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No Reply from Heaven

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

The Christian Life Done Right

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Because Michael made such an impact on so many people, we knew that we would not be able to hold his visitation, or his memorial service, in our small community church.  He was the campus architect for Belhaven University and had established a wonderful relationship with the school's president, Dr. Roger Parrott.  Dr. Parrott offered for us to have both of the events on their campus at the Belhaven Center for the Arts.   The building was originally a large church, then Michael did the renovation plan to transform it into the Center for the Arts, when it came under the ownership of Belhaven University.  It seats about 900 people, but they had to close the doors forty-five minutes before the starting time and turn hundreds more away.

When Michael had redesigned the layout of the sanctuary for them, he was brainstorming with Dr. Parrott all of the different uses for which the space could be utilized.  He told him that the flow would even work for a funeral, if ever needed.  How ironic, then, that Michael’s was the first funeral ever held in that space….about 9 years later.

Dr. Parrott spoke at the opening of the “celebration” service, as many people have begun to call it, since it was a wonderful celebration of his life.  He wrote a beautiful piece about Michael called “The Christian Life Done Right”.  He clearly articulated Michael’s well- rounded life.  It is a truthful representation of how he lived from his passions. He posted it on his blog at the University’s website.  You will understand my loss and my children’s loss of their father better after having read it.  Michael lived his life right. 

A Note

Friday, April 29, 2011
This week I began to read back through some of the cards and letters that I have received,  I had received so many, that I had them organized into different piles.... need to record address, require thank you, or to be saved.  I was reading through some of the ones to be saved because I had not fully read all of them, since  there were so many.  Some of them would quickly move me to tears and cause me to ponder what they had  said.  I received a short note from a good friend of my brother's earlier this week.  Even though it was short, it moved my heart greatly. (Thank you, Bob C., for your  kind words.)

He said, "My Father once told me that what allows one to hurt so much, is the ability to love so powerfully.  Most people will never experience these two conflicting feelings.  You and Michael were graced."  It took my breath away. Because we loved so powerfully, and were so free with our love, we had much more at stake for pain.  We had stripped ourselves bare without any inhibitions of sharing our love for each other.  In doing so, we were also allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to a greater pain. I think that these two conflicting feelings are most present when you live your life with passion and from your passions.  Yes, we were graced.  God brought us together to make beautiful music through living our lives together. Sometimes, when I think about our lives together, it is almost like watching a movie in my memory.  There are no words, just us living life with a beautifully scored musical piece playing while I watch the action.  We loved powerfully. When we hurt, we cried and shared our pain with one another in a powerful way.  This is the most powerful pain I have ever encountered.  This must mean we loved powerfully.

A Flat Tire

Thursday, April 28, 2011
My daughter's car was showing a low tire alert this week.  I did not pay much attention to it because it would often light up when nothing was wrong or if there was a sudden change in air temperature.  This morning, I left to go get gas and pick up some lunch for us.  She was going to have to leave for work about the same time I would be returning.  When I got out of my car in our driveway, I walked around to take a look at the tire on her car that the car computer was showing was low.  Overnight, it had gone completely flat.  I had already had a busy morning.  I had just spent two hours at the car dealership with my car getting the oil changed, tires rotated, and a few other things checked.  I had been strong all morning and had handled all of the necessary business without any tears, just the usual heaviness and sadness.  When I saw the tire, I felt myself suddenly losing all of that control.  I realized that I did not have Michael to call for help. No matter where he was or what he would have been doing at the moment, he would have given me the time and would have said, "Babe, I'll take care of it and call you right back." Not that I am not capable of handling it, it was just something that he would have handled.  I prayed out loud asking God who should I call.  Immediately, Tim's name came to mind.... one of Michael's close friends.  He and his wife,  in addition to a circle of other close friends, have been available to me nonstop these last 9 weeks.  I called his cell phone, and, even though he was in a meeting, he answered.  I could not hold in the tears any more and began to cry.  Through the tears, I told him it was just a flat tire and I did not know what to do.  He immediately said he would take care of it.  He called me right back to tell me that someone was on the way and he would be here shortly to check on it himself.

The truck showed up in less than ten minutes and the man brought everything he needed to fix it or put on a spare.  He fixed the tire, which had a screw bit stuck in it, and checked the air in all of the other tires.  By the time Tim got there, the job was done and the workman was gone.   Tim came in and I cried some more.  We talked about car stuff and he renewed my AAA membership for me, which had just expired this month.  He helped me walk through what to do if I ever have anything happen again and am not around home.   I was so thankful for this dear friend and for his willingness to help me in such a weak moment.

It was just a flat tire.  My brain completely shifted into neutral and I did not know what to do.  Michael and I were both good at doing something when there was an established system.  We had systems to our marriage.  There were certain areas that he handled and certain areas that I handled.  Not that either of us were not able to operate the other person's systems, we just had smooth agreements of which responsibilities fell to which person.  That is what made us a good team.  Car issues were never in my world, until today.  Having to suddenly face a task that had always clearly been in his world, sent me into a fresh state of missing him.  He was not there to call for help.... but God..... He heard my prayer and directed me to the right friend who was able to handle it at that very moment.  The daily tasks of life, that are seemingly no big deal, are a big deal.  I am slowly learning all of his systems for the responsibilities that he had taken off of me and now are on my plate.  The plate is getting larger. God is enabling me by His power and His grace. This is my reminder...  I am more than a conqueror through Christ... through Him who loved me. (Romans 8:37)

Pain Increased

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Over the last two weeks, I have noticed that the pain of yearning for Michael’s presence has increased.  Instead of beginning to feel better, I am feeling worse.  I know that one day, the severity of the pain will begin to lift, but I was not prepared to actually begin to miss him even more.  The words I have been using to describe it is that "the vacation is over."  I was away from him for almost two months once in our marriage, while I was in France with the children.  I have now been separated from him longer than that.  It has felt like we have been on a vacation, but not a beautiful one…. no real schedule, not having to cook, not caring about clothes being put away, lots of hanging out with friends, etc.  It has felt like we have just been separated from him, but now it feels like he is really gone.  It still seems so unreal… unreal that something so bad could happen to good people.  I glanced at a recent family photograph that was taken at a family wedding.  It was all of us all dressed up, with our foster child, Keagan, standing in front of us, and we all looked so happy.  We had all enjoyed ourselves so much that night.  All of the kids danced, Michael and I danced together while he held Keagan, and we slow danced together by ourselves.  It was a happy night.  In the photo, Michael is looking straight into the camera almost laughing.  Her never smiled that big in pictures before.  He would always smile, but hardly ever show his teeth.  He was full of joy that night.  I saw that picture and immediately started crying.  I really had thought that nothing like this would ever happen to us.  How could this happen to something that was so right, so beautiful? It was just a sudden, uncontrollable thought. 

Thankfully, I have not been filled with many “whys”.  I truly am thankful for the life we had with him.  I am thankful for everything he was to me and the children.  I really do feel blessed to have had the 24 years that we had together.  Even Michael Anthony said this in his prayer one night last week.  He thanked God for the time he had with his dad.  I have been reminded of something that my brother-in-law said to me about a year ago.  As I have mentioned before, he lost his wife two years ago to breast cancer.  He and I were talking one day in our kitchen and were reminiscing about the day that he met her and the day that Michael and I met each other.  Even though his brother was 12 years older than him, they each got married the same year and had their first two children the same years.  He had not realized, until that day, that they also had both met their mates in the same place, Poets.  He looked at me and said, “What I would give to walk back into Poets and meet her all over again.”  I cried when he spoke those words that day and I would cry any time I told the story to some one else.   I now have the same thoughts.  What I would give to walk back into Poets and meet Michael all over again…. If I could live my life all over again, I would live it with him all over again… exactly the same way.  Oh, how I miss him. I miss serving him.  I miss doing all of the little things that made him happy. What an honor and privilege it was.

Grief vs. Fear

Monday, April 25, 2011
Today, I picked up the book, A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis,  given to me by a friend to read.  I read the first paragraph and suddenly stopped and thought, "That is exactly it."  C.S. Lewis begins with these words,
"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the same yawning.  I keep swallowing.  At other times, it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed.  There is sort of an invisible blanket between the world and me.  I find it hard to take in what anyone says.  Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in.  It is so uninteresting.  Yet, I want to the others to be about me."

I have been trying to sort out all of the physical symptoms that I have been feeling these past two months.  It feels like fear but not one hundred percent.  My body feels like it is stricken with fear but without an object of which to be fearful. When I read C.S. Lewis mention the swallowing, I was relieved to know that it was not just me.  Sometimes my tongue will keep swallowing and I can't make it stop.  Other times, I feel the need to swallow but my throat feels paralyzed and cannot move a muscle.  The stronger the feeling of grief, the more paralyzed my throat.  I first experienced this on February 23 at 3:30 in the morning.  (Understand that what I am about to share was the absolute hardest moment of all of this and thinking about it creates the same feelings.  I want to get beyond that memory.  I want to not remember every detail.  I want to forget the faces of the officials at my door.  I want to forget the sound of the dog barking in the early morning hours.  As with everything else that I have written, I am hoping that by writing about it, it will help with that process.)

I was sleeping with my windows open because the weather was so pleasant.  My son was sleeping in bed with me, as he did occasionally when Michael was out of town.  Michael was only going to be gone one night.  We both awoke to the dog barking.  We ignored it for a few minutes but she kept on barking.  We then heard voices outside, since our windows were open.  I jumped up and looked out the window that overlooks the front patio and saw an unfamiliar car parked in front of my house.  I grabbed the phone and dialed 911 while I was checking my security pad to make sure the alarm was on.  The pad had been malfunctioning and I could not get it to set or get the emergency alarm to go off.  With 911 on the phone, I looked out the window and noticed two people standing at my front door.  One of them was an officer.  While talking to the operator, I asked them to identify themselves.  The man told me he was with the Hinds county sheriff's department.  The woman identified herself as someone representing Tunica county.  I immediately could not swallow.  Michael was spending the night in Tunica doing marketing calls in north Mississippi that evening and was continuing on the next morning before coming home for dinner the next evening.... we were going to be taking our foster child's parents out to dinner since it was the night before his custody hearing.   I told the operator that I did not need her, told my son to stay in bed, grabbed my robe, and flew down to the front door.  As I opened the door, my ears began to burn.  I opened it to see their faces staring blankly back at me.  They confirmed that I was Jene' Barranco and that they were at the correct address.  Their faces were blank with fear of speaking themselves.  They did not want to speak as much as I did not want to hear.  The woman spoke first, "We have a fatality to report."  From that point on, I felt all of my blood drop down to my feet.  My whole body felt paralyzed, just like it does under extreme fear.  I could not move a muscle on my face.  The inability to swallow was strong.  I felt like I had to focus my whole body just to make my throat muscles do what they usually do instinctively.  I felt the need to swallow but, at the same time, my mouth had gone suddenly completely dry.  I was suffocating.  I immediately thought it was a mistake and that someone had stolen his new car.  Then they asked me, "Are there any children in the house?"  The fear feeling intensified as I realized all that was at stake.  I replied while looking into their eyes with desperation for help, "Four... Three of our own and a 5 year old foster child."  They asked if they could come in while I made a phone call to the police commander in the Tunica office and also called a family member. I could not think. I could not speak. I could not swallow.  I did not feel like I was even breathing.  When asked a question, all I could seem to say was, "Um".  Those feelings continued for the rest of that day and have lingered on through out all of my days since at different levels of intensity.

I was amazed at how all of my physical symptoms had lined up so completely with the description by C.S. Lewis.  I have periods during the day when I am able to focus on the life that needs to continue moving on and other moments when the feelings completely wash over me.  The restlessness and the fluttering of the stomach occur mostly at night, but also during business meetings about the accident or insurance, and sometimes in unexpected moments.... like spotting a photograph of the two of us when I was not looking for it.  I have quoted  2 Timothy 1:7 frequently during these times.  "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind."  I taught these words to my children from the time they could talk.  It is a good reminder that , "greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world."  I don't know how people walk this road without an understanding and a relationship with a Saviour  in Jesus Christ, a Comforter in the Holy Spirit, and an all powerful God in the heavens who has a plan for our lives.

It's a Long Road

Sunday, April 24, 2011
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 this 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."  I am now convinced that, unless someone has lost a loved one so very dear to them, as Michael was to me, they have no idea how grief manifests itself in our physical bodies, how long it takes, the agony that is experienced, and how all consuming it is. I had no idea, until now, how it feels to lose someone you love with all of your heart.  (Lord, forgive me if I was ever not compassionate enough, or even long enough, to someone in my walk of life who was grieving.)  I cry daily.  Sometimes a little here and a little there, and sometimes I will cry hard.  I already mentioned how last week was a tough week but Friday was the hardest of all of the days.  I am not sure why.  Maybe because the whole week had been tough and I was exhausted, maybe it was because I had a sweet friend sit down with me and listened, asked questions, and allowed me to cry.  Maybe it was because Michael always took off from work on Good Friday.  It was an important day for him. Maybe it was just because grieving is a very long, painful road.  There are no shortcuts on this journey.  People have tried shortcuts but then the 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.  I seem to begin to fall apart when life begins to get to busy and I start to feel rushed along the road.... errands, sports, lessons, appointments, etc.  I still need time daily just to be quiet.  I feel robbed at the end of the day if I don't get a time set apart for me to be still.

Sometimes my quiet moments come at unexpected times and in unexpected places. Like today, in the closet.  I was picking out a tie for Michael Anthony to wear to church. It was the Easter morning rush.  I decided to pull out one of Michael's because he had such beautiful ties.  To him, the right tie made an outfit, like the perfect pair of shoes does for a woman.  I went into the closet with my mind focused on the task at hand and began to look through all of his choices.  I felt my movements begin slow down.  I took my time touching them, looking at them, remembering what he wore with each one, how handsome he looked in suits, how he beamed when I told him so, how important the right tie was to him, and how strong he looked in a tie.  It was perfectly quiet in my closet.  All I could hear was the light bulb above me.  I lingered in that moment.  I longed to see him dressing for church and tying the knot in his tie.  I emerged with two fabulous ties and felt like I had just had a little rest stop on the road of grief.  I let Michael Anthony pick which one he liked best.  Thankfully, I know how to tie a tie because I  was in high school in the eighties, when it was stylish for girls to wear thin ties.  It was not as good as his father would have done, but it did the job.

It is a long road.  To my friends and family, please hang in there with me.  Allow me to take my time, handle me with care, hug me, listen - not too much advice, love, pray often,  join me when I stop to rest, and remember this great man with me and what a great loss it is to not have him with us in this life.  Yes, it is heaven's gain, but we are still on this earthly journey towards heaven, and it hurts.

Random Grief

Friday, April 22, 2011
I have had a very arduous week  filled with necessary business meetings with insurance companies, doctors, Boy Scout troop leaders, Social Security personnel, financial planners, and more. I have grieved for him greatly this week.  The heaviness of all of the meetings and discussing all of the issues is much harder than it appears.  Any time I have to discuss the business matters, the accident, insurance, etc., my insides begin to burn.  It starts in the pit of my stomach then radiates up to my ears.  I cannot put into words the emotions I am feeling during those times.  It takes several to say it all... lonely, exposed, somewhat fearful, insecure, scared... like a child lost at an amusement park.  It can make me feel small.  I had so many friends lifting me up in prayer this week and God answered the prayers by allowing me to take one thing at a time and each meeting was not as bad as I had anticipated them to be.  Oh, I still cried plenty of tears and felt some weight, but it felt bearable.  I feel like my grieving was random this week.  I could not put my finger one thing, but I just felt the grief everywhere.  Everywhere I turned, there it was.  I was inside Walgreen's yesterday picking up some medicine for Julia and the pharmacist asked if I had a new insurance card because the one they had on file did not work.  I told her yes, and pulled out my new one.  She asked if there were other people insured that she could go ahead and make the changes on the computer.  I told her yes, my three children.  She wrote down their names with the last one being Michael Anthony Jr.  Noticing the Jr.,  she asked if their father was insured on this card as well.  I said, "No. He passed away. It was in his name but was changed over to mine." I had to answer her so quickly, then, after I said it, I felt like I had just experienced a blind sided tackle.  Here came the body heat.  The tears rose up and filled my eyes.  I was suddenly searching for my pack of tissues in my purse to catch the tears that were already streaming down.

Each morning, as I dressed for the day and anticipated the meetings of the day, I missed his strength.  We anchored one another.  I felt the weight of carrying out these responsibilities without him. I cried while I was getting ready.  When I can't pin point the feelings I am having, I cry more.  This week, I just missed Michael and needed him all across the board.  Random grief.  The book I am reading now, not often lately, is Wendell Berry's, Hannah Coulter.  I picked it up recently and the page that I "happened" to be held this very profound thought.  I feel it is very appropriate to me this week.  Hannah has been telling her life story, catching up the reader to her present life.  She has gone back to tell the story of losing her husband in the war while living with her in-laws....
"I began to know my story then.  Like everybody's, it was going to be the story of living in the absence of the dead.  What is the thread that holds it all together?  Grief, I thought for awhile.  And grief is there sure enough, just about all the way through.  From the time I was a girl, I have never been far from it.  But grief is not a force and has no power to hold.  You only bear it.  Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.  Sometimes too I can see that love is a great room with a lot of doors, where we are invited to knock and come in.  Though it contains all the world, the sun, moon, and stars, it is so small as to be also in our hearts.  It is in the hearts of those who choose to come in.  Some do not come in.  Some may stay out forever.  Some come in together and leave separately.  Some come in and stay, until they die, and after."

Love is carrying me.  Michael's love and the love of those that remain.  We walked into that great room together.  What a beautiful room it was. Our love shines out like the golden stitches.  These lovely thoughts help me turn my random grief to a focused love of a lifetime.

Live with a Passion

Thursday, April 21, 2011
This week I was having lunch with a friend who was in from out of town and we were discussing a wide range of topics.  I was holding myself together fairly well, for being in a public place around a large crowd of people.  We were talking about a man that she knew, who was in his sixties and on his second marriage.   He had changed jobs many times in his life and was now a salesman in a local store.  She was talking as if she was longing for him to find that something that he never discovered in his life.  I began to feel his disappointment with life and I asked her, "Has he not ever found his passion in life?"  She said no.  I looked out the window and began to cry.  I told her how tragic it would be to live your life without ever discovering or walking in your passion. What a mundane life.... life is too short not to follow your passion.  What makes your adrenaline flow?  What brings you joy?  What gives you energy instead of draining you of all of all that you have?  In the very least, help your spouse discover their passion and, in doing so, you may discover your own.

 I was hurting for all of the couples that never discover their passion in life together.... what they were brought to this earth for, what their "glory" is, the unique "role they have to play"(as John Eldredge would say.)  Michael lived his life with passion. We lived our lives together with passion.  He did not do anything that he was not passionate about.  If he did, it drained him, brought him down, and it quickly got cut from his life.  Life was too short.  We both made our decisions to live our lives the way we saw it needed to be lived, in order to walk and live in our passions, no matter how different it may look to the world.  Every choice we made was built around our passions and convictions.  The old saying is true, "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything."  Standing for something gives you strength and focus.  We knew from the beginning that we were passionate souls.  We stood firmly and did not waiver.  Life was so much more beautiful, spontaneous, exciting, energizing, and satisfying by following our passions.  Why would we want to be like everybody else when living like the individuals and the couple that God created us to be was so exciting?  My life with Michael was quite a ride.  We were always excited about the future and welcomed change.  If there was even a hint of good news coming our way in any area of our lives, he would say, "Let's celebrate!"  He loved to celebrate life's little achievement's no matter how big or how small.  There was always something worth celebrating.  By him following his passions, he fueled me following mine.

 Last year, there were a few months that I lost my passion.  It was a very low place to be.  Once he recognized my dampened spirit, he asked me, "What are you passionate about?"  I admitted that I had slowly, over a couple of months, lost my way and could not see my passion.  He had been busy planning the merger and I was consumed with taking care of our foster child, fighting for his rights against the bureaucracy,  and had recently been informed that we would not be able to adopt him.  My passion had led to a broken heart.... the down side to living with passion. A broken heart from following your passion hurts more than where there is no passion at stake.  Like the saying, it is better to have loved than to have not loved at all.....it is better to live with passion and experience some disappointments than to go through life without ever discovering your passion, or even worse, discover it and not have the courage to live in it and pursue it.  It is the risk we take, and worth every bit of the risk. Being a foster parent was a risk, but we were passionate about "caring for the orphans".  And because we were passionate, a family was restored....his biological family.  It did not turn out like we selfishly thought it would, but for everyone involved, it turned out for the best.

My passions right now feel like they are neutral, numb, or even sputtering.  I know it will take some time to get them refueled.  I know they are still there, they are just dormant for the time being.  New passions have taken over.  My passion to pull through this season of life and covering my children with all of my love and support is what motivates me daily.  Michael looked at his life, and ours together, as one big opportunity.  Life was there for the living and the taking. It is still one big opportunity and still there for the living.... it is just painful and slow, adjusting to the fact that I don't have Michael to share my passion for life. The journey was fun with him by my side.  He lived intentionally.  We lived intentionally.  We lived with our passions leading the way. Life was short. We lived it well..... live with passion.

Car Anxiety

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I knew from the beginning that there would be anxiety associated with driving.  The first time I experienced it was the week after the accident, and my daughter, Mia, who is 18, was leaving to go to dance class.  I was sitting at my kitchen table with close friends when she came in and said it was time for her to go to class.  We had house guests at the time and I asked if one of their daughters was going to ride along.  She said no.  I was suddenly gripped with fear.  I turned to my friend and told her I would feel much better if her daughter rode with Mia to class.  One of their girls was immediately downstairs and they left the house together.  It was at that moment that I realized that this was going to be a very large road block for me, but I also immediately recognized it as the spirit of fear and knew that I could not live in it.  I asked friends to pray about that specifically.  Slowly, I was able to allow her to drive alone but had her check in when she arrived at her destination and then call me or text when she was leaving to head home.  I was not needing to drive very often, and when I did, it was just little errands that did not put me on the interstate.... then I took my kids to the beach, by myself.

We were only going to drive as far as Mobile, then spend the night with some close friends of mine who live there. I underestimated the anxiety that could occur with driving long distance.  I have always loved to drive on road trips and Michael allowed me to just pick up and drive 6-8 hours with the kids by myself.  I was a real road warrior. This was something that Michael loved about me. He loved my independent, confident spirit.  When he would call me to check in with me while I was traveling, he would say, "So, how is my Wonder Woman?"  Then he would giggle and say, "You amaze me!"   By habit, I did not think to much about it when it came time to leave.  We ended up pulling out of the driveway a little later than I had planned, which put me driving the second half at dusk and into the dark.  Once we got onto interstate 98, I began to feel the fear trying hard to creep on me.  I had to try to  focus on other things, and yet, I felt like I could focus on nothing but driving below the speed the limit and trying to stay away from 18 wheelers.  Every time I saw an 18 wheeler, I would feel fear mixed with a little bit of anger.  My thoughts were, "Careless truck drivers!"  Then I would look at the type of truck, and if it was the kind with a long bed trailer on the back, the kind that carry logs or metal pipes, my mind would begin to race.  I could feel my hands clenching on the wheel and my shoulders tighten.  I had to keep praying away the thoughts and cast away the spirit of fear.  It was about an hour and a half of this.  I was so relieved when we pulled into the driveway of my friends.  My body felt like I had just taken a beating.  We were safe, and I had been a road warrior.... for real.

Driving the next morning was much better.  Still anxiety, but nothing like it had been the night before.  I split the trip up again on the way home and made sure that all of the driving was done in broad daylight. I felt like I had turned a corner by the time I pulled back into my driveway.

Last week, Mia had a similar experience.  I was sitting in my kitchen eating lunch with my sister when Mia arrived home from a class.  She walked in, I took one look at her, and I knew she had been crying.  Her nose was a little red and her eyes looked like they had been crying.  I stopped eating, looked at her and asked,"Are you okay?"  She said, "Yeah, I'm fine.  I just sneezed a couple of times in the car and it made my eyes water."  I said, "Okay.... you just look like you have been crying."  She just gave me a slight grin and said she was going upstairs then would come down and eat some lunch.  About two minutes later, I heard her voice, weakly calling for me from upstairs, "Mom, can you come up here?"  I kicked off my sandals in the next room and ran up the stairs.  When I got to her room, she was sitting on her bed crying hard.  She looked at me with a red face and tears all over and said, "I almost just got hit by a car!"  I ran to her and held her.  She cried and told me what had just happened.  It was an intersection near our home that we have always talked about the dangers there and have discussed how careful we need to be in that place.  She was in a left turn lane and as she began to turn, the car to her left, in the second turn lane, came over into her lane as they were turning and ran her over to the right a bit and missed hitting her by inches.  We cried together as I held her.  I understood.  I told her that this was going to be difficult and we were just going to have to use wisdom and keep overcoming the car anxiety. We cried and hugged until we could both take a deep breath and move on.

It is getting easier to drive, but I am extra cautious.  Whenever a car in front of us hits the brakes and I need to suddenly press the brakes, I feel like all of the kids tune into the moment and get quiet or look up to see what is happening.  I know I still have that road warrior deep down inside of me because it has always been who I am. ( I got it from my mom, only she was taking road trips alone with 5 children. My dad loved that about her too.) We, Mia and I,  have taken the initial baby steps and are doing much better than where we began, but driving, braking, and seeing 18 wheelers will never be quite the same.

I Do

Sunday, April 17, 2011
Today, while I was riding in my car with a friend on our way to buy some dog food for my dogs,  I had a melt down over what kind of dog food I buy.  Let me explain.  I had noticed over the last month that there were certain questions which I would have a hard time answering.  Seemingly simple,basic questions about life, not even ones that should stir up any emotions, have turned into inner turmoil for me.  Questions that require an answer like, " Well, we do(this or that)...." would get my heart turning.  All of the questions have been about something that I am presently doing, not something "we" did in the past.... so the answer should be an easy "I".  When, by habit, I answer "we", inside I am reminded that I am no longer a "we".... it is an "I".  Every time I have answered these simple questions, I have kept my thoughts and emotions to myself.  On the inside, I am feeling like,"This is just another reminder that it is just me now."  I think what a hard habit it will be to break free from thinking and saying "we" and simply say, "I".

My friend asked me, "So, what kind of dog food do you buy?".  I said, "Well, we buy.... ". I paused for about 10 seconds, as I was trying to decide if I was going to let my emotions go there or not.  Then, because I was in the safety of a dear friend, I broke down and cried.  I told her that I was having a really hard time not saying "we".  We were on the interstate and I was crying while she quietly held my arm and cried with me.

While thinking about this later, I thought again of some irony similar to "Two shall become one, and One shall become two." (See my post on this topic.)  When we married, we said, "I do."  We were both totally separate people that were coming together as one.  We each agreed to the same charge.... till death do us part.  The "I do" became a "We do" for the rest of our lives together.  We were a team.  We did not do anything without running it by the other person first.  We had to have each other's 100% support before we would move forward.  It was never worth it to move forward if it was an "I".... it had to be a "we".  I learned quickly that it did not pay to force something to get my own way.  There was no enjoyment or peace when selfish pursuits tried to take over.  There was security, comfort, and stability when it was "we".

The great thing about being a "we" was the discussions that took place to get there.  They always started out with "I", then we would consider each other's point of view, learn from each other, or learn from the Holy Spirit, and would become "we" in our decision.  It truly is a miracle, if you think about it.  The miracle, again, of two shall become one.  I do, we did, ..... now, I will.

Adrenaline Crash

Saturday, April 16, 2011
On February 23, a little over 7 weeks ago, the longest standing adrenaline rush kicked into my body and that of my son's.  With me, it was coupled with anxiety.  Our bodies have been in overdrive for too long.  With him, he dealt with that rush by staying busy with social time and tennis.  He planned lots of social engagements with friends to keep his mind occupied and his emerging teenage body busy.  We always said that he has two gears, parked or full throttle, on or off, awake or asleep.... but it became even stronger during this time.  With me, I have been operating on this adrenaline rush to survive daily.... meeting with the people I need to see, taking care of financial business, wrapping up some things with Michael's business, continuing to take care of things concerning the visitation and the funeral service(thank you notes - which will come close to 600, reading letters & cards, copies of audio and video recordings of the service to those who want it, putting pictures back into frames that were used for picture boards and slide shows), running my household to best of my abilities(which is not up to par yet), keeping up with the schedules of my kids, planning for the future, making necessary decisions, being available to help with our foster child(who is now home with his family),  and grieving through all of it.

In addition to the adrenaline,  I was experiencing anxiety with my heart pounding in my chest, to the point that I thought it would just leap out of my chest.  This is what kept me awake at night. While in bed, it is easy for my mind to drift back to the moment when I heard someone knocking at our door at 3:30 in the morning to inform me of the accident.  I keep hearing the words spoken to me,"We are here to report a fatality."  My heart can suddenly go from normal to pounding.  I  have to force my thoughts in other directions and take deep breaths.  My doctor told me that this was my body in its "fight or flight" mode.  By not having to literally fight or flee, that anxiety is building in me. He told me that allowing myself to cry hard and talk to people through my  tears was crucial for helping my body deal with this response.  I experienced that in his office that day of my appointment.  He asked concerned questions and allowed me to cry many, many tears for at least 45 minutes or more.  I felt the anxiety lift after releasing so many tears and having the freedom to talk about my fears and sadness.  I began to take a beta blocker to help with the heart pounding and coupled it with something to help me sleep.  My days were all energy from adrenaline, then my nights had to be drug induced to allow my body time to shut down for awhile.  The prescription combination worked and I could experience a time to relax at night.

Last week, the day we returned from our beach trip, I decided to stop taking the sleep aid because I did not like the way it was making feel during the day. (I have always been anti-drug and always prefer the natural/homeopathic route... we have not ever even gotten the flu shot.) I slept well that night.  Then, over the next two days, my son and I began to experience our adrenaline crashing.  He and I were both tired all of the time.  He allowed himself to just lay on the couch and do nothing.  One day, he took his time looking through a scrapbook that my aunt had put together with all of the news articles on Michael that I had saved over the years. After looking at it, he went to lay down on the couch and slept for over two hours from 3 to 5 in the afternoon.  He even turned down an invitation to spend the night out and go turkey hunting so that he could rest and spend time with family. This was when I realized that he was seriously tired.  I was walking around feeling like I had just woken up from a long deep nap, but had not.  (The foggy, extremely tired feeling after a Sunday nap.)  My eyes felt tired and burned.  Phone conversations and emails took too much energy.  My body was finally sleeping deeply,naturally,  without anything needed to force it into sleep.

After a week and a half of experiencing this adrenaline crash, I feel that we are just slightly, ever so slightly,  beginning to stand on our feet again.  The tiredness and exhaustion is still there but not in the extreme way that it was even just two days ago.  If I could go to bed when my body felt like it was ready, I would have lights out by 8:00, but having teenagers forces me to stay up a little later to be sure that everyone is back home from dance class, Scouts, work, youth group, etc.  I see this as a good thing.  Our bodies are resting.  It will be awhile, a long while, before we are all fully rested, but having our bodies begin to let down has been like being able to breath without reminding myself to do so.

Still Missing You

Thursday, April 14, 2011
I have been sitting here reading over my posts which contain two poems that I wrote for Michael.  The first one is, "Missing Parts", which was written while he was with me on this earth, and "I Never", which I wrote after his death. (It poured out of my soul one morning while I was in the shower.)  I was sitting here just thinking about him and feeling his absence and decided to read these.  It helps me feel closer to him by allowing myself to feel everything as I read them.  I cried my way through reading both of them.  I have been flooded with these thoughts lately, especially in our bedroom, bathroom, and closet.

 I am.....

still missing you, still amazed at the love we had,
still missing your heart, still missing signs of your daily life,
still in awe at how God brought our lives together,
still missing your face at the dinner table,
still missing the smell of your cologne,
still missing hearing you yell, "Babe", from another part of the house,
still missing our season of life together, still missing your dirty clothes,
still missing our phone conversations, still missing our love texts,
still missing holding your hand, still missing your arm around my shoulders at church,
still missing our bed time prayers,
still missing seeing you fall asleep sitting up in bed while reading a book,
still missing having a glass of wine with you, still missing your advice,
still missing your curls,
still missing your energy that you added to our home,
still missing the sound of you skipping steps on your way up to shower in the morning,
still missing your happiness, still missing your smile.

I am still missing this man who lived large and filled the room with his presence.
I am still missing Michael Barranco.... my lover, my best friend, my tender warrior.

Foot Prints in the Mud

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
While at the beach with my kids, my mind kept hearing the phrase, "how time flies."  I would see dads playing Frisbee, football, or soccer with their kids on the open green spaces and remember when Michael would do that too.  I would watch women pushing their strollers or teaching a child to ride a bike and hear this phrase.  I wanted to run to these parents and say, "Enjoy this time.  It is beautiful.  Enjoy its beauty.  Take your time.  Make each day and each moment count." When our children were very young and would ask me to read a book to them, I had my own private rule. Just like the rule for when there is a fire in the house, "Stop, Drop, and Roll,", my rule was, "Stop, Drop, and Read."  Stop what I was doing, drop down to the ground where they were, and read with a child in my lap.   In relation to all the years of life, the amount of years that your children say,"Will you read me a book?", is few.  We would sit and go through a whole stack of books.

We all know that there are seasons to our lives.  As they pass, most of the time, we don't think much about it.  We just smoothly move from one to the next.  I am seeing those seasons in a different perspective now.  I used to think Michael and I would sit next to one another in our old age and remember the different seasons of our life together and appreciate them with wonder.  I thought that the seasons would have felt like they had happened so long ago.  Now I look back at the seasons of early childhood as something almost mystical.  Mystical, now, because Michael was in it and living with gusto.   It was a time of great happiness, joy, wonder, and learning.   It was a time that Michael and I enjoyed experiencing together.

Yesterday, I was out walking Brady for my first time in the early morning hours, as Michael once did.  I took a cup of coffee with me to sip, like he did.  It was a lonely walk.  I thought about all of the husbands and wives that were together in their homes at that moment eating breakfast and getting their children ready and off to school. I thought of the routines... the seasons.  This is their season.  I am in a different season.  I was walking along with my melancholic mood but no tears, just heaviness in my heart and steps, when I noticed something along the curb.  Some mud had collected in the area between the edge of the street and the curb.  I noticed there was a continuing track of footprints in the mud.  The prints were made by a child about 5 years old that had been wearing rain boots.  It suddenly and surprisingly made me cry.  It was a beautiful sight to see that some young child had been out enjoying nature, in his or her rain boots.  I remembered all the times that our son had played down by the creek, the turtles found, the rocks and sticks thrown into the water.  A time when the whole world is out there to explore.  It was not that I was missing that time, but I was recognizing its beauty and its innocence. Time flies.

One of Michael's favorite books in the Old Testament was Ecclesiastes.  He was intrigued with the thought, "there is nothing new under the sun." (I won't go into this right now.) In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, are the verses that so many of us know but they seem to only have real meaning when you recognize a drastic change of seasons.
"To every thing there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven: 
 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted. 
 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;  a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;  a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
 A time to get, and a time to lose;  a time to keep, and a time to cast away;   
A time to rend, and a time to sew;  a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;   
A time to love, and a time to hate;  a time of war, and a time of peace..........He has made everything beautiful in its time."
All it took was seeing some little child's footprints in the mud.  What a beautiful gift God gave me in that moment of memories.

Date Night with Jene'

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I was the last person in our family to have my own laptop computer.  Our children each had one that they have always used for certain school subjects, music programs, and games. I had always used the "family" computer, which was as slow as Christmas.  Michael always had the latest Apple computer which he used when he brought work home or on the road.  Our plan was for me to have my own this year so that I could start some writing projects that had been stirring around in me for years.  Michael bought me some writing books and the screenwriting software, Final Draft, for Christmas to get me started on my new endeavors in 2011.  Things have unfolded much differently for 2011.

I received his laptop on Wednesday night,  February 23, 2011.  It had escaped the accident without any harm.  His Italian leather bag, which he used as a brief case, was returned to me exactly as he had packed it without anything missing or damaged. Inside the bag, amid many other business papers, was the current book he was reading, Tender Warrior by Stu Weber (which was a Valentine's Day gift from me), his Italian leather sketch book/journal, and his laptop.  My writing this year will be consumed with memories, thoughts, questions, and emotions revolving around our life together..... on his laptop.  My writing books and copy of Final Draft are collecting dust as they sit with a large stack of books on the floor in my bedroom. Such a turn of events.

Michael had various reminders set up on his computer to pop up at just the right time to help him remember weekly occurring events, like "Date Night with Jene'".  For years, our standing date night was every Thursday.  Friday nights we liked to celebrate the weekend with the kids or have another family over to eat with us.  On Saturday nights, we liked to grill and stay at home so that we could be prepared for church early on Sunday mornings.  We did not always go out every week, but it was good to know that if we wanted to, we already had the evening set aside.  We had lots of dates during the months of November and December because this is when we did all of our Christmas shopping together. We would go out for appetizers and a glass of wine, then hit the shopping.  We both had so much fun doing this together.  We did it in big cities together if we were ever traveling in those months.  Those times were extra special as we discovered new and different stores.  Occasionally, over the last month, I have been on the laptop at the time when the reminder pops up, "Date Night with Jene'".  It is a sweet reminder of our date nights.

Getting ready for our dates was probably our favorite part of the date.... most likely because we had each other's undivided attention. Our closet in our bedroom is not very big.  Often times, he would come home from work on a Thursday night, and I would be in the closet changing for our date.  I would crack the door open and peek my head out of the door.  He would be standing there with two glasses of wine and would say, "Hello!", with a big smile then give me a kiss as he handed me a glass of wine.  (My cousin and his wife do something similar and they named it a "date drink".  We loved that name, so we called it that too.)  He would pace the floor outside of the closet while I continued to dress and tell me about his day while drinking his wine.  I would sip on mine in the closet then emerge fully dressed, then touch up my makeup and continue to visit with him while he changed his clothes.    The date drink was always shared in the bathroom area or closet as we prepared to go out to dinner or a movie.  Sometimes, I would have already dressed and I would be standing in front of the mirror freshening up my makeup and hair when he would enter with the wine.  He would always say, "Well, don't you look nice!"  This past Sunday night, I was changing clothes in my closet getting ready to go to some friends house for dinner with my sister and my children.  It was then that my memories of our date nights surfaced to my thoughts. It was the time of day that I would hear his dress shoes entering our room on the hardwood floors.  Getting ready was not the same without Michael there to talk with excitement about the day and celebrate the beauty of living over a glass of wine together.

I don't know how long I am going to keep his reminders set up on the laptop.  Right now, I am getting joy out of seeing the order to his life and the priorities he had in place.  We also had rotating date nights with the children for some good one on one time with each child.  We would talk about life, dreams, and goals with each one over dinner.  I may turn my Thursday date nights into my nights with each child.  We never did that weekly but did good getting in one full rotation every 2 to 3 months.  The kids get excited getting ready for their date nights, too.  It is Julia's turn.  Date Night with Mia, Date Night with Julia, Date Night with Michael Anthony.... that is what my pop up will read.

One Shall Become Two

Monday, April 11, 2011
I was talking on the phone last month with my brother-in-law, who lost his wife to cancer two years ago.  He has two daughters the same ages as my two.  We were talking about how parenting presents new challenges after losing your mate.  He was saying how difficult it can be to meet their needs because where there were two people meeting their different needs, there is now one.  One person, trying to fill the needs that once took two people to do successfully.  My mind continued further in this thought after our conversation.  How ironic this truth is and a miracle that it can be done at all, and done somewhat successfully, with the grace of God working through us.  The truth in Genesis that says,".... and the two shall become one flesh,"  can turn and consolidate back to, one shall become two.

One shall become two. One person doing what once took two.   Where it took two of us to run a household, now must be done by one.  Picking up the children, attending their events, taking them places.... one shall do the work of two.  Recognizing their emotional needs, which took two sets of eyes and hearts before, must now be discerned by one.  I had a "date" with my children a few Sundays ago on my bed.  There were so many things I wanted to share with them, and our lives had been so full of people coming and going, that we had not had the opportunity to gather together with just the four of us. I prayed with them, cried with them, and shared my heart with them.  I shared my hurts and frailties.  I told them that the tears and pain will continue to come and to let them.  I told them they may feel like crying a year or two years from now, and that was okay.  We would continue to miss him and experiencing life without him would be hard.  Going to new places without him would be hard, going to old places would be hard, birthdays would be hard, piano recitals would be hard, graduations would be hard.... Know this going into the rest of our lives.  He will be missed and the tears may arise at unexpected moments.  I gave them "permission" to allow their emotions to continue to rise for the rest of their days.

 I apologized in advance for failing.  I told them that there will be times that I fail as a parent.  I am one person trying to meet their needs that once took two people to meet.  I will not always recognize a need when they have it.  I told them not to always wait for me to come to them to meet a need.  I may miss it sometimes.  I told them to come to me and I will come to them.  I told them their father parented and met their needs in ways that were slightly different than my ways.  We filled in the gaps for each other.  It is just me now and I am praying for God to show me how one shall parent as two did before.

I also realize that God will also use other people to fill in some of these gaps.  For example, Michael Anthony has a need for physical touch through being rough.  He and his dad would wrestle on the floor until someone was hurt, have nerf gun wars inside the house, chase and scare each other, practice defensive footballs stances in the front yard, and dunk each other in the pool. My daughters have been doing a good job of stepping into this role, as well as other men.  I also know that God will place people in our lives who may be able to meet other needs that I will not be able to meet.  But the daily living, loving, and walking together through this life will ultimately fall on me.  

The truth that one shall become two, meaning that one person will fill the gap and try to meet their needs that once had two, is also one of enlightening realization that two really did become one flesh.  Because we were one flesh, I learned from him and had an example set before me of the holistic approach of loving our children as a team.  I learned from him to recognize needs that I would not have seen without him.  I am parenting now, as one, because we became as one flesh.  Because we spent 24 years watching each other and learning from each other, I am now able to see through his eyes.  I now have character qualities and abilities because two became one.  That union is now allowing me, one, to do, what in the beginning, took two..... because two became one flesh, and that one flesh will continue.

The Rose Tree

Sunday, April 10, 2011
Thinking again about Valentine's Day lately caused me to remember another poem which Michael wrote for me for Valentine's Day in 2006.  It is called "The Rose Tree".  It is not a rhyming poem, so just enjoy the beauty of his words.  He gave each of the children a different rose tree and a pair of gardening gloves, then gave me one that was accompanied by the poem.  Pruning all of our roses was always my gardening job.  It made him nervous cutting back something that looked so beautiful and strong.  He would always be proud of me after I did it and then we would both be amazed at the miracle of the rose tree coming back from a hard pruning with more beauty, fullness and strength than it had before. Yesterday, I noticed a big, beautiful, red rose on the one he gave me.  I am going to cut it this afternoon and put it in a vase next to my bed, or maybe on the table next to my writing chair.  He told me that this plant would be a reminder of his love and its depth.... and that it is.
The Rose Tree
Oh the mind of man that he would set aside but one day 
To celebrate the greatest of them all
For without love, there is no faith
And without love, there is no hope
And roses cut will surely fade

But true love plants itself within the deep and fertile soil
Continually providing fragrant blooms
Through frost and dormant winter
And pruning it remains
Beyond the life of man upon the earth

So take and plant this tree as a reminder of my love
That's rooted deeper than the winter's blow
Though sometimes only thorns are seen
On barren sticks of brown
Forever, it will bear the fragrant rose

And when today has ended and the world puts love away
Tomorrow gaze upon this lovely tree
Remember that my love for you
Extends beyond this day
Deeply planted for all eternity

Valentine's Day Revisited

Saturday, April 9, 2011
I have shared previously on what Michael and I gave each other for Valentine's Day this year, and all of my thoughts that were wrapped up in it.  Valentine's Day was just 6 days before his accident.  If you have not read it yet, I encourage you to read it first.  The post is called  "Valentine's Day."  One of the gifts that he gave me was a generous gift certificate for a massage.  Yesterday I had my massage.  The massage therapist is the wife of a man who was one of Michael's employees, had worked for Michael for years,and was presently working for him at the time of his death.  She has her own private studio, which is perfect because you never have to see or talk to anyone else but her.  I was prepared for an emotional time of tears.  I knew it would be even harder than it would have been with another therapist because she was grieving for Michael too.  Her touch would be filled with understanding and her own tears.

She asked me if there were any particular areas in my body where there was pain or I was having trouble.  I looked up at her with a knowing glance and tears rising to my eyes, that said, "My whole body. My heart. Where do I begin.", but said nothing. She said, "I know," and then told me where to undress and to slip under the covers on the table.  The grief was surging up in me uncontrollably. There was beauty, serenity, music, and candles lit in the room.  After she stepped out, I began to sob as I got undressed and removed my jewelry... including his wedding band, which I wear on a chain around my neck,  his cross necklace that he never took off and had been wearing for years before we even met, and the watch he bought me for our 10th wedding anniversary. (It was sitting on my pillow in our hotel room in New York after coming back from our anniversary dinner celebration.)  My vision was blurred from the tears as I tried to place it all in the little tray provided. The feeling of missing him and the experience of living without him was overwhelming me.  He loved to treat me and would send me to get a massage frequently over the years of our marriage.  Every time we traveled together, he would be sure to find a spa so he could send me there for a relaxing time while he went to a meeting, walked around looking at architecture, or shopped for the two of us while drinking a Starbucks coffee.

The type of massage I was getting, Ashiatsu, places you on your stomach for most of the time while she holds onto bars from the ceiling while using her feet for the massage. (It is amazing.)  Face down was a good place for me to be. I continued to shed tears,but gently and quietly, throughout the massage but they were able to soak directly onto the terry cloth pad that surrounded my face.  I did not cry the whole time, but the grief would wash in then recede, just like a wave. With the music playing in the background, my mind continued to replay memories, like watching flashback scenes in a movie.  He would rub my feet or my shoulders in bed several times a week. While he rubbed my feet, we would talk about life and our deep thoughts. When he rubbed my shoulders, it was usually a time of silence.  I kept seeing this while she was working on my back.  Her slow, fluid movements matched  the rise and fall of emotions that were going through my mind.  I was missing his heart and the connection it had with mine.

When it was over, my muscles were relaxed but I felt so very alone.  I felt like I was deep down, inside the box of grief. The moment felt surreal. I had that feeling of exhaustion that you feel after having a long hard cry.  I slowly got dressed and put the necklaces , with care, back into their place around my neck, and placed the watch back on my wrist. I felt like he had pampered me during that time of the massage. He took care of me.  "You need to do that for yourself", he would say to me regarding a massage. I did.... and I felt his presence.

A Habit of a Highly Effective Person

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Michael read the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, years ago.  He would retell a story from that book all of the time in conversations with all different kinds of people.  Every time he would tell it, it was like he, too, was hearing it for the first time. He would explain the lesson of the story and the importance of us examining this in our lives.  The point, or lesson to be learned, is called a paradigm shift...."but whether they shift us in positive or negative directions, whether they are instantaneous or developmental, paradigm shifts move us from one way of seeing the world to another.  And those shifts create powerful change.  Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately our relationships with other people."   The point of the story resonated completely with him and inspired him every time he dealt with a stranger.  He could be at a bank, restaurant, shopping,  or even on the phone with a stranger, and this story would define the way he treated people.  I was recently thinking about this fact and saw the irony.

Many of you may know the story, but it is a great reminder... as Michael would say.  The story takes place one Sunday morning on a subway in New York.
People were sitting quietly- some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed.  It was a calm and peaceful scene.  Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car.  The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.  The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation.  The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people's papers.  It was very disturbing.  And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.  It was difficult not to feel irritated.  I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all.  It was easy to see that everyone on the subway felt irritated, too.  So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, " Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more?"  The man shifted his gaze, as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time, and said softly, "Oh, you're right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either."..... [a paradigm shift took place in the business man] everything changed in an instant.
Stephen Covey goes on to say later that, "if we want to make significant, quantum change, we need to work on our basic paradigms."  Our paradigms are the root at which our attitudes and behaviors flow. Michael worked on his basic paradigms everyday.  If someone he ran across throughout the day had a bad attitude or no joy, instead of taking an offense, he would try to consider where they have walked in their shoes.  He would look at it as an opportunity to practice patience and kindness.  He would say, "you never know what is going on their lives." His correct paradigm, the way that he saw the world, made a powerful impact on the lives around him.  It was the source of his relationships with other people.

The irony that I saw in all of this is that I am in the same situation as the father on the bus, not rambunctious children, but children.  This same story that Michael shared with someone on a weekly basis, is my story.  Any time I have gone somewhere in public these past 6 weeks, I find myself thinking, "What is this person thinking of me? Can they see it in my face?  Are they offended that I don't smile a good morning to them?  Do they see the weight on me as I stand or walk?  Do they think I am being rude because I give them one word answers?  Do they think I am not friendly? When they say, 'How are you today?' and I look at the ground as I say, 'Good', so that they won't see that I am lying, do they think, ' Well, good day to you too!' "  Are there paradigm shifts going on around me or is everyone just thinking, "Well! She is an unhappy person!"  A couple of weeks after Michael's death,(It is still hard to write that word, death.), I had to go to Apple store to make some changes to his cell phone.  My close friend and my daughter, Julia, went with me.  It was pouring down rain outside and the store was packed with people.  We were told we had about 30 minute wait, even though we had an appointment.  It was my first outing and the air was heavy to me, conversation was a chore.  The young man finally came to help us.  I know I looked depressed, unhappy, and uninterested in trying to be friendly.  He did not appear to be overly friendly at first either, but when I  began to cry as I told him that my husband had died and I needed some help making changes to some options on his phone, he quickly whisked me to the back corner of the room to a stool.  He calmly and gently tried to take care of the needs that I had with the phone.  When we were finished, he placed his hand on my arm and said, "I am so sorry about your husband."  He had a paradigm shift.

I, too, have had my own paradigm shift.  I see the world differently now.  I see people differently now.  I can only hope to run into to people like Michael, who have a correct paradigm, and will consider what it has been like to walk in my shoes.

Walking in Faith

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
All of my life, when asked, "What is faith?", I have been able to quickly recite the definition of faith as we know it from Hebrews 11:1. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  It always seemed like a vague answer.  How does that translate to my life?  We even use the wording, "I am walking in faith," in a particular area of our lives, which means, we are walking by faith and not by sight.  Even when we use it like that, we are still, usually,  "walking in faith" for something that pertains to the physical world, such as, a job opportunity, money needed for something, changing schools, or even doing something you think you are supposed to do.  These are all things that exist in this physical world.  In essence, then, many times, we can see it.  Through my recent experience of losing my beautiful, godly husband, I have experienced the truth in this verse in a dimension that I never have before.

My Bible has a footnote, which says, "Faith is established conviction concerning things unseen and settled expectation of future reward." It also says that we can use the word "realization" in place of substance....faith is the realization of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In the Amplified translation it says, "Now faith is the assurance(the confirmation, the title deed ) of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality - faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses."  Since Michael's tragic death, my faith has boiled down to this essential truth.  I am now assured of the things I hope for; there is one, all powerful God, a savior in Jesus Christ, a heaven, a redemption plan, that Michael is experiencing this now,  all of the God's children will be gathered together in heaven one day, we win this battle here on earth, all things come together for good to those who love the Lord.  These are all things that I cannot see. My faith is now a conviction of their reality.  I am out there having to walk on water in a storm, with my hand reaching out to Jesus, knowing that, just because my eyes are on Him, I am not going to sink or drown.

This makes me think of a standard law of physics I learned during my days of being a gymnast.  When you are doing a tumbling pass, be it a back handspring, a back tuck, punch front, or a lay out with a full twist, your eyes and your head must turn towards the direction you intend to go in order to complete the pass without injury and to land it properly.  Your body will not go the correct direction without your eyes turned, in faith, where you want your body to go.  Walking on water in the middle of a storm or even on still waters requires you to "know that you know" what you believe.  I am having to perceive as real fact what is not being revealed to my senses.  I am reaching and looking to something I cannot see but I have to know is there.  I am not even reaching or looking right now for anything in the physical world.   I am just "walking in faith" that God's word is true, He is everything He says He is, and He is there surrounding me with His presence, whether I see Him or not.  I have a conviction of these realities.  Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Married, Single, Divorced, Widowed

Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I was not able to write this morning because I was traveling. Once I arrived home,  I was a little numb, and most of the afternoon was consumed with reading mail, cards, unpacking, and doing some necessary paperwork.  I was about to fall into bed, but decided that I could relax a little better if I shared just a thought that was on my mind.  Last night, I filled out an online application for my son to be able to attend a summer camp this coming July.  There were seven pages with many questions to answer.  I came to a box which had marital status options... Married, Single, Divorced, or Widowed.  I halted and my fingers froze on the keys, refusing to click an answer.  I had to contemplate it for about 60 seconds.  I am not married, not officially any more, but my heart is still married to Michael.  I am not single.  Single makes me think that there is not "another half", and I still feel like I am missing my "other half."  I am not divorced, nor have I chosen to be a single parent.  I am widowed.  I was married and have lost the one I love.  I am a bearer of grief.  I obviously knew the answer, but had to admit the answer to myself.  I am a widow.  I took a deep breath, raised my finger, and hit the key on the appropriate box.  A simple truth, and yet, a harsh, painful reality.


Monday, April 4, 2011
Countless times during this raw time of grieving and healing,  I have run into reminders of the pain in the most unexpected places, feeling like I have been completely blindsided by a freight train.  Places where I think I am safe of anything that would remotely bring up tears, memories, or emotions, are not really safe at all.  The first time I experienced this was last weekend, the day after my birthday.  My sister, niece, my daughters and I had decided to watch Sister Act 2.  I loved the first one and had never seen the second one.  We thought a good laugh would be healing.  There is a crazy driving scene, which is supposed to be funny, where a car load of Catholic priests are trying to get somewhere fast.  At one point, the camera view is on the front of the car they are driving and they almost runs into the back of an 18 wheeler. (I have not given details, but Michael was killed instantly after hitting an 18 wheeler trailer that was parked illegally and backwards on a service road.  There were no reflectors on it, cones on the road, or anything to warn him it was there...it was of no fault of his own.)  My body felt like it hit the truck.  It took my breath away.  The tears immediately flooded my eyes and I was overwhelmed with sadness.  I glanced at my girls and they, too, were fighting back tears, averting their eyes from the screen,  and trying to adjust to the unexpected "wreck" they had just experienced. I felt a shared silence. The familiar burn came back to my body and I never fully recovered for the rest of the movie, though I was able to act like I had.

A few days ago, I was in my favorite beach side gift shop, just enjoying looking at all of the new items for this year.  I had just spent several hours with the children on the beach doing absolutely nothing.  I looked up and saw this beautiful frame hanging on the wall with these words written on it, "If you live to be a hundred years old, I want to live to be a hundred minus a day so that I would never have to live without you." Again, blindsided and out of breath.  I had assumed Michael and I would grow that old together, never having to live one without the other.  I had to stand there frozen for a few minutes to regain my composure before I could turn around and face anyone else in the store.

Last night, while watching a Christian comedy video with some friends and my children, it happened again.  This time I saw it coming in the near distance.  I had seen most of this video before, but  we watched one of the acts which I had never seen.  It was all clean and fun, but the flippant attitude toward life, love, and relationships began to seem so ungrateful and careless.  The comedian was making jokes out of the marriage relationship, mostly laughing at himself, but also making reference as if, "this is what wives do and this is what men think."   It hurt me.   I thought, he does not know what it can really be like.  He does not know how much love and respect is possible.  He does not know what he is missing.  He does not know what he has.  How dare he make jokes about something so treasured as a relationship between a husband and wife.  What a missed opportunity to experience heaven on earth.  Does he not understand what God does when he brings together a husband and wife? I had to excuse myself to another room to "get a drink of water" in order to shift my thoughts to something totally different.  My marriage with Michael was too special to listen to someone try to degrade marriage in any way, shape, or form.

I now choose certain movies, music, and topics of conversation with much trepidation.  I have not usually been one to be caught off guard about many things, but it is happening frequently lately.  I could prepare myself, but it won't stop the surge of emotions.  I would not even say that everything is sitting just below the surface, ready to arise at any given moment.  The emotions, the hurts are all still on the surface. Seeing the blow coming does not make it hurt any less. You just get a second to catch your breath before it hits you or tighten up in order to strengthen yourself for the blow.  These times of being blindsided take my breath away for few minutes, then I feel the pain and shock, and finally, breathe deeply before trying to get back on my feet.

Beach Memories

Sunday, April 3, 2011
While spending this past week at the beach, I was constantly flooded with beautiful memories from all of our 24 years of going to the beach.  At first, we went every year so that Michael could attend the state convention of the American Institute of Architects.  About 7 years ago, we began going just for pleasure... even though it was always pleasure.  It just meant we had Michael with us all day, instead of just from lunch to dinner.  We loved being at the beach together.  The children loved being together as a family. Before children, we would spend all afternoon at the beach.  We would participate in the annual sand castle contest, take long walks on the beach, or just lay out and read or talk about life.  We would stay on the beach until we absolutely had to go up to get ready for dinner.

Once we started having children, we got an extra room and brought my mom with us to help with the child care.  Michael would get up and out early in order to reserve plenty of chairs by the pool and on the beach.  The mornings would be all about the children. At lunch they would go up to the room to eat and nap, and then the afternoons were our honeymoons on the beach by ourselves.  When the kids were small enough to throw into the air, he would do his annual high toss in the pool.  We have pictures of all the kids in the same pool flying into the air..... except Julia, come to think of it.  She never did like to be thrown and have the feeling of her body being out of control.  We would play in the sand with them and hold them while the waves crashed up against our bodies.  As they got older, we would boogie board together.  Michael was always up for a game of football with the kids, too.  They began to join us on our sand castle endeavors, but, of course, we always let him call the shots on the design.  Twice we went to the beach with our best friends and their three daughters.  We crammed in so much fun during those trips that it seems like we have lots of years of memories of the beach with them, even though it was only two.
 Besides the woods, the beach was one of the few places where Michael could really relax.  He read much, studied his Bible even more, prayed more, contemplated life more, did nothing more, watched me more, and enjoyed the kids more.  He did all of these things on a regular basis, but at the beach his mind was freed up from the stresses of everyday life and he would give himself permission to indulge in these favorite "past times".  He would still get up before anybody else, in order for him to drink his coffee and read his Bible while on our outdoor porch.  I could always find him there when I came out of our room.  Our son, Michael Anthony, has always been an early riser, as well, and has had much energy to burn.  Often times, by the time I had gotten up, the two of them would have already been on a bike ride or played football.  Michael Anthony also required much wrestling in the pool, and his dad was always happy to oblige.

The first day we were here this week was a day full of a multitude of tears everywhere I turned.  As we walked into the outdoor porch, I saw the Adirondack chair where he sat every morning with his coffee and heard the fountain bubbling that he loved to hear in the background.  I walked into our room and the tears came again as I began to unpack.  We always unpacked together, organizing things into our separate closets as we talked about what we were going to do first.  As I picked up the beach bag to head to the beach for the first time this week, I could hear him say, "Here Babe, let me get that."  He never wanted me to have to carry anything.  He would hang bags all over himself just so that I would not have to carry one.  As I walked past my favorite apothecary store, I heard him say, "Babe, why don't you go in there and get something for yourself?" If I did not go at any point to buy something, he would sneak away and buy something for me to surprise me with later.  While laying out at the beach, he would often just look at me and say, "You're beautiful," or "You look pretty amazing, mama."  We were usually on the elevator alone coming back from the beach because the kids were racing back.  When I got on the elevator this week, I could see him standing next to me with his hair all unruly from the ocean breeze, smelling like sunscreen, and holding everything. He would always turn to me and say, "Hello!', like he was just seeing me for the first time, and then would try to steal a kiss.  He was so precious to me.

My girls walked with me on the beach this week, to keep me from doing it alone.  They are so very thoughtful and sweet. They even wrestled with their brother in the water and threw the football on the beach.  God used them to fill the gap this week for Michael Anthony's need for physical activity. I played tennis with him and rented a ball machine for him on another morning. Things were different this week.

 I cried so much when we first arrived that I had to call the children together in the kitchen for a family prayer.  We held hands and I prayed.  At one point, I could not even speak through the tears and paused so long that I am sure they were wondering if I was going to finish the prayer. I had to thank God for all of the sweet memories that we had in this place with their father, thank Him for bringing us to this place,  ask Him for peace and strength during our week, and for kindness in our actions towards one another.  The whole time I was praying, Michael Anthony rubbed the back of my hand with his thumb, as his dad always did when we held hands to pray.  It was a comforting act.  With that small action, I felt as if he was saying, "I love you, Mom.  I am here.  I understand."  God held my hand through that prayer of thankfulness for all of our past beach memories and those that are yet to come.

Glimpse of Heaven

Saturday, April 2, 2011
    A few times since my days without Michael, I have had a burning desire to just catch a glimpse of him where he was.... in heaven.  I feel like it would be much more settling if I could just see, for a moment, what is really going on where he is.  I know he is healed, whole, and full of the glory of God.  I know that, as Abraham did during his life, "He was looking forward to the city with foundations,whose architect and builder is God.", Hebrews 11:10.  He is now in that city studying from and worshipping the master architect.... but I just want to see a small vision of what that looks like.  One day, while I was driving in my car alone, and the rush of that desire came over me.  I audibly and literally cried out to God, " O Lord Jesus, let me just see him there with you. Just a small glimpse.  It would help me to just have some kind of mental picture... anything."  Then I had a quick thought, "Is that wrong to ask that?"  I decided it was not.  
    In most of the comments that are emailed to me from my posts, they are marked anonymous.  I think some people think I know who they are or that their email address is attached.  This week, I received this prayer from someone. I think I know who it is, but am not sure.  I am amazed at how the Holy Spirit has connected so many people with my pains and desires.  Countless times, people have prayed my prayers or they have thought about what I am going to write the day before I write it.  One Holy Spirit, One Body.  I had not told anyone of this heart's desire to catch a glimpse, but this was the prayer I received from someone, "May all of our spiritual eyes be opened to the fact that the world beyond is more real than anything we can see with the physical eye. Lord, grant us that glimpse, grant Jene' that glimpse, through spiritual eyes, through your voice and Spirit, we call upon your mercy for such."   It comforted me to know that I was not alone in my prayer.
    I decided to see what the scriptures had to say about this, as an attorney would try to establish precedence.  I wanted to know that this was something that God had done before or addressed it in some way.... I found plenty.

 Hebrew 11:27, in reference to Moses, it says, "By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who was invisible."

2 Kings 15-17 "When the servant of the man of God(Elisha) got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.  'Oh, my lord, what shall we do?' the servant asked.  'Don't be afraid,' the prophet answered.  'Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.'  And Elisha prayed, 'O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.'  Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha."

Isaiah 33:15-17, " He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil - this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.  His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.  Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar."

Psalm 17:15,  a prayer of David, "And I - in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness."

John 17:24, a prayer of Jesus, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." 

I know Michael is seeing the Lord now in his full beauty and glory, but I would love to see him  basking in it.

Is This Real

Friday, April 1, 2011
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.