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

The Fire

Thursday, December 22, 2011
Today, I feel myself getting frustrated and a little bitter about being alone this holiday season without Michael. I usually snap out of it almost as quickly as it tries to set into my thoughts. Every once in awhile, my flesh tries to rise up more than usual and beat me down in my thoughts. Little things have irritated me today. There are so many little things that I now do around the house that he used to do but  I have had to begin to do them all out of necessity.

The first night I built a fire this season was a frustrating one. I realized that the damper was closed and I could not figure out how to open it. I have built many fires in my life but I had never built the first one of the season, (it was very ceremonial for Michael when we burned our first fire each season), which means I never had to open the damper.

I could not figure it out so I called my brother and he tried to explain it to me over the phone, which did not work because I was already frustrated. I looked out my window to see if any of my male neighbors were home but, since it was not after 5:00, I could not see a sign of any of their cars. I was home alone and getting mad at myself and the world because I am usually very capable but I could not get it to open. I gritted my teeth with more determination and thought to myself, ”This is ridiculous! I can do this.” I practically had to crawl into the fireplace with my flashlight to be able to see the handle that I was suppose to pull. The angle of my body to the handle made it very difficult to open and, as I tried, soot was coming down on me, which only added to my frustrations. I placed myself further into the fireplace, made a grunt in my anger, and finally pulled it open. I was home alone at that moment, so I just continued on as if it was no big deal, got the firewood from the woodpile outside and built the fire.

I looked at the blaze with a mixture of contentment and disdain.

Today, after feeling irritated over many things, I got mad at my fireplace again. I wanted to build a fire because it was finally cool enough to do it again.  When I went to the fireplace, I noticed that the soot had piled up too high and it was time to scoop it out before I could build the fire that I wanted. It had been raining all day, and still was as I grudgingly put my hands to cleaning out the fireplace. I scooped out most of it, leaving some to help with the next fire, tied it up in a double-lined plastic grocery bag, and took it out to the trash. As I went outside in the rain to get my wood, I began to hear a little pity party of voices going on inside my head as I loaded up the wood in my arms. It reminded me of how I felt one day this past April when I went outside to find a flat tire on my car.

So many doubts started to whisper in my head and I knew in my heart they were from the enemy, but in the flesh I wanted to agree and sit down on the wet pavers and kick my legs… What do you think you are doing? You can’t possibly do this alone? Raise 3 children, now 5 children all alone? Run this household all by yourself? Who are you fooling? Nobody cares enough to see that these little things can sometimes be so hard. Then my thoughts switched over to feeling like a martyr…. I certainly can and will do this. Nobody is here to help me and I can do it all by myself if I have to. By the time I got back into my keeping room by the fireplace, my thoughts had been all over the board in as little as 60 seconds.

I was so relieved to get the fire burning. I lit some candles and sat down with a cup of tea to recover from,what felt like, my daylong pity party. I mean, it was just a fire in the fireplace……I am not going to let this get under my skin and start feeling sorry for myself about it. My God is big and He has given me strength up until now to meet each day with a strength from deep down within the well. Sometimes I don’t feel like more than conqueror. I don’t feel like I can do all things through Christ. 

 I have to put down my flesh daily, remember that He is and will supply all of my needs…."all" meaning physical, spiritual, and emotional.....even building a fire and gathering wood in the rain.

This Fairytale

Thursday, December 15, 2011
As soon as I finished writing my last post, Mia came in and plopped on the bed and I told her a little about my song search and talked a bit about the ones I had found. I lean on her for all of my computer questions and I made a last ditch effort stab at trying to find the lyrics to "This Fairytale" on my computer. I had an IT guy come over in the spring to consolidate all of my files from our old computer into one comprehensive folder for my laptop so that I had everything previous to Michael's accident in one location. I had looked in that folder already and could not find them. I was showing it to Mia a few minutes ago to make sure that I had gone through the process correctly to locate the song. I added the word "this" to "fairytale" and it popped right up. As the lyrics came on my screen I was overwhelmed. I covered my face and began to sob tears of relief and thankfulness. I had started looking for these lyrics on February 23. It was in the back of my mind all of this time. I don't know why it was burning in me so heavily to locate these particular lyrics, of all of the lyrics that he wrote, but it is a wonderful encore to the post "A Beautiful Life". I had thought about having it sung at his funeral, but plans had to go into another direction....that is when a song which I had written was put into the service instead of this one. I learned years ago when I first started writing and dabbling in screenwriting, that the best stories are told from what you know and experience. Michael wrote this song from his heart and from experience for a young couple that was getting married. I have not read these lyrics in about 7 years. I found it amazing that he began the song with hearing "the pages turning" and I refer to seeing "the words on the final page of the fairy tale ending along with the closing of the book," in my post.

This Fairytale

I heard the pages turning
And with a pen in His hand
The Author writes a fairytale
Of this Woman and this Man

An unexpected journey
A turn in the road
He reveals to us a story
That has always been known

Chorus: The winds of change they came
And they tried to blow them down
But they would not be moved
For they stood on solid ground

No matter what the cost
They knew their faith would prevail
For they trusted in the Author of…….
This Fairytale

A gentle smile came on His face
As He began to write, He said,
"Memories may never fade
But I ordained this night

A union of my children
To have and to hold
A reminder of the promise
I sent long Ago"

Chorus 2 (you see) The winds of change they came
And they tried to blow him down
But he would not be moved
For he stood on solid ground

No matter what the cost
He knew his faith would prevail
So that we may know the Author of…….
This Fairytale

Bridge: Seasons come and seasons go
But through this course of time
He will be her prince charming
And her his princess bride

So we celebrate the Author
Who has given us this day
A memory to cherish
That will never fade away

Chorus 3:(you see) The winds of change will come
And try to blow you down
But you will not be moved
For you stand on solid ground

No matter what the cost
You know your faith will prevail
Cause we were written by the Author of…….
This Fairytale

This Fairytale

This Fairytale

Written by Michael A. Barranco
In 2003

I See You

After writing my post called, "A Beautiful Life", my mind turned towards all of the songs, finished and unfinished, which Michael had written through the years. I remembered a love song he had written called "Fairy Tale", and I have been desperately trying to locate the lyrics. I have looked in our computer, file cabinets, and all of his music binders, where he kept songs that he sang for church, songs he sang with his R&B group, and songs that he had written. I found the soundtrack, but cannot find the lyrics. I feel very undone. I feel like I have frantically searched everywhere, except for one binder, of which I cannot find. In looking for these particular lyrics, I came across so many that I had never seen. They are written on everything from coffee stained paper towels, to hotel notepads, to letterhead from places of employment 15 years ago. I love it when I find his original lyrics from the first draft. They are usually sloppy because he would write them quickly as they were usually flowing out of his spirit during his quiet times with God. Occasionally, they may have bubbled up while he was listening to a sermon or some other speaker that would send a spark up in his heart, which, in turn, would send his creative juices onto something like a hound dog following a fresh scent.

I may eventually write down some of the other lyrics and poems that I found, but I wanted to write this one first because it struck me like arrow in the heart. Many times he would mention a song that was rising up in him but would not go into detail, or he would say it's not finished yet. This is one that he never mentioned and it is not complete. He had written next to the words where it would be instrumental and where he would even modulate. I had to follow his words around on the page in his hand written scribble to piece it together. It was written in 1996. It made me catch my breath and cry in disbelief. I believe he wrote it for me.....for such a time as this.

I See You

I see you starin’ out the same old clouded window
Uncertain, if what lies beyond is truly real

I see you watching all of the familiar faces
Outside this window, there’s a place within your reach

I see you wondering if its your imagination
Or if it really is, just as it appears

I see you questioning just what it is you’re after
Familiar faces will confirm your desire

Commitments live and then they die….who knows why
Maybe the answers lie in another place and time

I see you thinkin’ about a way to make things happen
Familiar faces….

I see you standing in the shadow of tomorrow
Though its not clear, you know this the place to be
I see you boldly steppin’ out to find your future
You’ll overcome and welcome opportunity

I see you reaching for the purpose of your being
With those around you, who encourage you and who came
I see you living out your dreams of yesterday
With confidence achieved because you chose to dare

I see you looking at, thinking about, wondering if, wanting to, weighing it, …

Written by Michael A. Barranco

Is This Real - Part 2

Monday, December 12, 2011
I have been having new waves of disbelief. I thought that I was actually fully accepting this.... then the Christmas holidays hit.... and the ring is no longer on my finger. I am reminded of what I wrote back in April about the same thing.

"Yesterday, while we were out of town, I was driving home with my children from a shopping day and having lunch, when that sudden thought hit me, "Is he really gone from this world?" How is that possible? He was just here? We have had lunch with him in this place. We ate at "that" table right there. He bought me a purse in this store. We have tried on clothes here every year. We have driven this stretch a hundred times together. Weren't we just here with him? Didn't he just plant those flowers in our garden? How could he really be gone? We just had a family dinner together. We just roasted marshmallows together on the back patio. I just helped him organize his office for this year and we were not even finished. He just bought a bunch of nice work clothes that have not even been worn yet. He just took Michael Anthony camping. We just had a glass of wine together. He just kissed me and said good-bye. We just talked on the phone. He just got a new hair cut. Wasn't our summer vacation just yesterday? Didn't we just order take-out and watch a movie on the couch together? Where did he go? ..... He really isn't coming back.

This is real. He really is in heaven. We really miss him but really are trying to move on each and every moment, but are only able to because of the prayers of so many people and because of God's grace that flows towards us daily. My God is more than enough."

The same thoughts of what we “just” did together have gone through my mind again. Weren’t the kids and I just sitting on the couch together watching him meticulously string the Christmas lights on the tree? Didn’t we just do our evening Christmas shopping spree together after drinking our favorite holiday cocktail? Weren’t we just giggling in the car over our gifts we purchased with excitement? Didn’t we just have our annual Christmas lunch together while going over everything we had purchased for the kids and discuss what else we had to get? (While looking at the spreadsheet that Michael made every year, to organize his thoughts, with all of the gifts on it!) Didn’t I just hear him sing "O,Holy Night" in the Christmas Eve service? Didn’t we just have our first tree trimming party…. in December of 1987? It seems like last year?

I thought I was doing great. Just pull down the decorations and put them up where they always go. How hard is that? I invited my family over for roasted hot dogs and chili last weekend to help me decorate the tree. I thought having them over would help by having lots of activity going on in the house. It did the opposite and I only felt lonelier. I wanted to disappear in a dark closet. I had to go to my room to cry and get in a quiet place and ran into Mia doing the same thing. We hugged and cried together. I told everyone I was ditching the idea of decorating the tree and would wait until it was just the kids and I. Everyone understood, except my two new little boys in the house and my 5-year-old niece. I decided to let them each hang a few ornaments so they would think they had helped. One by one, I pulled out some from the box that held my and Michael’s ornaments. They were running to me for me to hand them ornaments, and unbeknownst to them, I was continually swallowing a huge lump in my throat as every ornament had a memory. I was beginning to disappear into my own grief box. So many of them were from our first tree trimming party and the rest we collected each year from our travels. I kept searching for ornaments that had no sentimental value to them because I could not bring myself to hand to them the ones that held precious personal memories….like the nest with two ceramic lovebirds in it that clips to a branch, or the one that has wooden stockings hanging across a fireplace with all of our names on it, or the wooden ones he painted as a child, or the little red elf that sat on a branch in the tree each year who always held a special gift from him on Christmas morning. I was thinking to myself, “Is this real? Is he really not here? Is he really not in the next room drinking eggnog, laughing, and telling stories? Where did he go? Is he coming back? Am I the sole parent carrying on all of these traditions? Is my wedding ring really in a box now? This is really hard! Why does that lump come up so hard and suddenly in my throat? How can I breathe fine one minute and the next minute feel like I can’t catch my breath?”

It bewilders me, that after 9 and a half months, I still subconsciously fight the feeling and thoughts that this is not real. The feelings are still there, resting right under the surface, ready to push up with any little memory lately. I placed a big evergreen cross with pinecones on his grave last week. He loved Christmas as much or more than the children. What will Christmas Eve be like this year without him reading the Christmas story from the Bible, then drinking a glass of wine with him after the kids go to bed? Christmas morning without him pouring our coffee in our Christmas mugs and bringing it to me before we walk into the den to see what Santa Clause brought the children? I don't know. We will walk through it, and we will overcome, yet another very difficult "first".

One day at a time…one tear at a time….one season at a time

A Beautiful Life

Sunday, December 11, 2011
After nine months and seventeen days of wearing my wedding ring after Michael’s death, God provided the time, the strength, and the solitude for me to remove it from my finger, along with time by myself for reflection and many tears. (With the arrival of colder weather, I was becoming more and more aware of the ring still on my finger because of a habit I have always had of spinning my ring around my finger with my thumb on cold days. I was doing it all of the time and the knowing that it was time to remove it from my finger kept rising up inside of me.) I still feel a bit shell shocked by this seemingly small act, which, in reality, is monumental for me in this process called grief. It is almost as if I have just turned to the last page of a fairy tale book where you see the words, “The End”, written in a lovely script, then in slow motion, the book closes. At this point you usually think, ”What a beautiful story!”, or, “It all came together so nicely!”, or even, “Nice story, but things don’t happen like that in real life.” It is all of those things because fairy tales never tell the real end of the story. A fairy tale ending is really just the beginning of a beautiful journey through life together. A beautiful journey through life together is beautiful, not because everything is perfect, but because of the strength, growth, sacrifices, courage, tenacity, and fierce love that it takes to overcome hardships and still make the journey successful. An overcoming love is the most beautiful love of all. The deeper the love runs because of shared hardships and pain, the lovelier it is. I heard John or Stasi Eldredge say, “A healed heart is more glorious than a heart that has never been wounded.” Our hearts and our marriage were glorious, and my heart will be even more glorious as I walk on in this life with a scarred heart, which at some point will be a healed heart, without him but with the memories of our journey and the heart that I shared with him. When you are allowed to see the whole fairy tale in its entirety, then you can look at it and say, “Wow, that was really beautiful."

I drove to the jewelry store where Michael and I had purchased our rings and met with our jeweler, who was expecting me. I removed the ring and handed it over to him to clean it and inspect the setting. I had brought with me a couple of old watches, which were in need of repair, which was a good distraction while I waited for the ring. I walked around the store looking into the glass cases at all of the fine jewelry while fingering his wedding band on a necklace around my neck and listening to a couple of men picking out engagement rings with the other salesmen (they were at the very beginning of their fairy tale journey). When he was finished, he came out holding the ring and proclaimed that it all looked good and showed me how beautiful it was as it sparkled in the light. We tried to small talk as he was beginning to put it away for me but my strength suddenly receded and I could hardly breathe or hear what was going on in the room. I was fine until I saw him begin to open up a new black velvet ring box, place the ring inside, then place the ring box within another box. He finally pulled out a gift bag and placed it down inside. He made a comment or question, to which I could not respond, and he looked at me knowingly and handed me the bag. I had a quick thought that it was similar to the “evidence bags” that were gathered from his car and his body following the accident. It was evidence and proof of a life well lived. Evidence of priorities and values well placed. Evidence of a beautiful life. Beautiful not because it was perfect, but beautiful because of the tenacity and fierce love that we maintained through every fire and every victory.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, the rush hit me. The tears were gushing as I was trying to hold myself together, to some extent, while I was driving home. I almost immediately began to hyperventilate through the tears. What had just happened? Was this real? Here I was, driving in lunch hour traffic, alongside people rushing to get back to work or to the next place to shop for Christmas presents, while my heart was wrenching with pain and grieving as I pondered the end of my fairy tale….all while navigating my way home.

Once home, I sat on my bed, pulled out the ring box, and flipped the lid up so that I could stare at the ring. I touched the ring on both sides with my two thumbs while holding the black velvet box in my hands. I let my mind go back to the night he proposed to me, on Christmas Eve, in a restaurant that we had all to ourselves, seated at a table next to the fireplace. Michael had sent a limousine to pick me up and take me to the restaurant where he was waiting and standing next to our table as I walked into the room. He first read from the Bible, which was lying opened on the table as I arrived. He read with his quiet voice,
“At the beginning, the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19:4-6. With tears in his eyes, he got down on one knee and pulled a grey velvet ring box out of his coat pocket and opened it for me to see. Looking at me for the first time was this perfectly chosen ring, which stayed on my finger for 24 years.

I thought about our life story for a while, I saw the words on the final page of the fairy tale ending along with the closing of the book, and I thought inside of my heart, “Wow, that was really beautiful.” Thank you, Michael Barranco, for a beautiful love and a beautiful life….from beginning to end……I’m still missing you.

Night Time

Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I recently got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and realized a change had taken place in the way I saw things, when I am in my most alone moments at night. For most of the last 8 months, I have had difficulty sleeping during parts of the night. More often than not, I would need to go to the bathroom at some point during those sleepless or restless nights. I always hated to get out of the bed during those times because fear would try to catch my thoughts while I was up in the dark of the night. It was a constant reminder that I was alone, Michael was gone, and he was not ever coming back. Every time I would walk back to my bed, I could imagine Michael sleeping in it on his side, then would feel a pain in my heart and a wave of depressed loneliness would come over me as I got back in bed. Even going back and forth past the sink in my vanity area seemed to be so empty; it was just for me now…..his usual remnants were no longer there. I would crawl back into bed and feel like the silence and loneliness were enveloping me. I would often stare at his pillow and imagine his sleeping face and try to hear his breathing. After listening to the silence, I would take a deep breath and miss him even more for awhile, then roll over and try to go back to sleep, while at the same time wishing that it was time to get up for the day. The day light hours were often times easier for me to handle because there were so many distractions, but at night, it was just me and my memories of Michael’s presence at all times.

When I was about to leave my bathroom and walk by my sink recently in the middle of the night, I suddenly realized that I had grown used to being alone at night. The sink and the vanity area had become mine. They did not appear like a dark shadow lurking to stab at me as I walked by. My heart did not ache like it used to when I would notice that it was just my toothbrush sitting in the stainless cup instead of two. I walked to my bed and looked at his side of the bed as I approached it and recognized a “new normal” had settled into my nighttime routine. The room was still painfully silent, but did not feel so empty…..it was full of me and God’s grace. I got into bed and stared some more at his side of the bed and felt the acceptance that had taken place. I recognized how quiet it always was in my room from the time I walk into my room to get ready for bed to the moment the children wake up in the morning. The silence is still hard sometimes. I often still long for those bed time conversations(I talk about them in my post called "Nightstand Reading"), or the conversations in the closet while we changed, that help me to decompress after a long day. Getting accustomed to the silence is just as hard as adjusting to the absence of his physical presence. I have watched the change of the night go from peaceful, restorative rest and loving silence next to my husband, to fear, terror, sleeplessness, worry, and loneliness, and now to a calm acceptance of being alone, God’s peace tangibly present, and His assurance that He is right there with me through every minute of the night......”He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.”

Happy Birthday, Michael

Monday, November 21, 2011
It is finished. We are through with all of our first birthdays without Michael. (Of course, we still have the holidays ahead of us, which will be, I believe, the hardest of all.) His was the only birthday remaining and it was last Monday, November 14. The day did not present itself the way I thought it would, which, in hindsight, I believe God orchestrated my day to keep my mind, and the children’s, busy on other things. I am not at liberty to give details, but I spent the entire day handling problems that had arisen with the foster boy that we had all of last year, his younger 4 year-old brother, their parents, and the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The ordeal lasted 48 hours ending with the judge giving me temporary custody of both of these little, precious gifts. (Michael used to refer to our children as “little, precious gifts”.) There was little time for reflection at any point in the day to think about what it is was like a year ago that day, but there were a few moments that arose allowing me to cry, miss him, and remember.

My body awoke at 5:00 a.m., which it has been doing more than not lately. I went downstairs, fixed myself some green tea, then sat quietly in the dark of my keeping room while I prayed, listened, and meditated on God. After awhile, I impulsively began to quietly sing “Happy Birthday” to Michael…..through tears. If Michael had been here, I would have set the table the night before and there would have been gifts sprawling down the middle of the table. His favorite breakfast of “Magic Marshmallow Puffs” and bacon would be in the oven welcoming everyone down for our family tradition of the birthday breakfast. I would get to go upstairs and wake him up with a birthday kiss…..one of the few days in the year that he slept a little later and I got to wake him up. The rest of the morning would have been full of love, laughter, good food, and all of Michael’s comments as he opened presents. With each present, he would shrug his shoulders and wrinkle up his nose with a smile and satisfaction over the gift. He would say to me, ”Oh Babe! I love it!” or to the children, “Thank you, Angel! It’s perfect!” or “Thanks bud! That’s just what I needed!” I sat in silence that morning thinking of these things, and before I knew it, two little boys were in the kitchen wanting to know what was for breakfast. Life was going on….

From that moment until about 2:00 p.m., there was not a minute to think about anything but the present moment. I am not even sure if I stopped to eat lunch that day. We also had a family birthday tradition of eating lunch together at Brent’s Drug Store. He always ordered a Brent’s burger with cheese and large, vanilla malt. It was fun and refreshing to get to see him and celebrate again in the middle of the day. He loved joining us for lunch any time that he could. This November 14th, there was no special lunch. The kids ate leftovers and I worked through the lunch with phone calls trying to handle the issue at hand, concerning these two little boys. Suddenly a meeting was called at the Department of Human Services, of which I had to attend, and bring the boys. We would meet their parents at the meeting. I took our Assistant Pastor, Steve, with me for support. We sat quietly in the waiting room after the boys and their parents were escorted to a back office for an “interview”. I was finally sitting still and in a quiet room after a morning full of a flurry of phone calls. The heaviness landed on me suddenly, the Super Woman façade was able to recede back and my weak self emerged. I was really missing his support, his presence, his strength, his wisdom, and his protection. I began to cry and Steve quietly listened and asked a few questions as I reminisced about past birthdays with Michael. I had planned on making his favorite Italian cream cake that morning, but was not allowed the time. I thought that it might be something that would be good for the children and me. I had made an Italian cream cake every November 14th for about 20 years of the last 24. There was no cake this year.

By dinnertime, phase 1 of this whole ordeal with the little boys was over and phase 2 was to begin the next morning at 8:30. The strength was waning again. A friend of mine called me to ask me if I was okay (meaning, how was I handling Michael’s birthday….she did not know about anything else.) and I immediately started crying on the phone. She asked if I needed her to come over and I quickly answered with a barely discernable ”yes” through the tears. She was there in no time and we went outside to walk the dog together. She walked the dog while I talked and cried. I shared with her my day and my thoughts. At times, I felt like I was crying out to God with my questions as I expressed myself to her. I trusted Him but I really did not understand what was going on at that moment. I have not felt this way very often, but it was definitely a “Why me, Lord?” moment. What have I done to make you think that I am strong enough to handle this? What do you see in me that I can’t see in myself? Why both of these hard mountains on the same day? Why now? Why not a year ago while Michael was here to walk through it with me? Of course, there were no answers at that time, but I was full of questions.

We ended the day with takeout salads from a local restaurant (no favorite birthday meal of veal, smoked sausage, bacon and sage over angel hair) and went to bed early. The day was over. 2011 was Michael’s last year here on this earth. I told his siblings that morning in a text that 49 years ago on that day, God sent one of His chosen ones down from heaven….and we were fortunate enough to be in his earthly family.

I Love You, Michael

Saturday, November 12, 2011
This post is a continuation of the previous one entitled, “I Love You, Jene’”. I am sharing another small sampling of the love notes we shared. There were so many from which to choose, but I wanted to record a small portion of them in order for my children and me to always remember this private aspect of our marriage love affair. I believe that our notes to one another are what kept our romance alive, beautiful, and flourishing after 24 years. I copied these exactly as they were written. Notice that he, more often than not, put an exclamation point after writing, “I love you!”

Mother’s Day (Date unknown….between 2003-2007)
This note accompanied a dozen roses.

Let these roses remind you of these 12 things that you are:
1. You are Christ-like
2. You are anointed
3. You are sweet
4. You are creative
5. You are beautiful
6. You are the best cook I know
7. You are virtuous
8. You are strong
9. You are gentle
10. You are their mother, the best in the world
11. You are my wife, my best friend
I love you,

Valentine’s Day 2002
"Until now, until you….There were places in my heart I’d never been before, moments in the day I ‘d never appreciated before, promises in the night I’d never dreamed before…until now, until you."
You are the most incredible person, woman, lover, writer, dancer, mother, teacher, wife, and friend I will ever know. I’m thankful to God every day that you’re mine!
I love you!

Happy Birthday 2010
"Dream…On your birthday, remember that anything is possible when we listen with our hearts and lead with our dreams."
Babe, I love that you love to dream! Though sometimes I don’t seem supportive of you dream(s), please know that I am. My dream came true when you were born!
I love you!!

Happy Anniversary 2008 (21 years)
"On a very bright day, you came to me easily, arms open and your eyes seeing only me. I keep the memory of that day in a secret room. Whenever I feel the need, I open the door, enter the room, and visit for a long time with that memory. For the memories we have made and the ones we have yet to make."
Babe, this card truly expresses the occasions of memories had and experienced with you. Every day you give me many more memories to store, cherish and ones to “walk in and visit.” I love you and look forward to many more memories.
Happy 21st anniversary
I love you,

Valentine’s Day 2009
My Dear Sweetheart,
Words can’t describe the love I feel for you, nor should they. With every day that passes, your beauty becomes evident. Not just your physical beauty, of which none can compare, but also your radiance of purpose and your pursuit and passion for our good. I am truly a blessed man and a better man because of you. Forgive my “wanderings” at times, as my desire is to lead us on a journey of purpose and passion. Thank you for all you do and don’t do! I look forward to our amazing adventure with the Lord!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I love you!

Mother’s Day 2008
The card has a faded black and white photo of a young woman with long dark hair wearing faded jeans and dark, casual long – sleeved sweater. Her arms are open and she appears to be dancing in a field with her head turned and hair flying out.
Inside it reads, “Every day, I’m more and more swept away. Thank you for being such a wonderful wife and mother.”
Babe, when I saw this card, I thought it said it all! I am truly swept away by your grace, your beauty, your diligence, your heart for God, and your passion for our children. Thank you for being the most amazing mother and wife!
I love you!

I love you, Jene’

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I came across a note I had written for Michael recently while going through some other things. We loved to buy cards for each other for all occasions and we always took the opportunity to write something heart felt on the inside. We each saved most every card and kept many of them in our separate nightstand drawers. Sometimes we would skip doing a card and just write a note and leave it somewhere so that the other could easily find it. Sometimes I would write him a love note at night after he went to bed and tape it to the coffee pot for him to find in the morning while getting his first cup of the day. Other times I put them on his steering wheel in his car, in his side of the closet, or on the kitchen counter for him to see on nights when he would work late at the office. He saved one that was written on a sticky note that I had placed on the front door of our apartment when we were newlyweds in order for him to read it before he entered through the door. It said, “Stop! Prepare for a romantic interlude.” That note is still in his catchall drawer in the closet…. A 24-year-old sticky note. He always talked about it as if it happened yesterday. The one I found recently brought back so many memories that I decided to look at some others and read through a stack of them. I am writing down just a very small sampling of them…..beginning with the one I found from me. I will post again with a sampling of notes from him to me.

(In this card, I am referring to a coffee mug that had a little ceramic teddy bear hanging over the edge of the mug and it said, ‘I can bearly hang on without you’. I filled it with candy and had it delivered to his office in about the third year we were married. I pulled the mug down from a high cabinet a few years ago and did it again.)
20th Anniversary September 5, 2007
Remember when you received this mug the first time? When we were mere newlyweds?! It does not seem that long ago. I still feel like a newlywed, don’t you? A few things have changed… we know each other better (better than we know ourselves), have three children, your hair is shorter, mine is longer, a bigger home, more patience and respect for each other, we rise earlier and drink more coffee, less free time but stay home more, and last, but not least, can you believe how we have grown and changed in Christ? I would do it all again with you!
I love you,

Father’s Day 2010
“You deserve The Royal Treatment”
You are such an amazing father! Thank you for keeping your children so high on your priorities. You deserve the Royal Treatment every day! Thank you for all the time you spend with us.
I love you,

November 14, 2008 (his birthday)
“You’re not an afterthought, you’re not on earth ‘just because’, and you’re not a random act of His creativity. You were given His 100% stamp of approval from head to toe before you were born, and the moment you were, He beamed with joy. Just look at you now…God must be smiling still.” God loves you and chose you to be the carrier of such incredible gifts! Always remember to use them for His glory!
I love you!

Father’s Day 2010
“Seeing the great father and husband you are makes everyone green with envy.” This is actually very true! After watching other husbands over the years, I realize more and more what a catch you are and how much of a blessing you are to the children and me. You are tenderhearted, compassionate, considerate, and wise. A perfect combination for a great father! Happy Father’s Day!
I love you,

Valentine’s Day 2009
“If I know what love is, it is because of you.” Thanks for being patient with me and for being such a good teacher! Happy Valentine’s Day!
Your #1 love student,

No occasion 2000
“Loving you is like opening a present and finding just what I always wanted.” Babe, I wanted to remind you that even though I don’t always act like I should toward you, thanks for being forgiving and know that you are everything I could ever want. I will try to not take you for granted any more.
I love you so much,

November 14, 2008(Yes, I gave him two cards that year.)
“Happy Birthday to someone who’s amazing in so many ways.” You are so amazing, faithful, diligent, loving, kind, tenderhearted, compassionate, and thoughtful! May God bless you, strengthen you, and shine His light ever brighter on you today!
I love you,

Order My Steps

Thursday, November 3, 2011
As I was praying this morning, I gave all of my gifts back to the Lord. I want him to be glorified in everything that I do. Even though this is something I do continually, today I felt like it was sealed. As if everything up until now has been training and preparation, and now the contract has been signed for the missions that lay ahead. I can’t explain what I felt in my spirit but I felt like it was, “now time”…. whatever that means. I thanked him for the pleasure, joy, satisfaction, healing, and contentment that I have when I have created something by using the creative gifts He has given me. Not just writing, but anything creative from gardening to parenting. We were made in his image, He is a creative; therefore, we are creative in all that we set our hands to do. As I gave it all to him this morning, the prayer, “Order my steps,” rose up in me with a fire. I knew I had to write it. Now that I am beginning to walk a little more, and stop a little less, it is imperative that I look to him for the ordering of my steps. I am still weak, my vision is still blurred and the enemy is watching every move I make, looking for an opportunity to use my circumstances to get me out of God’s perfect plan. I need my Lord to order my steps now and always.

When life is shining on every step I take
And the road seems evident before my face
When joy, favor, and happiness are everywhere I turn,
Order my steps, Lord
Order my steps

When questions befall me with uncertainties ahead
And I want all control, not relying on You instead
When I get impatient for the direction that You have planned,
Order my steps, Lord
Order my steps

When your hand points to shadows in the midst of Death Valley
And terror chases my heels; fear whispers, screams, and taunts me
When the sun does not rise, days full of darkness of night,
Order my steps, Lord
Order my steps

When I am weak from my travels, consumed with hunger and thirst
And am stumbling towards the light, it’s your presence I search
When my strength wanes and the journey makes my feet pause to resist
Order my steps, Lord
Order my steps

Order my steps, for my life is not my own
Order my steps, I trust and have faith in You, Lord, alone
Order my steps, pursuing the purpose for my life
Use me, lead me, carry me on, Lord, with your might

Wrtten by Jene' Barranco
November 3, 2011

I’m Back Home

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Earlier this year, some friends of mine offered me the use of their condominium on the beach as a retreat for the kids and me. I finally took them up on their offer and we are now at the beach this whole week. Because Mia is in college now, she was not able to join us and we are greatly missing her sweet presence. I had a feeling that it was going to be a beautiful time of continued healing because we are all at a different place than we were the last time we went to the beach. We are someplace that we never went to with Michael. There are no Michael/family memories wrapped up in this location. Everything is different for us than our normal trips to the beach. Michael and Mia aren’t here, it is a different town, different restaurants, and we are even doing schoolwork in the mornings before we head out to the beach each day. We usually go to the beach during spring break, in early May to celebrate the beginning of summer, or later in the summer. This is our first time to do it during a “school” week. Julia and I worked on some history essay questions yesterday, while sitting on the balcony in our swimsuits, perched on some chairs at a bar table overlooking the beach. The peace of God was heavy on us all day yesterday.

I knew it was going to be a continued time of healing because God and I are now talking again. Even though I learned much during our time of silence, I prefer open communication. After so many months of sitting in silence next to one another, it is good to be talking, I to Him, and Him to me. He has been with me and has followed me through this journey, which felt like I was far away from home. It is good to be back home again.

I describe what my relationship with the Lord felt like for the first 7 months in my post entitled, “No Reply from Heaven”…

I have always enjoyed a two- way conversation with God. I have heard His voice, a few special times audibly, most other times a quiet whisper to my spirit, and sometimes through someone else. I would talk to Him, and if I took time to listen to Him, He would talk to me. At this point in our relationship, I feel like we are sitting quietly next to each other without speaking a word. What can be said? What comfort can words bring? I feel Him with me all of time. I feel His comfort. I feel the silent understanding. I don’t hear answers or advice. I know He is hurting for me and loving me, but there is no reply from heaven, and, quite frankly, I am not speaking much either. I thank Him for carrying me through each day…. Actually, come to think of it, when I do talk to Him, all I can do is thank Him for the life He has given me up to this point. I do have much to be thankful for, but beyond that, I just don’t know what to say to Him. I sit in silence a lot in my bedroom and wonder, ‘Should I say something more to Him?’, but there is nothing….so we sit in silence together. I am listening every waking hour. The silence does not mean we are absent from one another. It is a loss for words….. not that God is ever at a loss for words, but I am.

My sister sent me this quote from Oswald Chambers after having read that post. It helped to confirm my belief of what the silence was all about…..
"When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days in the same place where he was." John 11:6

Has God trusted you with a silence - a silence that is big with meaning? God's silences are His answers. Think of those days of absolute silence in the home at Bethany! Is there anything analogous to those days in your life? Can God trust you like that, or are you still asking for a visible answer? God will give you the blessings you ask if you will not go any further without them; but His silence is the sign that He is bringing you into a marvelous understanding of Himself. Are you mourning before God because you have not had an audible response? You will find that God has trusted you in the most intimate way possible, with an absolute silence, not of despair, but of pleasure, because He saw that you could stand a bigger revelation. If God has given you a silence, praise Him, He is bringing you into the great run of His purposes. The manifestation of the answer in time is a matter of God's sovereignty. Time is nothing to God. For a while you said - "I asked God to give me bread, and He gave me a stone." He did not, and today you find He gave you the bread of life. 

A wonderful thing about God's silence is that the contagion of His stillness gets into you and you become perfectly confident - "I know God has heard me." His silence is the proof that He has. As long as you have the idea that God will bless you in answer to prayer, He will do it, but He will never give you the grace of silence. If Jesus Christ is bringing you into the understanding that prayer is for the glorifying of His Father, He will give you the first sign of His intimacy - silence.

A friend of mine brought me the book, The Red Sea Rules by Robert J. Morgan, a few weeks ago and had written in the front of the book that it had been comforting to her during some hard times and hoped it would do the same for me. I brought it along to read this week during my quiet times at the beach. I started it yesterday morning, and after just the first 6 pages, I had plenty to chew on for the week. On the first page, I was reminded of Asaph, whose world was “in ruins, and though exhausted, he couldn’t sleep”. Later, Asaph records his thoughts in Psalm 77. Because Asaph was feeling so much the way I have been feeling the past 7 months, I immediately stopped reading the book and turned to my Bible to read the Psalm.

The whole chapter of Psalm 77 is great, but I am going to focus on verses 1-14.
“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. (The Message Bible says, “I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord; my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.”) I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days (my life with Michael), the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
‘Will the Lord reject us forever? Will He never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld his compassion?'
(Many years ago, I wrote in the margin next to these coming verses, “Remember this”.) “Then I thought, ’To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all you mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles…”

I reminded myself of all of the times that God performed miracles on our behalf, in ways that nobody knew but Michael and me. They were always done in God’s timing and seemed to come when we least expected it. God is performing miracles in the healing process of the hearts of my children and me. I am beginning to see a few parts of the puzzle, (which had been put mostly together, then was dumped out all over again), begin to settle into place. Of course, they are not the edge pieces, which is the way that I like to put puzzles back together…. it establishes boundaries, lets you know where you are going with it. These pieces that have been put together are somewhere in the middle of the puzzle and I can’t picture where they will be placed yet, but the process of building, mending, and putting things back together has begun. It has begun because God and I are now talking, not that progress was not made during the silent stage, because that would be far from the truth. He held my hand and silently took me places and showed me things. Like when you put together a puzzle, you spread out all of the pieces, you begin to group things together, get a general idea of what it might look like when it is all put back together, then you slowly take one piece and search for the match. My silent time with God gave me a perspective that I would have never gained had we been talking all of the time. He gave me glimpses of the whole picture. Just enough snapshots that I could begin to feel that his unfailing love has not vanished forever, his promises have not failed, He has not forgotten to be merciful, and He has not withheld his compassion.

Because it is just me now, I am forced to talk to God more than I ever did before. I have to ask his advice on simple little decisions that I used to take to Michael. Simple decisions are not really simple any more when I consider the weight of staying in God’s perfect will and in constant communion and fellowship with him. He is my husband, and I desperately need his input, fellowship, communication, guidance, and wisdom every single day of my life. I have longed to be back in his presence,in fellowship with him, where I continually feel the comfort of being home.

The Dream

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
I was talking to a lovely woman earlier this fall that had lost her husband about 10 years ago. She, too, had a wonderful marriage. She told me how, even still, she will see someone from behind, or from a distance in a store who resembles him, and it will cause her to catch her breath and think, “Oh, there he is!” She said she still dreams about him in her sleep. At that moment in our conversation, the tears quickly welled up in my eyes and began to spill over onto my cheeks. I had been longing for a dream with Michael in it, any little dream….just to catch a glimpse of him in living motion, but I had not had any. Why is that? You would think that I would dream about him often in my sleep, but for whatever reason, I had not. I had a heaviness in my heart that night when I fell into bed and felt very alone. My poem, “Missing Parts”, describes exactly how I was feeling at that moment. “Though miles separate our bodies and touch, Our hearts reach out… the emptiness too much.” That night when I got into bed, I asked God for a dream with Michael…. I just wanted to see his face.

He gave me a dream.

I was in my house during the day and two little African American boys had been dropped off at my house to play for the afternoon. (In the natural, I had never seen these boys before.) Once the boys were in my house, I needed to run outside to say something to their father before he drove away in his suburban. I could see the man in the driver’s seat and it was the face of an African American man with whom I go to church. I ran outside barefoot heading to the car and looked down to realize that I was beginning to walk through a rose garden that had been pruned down the ground. It was full of stubby thorny branches with some random remainders of roses and their petals. I had to keep my head down as I tip toed through the brambly bed of roses so that I would not hurt my feet. I was holding my long hair back on one side as I was looking down so that I could see better. I noticed that the dad in the car had opened the door to step outside of the car. When I looked up, it was Michael who had stepped out of the car with a big, happy grin on his face, (his nose was even wrinkled like it would do when he was really being cute or when he was thinking I or the kids were acting or looking especially cute), and he was boldly, and happily walking towards me with a smile. He looked just like he did early last February. He was wearing some flat front khaki dress pants, a white dress shirt, and his current glasses. When I laid eyes on him, I felt shock overcoming my body. My face felt stressed, twisted up and burdened when I was looking down, but when I saw him, I felt it all begin to lift away. It felt lighter, as if I had been carrying the burden of weight on my face. My shocked face turned into a smile as everything lifted from my face and I began to feel light headed, like I was about to faint. As I watched him stride towards me, he changed to the Michael from the early nineties. His hair was longer in the back, his wire-rimmed glasses were larger, his shirt was still white but was a flowing, poet’s like shirt and his pants were pleated and baggy instead of straight. He never broke his pace as he came happily towards me. We never spoke a word….he smiled at me the whole time, I smiled and stood in shock and then I was overcome with the moment and blacked out ,collapsing into the brambly roses. I felt his hands come under my head and neck…. then he kissed me. I opened my eyes and all I could see was his big blue eyes right in front of my face. We held the gaze for a few seconds, and then I awoke from the dream.

I was so thankful for my encounter with Michael but at the same time, it was very hard for me…..maybe God had been protecting my heart by keeping him from my dreams. For several weeks following the dream, I would cry just thinking about it and seeing his smile and strong body coming towards me. The two things that stand out the most from the dream are the feeling of the pain and burden on my face that I carried, the feeling of it lifting, and the joy that was all over Michael’s countenance. He comforted me in that dream by letting me know that he was well and whole, just by coming to me.

I have not had a dream about him since. One morning, the smell of his breath and the sound of his voice saying, “Babe,” woke me up from the early morning hours. I can’t explain that….

All of this reminds me of something that my friend Sally mailed me earlier this year. It is a copy of a page from the book entitled, In Lieu of Flowers. Henry Scott Holland, a professor of divinity at Oxford University, wrote this quote within the book a century ago.

Death is nothing at all – I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way you always used. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without the ghost of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant…there is absolutely unbroken continuity. I am waiting for you – somewhere near just around the corner. All is well.

Nightstand Reading

Saturday, October 22, 2011
Today is my first Saturday at home that I can remember having the entire day, free and alone, set out before me….probably in 24 years. I have done lots of traveling these last 8 months, (Michael left this world 8 months ago today), have had weekend guests, child responsibilities, keeping our foster child and his younger brother over many weekends, and many other things. This weekend is a first for me. Julia is at a swim meet at Auburn University for the entire weekend. I wanted to go with her, but after praying about it, I felt like the Lord wanted me to stay home and be quiet in my home. I gave the responsibility over to my sister to take her to the meet and am now looking at a whole day in my house, and for the most part, alone. Michael Anthony is playing tennis with a friend of mine and then having lunch. Mia is picking him up after he gets home and taking him to the homecoming football at Belhaven University. My in-laws have invited me and Michael Anthony over for dinner tonight, which means I don't even need to stop to think about what we will eat for dinner.

I have spent some time quietly with God listening and wondering what I should do today in the still of my house. I know now. It will be a day to begin the process of reordering my bedroom. Not only will I begin Michael’s clothes today, but also there are many things still in our room that I need to finally put away. I have not touched a whole bunch of items that are sitting on an ottoman in the corner and have been since the week following his accident…. A huge Ziploc bag full of all of the loose items from his car,another big manilla envelope which has "evidence bag" printed across it, his briefcase, his leather meeting book, his camera bag, copies of the newspaper with the article about his accident on the front page, a large envelope of letters from the Boy Scout troop, his Bose system from his desk at his office, his black leather slouch bag he used for Boy Scouts which had been his dad’s and has his name on it. His broken glasses, which he had been wearing at the time of the accident, had also been sitting on top of his leather meeting book for many months. About a month ago I tucked them away in his personal catch all drawer upon realizing a change had developed in how I looked at them. In the beginning, the whole pile of things on the ottoman, including the glasses, made me feel like he was not so far away and that he had not been gone too long. It all brought me comfort. As time passed, it all changed. Seeing his glasses and his other personal items began to torment me because they were everything that brought the trauma and the tragedy to my memory in a split second when I would glance that direction. Everything is covered in a thin layer of glass dust,both inside and out. It is just plain heart wrenching to carefully glean through everything in those bags. I moved the glasses and thought, one day, when I am ready, I will put away the rest. It is time, for my own mental health, to finish going through all of it and put it all away. I want and need my room to be a calm, safe place. Of course, there will forever be an empty feeling because I am alone in it, but at least I can move away any of the items that bring back memories of the accident, or what he was doing when he left…..like the books he was reading on his nightstand.

We have always been the type to read multiple books at a time and have also kept “the books to read next” on our nightstands, alongside the books we were presently reading. I feel it is time that I make both nightstands mine, instead of one still looking like he just walked away from his reading. He was never able to read very long in bed before he would drift off to sleep. I used to take pleasure in watching him fall asleep while propped up with a book resting on his stomach. The top of the book would slowly drift back until his fingers would feel the weight shift, then he would catch his breath quickly and snap the book right again and try to read some more. Finally, it would fall all of the way back and it would still be in his hands but in a strong slant while he began his heavy breathing. (I have always thought reading books in bed, side by side, was romantic in its own unique way. It would always lead to little "vignette" conversations….vignette meaning “a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting.” These small, snapshot conversations often held great ideals, concerns, and life questions. I think a person can be, and is, most real, or most themselves, at night, in bed, in these periodic conversations. Even when it led to drifting off to sleep, because it meant that we were so at peace near one another.) It also took him a long time to finish books because he mediated on what he read for a long time. While reading deeper books, he would read about one page and want to talk about it and then would work it out in his thoughts for another couple of days, bring it into conversations with other people, then move on in the book. I wanted to document what he was reading, or planning to read next for my sake and for the sake of the children, in case we want to read them some day to share in his interests. Following are the list of books that have remained unopened for 8 months and will now go into my library for future reading. They range in his three favorite topics: spiritual, parenting, and architecture.

The Rest of God - Restoring your soul by restoring SABBATH by Mark Buchanan
Locking Arms by Stu Weber
The Voice of the Martyrs – Extreme Devotion
by Huss, Logara, Wong, Jeltonashko, Lap Ma
Genesis in Space and Time by Francis Schaeffer
Parenting from Your Strengths by John Trent
The Man in the Mirror by Patrick M. Morley
Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud
House by Tracy Kidder
Go Green by Nancy Taylor
Green from the Ground Up by Johnston & Gibson

My nightstand is stocked full of my own books that have not been touched. Reading has been very hard for me to do. It requires turning off my thoughts and allowing myself to slide into a new place. It is extremely difficult to focus on anything - fiction, non-fiction, Bible, magazine articles….anything. The only two books I have read in completion in 8 months is Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. They both were read during times of personal retreat when I was in a good place to be quiet and meditate on it as I read. I have high hopes of beginning to read again soon on a regular basis. I have enough in my “read next” pile to last me over a year. The reading will not begin today. Today, now, I will begin to go through the glass dust covered personal items of Michael’s, part of his clothes, and place his books on the shelf in the study downstairs. I know God will be with me for every moment of it..... It will be hard but good.

Collecting Dust

Sunday, October 16, 2011
Last week, while I was in my closet, I faced what seemed to be a sudden realization of how much time had passed since Michael’s departure to heaven. I decided to poke around at his clothes and shoes, which I have still not moved in any way, in order to just have a moment of my own to think about him. It was completely silent. Sometimes in those moments, I feel like my heart speaks out and has a one-way conversation with Michael as if he is with me listening. As I touched his clothes and noticed the dust collecting on the fold of the pants and on the tops of his suit coats, I felt my heart say, “You are really gone, aren’t you? Where are you? What are you doing now? I miss you. You are not coming back. How am I doing? You were such a great dresser.” There were no big onslaughts of tears. My eyes filled up to the brim and I felt a longing in my heart and experienced a melancholy time of reminiscing and overall thoughts of missing him and missing seeing him in his fabulous clothes.

I started pulling out his shoes to look at them and found an obvious layer of dust across the top of each one. It was at that moment that I realized, “He’s been gone a long time now. I have been in my own time warp.” It seems that his presence here was just a short time ago, still fresh, but the signs of dust on his clothes and shoes shows me otherwise. Seeing the dust on the shoes made me see that it is time to begin the cleaning out process. His dresser drawers are still full of his clothes and his winter sweaters are in a container under our bed. His side of the closet is as he left it.

Our son, Michael Anthony, has grown two inches since February, and is now wearing the same size shoe that his dad was wearing, has the same waist measurement, and almost the same chest. He needs his arms to catch up with the rest of his growing body. He is only 13 and is going to be a big man someday. He has edged out over me in height, the only child to do so, since I am 5’8 1/2. He has begun to wear some of his dad’s shoes and shorts. As I was looking through his suits that day in the closet, I was thinking how I would like to save these suits for him to alter and wear one day. Several of them were custom made and are monogrammed on the inside of the suit coat reading, “Exclusively tailored for Michael A. Barranco”. Then there are a couple of suits that I helped him choose on one of his business trips to Chicago. He and I went into Barney’s New York to look for some things for him. We had eaten a leisurely lunch at Le Colonial, and then walked around window-shopping until we got to Barney’s. We took our time while we were there and both enjoyed the process of selecting the perfect suits and sports coats. He had so much fun that afternoon and was so pleased with the two Armani suits we chose. That day felt kind of like a honeymoon because we were not on any time schedule and enjoyed every minute together. It was just a year and a half ago. I would love to see Michael Anthony in those suits one day.

My niece helped me organize my side of the closet last week in preparation of me going through Michael’s clothes. It was kind of a baby step towards his clothes. Even going through my clothes was hard because so many memories of him are wrapped up in every piece of my clothing, from him choosing it, where we were when I wore it with him, how much he liked it on me, and remembering the comments he had made about each one when something really pleased him. He was always full of compliments. It was hard to get rid of something that I knew he loved.

I have not decided yet if I am going to edge my clothes over to his side once I go through his clothes. I like the discipline of keeping the amount of clothes that I own down to a number that fits into my little space. I think maybe I will use some of his side for storage of other things. At first it made me feel not so lonely by having his clothes still hanging there, where they belonged. Now, as the dust collects on them, it is doing the opposite by bringing to my attention that I am alone. I feel that they are beginning to be something that is weighing me down a bit. Continuing to have them hanging in my closet will ultimately keep me from moving forward....it's depressing. Dust represents the fact that something is forgotten, neglected, or abandoned. Seeing dust on his things is a continual reminder that these things are abandoned. Moving forward is not something that I have wanted to do, but now, as the dust collects, I have learned that I must move forward in small acts, with small steps like this or life cannot return. They represent a past life. A life that was, but is no more. I can save the special, the handsome, and the memory filled pieces in a small section for Michael Anthony to wear one day, if he so chooses.


Friday, October 14, 2011
After 7 months and 22 days of not sleeping with peace each night, sleeping well, or even sleeping at all, I am finally sleeping. As I have stated before, I am a person who needs 8 to 9 hours of sleep to function at my best. I have also always been the type that enjoys a good nap, especially on Sundays, but naps had also become something that my body could not do. There was inner turmoil, a replaying of events of the first week that Michael died, replaying of memories, and just an overall feeling of anxiety that continued to play in my mind at any time when my body would stop to try to rest.

I have looked forward to bedtime each night since February 22 because it was the end of another day. I would think to myself, “I made it through today." A day of trials, hard decisions, parenting alone, living without Michael, missing him, going through the motions of what it takes to make it through each day, and a daily end of this very difficult season of life through which we are having to walk. I feel that the end of each day brings me one day closer to end of this terribly painful season of death and mourning. I looked forward to the close of each day because the day was done, but then would dread the next part of the 24 hour day because, with it, came it’s own set of obstacles to overcome.

At night, I was alone in my thoughts and feelings. The rest of the world was quiet, but my mind and spirit were in a full state of motion. My state of “aloneness” is more pronounced in the dark hours of the night. The dark hours of the night is what time it was when I received visitors knocking on my door to learn about Michael’s accident that had just occurred. In the dark hours of the night my mind would race through the trauma of the whole situation. Sleeping would come in short spurts then I would suddenly wake up and it would take sometimes an hour or more to go back to sleep...and this would happen several times a night. I would go to the bathroom several times and get drinks of water to just give me something to do. I had forgotten what it felt like to fall asleep with ease, sleep peacefully and rise with a feeling of having rested. When I would wake up in the morning, I had the same thoughts that I had at the close of each day, “I made it through another night.” I was being tormented for 24-hour periods without any down time to shut off my thoughts and emotions.

I went to a women’s retreat two weeks ago in Colorado given by Ransomed Heart ministries and John and Stasi Eldredge. It was upon returning from this retreat that my sweet sleep and rest returned back to me. Several women prayed over me while I was there, and I don’t mean, “Dear Lord, please be with Jene’ while she sleeps and help her walk through this time.” These women prayed against all agreements I had made with the enemy over this season of death and mourning, they fought spiritual warfare on my behalf, they targeted specific areas of battles that I had been encountering around the clock and they did it with confidence and spiritual discernment. I felt differently with each passing hour of the retreat. After two nights back at home, my body began to rest.

I can now get in bed and feel sleepy. I fall asleep within thirty minutes and make it through the night without getting up to go to the bathroom. I sleep hard. When I wake up in the morning, I feel like I have been in the deepest sleep I have known. I don’t feel rested yet because I am so far behind on rest. Yesterday, I even had the need to take a nap. I did not get to take one, but I was glad that I felt like I needed one and could have slept had my head hit the pillow. The last month has finally shown a slight turn towards the early stages of an upswing in the horizon. The elephant has been lifted off of my chest. I am beginning to breathe again. I have journeyed through what could be the most frightening part of the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil, for He is with me. Dear God, this is hard. The angst, the moaning, the pouring of tears that have flooded my bed, the gut wrenching pain, the birth pains with no celebration of life, …..asking why or trying to understand does not bring peace. As John Eldredge said at the retreat, “Understanding is overrated.” Just trust God, keep moving forward, and know that He is for you. We may gain understanding later, after we have come out of it. Asking God for comfort and His presence, and staying alert to the enemy and his spiritual attacks that come in the valley is how to pull through the battle. There is a battle….this is a battle…..it is dark and is taking every bit of my strength, but I am finally witnessing some small victories. Psalm 3:5, “I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me.”

It’s Been Too Long

Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I have allowed too much time to pass since the last time I poured myself out over my computer.  Too much time passing means too much pent up emotions and anxiety.  Everyday, I experience a feeling or have certain thoughts, and I think, ” I really need to sit down and work that out in writing.”, but then when I get a quiet moment to write, I am too mentally exhausted to try to put words to anything.  I have now reached a “boiling point” and I must get something out….any of the hundreds of emotions, pains, or thoughts that I have had since my last blog entry would help me.  I need to just slowly start chipping away at all that I have been feeling.

Where to begin?  I want to recap some milestones.  We have now completed all of our first birthdays without Michael.  Mia just had hers last Friday on the 23rd. First me, then Michael Anthony, our wedding anniversary on September 5th,then Julia on September 9th, and now Mia had her 19th birthday.  (Actually, we have one more birthday left to conquer….Michael’s would have been on November 14th.  Another bridge to cross.)  We kept all of our usual birthday traditions – A big birthday breakfast with all of the presents and cards making the centerpiece on the breakfast table with what ever food is chosen by the birthday girl or boy, she chose monkey bread, bacon and fruit. (Michael always chose, what we call, “Heaven in a Puff!” alongside some good organic bacon.  He was always pleased when one of the kids chose the same thing for their breakfast.) A family birthday dinner that night, again serving whatever the birthday girl or boy chooses.  She chose baked chicken, Greek salad, braised cabbage, roasted potatoes, and a strawberry cake. On Sunday, I let her invite a bunch of her new college friends over for lunch after church.  We seated 12 in my dining room.  I let her choose her meal again – poppy seed chicken, sautéed green beans, tomato pies (4 of them), Asian slaw, rolls, and an Italian Cream cake. It was enjoyable to serve her and her friends.  We had lively discussions around the table and I was proud of the new friends she had chosen.  I feel that I am over the hump of the pain involved in cooking for my family.  I am not over it when it involves other people or any kind of entertaining, but at least I can cook for my children and experience some joy with it, while I see the joy on their faces.  Michael and I did so much entertaining and were a great team in the preparations of the house or yard and he was also a great host while the company was here, while I would be busy finishing doing things in the kitchen.  He knew how by keeping good conversations going, continuing to check on me to see if I needed any help, would keep wine glasses full, loved on the children as they bobbed in and out of the room, and then would compliment everything I had done while we sat at the dinner table.  Trying to do all of that without him is and will be a lonely, sad event for a while.  It will happen in baby steps.  Getting past being able to do it all again just for my children was a big step for me.  A step towards being able to do it for others…and enjoy it again, some day.

Another mountain conquered……It was time to go back to Michael’s office space where he had spent eleven years growing his architectural firm. I had only been there 3 times and each time was not for very long.  The first time was for the purpose of just “going” there.  Nothing much was accomplished that first time other than soaking it in and touching and feeling his life there as an architect.  The other two times were to get something specific.  It was too overwhelming to spend any amount of time there.  Overwhelming because there was so much that I had to do there, physically.  It was a mess; full of everything it took to run an office full of architects along with hundreds and hundreds of drawings, construction documents, interior design samples, and catalogs, and the list goes on.  It was time to clean out, purge, and organize in order to prepare the building for whatever God had planned for it next.  I knew that it was not possible for me to do it on my own.  I was sitting quietly in a doctor’s office when God showed me a plan for a friendly work force to help me climb this mountain at the office.  So many friends had said to call them if they could ever do anything to help, anything at all.  I knew they meant it, so I chose two days for last week that would work for me and sent out a mass text to all of my great friends telling them my needs and my request.  I had a great response and had a hard working team of ladies, dear friends from my past and present, coming in and out both days doing everything I asked them to do.  They were all godly women with a servant’s heart and a gift in organizing and decision-making.  We accomplished more in two days that I ever imagined that I would get done.  I had to keep my game face on or it would not have happened.  I made the decision that we would not do anything in Michael’s personal office space.  I only used it if I came across something that I personally wanted to keep or spend more time going through it.  If something fit those criteria, it was taken to his office and placed on his empty shelves that he and I had cleared together just two weeks before his accident.  I had always wanted to work with him in his office, be his office administrator, but we both knew my place was with the children during this season of our lives.  We dreamed of it one day in the future once the children were all off to college.  We would have loved working together, day by day, side by side, having business lunches together, me serving him his coffee all day and him serving me mine….it is just what we did.  We never grew tired of each other.  I was sad that day as I looked around realizing that time never came for us.  Now I must organize his business life, to keep in a way for memories/memorabilia for the children, keep it in a way that may need to be referenced to by other clients, and save the drawings that we want to frame.  I now must build more bookshelves to house all of his wonderful books that I want to keep so that the children and I can always peruse through them and share his love and passion.  Those two days were, obviously, exhausting for me.  So much mental and physical energy was required.  I got very little sleep leading up to the workdays and during because of the mental angst going on inside of me.  There is more to do and more ladies willing to help finish the job, I just need some breathing room to prepare for the final push.  It will be a huge chapter of my life to close when it is completely finished.

During the last two weeks, I also met with Dr. Roger Parrott, the president of Belhaven University.  It was my first time to see him and talk to him since the funeral.  I wanted to thank him for everything he had done but it was too much to try to put into a note to him.  We needed to see one another face to face, talk about the funeral, reminisce about Michael, and talk about Mia’s life on Belhaven campus. I did not have the strength before that day to even come close to having that conversation.  I walked in his office, which I had never been in before, and commented on how beautiful it was.  He said, “Michael helped me do this.”  I had no idea.  He said he had shown Michael an antique desk that his father had when he was a college president and shared with Michael his desire to use the desk in his own office.  It is a lovely square desk with dark wood and classic pulls.  Michael said he envisioned a 1930’s attorney’s office, and that was exactly how the room was done.  It spoke strength, ageless beauty, and longevity.  There we sat, I in a great leather chair, and President Parrott in a large classic, strong rocking chair.  He shared great memories with me of his time working with Michael as the campus architect and the friendship that evolved. He missed his passion for creativity and exciting ideas for new designs for the campus. I cried, he listened, he shared, and I listened. We took our time treasuring our memories of Michael together and finished somewhat refreshed.  We talked about the difficulty Mia was having grieving for her father while away at college.  I told him that the required chapel every Tuesday was especially hard for her because it was held in the same building and auditorium where Michael’s funeral had been held.  The same place were we stood for over 4 hours greeting thousands of people at the visitation, the same stage where the casket had been covered with flowers, with photos of him everywhere, along with a slide show playing, the same place where we sat to listen to our pastor and the Barranco family Catholic priest speak about our loss, the same place where our choir brought in the glory of God with, “I Want to Say Thank You’’, the same place where we stood before God praising Him for who He was in spite of our circumstances, the same place where I stood with my children while the casket rolled past us in the back hallway on its way out to the hearse.  Needless to say, without even having to ask, he excused her this year from having to attend the chapel services.  This should make her life at college easier without having to relive that moment of great pain every Tuesday morning, while sitting in a crowd of hundreds of college students.

This is just part of my life from the last two weeks.  There is much more that I experienced within my heart and soul, but sometimes it feels impossible to gather it up into a tidy set of words in order for me to make sense of it all.  As I have said before, it is all hard.  I look forward to the day when I will feel good all over again, breathing with freedom, laughing more frequently, excited about each new day and what it brings, and looking to the future again with a heightened expectancy of something good always around the corner…..which is how Michael and I viewed our walk with God. (We thought walking a road with Him was exciting.)  A day when there will be no more yucky, sick feelings in the pit of my stomach, no more weight on my back and chest, no more sleepless nights, no more daily tears, no more strained conversations with people, and no more pain during church.  I know the day will come but I am feeling beaten down in the process.  This week I reminded myself of God’s promise, “In all these things, I am more than a conqueror through him who loved me.”  Romans 8:37  I can, and will do this.

New Map, Same Destination?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I sat down to write today and realized that the prevalent feeling I have been experiencing has already been written down several months ago.  It continues to amaze me how these boomerang emotions keep circling back to me, or sometimes just hover overhead and never go away at all.  They are nearby, ready to lower on me at any given moment.  In my post, “It’s A Long Road”, I wrote, “Have I mentioned how hard this is?  I mean really hard.  Every minute of every day is hard.  Every breath I take is hard.  My breathing patterns have not been the same since Michael died.  It is always shallow, and at the same time I feel like there is something heavy weighing on my chest.  All day long, I tell myself, ‘Take a deep breath.’  Throughout the day, another reminder, ‘Just breathe.  Inhale deeply.  Now exhale.’”

This is hard…. all of it, and continues to be while I sort out everything, heal from the wound, and learn a new way of living, which requires things of me that I have never had to do before.  The first few months were hard because they were consumed with the excruciating pain of the sudden loss of Michael.  I missed him more than I ever could have imagined. But during those first few months, my life coasted for a while on autopilot.   (“My life”, meaning everything that it takes to run a household and to be a single parent.) It continues to be just as hard, but now it is more than just missing Michael. 

At first I was only dealing with a broken heart, and now I feel (if I must be honest with myself), somewhat scared of the future with every step I take, apprehensive, plus am carrying around my healing heart.  Now I am struggling every day with my “new normal” life. 

When you are young and you get married, or even do not get married, you establish a plan for your life. You begin your journey in the direction that you feel will take you to your destination.  You have a mental image of how you want your life to look in the future, and each day you walk out that plan, that dream, that vision, on the road that lay before you. You have a map and you feel like you can and are reading it correctly.  Life has a rhythm to it… it feels safe. 

Then one day, the road suddenly gets pitch black, your travel companion is mysteriously snatched away, you are alone, shuffling your feet trying to determine where he, or she, went, and the direction you must now go. It is as if you have been picked up and transplanted to another country where all of the rules have changed, even which side of the road that you drive. The physical map has been destroyed and you have to rely on your memory, and your instincts, for the details on the direction of your journey.  You have to keep asking yourself, “Now, why was I going this direction? Can the celebration of arriving at my destination feel the same with out my original travel companion? Or did I reach that destination and now there is a new one? Or has everything changed, not just the road but everything that propels me toward the destination?” 

These are questions I must face and truly meditate on the answers.  I could turn away from facing these questions or problems, as many people do, and move on pretending that my journey is the same but with one less person, only this would be pretending, a way of numbing reality.  I would not learn from it or become wiser for it.  As I also wrote in, “It’s A Long Road”, “There are no shortcuts on this journey.  People have tried shortcuts but then their wound shows up later in life because it did not heal properly.  It is a journey that we must take slowly, experience the pain, meditate on the loss, sit down occasionally when we are weak, slowly stand and move when we are able, and see and feel everything along the way.” 

It makes me think of a blind person learning how to “see” a new way.  Their sense of smell, touch, and hearing are heightened to help them experience life more fully.  If they refuse to learn the new ways, they will continue to bump into things and live a frustrated life.  They must learn to navigate with a new map. People have said there is no right or wrong way to grieve.  This is a truth, but only a partial truth.  I also believe there is a healthy, productive way to grieve and an unhealthy, deceiving yourself way to do it.  Everyone grieves differently, but I think it has to be better for us, in the long run of life, to face it, question it, learn from it, feel it, and embrace all that we can learn from it in order for it to help us, not hinder us, in the rest of our walk here on this earth. The way we do all those things can look differently, but I think we must do them in some way, shape, or form.

I have to trust God in a very real way.  I have no choice but to trust Him.  I must lean on Him. I am reminded of a verse that I have prayed for years.  Proverbs 4:25, “Let your eyes look straight ahead and your eyelids right before you.” And also, Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Without my Lord, there would be no light on this new road.  A lamp shows the light only directly where your feet are and just one step ahead, but at least it is some light.  This is all I can see right now, directly at my feet and one step ahead.  It is a little scary, but there is also a glimmer of light way down the path…like at the end of a very long and wide tunnel, but it is only the size of a speck right now. The road may zig zag all over the place, but that I cannot see, and it is probably best that I can't.  At least the light is there. I am walking the road with apprehension, uncertainty, and am wounded …but at least I am walking and with my eyes wide open, facing every twist and turn with an unaware boldness.

Where Do I Begin – Part 3

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A somewhat recent example of a movie that broke my heart was Disney’s, “Enchanted”.  Do you see what I am saying?   This movie is a fairy tale, a blend of reality and imagination; a world that may or may not be real.  Isn’t that similar to what we have as humans, when we try to imagine what heaven is like and how it fits into our real minds?  How can our human minds completely conceive the spiritual realm?  Not that the idea of heaven, earth, and hell is a fairy tale, because it is not.  It is truer than we know it to be, just because we don’t understand it all, or even see it, does not make it any less real.  We get a glimpse, or partial understandings, but that is all.

It makes me think of 1 Corinthians 13:9-13,
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face.  Now, I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am known fully. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  Even though I am now beginning to make some new connections in the journey/story of my life, I only know in part, but one day I will know fully.

The most unexpected places, moments, movies, and the most unexpected songs would often enter the place in my heart that was reserved for the grief I would one day carry.  I don’t fully understand why God had that door cracked for so many years of my life and I had to carry the unknown pain alone, because how could I make anyone understand it when, I, myself, could not make sense of it.

The part of “Enchanted” that tore me up on the inside, (more than it should have), was a scene near the end when the characters are dancing at an enchanted ball.  The two leads do a ballroom dance while Jon McLaughlin sings, “So Close”.  There are parts of it that literally took my breath away.  I have seen the movie about three times since its release in 2008, but every time it is the same.  It was just like the feeling I have had of being blindsided by a situation or a thing, since Michael’s death, which catches me so off guard, that the tears rush suddenly and it feels like the wind has been knocked out of me.  My sister placed this movie in my stack of movies to bring for my retreat this weekend, (she did not know any of this), but I have not watched it because I was not sure if I could handle that scene, even as silly and fun as the rest of the movie is.  It seems too real to me.

“So Close” by Jon McLaughlin

You’re in my arms and all the world is calm
The music playing on for two
So close together, and when I’m with you
So Close to feeling alive

A life goes by, romantic dreams will stop
So I bid mine good-bye and never knew
So close was waiting, waiting here with you
And now forever I know
All that I wanted, to hold you
So Close

So close to reaching that famous happy end
Almost believing this was not pretend
And now you’re beside me and look how far we’ve come
So far, we are, so close

How could I face the faceless days
If I should lose you now?
We’re so close, to reaching that famous happy end
And almost believing, this was not pretend
Let’s go on dreaming, for we know we are
So close, so close, and still so far