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No Reply from Heaven

  I received a response yesterday to my post “Tears in the Closet”.   My friend reminded me of the “extreme separation”, which are the words...

A New Blog...for 40 days

Sunday, May 19, 2013
I have a  new blog entitled "Survival to Significance...40 Days to Empowerment"

Here is the link and an excerpt from Day 1.


Today I began a 40 day study of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, which has recently been expanded and released as What on Earth am I Here For. I am doing it with a small group of seven other women from my church and we are committed and accountable to one another as we press into this teaching. The irony in it is that this was one of my husband’s all time favorite books. It brought about a paradigm shift for him in the way he saw his purpose in this life. His favorite line he remembered, and frequently quoted, is the first sentence in the book. “It’s not about you.” His life became increasingly more and more about worshipping God, connecting with believers, maturing in his faith, and serving all people. He was walking out God’s purpose in the ordinary task of daily living and making a difference in everything he set his hand to do. For some reason, I never read the book...

A Grateful Heart

Sunday, May 13, 2012
I recently finished reading a book given to me by my good friend, Catherine Stradinger. She had read it after losing her father and it helped deliver her out of the pit of grief. She gave it to me in March of last year but I have cautiously read books on grief, one at a time, when I felt like the timing was right. I finally picked up this one several weeks ago, and now I know why God used it for such a time as this, in this particular part of my grieving process. It is entitled, “Tracks of a Fellow Struggler”, and is written by John R. Claypool. John is a pastor who lost his daughter to leukemia when she was ten years old. This small book is the compilation of his sermons that he preached to help him through his struggles during her illness and after her death. I finished it while on an airplane this past week and its final chapter quickly nudged me down the road that will lead me out of this darkness. He referred to it at the “Road of Gratitude”.

Using the example of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Claypool says, “God was trying to teach Abraham…the basic understanding that life is a gift – pure, simple, sheer gift – and that we here on earth are to relate to it accordingly.” We have not done anything to earn it or deserve it, and yet God gives us the gift of life. I was a gift to Michael and he was a gift to me…neither of us deserving one another, but the gift was given for our enjoyment. He goes on to say, “And when I remember that the appropriate response to a gift, even when it is taken away, is gratitude, then I am better able to try and thank God that I was ever given her in the first place.”

In the first few weeks and months following Michael’s death, I told many people that I was so thankful for the life that I did have with Michael. I was thankful for the 24 years that I had. I was thankful for the rewarding marriage I had with him. I was thankful that my kids were old enough to remember what a great father he was. I was thankful that Michael Anthony was old enough to remember the example that his dad had set on how to treat a wife. I was thankful that God chose me to be the recipient of the gift of Michael Barranco. This was all in the initial shock stage of grief, and then the pain, the void, and the loss began to set in with all of its weight and darkness. It got so dark at times in this valley that I had a hard time stirring up even a glimmer of my grateful heart.

I am making a conscious decision to try to focus on having a grateful heart. I need to try to stop focusing on the past and what things used to be like with Michael in our lives. I need to stop thinking about what I don’t have anymore… I want to focus on what I do have. This is going to take a constant effort. It will not be easy at first, but I need to set an example for my kids.

We need to keep looking to the future, make plans, and keep dreaming.

Claypool’s final statements settled deep into my soul and lifted my chin up where it should be. “Everywhere I turn I am surrounded by reminders of her – things we did together, things she said, things she loved. And in the presence of these reminders, I have two alternatives. I can dwell on the fact that she’s been taken away, and dissolve in remorse that all of this is gone forever. Or, focusing on the wonder that she was ever given at all, I can resolve to be grateful that we shared life, even for an all too short ten years. There are only two choices here, but believe me, the best way out for me is the way of gratitude. The way of remorse does not alter the stark reality and only makes matters worse. The way of gratitude does not alleviate the pain, but it somehow puts some light around the darkness and creates strength to begin to move on.” I am grateful that we ever even had Michael for the time that we did. He was a gift from God. I am grateful that we shared a life, even if it was short in our terms. A grateful heart will bring light into the darkness and, I believe, it will give me more strength as I exercise it.

Claypool gives this advice to his church from the pulpit, “I need you to help me on down the way, and this is how: do not counsel me not to question, and do not attempt to give me any total answers. Neither one of those ways will work for me. The greatest thing that you can do is to remind me that life is a gift – every particle of it, and that the way to handle a gift is to be grateful.”

With this said, I have decided to stop writing on this particular blog. I believe that God’s purpose in having me do this is now finished. Not that the healing process is over, because that will continue on for years to come. I have come through my long journey in the valley of the shadow of death but there are still repercussions of having experienced the valley. I am planning on moving onward at a stronger pace, with a stronger heart. I will still need and seek solitude for strength, because I have needed it in that form my whole life. I will still lean towards the introverted side, because this is my nature. I will always have setbacks, because there is no magic formula. I will always miss him, as well as what he brought and added to our lives…. But, I will try to focus on the things for which I have to be grateful and try not to let the remorse bring me down to places so low that I may get stuck down there. As Claypool said, “I know that gratitude does not alleviate the pain, but it somehow puts some light around the darkness and creates strength to begin to move on.” I am ready for some light around this darkness. I want to feel the warmth of the light on my face again. I turn my grateful heart towards heaven and give it to God. I don’t know what the future holds but I believe God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11,” ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

I am grateful for that promise.

Sinking Spell

Friday, May 4, 2012
I have felt it building all week. A little weight here, a little weight there. Each day has brought an added heaviness from unexpected places at unexpected times. I still need time each day, in solitude, to continue the healing and to process my new life and all of the new demands on it, but, most of the time, I am not getting that time. The more time that passes without quiet space, the more frazzled I become. This makes my inner emotional volcano steadily build with each day that passes where there has not been a space in my day to pull away, be alone, contemplate, be quiet, and process. I process all things best while in solitude. It restores me, refreshes me, clears my mind, and helps me make more sound decisions than when I do not have that time alone. It does not have to be much…sometimes 30 minutes alone can feel like a personal retreat. In my “previous life”, I continually had my own processing time each afternoon when I would make the kids read for an hour on their beds. I would read sometimes on my bed during that time, or I would just lie there and absorb the silence and time to think.

Michael recognized this need of mine and always created some space for me on Saturdays and Sundays because he could see how it settled me. Because I have always homeschooled, there were never built-in frames of time in each day that I could count on being alone, so it always took planning to set a small amount of time aside for me. When Mia was our only child, Michael took her to a local Jewish deli every Saturday morning that also served a great breakfast. She would take her doll along with her and order pancakes every time. Irv, the older man who owned the restaurant, would always come by their table each week to visit with them. After breakfast, they would walk to the huge fountain in the courtyard area in the shopping center where the deli was located. He would let her throw lots of coins and walk around the edges of the fountain. He continued this tradition as each child was added and stopped doing it only because the place closed after decades of being open since the couple needed to retire and there were no family members to step in and keep it going. Those Saturday mornings were precious to me. I did not fill them with busyness but kept things slow, quiet, and restorative.

I have regularly found myself in sinking spells this past year when I have not had enough time alone to process my new life. This week, with each passing day, I have felt myself sinking in spirits. Loneliness creeps in, the awareness of the absence of joy, the overwhelming reality of parenting alone and managing a household, the weightiness of being the sole decision maker, and the vacuum that was once filled with Michael’s life take it’s toll. Then suddenly, I cannot take one more step forward without having to come to a screeching halt.

This afternoon I came to my screeching halt. I had taken Michael Anthony out to meet one of Mia’s college buddies to join him and a group of his friends in an air-soft war. I felt the heaviness in the air around me on the drive out there and then once he got out of the car, I gave final instructions, rolled up my window, and I felt everything caving in on me. The tears from Sunday came gushing up just as quickly as they always do and I felt the need to have a hard cry but had to drive 20 minutes back home. I was tempted to call a friend on the phone to talk and cry my way back home with her on the phone but decided to handle it alone. It is getting harder to reach out and share those moments with people the further away we get from February 22, 2011. Most people have moved on with their grief at a completely different speed than I have, and for obvious reasons, and when I am needing to stop and cry, I feel like it catches some people off guard that I still need to frequently do that. It reminds me of a blog post that I wrote about 12 months ago called, Things Are Not What They Seem.

"I know it is only natural for us to look at someone and make a judgement call on how they are doing.... they look nice, are dressed sharp, nice hair, smile on the face, can converse about the details of dailyness, and even answer ‘good’ when asked how they are doing. Things are not what they seem. In everyone's lives, there is so much going on sub-level. We have all learned how to show the side that we think people want to see. We can become, what John Eldredge refers to as, a poser. I have never wanted to be a poser and work hard at being transparent, but, lately, I have found that putting on a face is really my way of surviving ‘outside of the box’. Don't be fooled... beneath the surface, the kids and I are still ‘inside the box’. “

In another post entitled, Business as Usual, I speak of the exact same thoughts that I am feeling again now. I call these "boomerang emotions"…they keep coming back no matter how hard I try to get rid of them.

“I know many people assume that when I am not posting anything new, things must be going well. Other people I know begin to pray more for me when I am not writing because they recognize that it could mean I am pulling away, going deeper inside the box. The second is more the truth. Even though I appear as if I am functioning and doing my daily tasks, the longer I operate ‘outside the box’, the more I privately go ‘inside the box’ on the inside. Sometimes I must function for longer periods of time outside, but all I really want to do is disappear to my room and focus on my aching heart that is always present, no matter what I am doing or where I am. As I get busy with life schedules and decision making, and the longer I go without writing, the more lonely and sad I am and the more I feel the need to allow myself to pull away to be quiet, write, reflect, cry without anybody watching, and do nothing. The more I write, the better I am on a daily basis. Facing the reality of the loss daily is much better than staying in a busy state, which does not allow me the time to feel, discern, contemplate my life, or to hear from God. There must be a balance between the two and my emotional state seems to suffer when I stay in one place too long, inside or outside. Most all of the time, it is too much time outside.”
The adjustment continues daily in this new life of mine (I still feel like I am grinding gears throughout the day as I shift from one way of doing things to another and from one emotion to another) and, because of the wound of having something severed from my life, the healing time and space is even more imperative than it was before. I have been fighting back the tears ever since I forced them back down this past Sunday after my encounter of “seeing” Michael. Today, I grinded gears all day, as I had to attend to a variety of choices and tasks within my house. I had to face a small portion of Michael’s side of the closet…. out of necessity.

Behind one of his shelves is our main security panel for the house security system. It was time for the annual system check so I needed to clear out the space for workmen. Thank goodness I had already done most of his shoes, which used to be the majority of things in front of the security panel. Between Michael Anthony and my 24 year old nephew, I had slowly pulled out shoes over the last several months to give them as needed. While I was going through what was necessary today, I thought, “Maybe I can handle one of these drawers too…”. I decided that the sock drawer directly above the panel would be relatively free of emotions…. I was wrong. Michael had this funny little habit with his socks. He was a dress sock “horse”. (Some say he was clothing horse too.) He always looked great and wore nothing but the best from head to toe. He probably had at least 30 pair of stylish men’s dress socks. He would have favorites that he loved to wear every week. In an attempt to always have all of his favorites as options each day, he would take off his socks at the end of the day, fold them back together and put them back into the sock drawer. I was greatly puzzled by this one time when I noticed so many socks folded in his drawer that had the full size shape of his foot in them. He said he may want to wear a certain pair before it is laundry day, so he kept them in the drawer! It baffled me but I would laugh about it and he would even giggle at himself about it. When I opened the sock drawer today and began lifting up pairs of socks, I discovered, again, his little habit. Within the drawer were about 5 pairs of used socks folded back into place, with his full-sized foot shape formed into the bottom of the socks. I smiled and thought of our many little friendly banters in the closet discussing his sock secret. After discovering this unique sign of him in the sock drawer, a sign of his life, his quirks, his habits, I could not bring myself to finish the job. I straightened the contents of the drawer a bit, picked up each pair that had been worn, then placed them neatly back into the drawer and shut it for another day.

....I have begun to learn when to catch myself so that the sinking spell does not go too far because it can require a great deal of strength to lift myself back up out of the box.

The Encounter

Sunday, April 29, 2012

As I was coming out of the sanctuary of my church this morning, I had a new experience. One which I have heard could happen to me at any given moment, in any given place, at any given time….I thought I saw Michael. Of course it does not make sense. I know I cannot just run into him. But all things familiar lined up to make it feel real for a split second. The kids were walking in front of me, as we were about to leave the sanctuary through one of the doors into a back hallway. Someone had quickly pulled back the door and was holding it open for us to walk through before he entered into the sanctuary. I had not paid any attention to who it was at first but then glanced his direction right when I was approaching the door. My heart flipped, my body suddenly radiated with heat and I became unaware of everything that was going on around me. Instantly, my eyes filled to the rim with tears, which I had been able to hold at bay throughout almost the entire service for the first time. At first glance, I did not even see his face, which is why I thought it was Michael. His outfit was put together like Michael’s would have been, his height felt similar to Michael’s, and he stood patiently, and happily, allowing my whole family through the door….like Michael would have opened the door for us. I quickly looked away and then glanced immediately back at him in an attempt to ground myself…I looked into his face and gave a faint smile and thought to myself, “How did that just happen? How did my emotions respond so quickly to the idea that he may have been standing right before me? I know he can’t be here holding the door open for me at church like he did for 24 years? Why did I immediately ‘see’ it as him?” This all happened…the encounter, the shock, the tears, and the attempt to pull myself together in a matter of seconds. With Mia walking in front of me, and the three boys walking behind me, I had to make my way down the hall with my eyes focused straight ahead without talking or glancing my eyes in any direction other than right before me. I had to tune out everything and completely concentrate on getting myself back out of the quicksand before the wave of tears spilled out of my blurry eyes. I have learned that if I focus hard enough, I can force the tears to recess back from where they so quickly came. I felt like I was walking down one of the hallways in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The walls felt as if they were closing in on me. I was disoriented and confused about this incident that had just thrown itself in my face out of nowhere, but, within seconds, I was going to emerge out of the hallway and be surrounded by people passing to get coffee in between the service and Sunday School. I had to get my wits back together in the same amount of time that I lost them. I was not ready to handle more uncomfortable glances of sympathy and chose to suck it up and push through the moment. I choked out a few “good mornings”, and then ran into my older brother, Craig…saved. Unaware of what had just happened, he began asking me questions and small talking about his daughter with me. I was quickly pulled back into this present moment.

I have talked to people who think they have seen their lost loved one in the grocery store, or passing in a car, or approaching them from behind while walking somewhere. The emotions that can be stirred and erupt in a matter of seconds is astounding. It can blindside me at any given moment, without any announcement that it is about to crush me. The wave hits, the wind gets knocked out of me, I stumble, maybe fall to me knees, like walking through rushing water, then struggle back to my feet, and force one foot in front of the other with deliberation and focus. It is an emotional workout, which builds strength, ever so slightly, with each hit that it takes on me.

Mysterious Joy

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
I have been asked if I am done writing on my blog. The answer is no….the searching, healing, and questioning through my writing is not complete yet. Not that it will ever be fully complete, but I think there will be a time when I will feel like I have birthed all that I am supposed to birth concerning this grieving journey in this manner. Of course, I will continue on this road, discovering, learning, growing, and healing, long after I decide to stop posting new entries. It will not mean that there are no more struggles. It will just mean that this assignment, which I feel God has given me, and has graced me with the strength to carry through with it, is over. It will mean a different season has begun. I was speaking with someone recently who lost her father ten years ago and we both agreed on one thing. People say, it will get better over time, but we both agreed that it does not necessarily get better, you only get accustomed to the pain and the loss. You learn to live with it. Like I said in “A Day in the Life of Members Only,”…… “Our days slowly morph into a different life until we don’t recognize the extra pain and weight that our minds and body have now become accustomed to holding. Living and grieving now coexist daily. “

I wanted to write sooner but my days have been too consumed with life going on at an incredibly fast pace. It has been very difficult for me to find the time in order to disappear and have the solitude that it takes to contemplate my feelings, listen to God, and put it down on paper. More difficult than finding time is making time for my personal healing a priority. My sister, Julie, told me two weeks ago, through both of our tears, that I put myself, and my needs, too low on the totem pole. It is natural for a mom to put all of her children and their needs first. But in a case such as death, it is imperative that I present a rested, healing self to my children so that I can be stronger for them. It is something that I have to plan ahead and be proactive about, for there to be a place for me in my life. I am taking time for me today by having a one-day retreat in the guest bedroom of a close friend. It is a quiet place, a place of beauty, and a space where I can get before God and seek him without any distractions. I have decided to write about something that I was dealing with last month during my hiatus from writing. I chose not to write about it then because I was too low or deep into the grieving box to share with anyone. Now that I have come up for air and feel like I am partially on the other side, I wanted to write down my experience and what I have been able to take away from it.

About a month ago, a week after the one-year mark, I suddenly came to an all time low. I say suddenly, but it crept on me for a couple of days, and then I was suddenly drowning. I felt that there were no expressions left in my face. I could not smile. I did not want to talk. Life felt blank, bland, and completely, utterly, absent of joy. I had never experienced this particular, specific mood, to this extent. I had to remind myself again, as before, “Breathe,” and “Breathe deeply.” I don’t remember how it happened, but I somehow ended up on the phone with Julie, and I broke down on the phone and told her how empty I felt, that there was no joy. She said that she had noticed it as well. She immediately took charge of all of the boys and gave me the next three hours alone in my house to work through this extreme low. I went upstairs and decided to write but knew that I could not post it at that time. I was not even sure that I could write it all out in this form, so I chose to write a poem to describe my emotional state. I was in a mental search for joy. I was trying to get a grip on biblical joy, what it meant, and was it wrong for me to not be feeling or walking in joy at this time. Following is the poem that was produced out of that quiet time of searching and experiencing this great void.

Mystery of Joy

Empty void monotonous blank

Duty bland continual drudgery

Robotic expressionless motionless numbing

Invisible, concealed, hidden, covert
Stir it up, seek for it, dig for it, fight for it
Uncover it, desire it……mysterious joy

Keep moving, lean forward, believe, trust
Presence, feeling, absence, searching
Discovering, understanding……mysterious joy

Written by
Jene’ Barranco
February 28, 2012

I sat on all of these feeling for a couple of weeks then searched the scriptures more deeply concerning the topic of joy. After reading countless scriptures and many studies on joy on the Internet, I realized that I was not in a place yet to feel, show, or walk out any form of joy, as we know joy. Then I came across this verse in Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” This jumped right into my heart when I read it. I thought to myself, “I can be joyful in hope….this is something I can do.” I can be joyful in my certainty (my hope) of God’s sovereignty. I can be joyful in my anticipation (my hope) of God’s perfect plan for my life. J. Hampton Keathley, III said in a study on hope,
“By its very nature, hope stresses futurity and invisibility. Things we have not received, can’t see or both. It changes how we see ourselves. It changes us into pilgrim persons, people who see this life as a temporary sojourn. It changes what we value. Hope, if biblical, makes us heavenly minded rather than earthly minded. It affects what we do with our lives - our talents, time, treasures. The Christian life, if it is grasped according to God’s truth, is a magnificent obsession with an eternal hope, a hope that does not lead to an escapist attitude, but to the pursuit of life on a whole new dimension. It makes you bullish on the potentials of life as stewards of God. It gives us power to live courageously to be all God has called us to be in Christ.”
I do have an obsession with an eternal hope. I am pursuing life on a whole new dimension. I am living courageously to be all that God has called me to be in Christ. My hope has changed my values, or rather secured them even more. I am a pilgrim on this journey. My ability to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer,” is the force that pushes me along this long road.

The Start of Something New

Friday, February 24, 2012
In the same worn out yellow folder from my high school creative writing class, where I found my poem “The Discovery”, I found this piece that my Dad had given me. There is no date on it, but it is my guess he gave it to me around high school graduation. It is often entitled, “A Time to Dare,” but I think that the line at the beginning of the last stanza is more appropriate, “The Start of Something New”. My purpose for looking at everything in that folder was to see if there was anything creative that I had written during those years of my life that could speak to me now. This one from my Dad reads as if it was given to me for the present, this very time of my life, more so than it was for my past. It became a popular poem in the ‘90s for graduation ceremonies but when I read it again, at this time in my life, it resonated even more, at a much deeper level. High school graduates are too young and inexperienced to fully grasp this challenge and its applications to all of what life may throw their way. It will just scratch the surface for them as they begin to understand the magnitude of what lay ahead for them. It means something totally different to a high school student when they read, “There will be good days and there will be bad days,”. A good day may be a date for Friday night and a bad day may mean a bad hair day or late for class. At my stage of life, the stakes are much higher when you are counting on a good day or anticipating a bad day. The author is unknown but my Dad signed it at the bottom of the typed page, “Love, Dad” with the scripture reference Philippians 4:13 next to it. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

If there were ever a time to dare,
To make a difference,
To embark on something worth doing,
It is now.
Not for any grand cause, necessarily,
But for something that tugs at your heart,
Something that’s your aspiration,
Something that’s your dream.

You owe it to yourself
To make your days here count.
Have fun.
Dig deep.

Dream big.

Know, though, that things worth doing
Seldom come easy.
There will be good days
And there will be bad days.
There will be times when you want to turn around,
Pack it up,
And call it quits.
Those times tell you
That you are pushing yourself,
That you are not afraid to learn by trying.


Because with an idea,
And the right tools,
You can do great things.
Let your instincts,
Your intellect,
And your heart
Guide you.


Believe in the incredible power of the human mind.
Of doing something that makes a difference.
Of working hard.
Of laughing and hoping.
Of lazy afternoons.
Of lasting friends.
Of all the things that will cross your path this year.

The start of something new
Brings the hope of something great.
Anything is possible.
There is only one you.
And you will pass this way only once.
Do it right.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

There is nothing that will test your friendships more, or cause your relationships to build and mature, than death and grieving. I am honored and privileged to have the incredibly strong friendships that remain . They have continued to build, mature, strengthen, and deepen. The friendships that have remained firm are those that have continued to come towards me. They did not just say, “You know I am here if you need me. Just give me a call.” These friends took the initiative and called to check in with me on a continual basis and offered their ear, shoulder, or their time. One of these friends came over one day just for five minutes, arrived with a flower from her garden and said, “I just had to see you because I would know how you were doing if I could look you in the eyes.” Once she looked intently into my eyes, and gave me a hug, she was off. We were both satisfied. After speaking to countless people who have suffered a loss, they all contend that calling someone for help or a need is not something that they did, even though the invitation was put out there by very well meaning friends. During this stage of grieving, it requires too much strength and effort to reach out most all of the time. We cannot think or take our emotions very far beyond our little grief boundaries. Others are welcome to enter into those boundaries but it is not often that we leave those boundaries looking for a listening ear or help in any way. We need the support to come to us.

With that said, I want to thank and honor my friends who have continued to come and have had the courage to enter into the grief boundaries that have surrounded me this past year. They have been giving and giving without expecting anything in return…. and that is what has spurned me to write this. It has been a one sided friendship this year. I have had to take, and take, and take, and have had absolutely nothing to give. Any phone conversations that I have had took place because they called me. I did not do much calling at all this year. For most of the year I could hardly even ask simple questions like, “So how is life? What have you been up to lately?” I honestly had a difficult time caring about the daily grind in anybody’s life outside of my boundaries. Nothing but life and love mattered. Some of these friends have gone through their own trials this past year, but I would not have known it because they did not want to burden me with any of their problems and add anything to my plate. They were there for me and I did not even know that they had a need…. and yet they gave. This has hurt me to see this happen because it feels like seeing someone who needs help but your hands are tied behind you and you are strapped to a chair. I love being a friend to my friends. I love doing little things, sending notes or little gifts, or taking walks together. In my heart, I wanted to be more of a friend in return for them, but I could not physically do it. The ability is slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to emerge. It won’t magically change after the one year anniversary either, which means my friends will continue to hang in there with me, within my boundaries, as those boundaries expand and broaden a little more each day.

I have been so blessed to have a beautiful, small, but tight, circle of friends who have taken turns holding my hand this year and each offering of themselves and their own individual gifts that God gave them to me.