Eight Years, One month, Four Days

Last month, I took a trip back to Fargo.

I was by myself, karaoke playlist cranked loud, soaking up the scenery of the South Dakota highways.

It was a secret trip. I hadn’t told people I was going. I wanted to have time to be alone – with my thoughts, my tears, my daughter’s headstone.

Harlynn would have turned eight years old this year.

It’s a bit daunting, that number. Last year on her seventh birthday – to say I struggled doesn’t give justice to the weight and despair I felt that day. Seven years was a really hard and difficult marker for me.

I wasn’t sure what eight years would be. Harder? The same? Less so?

And while I could sit and fill this page with the little experiences I had visiting her headstone on what would have been her birthday, and trying to keep as low a profile in town as possible so no one would find me out, I won’t…

It’s not that I can’t or don’t want to share. It’s just that some things you experience under the veil of grief can’t be expressed or described in a way that makes any sense to anyone other than the one who walks that path.

It’s part of why grief can be so isolating. No one understands, save for the person who is walking through it.

I will say this, though: This year was not as hard as years past. This year was not as burdensome as previous years. This year was, in a way, a stepping stone.

I cried the night of April 9th. That day is always the hardest for me, the day we found out her heart had stopped beating. April 10th is the day I delivered her (16 minutes after midnight) and the day known as her “birthday”, but the 9th… that’s the hardest for me.

Even though I cried that night, though, there weren’t tears of pain. It was more like tears of… reconciliation.

We’ve moved a few hundred miles away from where our daughter is buried. I made the trip back to her spot because I didn’t know what else to do. But I also felt like it would have been okay – I would have been okay – if I hadn’t made the trip.

Another year might bring a different story or different set of feelings but for this year, this is what it was.

I felt – gosh, do I even say this? Do I even proclaim this in writing?

I felt . . . freed. Not from grief or sadness or from Harlynn at all – not at all. I felt freed from the ritual and routine of doing what we’ve always done on her birthday. Or on Mother’s Day. I felt set free to do new things, make new memories, and in a lot of ways, start over.

It was a good trip, and I’m glad I went. Not only for the time I was able to spend remembering Harlynn, but for the lesson I received in the fact that I don’t have to remember her only there.

I got text messages from friends who went to visit her spot, leaving her flowers and a dragon fly – I can’t tell you what it meant knowing that eight years later, without any prompting or reminding from me, she was still being remembered, her spot still was tended to.

It’s been eight years, one month, and four days since our daughter died. But it’s a brand new day in learning how to live life as a bereaved mama. It’s a brand new day in finding peace – feeling like she’s every bit as present with us in South Dakota as she was in North Dakota or Minnesota.

Eight years seems a formidable span of time. But when I look at it through the lens of what we’ve received along the way: friendships, blessings, even miracles – it seems more of a gift of time than a sentence of time.

I will always cry when I think about her. I will always be heartbroken to have a daughter who beat us to heaven. But now, I feel free to have that broken heart renewed. I know it will tear open again at times as life progresses, but I also know the Lord has done tremendous work in renewing my life through my grief. Because of it.

He wastes nothing.

He holds Harlynn.

We’re now eight years, one month, and four days closer to holding her again.

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