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No Reply from Heaven

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

The Dream

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

He gave me a dream.

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

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

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

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

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

Nightstand Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Collecting Dust

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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