Normal.  But it wasn't. She died. 

It was only a fever. It was only (most likely) a virus. But what if it wasn't? What if....?  I looked across the room at my little Haley, nestled in her daddy's arms. "Please, God. Please let her be okay. Today. Tomorrow. Forever."

Life will never be the same. The worst happened. The worst is what I think about. The worst is what I dread.  Today is a praise. Today I rejoice. Today I thank my God we were spared from anything serious. I pray that sparing continues.