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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...

Summer Evenings Alone

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Summer has just begun, we have only been back from our Disney vacation for 9 days, and the summer nights are already lonely....it is not even June yet.   Because it is summer, the kids are doing all kinds of fun things with their friends.  At the beginning of the day, I tell myself,"Tonight, we are going to all stay home together", then something comes up and it does not happen.  They need for it to be a typical summer. I am allowing them to do fun things with their friends,  go to their music rehearsals,  or swim at the pool every day.  Doing these normal summer activities are helping them. The last few days, there have been a few hours out of each evening that I have been alone.  The house feels big, I feel lonely, and I am missing my evening chat time with Michael.  As I stepped outside tonight to walk Brady alone, I felt the sadness and tears wanting to creep up on me and I did not want to go there. I wanted to keep my mood up tonight.   I had my cell phone with me so I called my sister in Boston.  I said I was feeling a "moment" coming on me and I was trying to stop it, so I called her.  I told her to talk to me about anything.  I did not want to talk about how I was doing because I knew I would have gone downhill fast.  We talked about summer plans the whole time I walked him and it got me through the moment.  When I got home, I was ready to eat dinner, alone.

 I have always enjoyed solitude.  I can sometimes be a borderline recluse.  I have always liked to exercise alone, drive alone,  or just be quiet and in my house alone.  I have never required much girl friend time or recreation time. Michael and I were very independent of other people and very dependent on each other.  Even in that, we had a strong, healthy independence within our marriage.  I have been able to get by with very little social outings or conversations with anyone besides my children or Michael.  I have been very content in my simple life.  The solitude is not the same now.  I know this will change again someday, but, right now, it does not feel like solitude.  To me, solitude has a positive connotation to it.  Solitude is something we strive to fit somewhere into our busy lifestyles.  It is something that recharges us, enlarges our minds, gives us time to catch our breath,  and even see things with a new perspective.  This has all seemed to have reversed on my lately.  It is not solitude, is now more like loneliness.  I need much more socializing than I have ever needed in my life.  I thank the Lord that I see that truth and that I have so many friends willing and able to make themselves available to me for all of the little visits that are required to help me make it to through the days.  I need between two to three hours out of the day to be true solitude.  Any time alone beyond that takes a lonely turn.  This is when I turn to loved ones to fill the void.  It might be a phone call, an email, a visit with a neighbor, or even a quick trip in the car to get coffee from Starbucks. All of these things work for me.  The last couple of nights have been different because they are the evening hours.  Day time is much different and easier to solve the situation.  At night, you typically want to unwind, maybe move in and out of some easy conversations, and just do things silently in and around people.  Those are all comforting acts.  I keep having to change and reinvent my evenings and what will work best for me.  It continues to evolve.  It is a continual process of trial and error.  I am learning more about myself in this process, more about my children, and the importance of balance.  I feel that I have always had balance in my life, for the most part....but now, the weights are all shifting and I am trying to figure out which area needs more and which areas need less.  Even in these seemingly lonely evenings, I am learning, stretching, and experiencing another kind of "new normal" for my summer nights.

More Than Just an App

Monday, May 30, 2011
A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine and Michael’s helped me with some computer and iPhone problems that I was having.  As I have mentioned before, I now have Michael’s laptop and use it for all of my computer needs.  When our friend hooked up my phone to his laptop to update software, it automatically downloaded all of Michael’s apps from his itunes account onto my phone.  When I picked up my phone later in the evening to make sure that everything had been done correctly, I noticed that this had happened.  I had such a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw all of his apps on my phone.  It shocked me how my emotions and my body responded to seeing these pop up on my phone.  They were just apps…. But they were ones that he had chosen and they reveal much about him.  Following are the apps and what they teach about Michael’s priorities and interests.

Angry Birds - He had put it on there for our 5 year old foster child to play when they were in a situation together where he needed some quiet entertaining.   He loved that little boy and fought for him like he was our own child. It was the only game on his phone.

The Holy Bible – This tells us enough.  He loved to be able to pull up any translation when he was looking for a particular verse for himself or when he was trying to teach the children something in the scriptures.  He used it often and many times he would use it in church to help him follow up on a point in the sermon.

iBird 15 and iBird Yard – This was the Boy Scout coming out in him.  He loved to imitate birds, recognize their sounds, talk to them, and share with you what he knew about them.  These apps have the calls for all of the birds and all of the information you could possibly need to learn more about North American birds.  He would get so tickled with himself when he would successfully talk to birds and they would begin to talk back!

AccuWeather – Like his father, he was always very interested in the weather and would try to prove to me that this app was better than the one I had from The Weather Channel!  He used it every time we were about to travel, while we were traveling, planning the weekend, or any time in between just because he liked knowing what to expect…. In other words, how he needed to prepare….Mr. Eagle Scout to the rescue!

Clinometer, Converter, INCHcalc, Focalware – These were all related to his profession as an architect.  Ones that I would probably never use, except for Focalware, which may help me with planning for the right kind of plants  to put in my garden by knowing the times of the sunrise, sunset, and hours of light needed to have just the right amount of sunlight.

Original G - Another one he used for his profession to feed another passion of his.  News and discussions on sustainability in architecture and town planning.  Sustainable places and sustainable buildings.  It excited him to think and dream progressively.

SEC Sports – He never spent any time watching sports on television, except for some football games with Michael Anthony.  We rarely watched anything at all on television….but he loved to check the scores of certain games just to keep him abreast of things going on in the sports world.

Translator – He loved to keep something handy to help him figure out how to say something in Italian!  It was just plain fun to him.

Evernote  & Quick Voice – He was always brimming with new creative ideas and these were ways that he could put down his thoughts in a moment’s notice.  He was always coming up with song titles, song lyrics, ad slogan’s for companies, business ventures, marketing ideas, development ideas, and anything else his constant creative mind was stirring up.

I feel like I am carrying around a little piece of him.  Simple and may seem silly to some people, but I loved being reminded of the things that he liked or were important to him.    They serve as just a small window into his world here.... it was a sweet place.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I ran into a friend the other day at the gardening store while I was picking out some flowers for the beds in my side garden.  I had not seen her in awhile and it was my first time to see her since Michael’s accident.  She and I talked for a little while and I shed some tears right in the middle of all of the flowers.  She told me that she had prayed for us and shared something with me that has been in my thoughts off and on ever since that morning.  She told me she had spent time thinking about the phenomenon of how at the time in my life when I am at my absolute weakest, is when, at the same time, I have had to be my absolute strongest…. for the sake of the children.  She was amazed at how those two extremes could exist and play themselves out at the same time.   I have given it some thought and am amazed myself.  It is all because of the abundance of prayers that are going up on behalf of my children and me and because of God’s grace that continues to pour out on me daily. 

Yes, my weaknesses are many right now.  I am weak in areas that I have never in my life been weak before.  I am still extremely fragile.  I can cry with the change of the wind.  I hurt deep down inside every minute of every day.  It is always there, hovering beneath the surface, no matter what I am doing and no matter what my mood appears to be.  Coexisting at the same time, are the capabilities to do things and pull through emotionally for my children with strength that I never knew was within me.  I have always been a strong person, but now God has taken that strength to supernatural levels to carry me, and the children, through our day to day living.  He gives me emotional strength when they need to see me emotionally strong, physical strength when they need me present and doing things with them, spiritual strength when they need to know that God is still in control, that I still trust in Him with my whole heart, and that we are stable and secure in our little family unit.  For example, yesterday was Michael Anthony’s 13th birthday.  What a special day and God gave me supernatural strength the entire day to be upbeat, positive, and busy with him from the time we got up for his birthday breakfast to the time we went to bed after a long day of celebrating.   We had his favorite big breakfast, opened all of his gifts, went to the tennis store to pick up his new racquet that had been strung, played tennis, ate lunch (in public) at the club, met about 15 family members at his favorite Chinese restaurant for a buffet dinner, then back to our house for Nana’s Italian cream cake, ice cream, and more presents.  It was a great time of fellowship with all of Michael’s family over here.  We laughed and the whole evening was full of joy as we celebrated Michael Anthony’s life. 

Today I have been in my weaknesses.  It was Youth Sunday at church and Mia was singing the special music.  The first song that we all sang together was, “I am a Friend of God.”  This was “Michael’s” song.  He led this song in our previous church and he sang it in our present church.  As soon as the music started, I impatiently tried to locate some tissues in my purse.  Once I found them and prepared myself, I looked up and Mia was no longer up on stage with the choir.  I saw her on the front row being consoled by the music director.  I slipped out of our row of chairs and walked up to her.  We stood there and held one another in an embrace while we cried together.  I said,”This is his song,” and she nodded her head.  I asked her if she would be okay to sing her song and she said she could do it.  I kissed her and went back to my seat while everyone was still singing the song.  Once I returned to my seat, I felt utter weakness and fled to the restroom without looking up at anyone.  A sweet woman, whose son was a Boy Scout in Michael’s troop, saw me in the hall and followed me into the restroom.  As soon as I stepped my foot into the ladies room, I broke down.  She was immediately there holding me as I sobbed.  She cried with me and comforted me.  It was total weakness.  After about 5 minutes, I had to pull all of my strength together and go back into the sanctuary to hear Mia’s solo.  God came and carried us both through it and she did beautifully.  I was exhausted.   The children knew that at I was at a weak moment after the service but they were fine with it.  I have learned that there are times when they feel it too and it is completely acceptable.  Then, there are other times when they don’t want any sadness… they want to experience joy and see my strength.  We are all dancing through this together.  Weakness to strength and strength to weakness.  God is with us as we experience both.  If I did not have any children, how easy it would be to stay down in the weaknesses and not have a need to rise up and reach for the strengths.  We are helping one another through the ebb and flow of these contrasting truths.

You Are

Saturday, May 28, 2011
I was reading through some writings of mine and came across this one that I wrote January 11, 2006.  I don't remember what was going on in my life at the time that moved me to write it, but it was exactly what I needed to hear today.  I needed to be reminded of everything He is to me and everything that I am because of who He is.  Maybe God led me to write it 5 years ago.... for such a time as this.

You Are

You are my strength when I am weak
You are my source for all my needs
You are the lamp that lights my feet
You are, You are ,You are

You are the lifter of my head when it's cast down
You are the lover of my soul when no one else is 'round
You are the shoulder where I lean when I 'm on shaky ground
You are, You are, You are

You are the rock where my feet stand firm
You are the answer every place I turn
You are the voice that whispers gently to discern
You are, You are, You are

You said, "I am," and You are
You said, "I am the way," and You are
You said, "I am the truth," and You are
And because You are, I am.

No Reply from Heaven

Friday, May 27, 2011
 I received a response yesterday to my post “Tears in the Closet”.  My friend reminded me of the “extreme separation”, which are the words I used to describe this spiritual and physical separation from Michael, that Jesus felt on the cross.  He wrote, “He felt it acutely when He was pouring out His life and His blood on the cross for our sins.  At that point and time, the Father had to leave Him, separated from everyone and everything on the cross so the sacrifice would be complete.  He cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’  There was no reply from heaven.”  Forsaken means to give up or abandon something formerly held dear.  If I were being honest with myself about this, and that is what this blog is all about, I feel a bit forsaken by God.  I don’t feel like He is gone or has left me behind, but I feel like I am in the “and there was no reply from heaven” stage.  It is similar to the times when you are sitting next to a best friend  or your spouse, and you can sit comfortably in silence because of the love and understanding between the two of you.  Sometimes there are no words needed or no words that can be said.  Some of the best comfort I have received from friends these past 3 months, has been a loving embrace and a knowing look into the eyes that says, “I love you, I am hurting too.  I am here for you” , but it is all unspoken.   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.  

Tears in the Closet

Thursday, May 26, 2011
 I don’t know what it is about our closet, but I have had several meltdowns there these past 3 months. (This past Sunday was exactly 3 months since I last saw Michael.)  Maybe it is because it is such a quiet, private place.  It was a personal place, and still is.   It is where we would grab conversations while we were getting ready for church, date nights, or changing our clothes at the end of a day.  It is very tight quarters, so we had a choreography that was necessary for us both to get ready at the same time.  We would step in and out of the closet to ask an opinion on what we were choosing to wear.  We would fill each other in on what happened that day in our worlds.  Sometimes we would decompress with a glass of wine as we chatted in and out of the closet.  I always kept my side of the closet fairly neat, but his side of the floor was always scattered with shoes that had been worn and not returned to their shelves.  Without saying anything, I would periodically put all of the shoe horns back into them and place them neatly back on the shelves.  His shelf with his lounging pants always got messy too.  I would fold them all again and stack them back into their little spot on the shelf.  When he would change for bed that night, he would stick his head out of the closet and say, “The closet looks great!  Thanks, Babe!”  He appreciated and always noticed the little things that I would so around the house.

In his absence, the closet is a lonely place.  Because of that, I have allowed myself to make a big mess in there.  If I were to stand in a clean closet, with lots of space, I would feel his absence even more.  My shoes are all over the floor in a huge pile.  Getting dressed is not the same.  I no longer have his opinion of what would be the perfect outfit.  I wore what he liked, and I enjoyed it that way.  I felt prettier when I knew it was something that pleased him.  He had great taste and I always deferred to his opinion when I could not make up my mind.   

All of his clothes are just as he left them.  Every once in awhile, I enter the closet and just turn to stare at all of his clothes.  Sometimes I run my hand down the arms of his suit coats.  I  take a deep breath, give myself a moment, then turn back to my clothes.  A couple of days ago, I had experienced a different kind of grieving all day.  I had felt a huge silent void in my activities all day.  I could not put my finger on anything, but it was an overall ,”I need him today.”  That night, without any planning, I went into my closet, partially closed the door, and went straight to his dress shirts.  I put my hands on the shoulders of a bunch of them, leaned over, stuck my nose into the neckline, and moved my head as I took a deep breath.  I wanted to breathe in any bit of  his smell that I could find. To my surprise, it was all there.  It caught me off guard and I began to cry… hard.  The mixture of the smell of his skin and his cologne was just as it was when I would hug him when he would come home from work.   I leaned back against his clothes to cry and smelled the shirts a few more times.  It was so comforting to smell him. ( At that moment, I understood why people keep the clothing of their loved ones that have passed away. ) I cried for him.  I cried to God for help. I know he is in an amazing place and I am happy for him, but couldn’t God have given us something a little more tangible when our loved ones die than just hope and the knowledge of the everlasting life yet to come?   Is the extreme separation necessary?   Why are we allowed to love like this only for it to be taken away without knowing when it will be restored? I have always been able to handle the knowledge of the spiritual realm , but now that someone I loved is in that spiritual realm, it is hard to bear the separation between the two worlds.  After about ten minutes of crying, I felt a little better. My closet was still a secret, quiet place, but now in a different way.  It is me, God, and my memories of Michael.

I am thinking about purging and restoring order back to my side of the closet….it might make me feel good having it all back in order, and then again, it might not.  It would at least give the allusion that all is back to normal.  As everyone keeps telling, I am establishing a new normal in my life.

Thank Your Dad

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Having a thankful spirit is something that we always tried to help our children to have in all circumstances, but even more so when they had received something from us or from someone else.  If I was ever out shopping with the children, buying them clothes or other items, taking them out to eat, or taking them on a fun outing, they would always say “Thank you, Mom”, either while we were still in the store, as we were walking to the car, or as soon as we were getting in the car…. Sometimes they would even get a little prideful if they were the first one to say it.  Many times I would even get a sweet hug with the thank you.   I always would reply with, “You’re welcome,” and then I would immediately tell them, “Thank  your Dad”.  I wanted them to remember that it was because of his hard work and discipline that we were able to buy those things, or do those fun outings.  I was just the “delivery man”.  I wanted them to recognize the cause and effect of his work.  He had an impeccable work ethic and the effect was that they were blessed with something new or something fun to do together. He loved to shop and he loved to buy gifts for me and the children.  If he could have, he would have been with us on all of those shopping excursions and outings because he wanted to be with us.  Sometimes, he would slip away from work to join us, even if it was just for a few minutes, just so he could share the joy.  I remember one day last year, I took the kids to the Natural Science Museum on a beautiful day and we enjoyed a picnic on a quilt in their open green space.  We threw the football and Frisbee and relaxed on the blanket.  We looked up, and there was Michael.  He had pulled his car over on the frontage road and was on the other side of the iron fence, smiling.  He just wanted to see us enjoying life and one another. We talked to him for less than a minute, there were a few, “Hey, Dad!  Watch this!”, and then he had to hop back into his car because he was on his way to meeting.  As he pulled away, he immediately called me on my cell phone and said, ”You don’t know what it does to me to see you enjoying yourselves!” He was a good provider and he took that role seriously.  I always thanked God for blessing me with a husband who worked and provided for us.  Work was such an act of discipline for him because he would rather have been spending time with us, or doing something creative on his own time.  He loved to shower us with blessings.  Sometimes, I would call him on his cell phone while we were out shopping or doing something special just so he could still be a part of it.  It brought him joy knowing that we were out getting the things we needed or just having fun.  If he had been with us, he would have spoiled us even more.

One day this past week, while we were on the monorail, traveling back to our hotel, Julia turned to me and said, “Thank you for this trip.”  I put my hand on her knee and smiled with a “You’re welcome,” then the words,  “Thank your Dad,” were right on the tip of my tongue.  They were immediately there, as always, wanting to give him credit for what we were doing.  I did not say it,  but choked down the words as I sat there with my hand still on her knee.   My eyes began to fill with tears as I realized, yes,  we can still thank your Dad.  It is still because of his hard work, discipline, and planning that we are able to be on this trip.  We will forever be thankful for him, his love for us, his example of hard work, and for the blessing that  he continues to be to us. 

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for Michael.  Thank you for sharing him with us.  Thank you for the gift of love and joy that you gave him , and he shared and taught to us.  Thank you for taking care of us through Michael. Thank you for the pleasure that he took in his family.  Thank you for his example of  generosity in all that he did.  Thank you for loving us and for choosing us to be Michael’s earthly family. Thank you, thank you, thank you….

The Plane Ride

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I just returned from a week long vacation with my kids in Disney World.  I felt the need to do something spontaneous and fun.  I told them about the trip four days before the flight.  We all needed a fun distraction and Disney World fit that need nicely.  Every day, we were up at 7:00 in the morning then crashed back into bed at midnight all 6 nights.  Our biggest decisions were what to ride next, what show did we want to see, with which Disney character did they want their picture taken, what was going to be our next snack, should we go to the water park next, should we watch the fireworks from Main Street or from the hotel, The Contemporary....   Their bodies and minds were occupied the whole time.  My thoughts would drift to missing Michael and wishing he were experiencing this with us all of the time.  Any time I felt emotional, I pushed the tears down because I wanted the whole experience to be positive for the kids.  We ate, laughed, screamed on rides, and walked about 100 miles!

Packing for the trip was fairly easy because they all did their own bags without any help from me.  One of our friends picked us up to take us to the airport and all of our bags were ready to load into the car.  I was cleaning out my purse and throwing things away when he arrived.  I had pulled my driver’s license out of my wallet so that it would be handy when it came to curbside check-in and security.  I unknowingly threw my driver’s license into the trash with a handful of scrap paper.  We arrived at the airport to check in our luggage at the curb, when I realized that I did not have my license.  They went ahead and checked in our luggage and printed out the boarding passes.  The attendant took my kids inside to security and waited awhile with them while I raced home to find my license.  I realized on the way home that my license was in my kitchen trash can.  When I returned to the airport, the attendant found me and handed me my boarding pass.  I made it through security just minutes before they were finished boarding.  Needless to say, the kids were all breathing a sigh of relief when they saw my face.  I kissed and hugged Julia, knowing that she was probably the most fearful of all.  We were able to laugh , but with some discomfort, as we boarded the plane. 

Because we were flying Southwest, and were late getting on the plane, we were not able to sit next to one another.  I was seated next to a window, which turned out to be a good place for me.  After about 30 seconds of being seated, I felt sadness coming over me.  I pulled some tissues out of my purse in preparation for the tears that were beginning to build in my throat.  I took some deep breaths and tried to relax a moment from the stress of the previous 30 minutes.  I was thankful and amazed that we were all together, flying somewhere to have a good time.  As the plane taxied to the runway, I began to feel so alone… then as it began take off, I had a picture perfect flashback of what it was like to sit next to Michael on a plane during take off.  We had a take off routine on every flight we were ever on together.  We would turn our heads to look at each other in the eyes and smile a thankful smile.  He would then take my hand with his and we would lean our heads together while he prayed aloud for our protection, the protection of the children, and our trip.  After he would say Amen, I would say Amen.  He would take his other hand that was not holding mine, and reach for my shoulder to pull me closer, then kiss me on my forehead or cheek.  He would take one last loving glance at me, then turn his head forward, lift his head up , then tilt it back to close his eyes during the rest of the take off.  We both closed our eyes, kept silent, and held hands until the plane was settled into its cruising altitude.  It always felt like a sacred moment.  Going on trips with him alone was always a special time.  We loved our alone time.  For us, the flight or the drive ,were some of the best moments.  It was always so quiet.  We would usually speak in lower tones, relax together, and, if flying,  have a glass of wine, a cocktail, or a good ole coke.  We would read books then stop periodically to share something that resonated with us then discuss it.  Many times, we felt rested and refreshed by the time we got to our hotel.

 I very rarely flew without him, but if I did, we had a similar routine that we would do at home.  Right before we would get into the car for him to take me to the airport, he would wrap his arms around me and hold me while he prayed over my safety and the blessing of the trip.  If the trip included the whole family, we would hold hands in a circle and he would pray…. Sometimes he would pray aloud for us while he was driving us to our destination.

My memory was so clear in that moment of take off, that I could almost feel him sitting next to me.  In fact, the seat next to me was empty because there was a larger man sitting in the isle seat who had purchased both seats.  It made it easier to imagine him next to me in that vacant seat.   He was always so comforting to me.  I missed holding his hand.  I missed hearing him pray in his soft voice.  I missed feeling his shoulder next to mine.  I missed being able to turn my head and see him relaxing next to me.  I missed that feeling of oneness that we felt together.  Flying alone… it was another first.  I felt bare and alone, but at the same time, I felt empowered, being the one in charge of these three precious children, and thankful for the opportunity to take them on this wonderful trip which would bring them joy, laughter, and beautiful memories.

Still Calling

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Yesterday morning was busy starting at a very early hour.  My four year old niece had spent the night.  We were feeding her breakfast and getting her ready for preschool.  Mia had to be at work by 8:00. It was my mom's last morning here.... she was going to leave at the same time my niece left for school.  She locked her keys in her car while she was packing and was waiting for a locksmith to arrive.  I was expecting a delivery of Michael Anthony's new bed at any minute.  In the middle of all of that, I called my father in-law to tell him about a Boy Scout project that was going to take place Saturday morning for the boys to earn a large amount of community service hours.  He had been Michael's Scout Master when he was a boy and he was wanting to step in to be more involved in Michael Anthony's scouting experience.  It was 7:30 in the morning, a time that I would only have called Michael or his parents.  I picked up the phone and my fingers automatically began to dial Michael's cell phone number.  I was almost finished punching in his entire number before I realized what I was doing.  I froze while I was standing there in the kitchen with all of the commotion going on around me.  I just stared at the phone.  The numbers seemed to blare at my eyes.  My world closed in on me for about 30 seconds but it seemed like longer.  My chest was suddenly heavy. Tears began to well up in my eyes but I held them there while I stared.  I thought to myself, What made me just do that?  Was it being alone in the kitchen on a busy morning, when in the past I would have called him during that moment to ask a question, an opinion, or advice?  Was it because, at that moment, I was calling someone to talk about Boy Scouts?  Was it just a morning habit resurfacing?(We always talked on the phone shortly after he left the house in the morning.)  Was it because we always shared the load on busy days through communication?  

Looking at those numbers on the flashing screen of the phone somehow made me feel like he was within reach....  I don't understand it.  He was always on the other end of the line any time I needed him.  If he could not talk, he would quickly send me a text to answer any questions or tell me he loved me and to have a good day.  I took a deep breath, cleared the numbers, and dialed my in-laws.  I wanted to tell my mother-in-law what had just happened and cry with her on the phone, but chose to try to keep moving with talking about the Boy Scout project.  I felt like I had been moving right along that morning and then choked and sputtered like a car running out of gas.  My sail was looking for a breeze.

 I kept all of this inside of me as my mom was bustling around and my niece was singing songs, because that is what I needed to do at that moment.  I gave myself permission to go back to all of those feelings when I was alone later.  Here I am, examining the moment.  I called his number this morning, just to make it complete.  I listened to his voice message.  I am glad it is still there.  I just needed to call him.... and I did.

Mother's Day

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I had not given Mother’s Day  much thought or preparation for  the emotions that could have possibly risen up inside of me.  My mom was in town, we would all go to church together, then meet up with two of my siblings and their families at the Country Club for a big lunch, which is what we usually do.  I woke up feeling like it was any other Sunday, we were 10 minutes late for the 8:00 service, like any other Sunday, and we all sat together in church, like any other Sunday.  We all got ready and left without any fanfare.  We met everyone else for lunch at 11:00 and that is when the grief came tumbling down like an avalanche.

I walked into the lobby and was greeted by some women with their daughters, who I had coached years ago.  There were hugs and condolences and some small chit chat, then I walked into the main dining room.  I knew where our table was and everyone in my  party was already going through the buffet line, so I went straight to get my food.  I don’t know why I had not planned ahead on this one.  I had been here countless times over the last 24 years.  How could I have not seen this coming?  I got my salad, passed it on to a waiter, then the memories came crashing in and began to pierce my heart.  Here I was, standing in the very room where we celebrated our marriage.  Our wedding reception was in this room.  I was standing where Michael  and I had our first dance.  Right behind me was where the R&B band had played and Michael sang “When Something is Wrong with my baby, Something is Wrong with me”, while holding my hand.  The same place where he sang James Brown’s, “I Feel Good”, and every person on the wait staff came out and lined the walls to hear this white man sing like no one’s business, while everyone danced away.  Some of the wait staff had been working there all these years.  Had that waiter watched us celebrate that wonderful day?  Suddenly, the food no longer looked appealing to me.  There was a lead weight sitting in the pit of my stomach. 

I felt numb and unaware of my footsteps as I made my way to our table.  It was like a heavy blanket had been thrown over me.  I sat down and wanted to crawl into a hole and cry my eyes out, but at the same time, I really did not want to cry there.  I did not feel like I was in a safe place.  There were hundreds of people there and at least half of them knew me or Michael.  The big lump in the deep part of throat reappeared.  Everyone was talking and I felt like an outsider in another world.  The tears were just on the edge, ready to fill my eyes at any second.  I tried to think about something else but I could not push it away.  Right behind me was where we served the virgin strawberry daiquiris and champagne.  Over there was the table with the miniature muffalettas from New Orleans.  Two tables over was where we cut the wedding cake and next to that was the grooms cake….Italian cream cake with little Italian flags stuck all over in it.  I struggled to talk to the family sitting at the table with me.  I did not want to talk at all.  I just wanted to go home. I decided it was best not to make eye contact with anyone.  Looking in people’s eyes would bring the tears.  As people would walk by our table, I would try to act like I did not see them.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.  I picked at my salad and could not touch my lunch.  The lump in my throat did not need food passing through. 

I missed him so much while I was sitting there.  I wanted to hold his hand and hear him sing to me again.  I wanted to dance with him again.  I wanted him to hold me and tell me everything is going to be okay.  I wanted to see him gaze into my eyes with that loving look that he always gave me. 

I was so relieved when it was finally time to leave.  As we walked out, I kept my eyes focused on the floor in front of me so that I would not have to greet anyone. As we got outside, my brother, who lives in South Africa, called on my sister’s cell phone to wish us a happy Mother’s Day.  We tried to chat about a few things and then he said he just wanted to tell me happy Mother’s Day.   I could hear the concern and love in his voice and I just wanted to cry on the phone with him but chose to get off of the phone as quickly as possible.  I spent the rest of the afternoon resting and in deep thoughts of Michael.  I thought about all of the poems and songs that he had written me for Mother’s Day, how he would have brought me a special hot drink while I was getting ready for church and say, “So, how is my amazing little Mama?”  , or put his arm around me at church and look at me with a smile and pride in his eyes.  He made me feel special, every day of the year, but especially on Mother’s Day and my birthday.   On Mother's Day, I was the queen and he made me feel like it all day long. He knew how to celebrate me and celebrate life. 

Piano Recital Edit

Sunday, May 8, 2011
If you have already read the Piano Recital, I invite you to read it again.  Once again, my hyper-sensitive laptop deleted a paragraph from the original draft.  The whole paragraph about Michael Anthony's piece was gone.  I tried to remember all that I had said the first time.  I did not want anyone to think that I had forgotten about him.  He added a light hearted feel to my day. :)  He does that.... his Dad called him, "Happy", besides his main nickname, "Nip".

The Piano Recital

This was a weekend of firsts.  Yesterday was the piano recital for all three of our children, and today, Mother's Day. (I will write about Mother's Day next.)  For ten years, we have had a piano recital the day before Mother's Day.  Yesterday was the tenth piano recital that I have attended to listen to our children perform.  This was Mia's tenth and final recital, also referred to as her Senior recital.  I believe it was Julia's seventh and Michael Anthony's fifth.  Piano lessons have never been an option in our home.  It is just considered a part of their education through their Senior year.  Michael took piano lessons from his grandmother when he was young and had some of his recitals in the same museum as our children have theirs. They have, also, always competed in the Bach Festival every February.  I was remembering yesterday that Michael had driven each one of them back and forth for their competition time this past February, just two weeks before his accident.  He was so proud of their Superior awards.

I was prepared yesterday in knowing how difficult listening to them play was going to be for me.  Their focused practice time for the recital is always March and April.  This year they had a major set back.  They had to miss some lessons and went weeks without any practice at all.  Julia would practice more than the other two because it appeared to be therapy for her.  Her song was called Sunflowers and Wheatfields, by Catherine Rollin.  It is a very beautiful piece which evokes many emotions when hearing it.  It sounds like a score for a movie theme song.  Sometimes, I would cry just hearing it play across the house.  The piece that Mia chose this year was Moonlight Sonata, by Beethoven.  Her piece evoked much emotion as well.  It swells and builds throughout the piece and feels like a very sad song.  In fact, my brother in law played it at their grandmother's funeral.  Michael Anthony played Minuet in G Major, by Bach, which is a happy piece... very fitting for his personality.  They all three pleaded with me about three weeks ago to let them drop out of the recital because they felt that they would not be prepared.  All the pieces had to be memorized and none of them knew their pieces in their entirety yet.   Mia's was four pages, Julia's was three and Michael's was two.... and they were all difficult.  I knew in my heart they could do it and I knew that it would be a good process for them to work on them to perfection. Julia was concerned that she might not emotionally be able to make it through her piece. She knew her piece but was concerned that she may feel overwhelmed with the need to cry while she was playing.  Her whole personality changed in the few days leading up to the recital.  She was feeling the magnitude of the moment long before it happened. Mia was not only stressed because of the piece itself, but because it was her Senior recital and the audience would be expecting something great.  She was supposed to be placed last in the performance program, but her teacher, knowing the burden that it was becoming, placed her third from the end to help lift some of the pressure. It helped.  I asked all of them to play for me this year.  This would be their gift to me.  I needed them to play these pieces and they needed to play them.  I saw it as part of this grieving process.  We needed to feel it, and my, did we.

As I was putting on my makeup to get ready to go the recital, I was already fighting back the tears.  The weight was getting heavier and heavier.  I was not sure if I was going to be able to contain myself.  Sitting through that proud, parenting moment alone was going to  be extremely hard. I began to pray aloud for the children as I was putting on my makeup.  I prayed that they would play for the Lord.  I prayed that they would play with beauty and grace, using the gifts that God had given them and sharing them with all who were present. I felt lighter after having sent my prayers up to God.  Deep breaths were becoming necessary.  They had to go early, so they all loaded up in Mia's car and left, along with my Mom.  This left me alone in a very quiet house. This small amount of quiet time was good mental time for me.  It was the beginning of another first.  When I arrived, they were all three sitting side by side in the holding area.  The girls looked so beautiful, mature, and peaceful.  Michael Anthony was handsome in his Sunday best clothes and was sitting calmly beside Julia.  I kissed each one of them on the cheek and told them how proud I was of them... no matter what.  I was proud of them just for doing it.

I was armed with plenty of tissues and sat down where we could see them clearly.  I gave my brother video instructions so that I could focus on the music.  I listened to about 17 other children, then it was time for my first child.  Michael Anthony strolled in the room looking so handsome and sure. Where was my little boy?  He sat down to play and made a small mistake shortly into the piece, and then, without any hesitation, started over and made it through the entire thing.  While he played I felt myself swell with pride.  This was a young man, almost 13 years old, playing piano intensely focused on the music.  The same boy that loves to play in the neighborhood air soft wars, ride bikes, catch big fish, shoot guns, build with legos, and play tennis.  He was living a balanced life.... just like his Dad.  Music and Boy Scouts gave him a well rounded life, sports has not been the end all.  He stood and took his bow.  I felt a sigh of relief and could not help but smile at my young man.  I had a break of about 6 people to gear myself up again.  Then came Julia.

She entered wearing a hot pink, floor length, flowing skirt and I knew by the way she carried herself that she was going to nail it.... and that she did.  I made it through about the first 10 seconds of her piece, and then the tears began to flow.  It was beautiful, she was beautiful, and the music successfully transported everyone who was there to a lovely, beautiful memory.  I was crying so hard that I could barely catch my breath.  It was harder because I had to keep it all quiet.  I was in awe of the strength they each had to perform.  I was grieving for Michael, for their father, for our Renaissance man who would have relished in the moment, who would have shed tears of joy and pride himself, had he been there.  Her playing flowed and she touched the keys with gentleness, knowing the emotion behind each note.  She played it to the end and took her bow with a short glance at me.  I was relieved that I had two more people before Mia's.  I was a mess.

Mia walked in and I realized that she now looked like a college girl.  She sat down on the bench, and my memory was suddenly flooded with visions of her through the years sitting on that same bench in all of the special dresses that were chosen for the occasion.  When she was younger, they were all hand made dresses.  Now, she wore a soft green dress she chose from JCrew.   I was picturing her long hair pulled back with a ribbon when she was younger.  As soon as she started playing, I felt her peace and confidence.  She knew what to do.  She took her time and moved with the mood of the music.  I felt like I had cried myself out on Julia's piece and sat for awhile simply soaking up the moment while Mia played.... then the tears returned.   Where had the time gone?  Is this really her Senior recital?  How did she learn to play like that?  She looked so mature. She had pulled it all together, against all odds.  She overcame.  This is our first child and what a tender heart she has.  She touches the keys like they are old friends.  She was in charge.  She had decided that if she made a mistake, the only ones that would know would be me and her piano teacher.  She took some creative liberties and no one was the wiser.  She flowed through this 8 minute piece and moved all over the keys with constant control and a perfect touch to bring the gravity of the piece to all of us. Her final notes brought the feeling of completion... it is finished.  She stood up to take her bow and gave me a loving smile.

I wanted to run down the isle and pick them all up in my arms and tell them how amazing they were,  and how proud I was of their accomplishment.  I waited.  I was not the only one crying in the crowd.  Most everyone there knew of their loss and what a hard day it was for all of us.  One woman told me afterwards that she was supporting me with prayer while they were playing.  There were many hugs and kisses afterward.  They were beaming.  The first of many accomplishments without Michael there to share in the moment.  They strengthened me with their strength that day.  They strengthened me with their gift.  They strengthened me with the beauty they bring to this world.  Michael would have been filled with pride.

The Swim Meet

Saturday, May 7, 2011
Last weekend, I took my daughter, Julia, to a swim meet at Auburn University to compete.  It was the first meet in which I entered her to swim since the Short Course State Championships in February. We came home from that meet two days before Michael's accident.  We would usually both go watch her swim at the State meets, but that weekend we had to divide our responsibilities as parents.  The Boy Scout troop had a camping outing, and so Michael, being the Scout Master, took Michael Anthony to camp and I went to the state meet with Julia.  She had a great meet, swam her best times in most of her events, and made it to finals placing in the top 16 in all of her events but one.  Any time  Michael or I were at a swim meet without the other, we would text one another after each race to tell how she had done.  He would always text back encouraging words to her.  That weekend of the state meet was no different.  We actually had an even higher sense of expectation than usual because she had been so diligent in attending her swim practices, even the ones at 5:30 am.

The 5:30 morning practices became something she secretly enjoyed because it was her own time with her Dad.  She likes a good cup of coffee in the morning, like her Dad did, and was only allowed to have a full cup on those mornings.  They would get up at five and each get dressed for their respective workouts, then meet in the kitchen to pour their coffee in their travel cups.... his was always black and hers was half and half with French Vanilla cream added to it. (In fact, I bought her a new coffee travel mug at the state meet that they were selling with the swim apparel.  It was pink and said SWIM across the middle.... we thought it would be a perfect early morning practice cup for their rides together in the car.)  They would then drive to the pool and back alone in the car, in the quiet of the early morning hours.  She would not finish her coffee on the way to the pool,  so she would leave it in his car to drink and visit some more on the way back. After getting back home, she would relax in the kitchen while finishing her coffee and play Words with Friends on her iPod, while Michael walked Brady.  He was always so proud of her for doing those early morning practices, and he told her so.

I looked back at our texting conversation from the state meet weekend.  For the sake of recording it in another place besides my cell phone, I want to share how he stayed connected, even when he was not present.
Jene: Just swam the 200 free...which she swam in the relay last night & cut 3 seconds.... she just cut 3 more seconds!  Got 3rd in her heat & I think 8th overall:)  Finals tonight!
Michael: Awesome!!  That's fantastic!  Remind her of her hard work at those early am practices. Love u
Michael(that night after finals): How did Julia do?
Jene': Finished 7th in the butterfly tonight
Michael: That's great!  Give each other a kiss for me!!
Jene':  K:) Love you!  Enjoy your time outside!
Jene'(next day): She is back tonight for finals in the 50 free & the 200 fly! She made herself nervous sick this morning over the 200 fly:)
Michael: Unbelievable!  I'm SO proud of her!!!

Watching Julia walk to the blocks for her first race at Auburn ,while I was sitting in the bleachers, overwhelmed me with emotions.  I was so unbelievably proud of her for competing again and feeling lonely for her and me at the same time.  Her Dad was no longer there to share in her successes.  I felt so much love for her at that moment and broke down to cry. I could barely see her do all of her cap and goggle preparations that she does before she steps onto the blocks because my vision was blurred from the tears.  I was sitting next to a friend and she had her arm around me as we watched this beautiful, strong, young woman/child, gear herself up for her first race since her Dad died.  I could hardly breathe. She swam and she swam well.  She did not add time or take away, which under the circumstances, was a huge victory.  A few minutes after she swam I received a text from her that read, "Are you doing okay?"....  I did not realize it, but she had noticed me crying in the stands. I replied, "Yes:) I love you:)  GREAT job!!!"

She never got to use the new pink SWIM travel cup with him.  She uses it now on the mornings that it is her turn to walk Brady.  When she is done with the walk, she sits in the kitchen by herself, enjoying the rest of her coffee, the quiet time, and plays Words with Friends.  I did away with the rule of only having coffee on days of the early morning practices and I make it every night for her and set the pot to go off in the morning, like I did for her Dad.  It is good therapy for me to keep making it, and it is good for her to think of him every morning as she drinks it.

Encouraging Words

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
As I mentioned last weekend, I have recently been going through letters that people have sent me and have been reading, again, the ones that really spoke to me and encouraged me.  In most of the letters, people talk about Michael, a memory they had of him, or what an awesome Christian example he was to the world, while others chose, or were led by God, to encourage me in the person that I am.  I needed to hear both.  At times, all I want to do is think about Michael, and at other times, I can feel discouraged about me and not feel the strength of what attracted Michael to me.  When I read this note, I did not remember reading it a first time.  I know I did, but maybe I was just not ready to hear it.  I now have read it numerous times and it boosts my spirit every time I read it.

She said that she read this verse and thought of Michael saying this to me. "Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life."  (Proverbs 31:11-12)  She went on to say, "He left you so early and too soon, but as this verse states, he knows you can do it.  As hard as the days may seem and the little things that go by that no one seems to notice or remember except you, he has full confidence in you. You were the love of his life and always will be.  Just wanted to let you know you have so many here on earth that love you and are praying for you. Many in heaven, one in particular, that love you and are watching over you."(Thank you Amy T.... God put you in my life for such a time as this.)

I cry every time I read it.   One of my best friends,Nanette, reminded me, also, in a letter that Michael chose me because I was his champion.  When I read that for the first time, it made me catch my breath.  I think that often times I felt like I am the one that found the champion, not ever realizing that maybe we were equally matched.  He needed my strength like I needed his.  I did not know how badly I needed to hear these comments until I read them. Sometimes, I do not feel so strong. God has showered me with grace to live like a champion when I need to do so, and then allows me to crumble and fall into His arms at other times.  Reading these notes remind me that I have always been strong and that I fought for Michael, as he fought for me. I know that I brought him good, and not harm all the days of his life, and I am and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.  I am thankful and amazed at how God uses all different people to speak into my life at different times to meet my specific needs.  My God shall supply all of my needs.