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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...

Dear Dad,

Thursday, June 30, 2011
I have been wanting to have all of the kids write down their favorite memories with their dad, things that they loved about him, or things that they miss about him.  I have not found the right timing yet, but Mia just did it on her own and brought me to sobbing tears.  She started a blog of her own this week and sent me a text this morning that I should read her blog she posted last night.  She is in Michigan helping my sisters pack my parents for their move back to Mississippi.  She warned me in the text that I may cry.  I was in Target when I received the text, but went ahead and clicked the link to get a quick glance of the topic about which she wrote.  After reading the title, "Dear Dad,", I immediately closed the screen and fought the tears.  I just sat down alone in my bedroom and read it.  What a sweetheart.  It felt so good to look through a window into her heart and read her thoughts about missing her Dad.  The tears poured as I read all of her sweet recollections of her Dad.  I love you, Mia and I miss all of those things about your Dad too.  You were our first baby and we were, and I am, so proud of you, and , as your Dad would say, proud of what God is doing in you and through you.  www.miabarranco.tumblr.com

A Grief Unobserved

So many experiences since my last post that it is hard to know where to begin.  It seems as if every day has brought me to thoughts and emotions that were worthy of blogging to help me create some form of order from the chaos of emotions going through my head.  First time to cook, first time to the gravesite, ordering the headstone, first time to gravesite alone, first children’s birthday party, first Barranco family gathering since the funeral (Michael’s brothers were in town from Nashville for a Barranco Brothers concert), and the list continues.  The one that surprised me the most concerns our foster child, Keagan, who we had from April 7, 2010 to February 23, 2011.  As I have stated in a previous blog, he left our home the same day I was informed of Michael’s death.  Grieving for the loss of Keagan has been somewhat unobserved, until now.

While Keagan was in our care, we sent him to a local private preschool.  The school was offering a one-week carnival camp last week that I knew would be lots of fun for him and would enable him to see all of the friends that he had made during this last school year.   I had asked his parents two months ago if I could have him, along with his 3-year-old brother, for the week so that they could attend.  I offered to pay for the camp for both and keep them all day, (7:30 – 5:30), take them to the pool after the camp (which was only from 10-1), and then keep them for a couple of overnights.  The week went great for them.  They had so much fun all day long, every day.  Keagan was happy to be back and settled right back into his routines of playing with his favorite toys, eating his favorite snacks, drinking his favorite juices, watching his favorite movies, and, last but not least, calling me “Mom”. 

They stayed overnight Tuesday and Wednesday night and it went smoothly.  After they went home Thursday evening, my 26 year old niece came over and was helping my girls organize their closet into new bins and baskets.  I was coming in and out of their bedroom, occasionally, to facilitate in some way.  I picked up a small pink boot they had found in the closet that belonged with the Build a Bear clothes and went to the low dresser in the landing where all of the bear clothes were kept.  I pulled out the top drawer because I could not remember which drawer or cabinet held the other clothes.  Once I opened the drawer, I was suddenly stopped in my busy actions and things began to move in slow motion.  Inside the drawer were some of Keagan’s clothes that had been left behind from his departure four months ago.  I spotted his Batman pajamas and gently pulled them out to look at them.  They were still stretched out in the shape of his body from the last time he had worn them.   My mind was taken back to the week of Michael’s death and I discovered a grief unobserved.

February 24th was the scheduled date for the court hearing for Keagan’s custody.  We knew ahead of time that the recommendation was going to be that he would go back to live with his parents.  Michael was going to be out of town Tuesday night then come in town Wednesday late afternoon just in time for us to take Keagan’s parents out to dinner to discuss the transition.  Monday morning, February 21st, I decided to go ahead and pack a suitcase full of all of Keagan’s clothes in preparation for Thursday.  I had opened the rolling bag on the floor next to me, sat in a chair with the dresser drawers open, and began to take my time going through all of his clothes then folded them into the suitcase.  Keagan found me doing this and joined me by sitting next to the suitcase, holding up the top and asking lots of questions.  When I was not answering his questions, my mind would drift as I looked at each piece of clothing and remember how he looked in each, where they came from, and sometimes they even took me back to a particular event. . The lyrics to “The Sound of Silence” were actually running through my head….  The cute play clothes given to me by so many generous friends at church that he wore over and over again.  His “cool” clothes that I had bought him from Crew Cuts, which the girls loved to dress him in when he was going out in public.  His cute little cotton boxer briefs in size 4/5, that I had folded a million times.  The shorts on which I taught him how to close a snap…I was interrupted with his question, “Mom, do I get to take my Superman pajamas?”  I told him yes and he did a big cheer.  Then he said, “Do I get to take my Batman pajamas too?”  I said yes and he did another cheer.  He thought he was going to a big spend the night party at his parents, with whom he had never lived.  I left out about one week’s worth of clothes, including the Batman pajamas, for him to wear the rest of the week.  We closed up the suitcase and carried it downstairs, then placed it in a corner in the foyer waiting for Thursday.

 We had our last family dinner together that night.  We ate on the back patio by candlelight, listened to Nora Jones playing through the IPod speakers, and roasted marshmallows over the fire pit while Keagan danced and ran around playing chase with Michael Anthony.  It was a very happy family moment… peaceful, joyful, loving, stable, and comforting.  Michael left the next afternoon, after coming home to show me his new haircut and get more hugs, and never came back again.  In light of the news we received on Wednesday morning, the Department of Human Services decided to go ahead and send Keagan home that day, instead of waiting until the hearing on the following day.  There were over 200 people in and out of the house that day.  Keagan went to his preschool, as usual, that day and I chose not to tell him yet.  His parents came to pick him up about 6:00 that night in the midst of all of the people and activity.  Keagan grabbed his suitcase in the foyer and began to pull it toward the door then was out before I had time to think about what was happening.  He waved good-bye from the front patio and was excited about his extended slumber party ahead.   I never went back or remembered the clothing that remained in the top dresser drawer, until last Thursday.  When he and brother arrived last Friday morning, I told him about the Batman pajamas and he was thrilled.  He kept pulling them out of the bag and carrying them around.  His brother, Kaidan, asked if he could now wear the Superman pajamas… Keagan said yes.  That night their dad texted me this photo and said, “Nighty night.”  In the background are the Spiderman sheets that I let Keagan pick out at the store for him to put on his new bed in his new home.

I sobbed that night I discovered his clothes and wandered for a moment around the playroom, not knowing what to do with my emotions.  That is when I realized I had not had the opportunity to grieve over the loss of Keagan along with the dream of adopting him.  It had been a grief unobserved but came on with intensity that night.  I was thankful for my week with both of them last week.  I was thankful that I got to stick my face into his neck and smother it with kisses.  I am thankful that we still get to see him.  We miss his presence.  We miss the good and the bad.  We miss him.

Missing My Best Friend

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yesterday was non stop taking the kids to and from the places they needed to be from 6:45 in the morning until the time we got home about 10:00.  Today will be almost as busy.  I rose at 6:15 to shower then took Julia to swim practice at 6:45, came back home, picked up Michael Anthony, then took him to Belhaven University for a tennis camp.  My list of to do’s is long for today and , in addition to all of this, I have Keagan, our 5 year old foster child that we had for one year, and his 3 year old younger brother, Kaidan, for the week with two overnight stays.  As I type this, I hear them battling with the knights in the castle upstairs.  There have been rhythms to staying busy then periods of quietness, tears, and reflection.  The busy times are good for keeping me focused of the life before me and force me to plan and look to the future.  This morning, I had a strong mix of the two for the first time.

This morning when I woke up, I had my “game face on”, as some people say. I woke up with a purpose of knowing all that had to happen today and went straight to it. I took Julia to practice, got home just in time to receive Keagan and Kaidan in my driveway, fed them breakfast, woke up Michael Anthony, fixed him a smoothie, woke up Mia so she could help with the boys, then took Michael Anthony to the tennis camp.  As I turned onto North State Street on my way back home, I suddenly wanted to call Michael to just small talk.  I had a sudden realization that I really missed him as my best friend. I began to approach his old office, which still has his logo etched in the glass on the front window, Barranco Architecture and Interior Design.  I passed this building so many times with the children going back and forth to the downtown library or violin and guitar lessons.  The front of the building is all glass with the conference room up front.  Every time we passed by, the kids would strain their eyes as we drove by to see if Dad was in a meeting in the conference room or crane their neck to see if his car was parked in “his” spot around the back of the building.  It was very comforting to all of us to see him there.  The kids loved to go with him to the office to hang out and do their schoolwork, drink cokes from the kitchen, or play on his computer.    Sometimes on weekends, if he had some organizing or work to do, we would go up there as a family on a Friday night and order pizza and maybe project a movie up on the wall.   There have been nerf gun wars in that office, roller blading, hide and seek, and I believe even scooter riding when Michael Anthony was little.  The kid’s ages were about 3,5,and 9 when he bought that building, so they essentially grew up there.  We have not been back inside his office yet because I know that it is going to be very hard for all of us.  Julia wants to be sure that we bring home his coffee mugs, and I am sure the others have there own memories wrapped up in certain objects that they would only see at Dad’s office.

I found myself silently crying while I was driving down North State Street with short outbursts of wails.  He was my best friend, a safe place, someone who cared about listening to the mundane, someone who stood by me and loved me no matter how I acted, someone with whom to share little joys and small victories, someone with whom to share a beautiful moment, someone who was always available to me – in the good or the bad, never too busy to respond, someone who prayed for me daily… A true best friend.  I am greatly missing that aspect of our relationship.

I miss you my sweet friend, where did you go?
How can anyone fill your shoes?
I need your shoulder, your listening ear, your eye contact.
I need your thumb rubbing my thumb telling me it is all going to be okay.
I need your sweet hello on the phone,
It always sounded so happy to hear from me.
I miss your heart.
It comforts me to imagine how great God’s plans must be for you, for Him to take you away from here, so that He can use you even more from there.  
I always knew you were chosen and set aside for God’s purposes.
 What direction is He taking us?
I know you are learning from and being used by
 the Great architect and the original Master planner.
You used to sing the song, “I am a friend of God, He calls me friend.” 
How true that is.
He is my friend, too, and now I share the mundane with Him, the little joys,
the small victories, and the beautiful moments. 
I cry to Him and He is happy to hear my voice, just like you…
But I miss you still…

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Sunday, June 19, 2011

 Michael took picking out a Christmas tree to a whole new level.  Picking out just the right tree was of utmost importance to him. Christmas was his favorite holiday. He had many romantic ideas about how the whole month of December should look, from the choosing of the tree to Christmas Day. Holiday traditions were very dear to him.   Our den has a huge vaulted ceiling which enabled us to get extremely tall trees, which we all loved.  We always went out as a family to pick the tree from a Christmas tree lot in our town.  We would all amble in and out of the trees trying to find our favorites.  He would always want to see one that was not officially out yet but still leaning up against a back fence.  He would ask for our top choices, then try to help us see that his choice was the best!  Most times, we ended up with his choice.  As the kids got older, they told him that he always did this and he became much more diplomatic the past few years.

  I ran across these photos while perusing through iphoto on his laptop.  I had not ever seen this one of he and Michael Anthony.  I loved it.  It was such a happy day.  We were lease purchasing a large piece of property and had decided that we would cut a tree down from the land.  On the first Sunday of December 2008, we bought hot chocolate for everyone from Starbucks and drove forty minutes out to the land, hauling our ranger on the trailer behind us.  Once we got there, all five of us climbed in the ranger and drove all over the place looking for the perfect tree.  We had so much fun driving, walking around, and joking around together.  We found a tree that we all agreed upon and the two Boy Scouts began working on taking it down together.  The girls and I sat in the ranger and talked while watching them be "the men".

Once we got the tree home, we realized how hard it was to decorate because of how the limbs grew up vertically.  We made the most of our Charlie Brown Christmas tree and it was beautiful with all of its open spaces.  We all laughed about the tree and agreed that it was the only ugly tree we had ever chosen but loved it anyway because of the experience in the woods chopping it down as a family.  That December, we were going through our home study for the adoption which we were pursuing.  We were sitting at our breakfast table one morning, while a man and woman were in our home for the in-home interview and they were speaking with all of the children.  We heard this huge crash that came from the den.  We all quickly got up and ran to the den... our Charlie Brown tree was face down with broken ornaments all over the brick floor. They helped us put the tree back where it belonged and then picked up all of the ornaments.  Many were damaged beyond repair and countless ones were glued back together later that day.  We all went back to the interview and, of course, we still passed the home study! We had a love hate relationship with that tree that year.  It was a great story for us to tell.  We all loved that tree, in spite of itself.

This last picture is my screen saver on my laptop.  Michael took it of us before he and Michael Anthony cut down our sweet tree.  He was so happy to be in the woods with his family, sharing his love of the outdoors with all of us.  He was like a kid in a candy shop, jumping out to look at trees, pointing at different ones, calling us over to him to inspect, all the while sipping on his grande cafe mocha no whip... his all time favorite drink from Starbucks.  I don't know how we will pick a tree this year without him.  It was always a great kick-off to the holiday season of doing many things together as a family.  I am thinking about doing something totally different, like just going somewhere else for the Christmas season.  I don't know yet, but I am already aware that the need to do something is critical.  He brought Christmas alive every day.  Our children share the same love and excitement for the Christmas season, as
do I.  These pictures stir up in me the happiness and joy that we felt as a family from Thanksgiving all the way to New Year's Day.  It was always about being together.

Freshman Orientation

Friday, June 17, 2011
 I am still getting blindsided with grief in places that I should have seen it coming, but because the business of life and my role as a parent of three teenagers keep me rolling from one thing to the next, I don’t always have a chance to prepare, or even realize there could be rough waters ahead.  I got home from the beach yesterday at 5:15, walked the dog with Julia and got in about a half hour of one on one time catching up with her, went to pick up Michael Anthony from the pool and chatted with him on the way home, and was at Belhaven University by 6:15 for the kick-off of Mia’s freshman orientation.  She was so excited about this weekend, since it is her first big step toward independence.  They had events planned for the students late into the night; she would be sleeping in her dorm, and then have meetings all day today.   She and her Aunt Lesa, Michael’s sister, went to the train station to pick up her roommate, who was coming from Louisiana, and then headed to the campus.  This is when I joined her.

She called me on my cell phone to tell me that the dinner was going to be at the new Pavilion.  I did not think it was going to be too hard.  I thought all I was doing was eating dinner with her on campus then going to a parent panel for questions and answers.  I parked the car then quietly walked down the sidewalk and up to the Pavilion, situated on a hill overlooking a green space and tennis courts.   As I got closer, that old, familiar feeling of grief began to fill the inside of my whole body.  Michael was the campus architect for this college, and the Pavilion was one of the most recent structures he had designed that was completed.  It was the President’s dream and Michael saw his vision and designed it in a beautifully creative way.  You feel like you are at the foot of a Greek ruin with the beautiful columns, the huge steps leading up to it, the platform area, and then the lovely green space surrounding it.  When he and I went with Mia to tour the campus together last fall, (even though Michael could have led the tour himself), we were with a large group of prospective students walking all around the campus.  The tour guide was a student who was trying to do his best to tell about the purpose of each building as we walked along.  As we crested the hill to the Pavilion and approached the platform area, he said, ”I am not really sure what this space is for.  It’s kind of cool and we have socials and things out here.”  Michael had kept his mouth closed the whole tour, but at this point he had to speak out.  He never told the crowd that he was the architect, but he explained the vision for the present use and the future use.  He explained how it could transition the outdoor space for different functions.  He helped us all see the vision of a baccalaureate service being held down in the green space once the tennis courts are moved to their new home and how the structure will make a grand outdoor stage or backdrop for whatever purpose they would be using it. Everyone seemed to completely get it once the right person was talking.

So here I was, sitting at the top of these steps, with a plateful of baked beans, slaw, and a hamburger on my lap. Mia was sitting next to me and we had a great view of what Michael saw when he was designing it.  I broke down and began to cry.  Mia’s hand slipped over onto my knee and just held me there as her eyes filled with tears.  We sat quietly next to one another, just like that, for a few minutes and felt the weight of that moment.  I was able to pull it back together and begin to eat my dinner and visit with her and her roommate.  After eating, I kissed her goodbye and I went to my car to drive a little closer to the building where they were holding the parent question and answer panel.  As soon as I got into my car, I let all of those tears loose that I was trying to hold back while I was “in public”.  I sent a text to a few friends to pray for me because I was not sure if I could make through the next meeting.  I pulled myself together then drove my car to a new parking place and decided to call my parents to ask them to pray for me at the moment.  My dad answered the phone, and just like little kids who cry harder after skinning their knees once they see their parents, I started to cry all over again with my Dad.  He was extremely sympathetic and sorry I had to go through this, but was glad I had called.  I made it through the one hour of sitting and listening.  The hard part was that, unbeknownst to me, a close friend was on the panel on the stage.  We had not discussed the fact that she was going to be involved.  I could not look her in the eye for fear that I may start crying again. 

I skipped the morning session this morning for parents.  It was in the auditorium in the Center for the Arts building.... where over a thousand people gathered for Michael’s funeral.    Mia understood.  She was so strong because she was so thrilled and overjoyed about the whole weekend.  I met her for coffee in the Student Center and went to the bookstore to purchase all of her textbooks.  It was a wonderful weekend for her and emotionally exhausting for me, but at the same time, it warmed my heart to see her enjoying herself and to know that she was right where God wanted her to be.

Words of Affirmation

Thursday, June 16, 2011
About a week ago, I was coming out of my closet when a white dress shirt, with thin blue crossing lines, of Michael’s caught my eye and flooded me with thoughts about his sweet love languages.  About 7 years ago, I read a book by Dr. Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages.  I was leading the single mom’s ministry at my church and had decided that this book would be beneficial for us to study to enable them to better meet the needs of their children.  The five love languages are the different means of showing love to someone that can directly and successfully make the person feel loved, when using their love language.   

These languages are physical touch, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and words of affirmation.  One day, prior to my in depth study of the book, my dad and I were alone in my breakfast room talking about Michael’s church attendance.  Michael went to church every time the door was open… Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.   The kids were younger then, around the ages of 5-11.  When we took them to night services, they would go to bed at least two hours past bedtime.  On many nights, I told Michael I felt like the children needed to stay home and go to bed in order to get a good night’s rest.  He said he was going to go on to church because, “Babe, I just need it.  He came home to a house of sleeping children told me how good the service was and I listened to him share any deep, spiritual thoughts that were spurned on by the sermon.  

When my dad asked, “Why do you think he feels the need to go all of the time at night?”  I told him I didn’t know.  He gave me an answer that opened a window for me to see and understand Michael Barranco with a fuller view than I ever had before.  He said, “I think it’s because he is getting affirmation.”  The sermon, the Word of God being spoken, the fellowship of believers, and the music all fell into words of affirmation in his “love tank”, as Gary Chapman calls it.  He not only needed words of affirmation from me, but needed it from God in a tangible way.

 Until that point, I had not even realized that “words of affirmation” was one of his love languages.  I knew physical touch, that is a given.  Even though I had always been good with writing things down, I often had a hard time affirming face to face.  I am not sure why.  I think maybe a little shyness or embarrassment because he always surprised me with his responses.  He got so excited and giddy and happy as a young schoolboy.  He then teased me in a sweet way for being embarrassed about what I had said.  He held me while looking into my eyes with a smile and a little laugh and say, ”You’re so funny to me.” He would then hug me and sometimes say, “Oh Angel, I am so glad God gave me you!  What am I going to do with you!  

My love languages are quality time, physical touch, and acts of service.  The love language that Michael was best at giving was words of affirmation. (This should have been a huge flag to me that was the way he liked to receive it as well.)  He would say to me, ”Boy, I would have it made if your love language was words of affirmation!  He was good at affirming me, the children, and just about anyone else with whom he came in contact. We both had to work at giving regular doses of the preferred love language. 

Soon after the conversation with my Dad, I started looking for ways to affirm him with compliments.  He glowed when I simply thanked him and appreciated him for working so hard for the family. One morning, (not too long before his death) he put on a new dress shirt he had just bought at The Rogue, (the white one with thin blue crossing lines.)  It had a high collar and he looked so handsome in it.  It made him look strong and so Italian.  I told him I liked the shirt and that he looked handsome wearing it.  With just a tinge of embarrassment, he replied, “Really?  Thanks, Babe!  A couple of days later, I noticed a bag from The Rogue in our closet.  In it were three more dress shirts, of different colors, made the exact same way. 

I remember thinking how sweet that was and how true the theory is of speaking someone’s love language.  Because I met his “love tank” needs, he was refueled to meet mine.  We were not successful at this all of the time.  I found a note a couple of months ago in his catchall drawer that I had written him several years ago which he had saved.  In the note, I pointed out that, at that moment, both of our love tanks were running low.  I said it is hard to love someone when your own tank is empty, and yet, how can the other person treat you with love when their tank is empty?  I gave a proposition in the note.  I said, “Let’s start speaking one another’s love language at the exact same time.”  That is exactly what we did.     The love you give is more unselfish when it is one that stretches you out of your comfort zone, but the rewards are great.

Tears of a Different Kind

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
 I know that the bottle God has set aside for my tears is now overflowing.  I have never before cried so many tears in my forty -five years of life.   About two years ago, I was doing some deep thinking one Sunday afternoon over a cup of coffee while sitting in my bed, and I realized that I had not had a good, hard cry in several years.  I was not crying that afternoon or even needing to cry.  It was just an observation I was making about how good my life was with Michael.  We had our share of trials with various things…. Health, financial strain, or a lack of communication, but our faith, our relationship with God and with each other was so strong that, most times, we made it through those periods without tears and with a boldness, strength and confidence that the Lord would see us through.  God always came through for us.  For everything there is a season.  This seems to be my season of weeping.  Most of my tears have been in grief, wrenching pain over the loss of my beautiful husband that God chose for me and gave me for 24 special years.  Tears of missing his presence, his sounds, and his gusto for life.  Some tears are shed in the quiet presence of sheer loneliness.  Some tears are for my children’s loss of their loving and fun father.  Some tears are shed from questions to God to help clarify this journey through which He is guiding me.  As of late, I am shedding a tear of a different kind.  They are tears of feeling overwhelmed with the weightiness of being a parent. 

This is a good sign, really.  Some parents never feel the weight and don’t put enough prayer, planning, and discipline to their parenting decisions.  It all matters.  Daily decisions matter.  Praying for our children matters.  Who they spend their time with matters.  Where they go to school matters.  How they spend their free time matters.  Leading them to the right occupation matters.  Teaching them communication skills matters.  Setting an example for them matters.  Showing them how to forgive matters.  Listening to them matters.  Understanding them matters.  All of these have gained weight these past three and a half months as I have been forced into carrying this responsibility without Michael.  I have always been so passionate about my role as a parent, taking every decision to the Lord and to Michael for discussion.  Raising children to glorify God in their lives is the most important job God has given me.  That truth remains the same, even without Michael here to share that passion and commission given to us by God.

If I no longer felt that weight, it would be a bad sign that I was giving up on life.  I have no intention on giving up.  I am “fighting the good fight of faith. “ I understand that quote from Paul better now.  It is a fight and we must battle for it daily.  There is pain and the shedding of tears in most every fight.  I am only pulling through this battle because of my faith.   I don’t know how people can successfully do this, lose a spouse or parent or raise children, without a faith in Jesus Christ standing out before them as their shield in battle.  The battle has seemed to have reached a crucial point in the last couple of days.  I have been encouraged by the friends and family that God has put into my life for Him to use to assist me in this fight.  I have two sweet friends by the name of Beth, Beth T. and Beth W.  Beth W. has taken me to the beach for a getaway alone with her to rest and get away from all of the decisions, business, and life routine that have been pulling on me.  This is my first time away from the children since Michael died.  She is pampering me, listening to me, speaking into my life, crying with me, and encouraging me.  My sister Jerri is available for my girls, loving on them, meeting and recognizing their needs and having them overnight in her home this week.  Beth T. has complete charge of Michael Anthony and is available for any of the extra needs my girls might have.  She came to my rescue when Michael Anthony called me Sunday night after his first afternoon at Boy Scout camp in tears saying he could not do the whole week without his dad there with him, as he had been every other summer.  I prayed him to sleep over the phone and he was brought back to Jackson on Monday.  Beth T. rose up and took him under her wings, since I am six hours away from home.  As I was being thankful for her amazing friendship, I pulled out some of the scriptures that she brought to me on index cards almost daily the first month after Michael’s death.  I knew there was one in the stack that I needed right now.  I read this one and was reminded me that God really is with me, fighting for me.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.    Isaiah 43:2-3

Tears are much easier to handle when you know someone is taking care of you.  The tears and pain are hard no matter what.  God doesn’t always take them away, but he carries me through the circumstances… and allows a place to catch my tears.

The Spa Robe

Monday, June 13, 2011
 Earlier this week, I was out of town for a couple of days with the children, and treated myself to deep tissue massage.  If you have been following my blog, you know how Michael would always treat me to a massage wherever we would go.  It is, and will be, impossible to get a massage without some memory of a place in time where he carefully selected a location and scheduled a massage for me.  I checked into the spa and they handed me my robe and slippers.  Without much thought, I went into the dressing area to undress and put on the robe.  As soon as I felt the robe on my body, my mind went to a resort in the Bahamas where we went with our best friends, Nanette and Peter, for a week vacation to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversaries.  We scheduled a massage for each one of us, separately, but during the same hour.  The robe I had just put on my body felt, and looked, just like the ones were wore in that spa….. a thin, soft terry cloth on the inside and a khaki soft cotton on the outside that fell onto your body with ease and warmth. They were all huge and long.  They swallowed Nanette and me up with all of the fabric, but fit Michael just right because of his height and broad chest and shoulders.  He looked so relaxed and happy.  He was even a little giddy because it was so out of character for him to do something like that.  I could still picture him in his robe, waiting in the “quiet area” for his masseuse to come get him.  After we all emerged in a half drunken state of relaxation from our various rooms, we put on our swim suits and went outside to get an “umbrella drink”,  then went to sit in one of the beautiful hot tubs which had a small waterfall coming out of the wall into to the hot tub.  I could picture the guys taking turns sitting under the waterfall.  I remembered the laughter, the friendship, and the beautiful state of peace and rest that we were all enjoying at that moment.  All of this came to my memory because of a robe.

Then my mind went to another memory of a spa with the same type of robe….  Michael only went to a spa twice.  Both times they were on a trip with the same, dear friends.  Michael planned a surprise weekend for my 40th birthday….. I won’t say how long ago that was.   He had lined up childcare for the weekend and told me we were going away for the weekend and to pack my bags.  We left the house and drove to the airport.  My thoughts were that we were about to hop on a plane to fly somewhere.  Instead, he pulled up to the curb, and standing there with huge smiles, were Nanette and Peter, who had just flown into town to spend the weekend celebrating with us.  After laughter and hugs, we drove to Greenwood, Mississippi to stay at the Alluvian Hotel, take a French dinner party cooking class together at the Viking Cooking School, and get a couples’ massage at their wonderful spa.  When we arrived in our rooms, there was champagne on ice and chocolate covered strawberries for the four of us to toast a weekend to friendship, marriage, and my birthday.  Next came the spa treatment….  Our couples’ massage was scheduled first, with theirs immediately following.   We slipped on our robes, just like the one I was wearing while all of these memories were playing through my mind like a lovely movie, and were escorted to a peaceful waiting room for two with a platter of fruit and cheese and two more glasses of champagne.  After choosing the music that would play in the room during the massage, I had one of the most relaxing massage experiences ever.  It was no different than a regular massage, but we were on tables that were right next to one another, each with our own masseuse.  It was more relaxing just being in the same room with him, knowing that he was experiencing the same peacefulness that I was experiencing.  He spoiled me that weekend with one generous act and gift after another.  He planned, prepared, and included all of my favorite things….. from gifts, to food, to locations, to friends.  He made the weekend all about me and he relished in it.  A smile stayed constant on his sweet face, knowing that he had successfully pampered and spoiled me.

The robe made me feel comforted, loved, and pampered by him again. I had only ever worn a robe like that because he had made it happen.  This time, I made it happen and I was flooded with thankful memories that I had because of his love for me.  I sat in the hot tub after my massage and went through more memories of our conversations  and laughter in the hot tub with Nanette and Peter.  I was a little lonely and sober in the moment, not having anyone with whom to share it.  I did enjoy the solitude and time of retrospection.  I felt like I was the only person in the place, deep in my thoughts and in another place and time.  I dried off and wrapped myself back up into the cozy robe. My time was over but the feelings those memories stirred up inside of me, tarried on like a foggy haze surrounding my whole body as I got dressed to return to the real world outside the doors of the spa.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

I have been rather melancholy most of the day today.  Similar to my blog called, “Random Grief”, I have felt out of sorts in all different areas today.  One word that Michael and I used to like to use was discombobulated.  Not only is it a fun word to say, it sometimes feels like the perfect word for the situation.  It can mean confused and disconcerted, or unsettled, thrown off balance.  I felt discombobulated today.  His absence was obvious in so many places.  Sometimes I just feel awkward.  I had countless moments today where my mind was far, far away from the present moment and I was thinking about Michael and how different my life is now without him in it.  There is a word in the book of Psalms, that my sister uses often, which describes what I did often today. It is selah… .It means pause, think about it.  It seemed that was all I was doing, but it was going on privately in my mind in the midst of all of my actions and activities today.  I am getting fairly good at crying on the inside or hiding my tears that have welled up in my eyes.

Michael Anthony played in his first big tennis tournament today.  His match was at 8:00 this morning.  I had sent a text to family and friends inviting them to come so that he would have a boost of confidence by having many supporters there to watch him.  Most of the boys there had a dad with him, watching with a coach’s intensity.  Michael Anthony had me, Julia, a friend of his from out of town, a friend of mine who plays lots of tennis and warmed him up before his match, two uncles, the church administrator, and a man from our church, who taught him in his Communicants class and had become fast friends with him.  He did not win but played some great points.  He was quickly discouraged in his first set but began to focus better on the second set.  He has lost some of his will to fight.  He was ready to go home and let his mind relax onto other things.  I wanted to go to the referee or the dad of the young boy he was playing and say, “Have mercy…. He has had a rough three months.  This is not only his first tournament, but he just lost his dad, his best friend, his ‘bud’.  Can’t he earn some points just for the fight of being here?”  When we got home, he wanted his favorite salad.  I was happy to make it for him but when I got out the salad spinner, I suddenly began to move in slow motion as my heart saddened and my mind went to all of the times I have used that salad spinner for family dinners while Michael was still with us.  I have not cooked in three months.  People have generously brought us meals and I have not wanted to cook.  I used to make salads almost everyday.  The last time I used it was his last meal with us on Monday night, February 21.  I made manicotti and a salad.  We ate family dinners almost every night around the table with a fresh salad.  The salad spinner reminded me of life in the kitchen with Michael in the house.  I took my time…. Selah…. I paused and thought about it.

After taking care of his salad, I realized I needed to go buy some perennials to plant next week in the garden…. Which made me think of how different my Saturdays are now.  It is strange not having another adult to consult or work my schedule around.  Michael always had such high expectations of Saturdays.  He loved them.  He was so motivated and brought me along for the ride.  We each had things we wanted to accomplish but we stepped into each other’s task to help whenever it was necessary.   Today, I was able to just leave and go get the plants.  Most people would see that as a positive, but it made me feel a little discombobulated.  He would have normally been working out in the garden and would have called me while I was at the gardening store to add some things to my list or get my opinion on what he was doing.  It was just me.  It felt lonely.  I paused and thought about how different and quiet it felt for a Saturday.

This afternoon was the girls’ dance recital.  They both take hip-hop.  I was overwhelmed in the beginning of their number and fought the tears from overflowing.  I had to blink them away to keep my vision from being blurred.  I could not believe the years that had passed and how the hip-hop had come back around in our lives.  I used to teach hip-hop dance.  Now, after I have “retired”, my girls are on stage taking it from someone else.  (Julia is too young to even remember watching me dance. Mia took from me when she was 8 and 9 years old.) Michael would have been so proud and happy watching them dance.  I was proud.  They were enjoying themselves on stage and I knew what that felt like.  I paused and thought about the passing of years.

I took them out to eat for dinner, along with my 26-year-old niece.  As we were sitting at a table on the patio of a restaurant in our neighborhood, I looked up at the old brick building that had been restored.  My thoughts went immediately to Michael.  As I looked at the way the edges of the building met, I knew what Michael would have said about the building.  It was done right.  He would always point out architectural details and explain to me what was right about it and what was wrong about it.  He wanted me to know and appreciate the difference.  I remember when we took all of the kids to Italy, along with his parents, he was teaching  us all of the time.  Classical architecture was his favorite.  I think he felt this way because it is so balanced, orderly, brilliant, strong, and timeless.  I was missing hearing his thoughts and perspective as we sat outside.  I enjoyed my meal and conversation with the girls, but my mind was in another place.  On the inside I was pausing and thinking about it.

There were many other times throughout the day that caused my thoughts to drift and take me back to my life with Michael.  Actually, it seemed that they were continuous.  By the end of the day, I was extremely tired and wanted to quickly go to bed to end this day of melancholy reminiscing.  Situations were continually presenting themselves to me that pointed my thoughts to him ,and our life together, as well as our lives in his absence.   A whole day of feeling discombobulated, out of balance, unsettled.  Now I am pausing and thinking about it.  My Saturdays may feel like this for awhile.

Creating Life

Friday, June 3, 2011
Even with all of the children here, most of the time, the house still feels somewhat lifeless.  No matter what we are doing., it is obvious that somebody  and something is missing.  Even when Michael was not in the house physically, just the idea of him helped fill up the house with life and activity.  As I have mentioned before, we talked on the phone or texted all throughout the day.  We would get one another’s opinion in certain  areas, see how the other was doing, or just reach out to say I am thinking of you.  Our children were free to call him whenever they needed to talk to him or ask as question, as well.  Michael Anthony took full advantage of this and called him everyday, more than once.  Many times he would call him just to share a creative idea he was having to get some encouragement from his ultra creative dad.  Part of the quietness and lifelessness is just the lack of another conversation going on in the midst of all the activities in the house, or the opportunity for conversation with him whenever I had a lull in the day….. that is when I seemed to talk to him the most.  Now it seems that my whole day is full of one big time of quietness. 

I have realized in the past couple of weeks that I need to be proactive,  and creative, in creating life, or the feeling of life,  in the house.  I know that this revelation is from the Lord because I don’t believe that I would have the ability right now to make my brain work this way.  There were always certain things that we did when company was coming over for a visit ,or when Michael was coming home at the end of the day, that created an expectancy of fellowship and a love for life.  Playing music on the iPod speakers in the late afternoon is a huge help.  They are situated in the kitchen keeping area, which is the hub of all conversation and activity.  It makes us feel good and that there is beauty in the moment. I have learned that sound, in general, is good at creating life in the house.  I now love the sound of the dishwasher running.  It makes me realize that we have been eating, living, and using our kitchen.  The act of cleaning the kitchen and getting it to the point to use the dishwasher is good for seeing the presence of life too.  I also love to hear the washing machine or the dryer going through their cycles.  I used to only do laundry on Mondays, but now I don’t mind throwing in a load at any time.  It makes me feel productive and creates a sense of normalcy….life is going on.    I used to make a sweet minted or peach tea when company was coming over for a visit.   I have begun to do it for us to enjoy, even when nobody is coming over…. Just because.  The night before last, Michael Anthony poured himself a big glass and said, “Mom, did you make this tea for anything special?”  My reply was no, I had made it just for us to enjoy.  He smiled a big smile and said, “Thanks!”  I have been burning lots of great smelling candles more lately because a lit candle is not only soothing with it’s light and aroma, but again, makes the room feel special and that good conversation is welcome here.  Having the kids do chores around the house helps bring life.  None of us really feel like doing anything, but the energy that comes from getting something accomplished in the house is worth it.

I know that cooking will do all of these things for me too, but I have not been able to do that yet either.  I have always loved to cook for all of these reasons…. The smells, the action in the kitchen, the conversations that take place around the kitchen counter, the satisfaction of cooking something great for the people I love, and  the life that it brings to the house. To me, it shows that someone lives here and loves it.  I may just start with baking because those aromas are the absolute best.  I picked blueberries this week with a friend and I am thinking about blueberry streusel muffins or scones.  We all love them and Michael would moan with delight as I would pull them out of the oven.  He would come home from work when I was pulling some baked goods out of the oven to enjoy it while it was hot and to be there in the glory of moment when everything is fresh and on the counter. He would eat one, of whatever I had made, and make some noise, sometimes close his eyes, and say, ”Mmmmm! Oh, Babe!”  He would then take some extras on a napkin to enjoy back at the office or finish them before he even got back to his desk.

Creating life in a home that has lost a precious life.... It is hard.  It can sometimes feel laborious and fake.  Sometimes, I just walk around looking for ways to make the house feel alive.  Once I do something, anything, I am slightly comforted by the outcome.  All of these things that I am doing seem small, but a beautiful life is made up of just a lot of small acts.  I believe all of these things are helping the children and me feel that all is well.  They bring a feeling of security and stability.  We are still living our lives.  There are still things there to enjoy, even though the level of joy is not the same.  Will there ever be the level of full joy that we had before?  I don’t know the answer to that.  God is the great Creator of life.  I am made in His image.  He is showing me how to create life and beauty in this fallen world.