The Longest Road

Yesterday was a day no parent should have to experience. No friend or family member should have to be called on for support. Yesterday, we laid our precious Harlynn Renae to rest.

It has been one week. One week since I went in to labor and delivered a beautiful baby girl, who was never able to take her first breath outside my womb. Never able to feel my kiss upon her forehead. Feel her daddy’s whiskers upon her cheek. Our baby girl who would never hear her sister’s sweet, high voice, telling her how cute she is. One week. That my baby would die before ever physically feeling our touch, before ever hearing our voices, before ever being comforted in our arms – I can’t wrap my mind around it. I can’t help but feel she died so alone. So coldly. Please, dear God, please somehow let me know she knew and felt every ounce of love we had for her. That we always will have for her.

As Brent and I went to bed last night, I felt like I should stay awake until 12:16, the time I delivered her. I don’t know why. I don’t know what comfort that brought, if any. It’s one more thing for me to hold on to I suppose. One tangible thing I can control since Harlynn is no longer tangible to me. The box of mementos we brought home from the hospital sits undisturbed on our entry table. It’s full of tangible reminders and I can’t bring myself to lift the lid. The booties I finished knitting for her mere hours before going in to labor. Her footprint. The swaddling blanket we took to the hospital, and they wrapped her in for pictures. I came home with a box….instead of my baby.

Sunday evening, as a wicked winter storm swept our area, we had Harlynn’s visitation. Despite the weather, we had droves of people show up in support. Brent and I were moved by all of the hugs, tears, and prayers that were shared with us. I lost it a few times. What mother wouldn’t? Every person who came and showed us love was so special. Some made me cry harder than others. Some made me laugh. The fact that they braved the weather meant even more. Each individual was proof that God puts people in your lives for a reason. Even if it’s just a hug, it’s a divine reason. We needed that night. When the evening was over, we drove home, having had to cancel Monday’s funeral and reschedule for Tuesday due to the weather. Only in North Dakota…

It was a decision I didn’t want to have to make, but it turned out to be a blessing. Monday was a break. A day I could just be with my thoughts and emotions, raw as they were. As much as I didn’t want to have to reschedule Harlynn’s service, I was so thankful for one more day I didn’t have to bury her. One more day she wouldn’t seem so permanently gone. One more day. I needed my space. I needed to not be smothered by the affection of others. I needed a break. I don’t think our uncharacteristic weather was an accident. I spent the afternoon and evening in fits of tears. I soaked Brent’s shoulders with sobs and relied on him to hold me up as I collapsed in my emotions. I held him close and prayed I wouldn’t become more of a burden on him. My wonderful, amazing husband. I can’t imagine having anyone else alongside me, alongside Haley, as we go through this journey.

Yesterday, our worst experience of losing Harlynn came full circle. We were gathering to mourn her loss, and commit her to the ground. I can’t even type the words without feeling the weight of my grief resting in the knot in my throat. When we walked in to the church and I once again saw her tiny casket at the front, my heart just sunk. Sweet baby girl, how I longed to have you in a bassinet. How I longed to have you wake me up every two hours in the middle of the night. How I longed to be covered with your drool, and even your messy diapers. But instead I had to choose a permanent resting place for you. I’ll never be woken up by your cries. I’ll never be rushing to wash your clothes due to a blow-out. I’ll never be able to hold you, save for one last time as we carry your casket to the cemetery. I bent over and kissed her casket. I told her I loved her. I sat down in the front pew and just stared at the tiny pink box that would forever hold my Harlynn.

The order of events is somewhat a blur. I know there were lots of people there in support of Brent, Haley, and me. I couldn’t bring myself to look at any of them as we walked into the sanctuary. My legs were moving to the front of the church, but I felt like jello. This whole experience, I’ve felt like I’ve just been running under water. I can’t move, let alone in any particular direction, and everything is moving so fast around me. This has been the longest road I’ve ever been called to walk. We made it to the front and I sat down, mere feet from my baby girl. I kept hearing Haley’s words from earlier ringing in my ears, “Mommy, just open it! I want to open it to see Harlynn.” I had to fight the urge to just grab the casket and run. Anywhere. This can’t be happening. I can’t be saying good bye.

Before long it was over. It was time to place Harlynn’s casket in the hearse. Brent and I stood and I heard him take a deep breath before he bent over to pick his daughter up. I placed my hands on the casket as he wrapped his arms around it. We turned to walk outside. He stopped walking and his knees buckled as he let out a heart-wrenching wail. Every ounce of agony we’ve felt over the last week was expressed in that brief moment as he stood there, holding that tiny pink casket. He caught his breath. We slowly walked to the hearse and placed her inside. I bent over and kissed her again.

Once back inside the church, people had begun lining up to hug us. I wish I could remember everything people said, but the truth is I don’t remember most of it. I remember pieces. I remember seeing my doctor and weeping once again on her shoulder. I remember seeing my 35 under 35 classmates, one after the other, filtering through the line to support me as I cried into their arms. I remember seeing people of immeasurable strength and faith shedding tears right along with us. I remember seeing complete strangers. Then I remember it being time to go to the cemetery.

“Commit her to the ground” I believe were the pastor’s words. They stung so harshly. This was it. My daughter was going to be buried. Underground. The ceremony was brief, as we stood on the snow-covered ground. Just after the pastor finished speaking, the sun broke through the clouds and shone on us all. I remember thinking, “She finally gets to see it.” I stood there for a long while, just staring. I didn’t want to leave. If I left, it was all over. Over. I bent over and placed my hand on her casket and lost control. I wept into my scarf as I wished I were holding her hand instead of the pink fabric lid. I tried to catch my breath, but I couldn’t. I sobbed. I felt Brent’s hand on my back, and it was comforting to feel something. Anything. I stood, kissed the casket one last time, told Harlynn I loved her, and eventually told Brent I was ready to go. As he took one step sideways, I squeezed his hand. I lied. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to leave her. Ever. I would have stood out there for hours. Days. I wanted to crawl into the ground with her. Don’t make me leave my baby. Eventually we walked back to the vehicles. I turned to watch her one last time. The sun still shone, and her tiny casket looked even smaller there in the middle of the cemetery. As we drove away, I put my hand on the window, wishing for one more clutch of her hand. Wishing I never had to leave her. Wishing this had all been different.

I can’t describe how much this hurts. How much my heart aches. I can’t describe to you how my arms literally ache as they themselves long to be holding her. Now that we’ve had the funeral I feel like we’re expected to move on. Like since that chapter has ended, we should just turn the page and start going on as normal. Everyone else will. And that’s okay – I know life will go on around us. I know every day will continue to tick, no matter what we go through or experience. But I have no idea what to do. How to move. Where to start.

Without the support of family, friends, and strangers, we wouldn’t have fared at all over this last week. I don’t think people realize how much just being there for someone else means. We literally have been held and carried by thoughts, prayers, words – and I’m sure it seems so insignificant to those who share them, but they have been instrumental to us. Please don’t stop. Please also understand that while sometimes we’ll need a shoulder, other times we’ll need space. No one knows what to say or do, including us, and know that’s okay.

I told Brent on Monday, as I so intensely grieved, that I felt the Lord grieving with us. I don’t think it’s hocus-pocus, and I can assure you it isn’t wishful thinking on my part. I have literally felt God’s heart breaking right along with us. He knows. He has counted every tear before I’ve shed it. He has walked my road. He knows the pain and agony. There will be times where His arms are the only ones I’ll be able to find, to hold on to. Despite this immeasurable, unimaginable heartache we’ve experienced, Brent and I know we have been so blessed. At every turn, we’ve had people right where they were supposed to be, right when they were supposed to be there. There have been no coincidences. God has placed pillars for us to lean on along this entire journey. I know He won’t abandon us; I know He hasn’t. I thank God we know Him, because without his grace, peace, and comfort, we would have no hope to continue. Harlynn is in His glory, and while I would still give anything to be telling a different story, Heaven has been made all that much sweeter knowing she is there, waiting for us.

8 Replies to “The Longest Road”

  1. Oh Val, my heart is crying all over again for you!

    Harlynn did not die alone. She did feel your warmth and hear your voices. You may not have seen her reaction, but you may have felt it. You held her as close as you possibly could when she died. You comforted her right up to when Jesus greeted her. She felt you – all of you – all your heart, all your prayers, all your love! Babies can hear voices before they are born – and I bet 100% of everything that she knew your, Brent, and Haley's voices. She died as peacefully as a baby can – in the warm, loving clutches of you.

    I'm not trying to minimize or wash away your feelings. If there is ANYTHING that you get from this message, know that Harlynn WAS with you and comforted by you! You were there for her her entire life on Earth, even if she never got to see your face.

    Harlynn DID feel your love, I'm sure of it.

  2. Val, your eloquent blog posts have brought me to my knees the last week. I have held my Harper much tighter than I would've before.

    A mother's heart beat is one of the strongest signs of love a baby will ever know. You also provided the warmness where she grew and flourished. That's love sister!

    I am sorry I couldn't be there yesterday, but you are always in my thoughts and prayers.

    Onika Allen

  3. Sarah's comment was exactly what I was thinking Val…is there any closer you can be to your mother than INSIDE her? And as sure as I am that she knew your love and your voices, I am also sure that God was with her, and welcomed her with open arms.

    You and Brent and Haley have all our sympathy and compassion. God bless you for having the strength to "verbalize" your thoughts and feelings – there are so many that you are encouraging throught their own grief.

  4. Val,
    Your blog is powerful and your words bring me to tears…I can't imagine the lose for you and Brent.
    I'm sorry I couldn't make it to the funeral yesterday but Peter and I continue to pray for you all every night.
    Sending my love!
    Shanda Hakk

  5. Val,

    Harlynn is absolutely beautiful. Please don't feel that she was alone. She felt your love with every beat of your heart. Every gentle word spoken but only audible in the way that only a baby can hear. *Hugs* Tight. We continue to keep you all in our prayers.

  6. Oh Val, That was so beautiful. You write with such feeling and passion. I cried the whole time I was reading this and deeply felt your pain. In the days ahead, know that you, Brent, and Haley will continue to be lifted up in our prayers and remain in our thoughts. God Bless you all.

  7. Val,

    After reading your blog I was reminded of a quote I once heard:

    "and nobody will understand the strength of my love for you, because after all, you are the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside."

    I know Harlynn felt your love.

    I wish I could have been there with the other 35U35 ladies at the funeral to support you. I was attending my husband's grandpa's funeral that same day.

    You and your family continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

    A mother's strength is like no other.

    Take Care,
    Kristen Hintermeyer

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