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Strength Waning

Friday, August 12, 2011
I feel my strength waning this week as each day goes by.  It has been a week filled with huge draws on my strength each day.   I have been strong and taking care of the necessary this week and I think I pushed myself a little too much.  When I am in the moment, I am thinking, “I can do this. It is just a task.  Just keep going a little further.  Keep a level head.  Make your decisions clear.  Keep moving. “  It always hits me later when I am in a position to let down.   Tonight, when I was getting ready for bed, I finally broke…… in the closet, again.

I have had painters and carpenters in and out of my house for a week now, fixing some rotted wood on the outside of my house, building some shelves and a desk for Michael Anthony, and having the entire outside of my house painted and then some painting in his bedroom.  Constant decisions and questions to answer all day long.  On Tuesday of this week, the children and I went to Michael’s office together… for the first time. This was something I was putting off but it was time and necessary.  This was the office where he had been for 11 years.  He owned the small building and had turned it into a creative place where creative minds produced great architecture.  Within those fours walls, a Barranco subculture was created to feed their creative freedom.  We walked in and it was as if they had all just stepped out of the office for a meeting.  It was messy.  Drawings everywhere.  Coffee still in the pot.  A note that Mia had put on his marker board to him was still there.  We all wandered around the place with our own personal agendas.  We all looked, discovered, and felt his absence in this perfect little building on North State Street that was his second home for so long.  I just looked all around each area, remembering who sat where, where we bought each piece of furniture, stared at all of the watercolor renderings of projects that lined the walls of his conference room, projects that I remember discussing around the dining room table with him, and saw all of the boxes in which we had placed his entire collection of architecture books just two weeks before the accident in order to move to his new office with the firm he was merging.  We only took about 8 boxes of the 30 to 40 boxes of books to his new office.  He wanted some time to figure out his new space before he brought the rest of his books.  The rest never made it to the new office.  I held myself together while in the office for the sake of the children.  They were focused on exploring.  Once we pulled back into our driveway at home, a painter with questions stopped me and I broke down.  I headed straight inside to the kitchen and was met by my sister, Julie, who wrapped her arms around me and held my while I cried.  I had carried in my hands some family photos that Michael had put in a box to take to his new office.  One was a picture of Michael Anthony dressed in a Civil War uniform that I sewed for him.  He was pretending to sit on our dog like a horse and was doing his salute imitation of the crazy stage driver in Dances with Wolves.  The picture made Michael laugh every time he saw it, so I had a 5x7 made and framed it for his office so that he would have something to look at when he needed to lighten up his day.  Another picture was an 8x10 frame that I had given him for Father’s Day about 10 years ago.  I had taken the black and white photos from the proof sheets of several photo shoots that we had done over the years of the children and us with them, and made a big collage.  It always sat right next to his computer screen.  Lots of sweet memories in those photos.  The third one was also a Father’s Day gift to him about 9 years ago.  It held three individual pictures of each child that I had taken while we were living in France.  Below the pictures, I had put a quote. “Priorities… A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”   Tucked in the corner of the frame was one of his Barranco logo note cards with his favorite verse written on it, in his handwriting.  “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but rather painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 
I had chosen this verse to put on a bronze plate that will sit at the base of a granite bench,  which will bear his name and will be placed near his grave in the cemetery.  He lived by this verse and how appropriate that, in his own handwriting, on his Barranco Architecture stationary, it stayed before him daily, tucked in the corner of these precious framed pictures of our children.  Discipline of parenting, discipline of work, and discipline of the spirit.  It is what he lived by.

I had a meeting for a couple of hours with my estate attorney for the task of updating my will and testament, health directive, and trust.  Not easy discussions to have.  We were in a corner meeting room with windows everywhere on the 14th floor….with a great view of many buildings Michael’s firm, Barranco Architecture, had designed, along with the cemetery where his body lays in the distance.  I was very distracted at first because I just wanted to stare out of the window at the activity going on around the buildings that carried his thumbprint.  There was the new work out facility, The Club, whose grand opening is coming up in a month, the new Metropolitan Bank, whose metal framework structure is standing strong, ready for the addition of walls and interior spaces, and then the entire Township forming an L behind the bank.  Just beyond that, is the lake belonging to the funeral home.  It was a heavy feeling to look out and see his touch in everything within view.  I wanted to just be quiet and stare at all of it, but had to carry on with the meeting.

 After lunch, I had an appointment with Doug Dale, Michael’s new partner in the firm with whom he had just merged.  I had scheduled some time with him so we could talk about everything from our feelings about Michael, grieving for a lost spouse (He lost his wife 5 years ago to cancer.), what projects were going on, how the firm was doing, and for me to gather up all of Michael’s personal belongings that we had moved there just a couple of weeks before February 22.  He was so kind and took his time with me as we sat in Michael’s office, with me sitting in Michael’s chair.  All of his books were on the shelves above the desk, just as we had placed them that Saturday in early February.  When I walked in his office and saw all of his books, it was like seeing old friends for the first time in years.  So many of those reference books I had seen on the shelves our entire years of marriage.  I pulled one off the shelf called, The History of Architecture, just so I could touch it and see his name inside the cover.  Inside the hardcover was the stamp that read, From the library of Michael Barranco, and then on the next page in the upper left hand corner was his signature……his classic signature.  I cried over that book.  Mia had just asked me on Tuesday, after having visited his office, where Barranco Architecture flourished,  “Mom, do we have his signature somewhere?  I would really like to have it.”  I reassured her that we had it in many places.  I thought of her, as I looked at his signature with the Barranco name sprawling out to a straight line with a dot at the end.   Three of the architects, who had worked with Michael in his firm over the years, and were a part of the merger, came into the office to hug me and visit for a few minutes.  It was good and comforting to see their familiar faces, faces that had always looked up from their desks with a smile and a hello when I would walk in the office to visit with Michael.   I cried as I talked to Doug about my struggles.  We compared the ways that we both dealt with and are dealing with the loss of a spouse.  I was able to share my heart and ask him his advice on a few business ventures that I now have to carry on in Michael’s absence.  The time flew by and then it was time for me to box up all of Michael’s books and other personal belongings.  I texted my sister, Julie, and told her I was ready for her to come to the office and help.  In the quiet office, I began to put his architecture books in the boxes.  These books represented his passion.  Most of them were on detailing, New Urbanism, and architectural history, all things that he loved.  We put everything on the dollies that were provided and were ready to head to the car when I remembered the drawers.  I had not looked in them because someone had already emptied most of their contents out into a box for me before I got there.  I opened up the top drawer, and for some reason, there sat the receipt for the diamond earrings that he had just given me for Christmas this past year.  He purchased them on Christmas Eve as the icing on the cake to a wonderfully blessed Christmas.  I had previously been told by the sales clerk at the jewelry store that he had come by while shopping to look at a pair then decided to go do some other last minute shopping while he thought about it.  He returned to not only purchase the earrings, but chose a larger size because he said, ”She deserves it.”  He told her it had been a tough year and I had stood by him and the upcoming year was going to be better.  Of all of the places for that receipt to be, there it was, sitting in this deserted drawer waiting for me to find it.  I picked it up and felt his heart.  I slipped it into my purse then turned to the framed piece on the wall that needed to go with me.  It was an award honoring him as a past President of the Mississippi American Institute of Architects.   My sister took it off the wall and we walked out together.

I did not feel like talking on the drive home.  I can’t find the words to describe how I was feeling.  I think depressed.  My chest felt heavy.  Breathing felt shallow.  My stare felt blank and distant.  Michael, you are really gone.  Such a void left where your life once took up so much space.  My heart aches for you. Another step of reality was being forced to settle into my mind.  The back of my van was full of his books.  I could have sat in silence for hours, but then we passed a building that Michael had claimed his favorite building in Jackson, the Veterans War Memorial, next to the Old Capitol.  I pointed that out to Julie.  If I remembered correctly, it was his favorite because it was a perfect example of classical architecture. 

Thursday night….
By the time I got ready for bed, I was emotionally spent and feeling like I was about to cry hard.  I thought to myself, “I feel like my strength waning.  My stores are spent.  Lord, I need you. I can’t do this alone.”  I had held it together fairly well all day, considering where I had to go emotionally all afternoon.  I put on my pajamas in my closet, and then peeked over at Michael’s dress shirts that hung behind me on the other side of the closet door.  I have only smelled and or touched his clothes about 4 times.  I seem to save it when I have a desperate need for him.   I felt desperate last night.  I took a deep breath and breathed in all of his smells, the cologne, the dry cleaners smell and his personal smell.  It was like a being wrapped in a blanket.  I felt the back of the shirts, touching the smoothly starched fabric that I always felt on his back when I hugged him at the end of the day.  It was only a few seconds but felt longer.  I heard Julia coming to my closet, calling for me to say good night.  I came around the closet door with tears running down my face. She said, “I came to say good night.“  She had noticed the tears and we stood there and hugged for a long time.  I cried while we stood there in the doorway to my closet.  She allowed me to hold her as long as I wanted.  I whispered to her, “I was smelling his shirts.”  I know she understood….she of all people.  She is a smeller and always has been.  She knows people by their smells and had even wanted Michael’s pillow for the smells.  She now sleeps with it in her bed.  I kissed her forehead and we said good night to each other.  I cried my way through washing my face and brushing my teeth.  I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the pain.  It was still early in the evening, so I decided to start writing down my week, knowing I would feel some release from getting it out of my heart and into words.  There was some closure that day, closure of the dream of his merger with Doug Dale, whom he admired and respected and had looked forward to working alongside.  Closure of his working relationships with his past employees.  Closure of future possibilities for his creative ideas to be built.  Closure of a season.  A wonderful, exciting, challenging, blessed, and beautiful season.


Patrice Says:
August 17, 2011 at 3:10 PM

Jene, we have never met and I knew Michael only barely in high school. Know that the words you are writing are reaching and helping many people. Through our own trials, I hug my husband a little tighter each night in awareness of your loss. I am learning through your example to turn my problems over to an ever present higher power. I pray for you and your children for some moments of peace as you move through the journey of grief. You are not alone.

Anonymous Says:
August 18, 2011 at 7:13 AM

Jene...I can only very slightly possibly imagine how you feel and how your strength was waning last week...but from here, it looks like you are getting stronger. Praying for the strength training you are going through. Praying that you will soon feel some of the gain and less of the pain (pardon the cliche).

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