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A Grateful Heart

Sunday, May 13, 2012
I recently finished reading a book given to me by my good friend, Catherine Stradinger. She had read it after losing her father and it helped deliver her out of the pit of grief. She gave it to me in March of last year but I have cautiously read books on grief, one at a time, when I felt like the timing was right. I finally picked up this one several weeks ago, and now I know why God used it for such a time as this, in this particular part of my grieving process. It is entitled, “Tracks of a Fellow Struggler”, and is written by John R. Claypool. John is a pastor who lost his daughter to leukemia when she was ten years old. This small book is the compilation of his sermons that he preached to help him through his struggles during her illness and after her death. I finished it while on an airplane this past week and its final chapter quickly nudged me down the road that will lead me out of this darkness. He referred to it at the “Road of Gratitude”.

Using the example of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Claypool says, “God was trying to teach Abraham…the basic understanding that life is a gift – pure, simple, sheer gift – and that we here on earth are to relate to it accordingly.” We have not done anything to earn it or deserve it, and yet God gives us the gift of life. I was a gift to Michael and he was a gift to me…neither of us deserving one another, but the gift was given for our enjoyment. He goes on to say, “And when I remember that the appropriate response to a gift, even when it is taken away, is gratitude, then I am better able to try and thank God that I was ever given her in the first place.”

In the first few weeks and months following Michael’s death, I told many people that I was so thankful for the life that I did have with Michael. I was thankful for the 24 years that I had. I was thankful for the rewarding marriage I had with him. I was thankful that my kids were old enough to remember what a great father he was. I was thankful that Michael Anthony was old enough to remember the example that his dad had set on how to treat a wife. I was thankful that God chose me to be the recipient of the gift of Michael Barranco. This was all in the initial shock stage of grief, and then the pain, the void, and the loss began to set in with all of its weight and darkness. It got so dark at times in this valley that I had a hard time stirring up even a glimmer of my grateful heart.

I am making a conscious decision to try to focus on having a grateful heart. I need to try to stop focusing on the past and what things used to be like with Michael in our lives. I need to stop thinking about what I don’t have anymore… I want to focus on what I do have. This is going to take a constant effort. It will not be easy at first, but I need to set an example for my kids.

We need to keep looking to the future, make plans, and keep dreaming.

Claypool’s final statements settled deep into my soul and lifted my chin up where it should be. “Everywhere I turn I am surrounded by reminders of her – things we did together, things she said, things she loved. And in the presence of these reminders, I have two alternatives. I can dwell on the fact that she’s been taken away, and dissolve in remorse that all of this is gone forever. Or, focusing on the wonder that she was ever given at all, I can resolve to be grateful that we shared life, even for an all too short ten years. There are only two choices here, but believe me, the best way out for me is the way of gratitude. The way of remorse does not alter the stark reality and only makes matters worse. The way of gratitude does not alleviate the pain, but it somehow puts some light around the darkness and creates strength to begin to move on.” I am grateful that we ever even had Michael for the time that we did. He was a gift from God. I am grateful that we shared a life, even if it was short in our terms. A grateful heart will bring light into the darkness and, I believe, it will give me more strength as I exercise it.

Claypool gives this advice to his church from the pulpit, “I need you to help me on down the way, and this is how: do not counsel me not to question, and do not attempt to give me any total answers. Neither one of those ways will work for me. The greatest thing that you can do is to remind me that life is a gift – every particle of it, and that the way to handle a gift is to be grateful.”

With this said, I have decided to stop writing on this particular blog. I believe that God’s purpose in having me do this is now finished. Not that the healing process is over, because that will continue on for years to come. I have come through my long journey in the valley of the shadow of death but there are still repercussions of having experienced the valley. I am planning on moving onward at a stronger pace, with a stronger heart. I will still need and seek solitude for strength, because I have needed it in that form my whole life. I will still lean towards the introverted side, because this is my nature. I will always have setbacks, because there is no magic formula. I will always miss him, as well as what he brought and added to our lives…. But, I will try to focus on the things for which I have to be grateful and try not to let the remorse bring me down to places so low that I may get stuck down there. As Claypool said, “I know that gratitude does not alleviate the pain, but it somehow puts some light around the darkness and creates strength to begin to move on.” I am ready for some light around this darkness. I want to feel the warmth of the light on my face again. I turn my grateful heart towards heaven and give it to God. I don’t know what the future holds but I believe God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11,” ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

I am grateful for that promise.

Sinking Spell

Friday, May 4, 2012
I have felt it building all week. A little weight here, a little weight there. Each day has brought an added heaviness from unexpected places at unexpected times. I still need time each day, in solitude, to continue the healing and to process my new life and all of the new demands on it, but, most of the time, I am not getting that time. The more time that passes without quiet space, the more frazzled I become. This makes my inner emotional volcano steadily build with each day that passes where there has not been a space in my day to pull away, be alone, contemplate, be quiet, and process. I process all things best while in solitude. It restores me, refreshes me, clears my mind, and helps me make more sound decisions than when I do not have that time alone. It does not have to be much…sometimes 30 minutes alone can feel like a personal retreat. In my “previous life”, I continually had my own processing time each afternoon when I would make the kids read for an hour on their beds. I would read sometimes on my bed during that time, or I would just lie there and absorb the silence and time to think.

Michael recognized this need of mine and always created some space for me on Saturdays and Sundays because he could see how it settled me. Because I have always homeschooled, there were never built-in frames of time in each day that I could count on being alone, so it always took planning to set a small amount of time aside for me. When Mia was our only child, Michael took her to a local Jewish deli every Saturday morning that also served a great breakfast. She would take her doll along with her and order pancakes every time. Irv, the older man who owned the restaurant, would always come by their table each week to visit with them. After breakfast, they would walk to the huge fountain in the courtyard area in the shopping center where the deli was located. He would let her throw lots of coins and walk around the edges of the fountain. He continued this tradition as each child was added and stopped doing it only because the place closed after decades of being open since the couple needed to retire and there were no family members to step in and keep it going. Those Saturday mornings were precious to me. I did not fill them with busyness but kept things slow, quiet, and restorative.

I have regularly found myself in sinking spells this past year when I have not had enough time alone to process my new life. This week, with each passing day, I have felt myself sinking in spirits. Loneliness creeps in, the awareness of the absence of joy, the overwhelming reality of parenting alone and managing a household, the weightiness of being the sole decision maker, and the vacuum that was once filled with Michael’s life take it’s toll. Then suddenly, I cannot take one more step forward without having to come to a screeching halt.

This afternoon I came to my screeching halt. I had taken Michael Anthony out to meet one of Mia’s college buddies to join him and a group of his friends in an air-soft war. I felt the heaviness in the air around me on the drive out there and then once he got out of the car, I gave final instructions, rolled up my window, and I felt everything caving in on me. The tears from Sunday came gushing up just as quickly as they always do and I felt the need to have a hard cry but had to drive 20 minutes back home. I was tempted to call a friend on the phone to talk and cry my way back home with her on the phone but decided to handle it alone. It is getting harder to reach out and share those moments with people the further away we get from February 22, 2011. Most people have moved on with their grief at a completely different speed than I have, and for obvious reasons, and when I am needing to stop and cry, I feel like it catches some people off guard that I still need to frequently do that. It reminds me of a blog post that I wrote about 12 months ago called, Things Are Not What They Seem.

"I know it is only natural for us to look at someone and make a judgement call on how they are doing.... they look nice, are dressed sharp, nice hair, smile on the face, can converse about the details of dailyness, and even answer ‘good’ when asked how they are doing. Things are not what they seem. In everyone's lives, there is so much going on sub-level. We have all learned how to show the side that we think people want to see. We can become, what John Eldredge refers to as, a poser. I have never wanted to be a poser and work hard at being transparent, but, lately, I have found that putting on a face is really my way of surviving ‘outside of the box’. Don't be fooled... beneath the surface, the kids and I are still ‘inside the box’. “

In another post entitled, Business as Usual, I speak of the exact same thoughts that I am feeling again now. I call these "boomerang emotions"…they keep coming back no matter how hard I try to get rid of them.

“I know many people assume that when I am not posting anything new, things must be going well. Other people I know begin to pray more for me when I am not writing because they recognize that it could mean I am pulling away, going deeper inside the box. The second is more the truth. Even though I appear as if I am functioning and doing my daily tasks, the longer I operate ‘outside the box’, the more I privately go ‘inside the box’ on the inside. Sometimes I must function for longer periods of time outside, but all I really want to do is disappear to my room and focus on my aching heart that is always present, no matter what I am doing or where I am. As I get busy with life schedules and decision making, and the longer I go without writing, the more lonely and sad I am and the more I feel the need to allow myself to pull away to be quiet, write, reflect, cry without anybody watching, and do nothing. The more I write, the better I am on a daily basis. Facing the reality of the loss daily is much better than staying in a busy state, which does not allow me the time to feel, discern, contemplate my life, or to hear from God. There must be a balance between the two and my emotional state seems to suffer when I stay in one place too long, inside or outside. Most all of the time, it is too much time outside.”
The adjustment continues daily in this new life of mine (I still feel like I am grinding gears throughout the day as I shift from one way of doing things to another and from one emotion to another) and, because of the wound of having something severed from my life, the healing time and space is even more imperative than it was before. I have been fighting back the tears ever since I forced them back down this past Sunday after my encounter of “seeing” Michael. Today, I grinded gears all day, as I had to attend to a variety of choices and tasks within my house. I had to face a small portion of Michael’s side of the closet…. out of necessity.

Behind one of his shelves is our main security panel for the house security system. It was time for the annual system check so I needed to clear out the space for workmen. Thank goodness I had already done most of his shoes, which used to be the majority of things in front of the security panel. Between Michael Anthony and my 24 year old nephew, I had slowly pulled out shoes over the last several months to give them as needed. While I was going through what was necessary today, I thought, “Maybe I can handle one of these drawers too…”. I decided that the sock drawer directly above the panel would be relatively free of emotions…. I was wrong. Michael had this funny little habit with his socks. He was a dress sock “horse”. (Some say he was clothing horse too.) He always looked great and wore nothing but the best from head to toe. He probably had at least 30 pair of stylish men’s dress socks. He would have favorites that he loved to wear every week. In an attempt to always have all of his favorites as options each day, he would take off his socks at the end of the day, fold them back together and put them back into the sock drawer. I was greatly puzzled by this one time when I noticed so many socks folded in his drawer that had the full size shape of his foot in them. He said he may want to wear a certain pair before it is laundry day, so he kept them in the drawer! It baffled me but I would laugh about it and he would even giggle at himself about it. When I opened the sock drawer today and began lifting up pairs of socks, I discovered, again, his little habit. Within the drawer were about 5 pairs of used socks folded back into place, with his full-sized foot shape formed into the bottom of the socks. I smiled and thought of our many little friendly banters in the closet discussing his sock secret. After discovering this unique sign of him in the sock drawer, a sign of his life, his quirks, his habits, I could not bring myself to finish the job. I straightened the contents of the drawer a bit, picked up each pair that had been worn, then placed them neatly back into the drawer and shut it for another day.

....I have begun to learn when to catch myself so that the sinking spell does not go too far because it can require a great deal of strength to lift myself back up out of the box.

The Encounter

Sunday, April 29, 2012

As I was coming out of the sanctuary of my church this morning, I had a new experience. One which I have heard could happen to me at any given moment, in any given place, at any given time….I thought I saw Michael. Of course it does not make sense. I know I cannot just run into him. But all things familiar lined up to make it feel real for a split second. The kids were walking in front of me, as we were about to leave the sanctuary through one of the doors into a back hallway. Someone had quickly pulled back the door and was holding it open for us to walk through before he entered into the sanctuary. I had not paid any attention to who it was at first but then glanced his direction right when I was approaching the door. My heart flipped, my body suddenly radiated with heat and I became unaware of everything that was going on around me. Instantly, my eyes filled to the rim with tears, which I had been able to hold at bay throughout almost the entire service for the first time. At first glance, I did not even see his face, which is why I thought it was Michael. His outfit was put together like Michael’s would have been, his height felt similar to Michael’s, and he stood patiently, and happily, allowing my whole family through the door….like Michael would have opened the door for us. I quickly looked away and then glanced immediately back at him in an attempt to ground myself…I looked into his face and gave a faint smile and thought to myself, “How did that just happen? How did my emotions respond so quickly to the idea that he may have been standing right before me? I know he can’t be here holding the door open for me at church like he did for 24 years? Why did I immediately ‘see’ it as him?” This all happened…the encounter, the shock, the tears, and the attempt to pull myself together in a matter of seconds. With Mia walking in front of me, and the three boys walking behind me, I had to make my way down the hall with my eyes focused straight ahead without talking or glancing my eyes in any direction other than right before me. I had to tune out everything and completely concentrate on getting myself back out of the quicksand before the wave of tears spilled out of my blurry eyes. I have learned that if I focus hard enough, I can force the tears to recess back from where they so quickly came. I felt like I was walking down one of the hallways in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The walls felt as if they were closing in on me. I was disoriented and confused about this incident that had just thrown itself in my face out of nowhere, but, within seconds, I was going to emerge out of the hallway and be surrounded by people passing to get coffee in between the service and Sunday School. I had to get my wits back together in the same amount of time that I lost them. I was not ready to handle more uncomfortable glances of sympathy and chose to suck it up and push through the moment. I choked out a few “good mornings”, and then ran into my older brother, Craig…saved. Unaware of what had just happened, he began asking me questions and small talking about his daughter with me. I was quickly pulled back into this present moment.

I have talked to people who think they have seen their lost loved one in the grocery store, or passing in a car, or approaching them from behind while walking somewhere. The emotions that can be stirred and erupt in a matter of seconds is astounding. It can blindside me at any given moment, without any announcement that it is about to crush me. The wave hits, the wind gets knocked out of me, I stumble, maybe fall to me knees, like walking through rushing water, then struggle back to my feet, and force one foot in front of the other with deliberation and focus. It is an emotional workout, which builds strength, ever so slightly, with each hit that it takes on me.

Mysterious Joy

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
I have been asked if I am done writing on my blog. The answer is no….the searching, healing, and questioning through my writing is not complete yet. Not that it will ever be fully complete, but I think there will be a time when I will feel like I have birthed all that I am supposed to birth concerning this grieving journey in this manner. Of course, I will continue on this road, discovering, learning, growing, and healing, long after I decide to stop posting new entries. It will not mean that there are no more struggles. It will just mean that this assignment, which I feel God has given me, and has graced me with the strength to carry through with it, is over. It will mean a different season has begun. I was speaking with someone recently who lost her father ten years ago and we both agreed on one thing. People say, it will get better over time, but we both agreed that it does not necessarily get better, you only get accustomed to the pain and the loss. You learn to live with it. Like I said in “A Day in the Life of Members Only,”…… “Our days slowly morph into a different life until we don’t recognize the extra pain and weight that our minds and body have now become accustomed to holding. Living and grieving now coexist daily. “

I wanted to write sooner but my days have been too consumed with life going on at an incredibly fast pace. It has been very difficult for me to find the time in order to disappear and have the solitude that it takes to contemplate my feelings, listen to God, and put it down on paper. More difficult than finding time is making time for my personal healing a priority. My sister, Julie, told me two weeks ago, through both of our tears, that I put myself, and my needs, too low on the totem pole. It is natural for a mom to put all of her children and their needs first. But in a case such as death, it is imperative that I present a rested, healing self to my children so that I can be stronger for them. It is something that I have to plan ahead and be proactive about, for there to be a place for me in my life. I am taking time for me today by having a one-day retreat in the guest bedroom of a close friend. It is a quiet place, a place of beauty, and a space where I can get before God and seek him without any distractions. I have decided to write about something that I was dealing with last month during my hiatus from writing. I chose not to write about it then because I was too low or deep into the grieving box to share with anyone. Now that I have come up for air and feel like I am partially on the other side, I wanted to write down my experience and what I have been able to take away from it.

About a month ago, a week after the one-year mark, I suddenly came to an all time low. I say suddenly, but it crept on me for a couple of days, and then I was suddenly drowning. I felt that there were no expressions left in my face. I could not smile. I did not want to talk. Life felt blank, bland, and completely, utterly, absent of joy. I had never experienced this particular, specific mood, to this extent. I had to remind myself again, as before, “Breathe,” and “Breathe deeply.” I don’t remember how it happened, but I somehow ended up on the phone with Julie, and I broke down on the phone and told her how empty I felt, that there was no joy. She said that she had noticed it as well. She immediately took charge of all of the boys and gave me the next three hours alone in my house to work through this extreme low. I went upstairs and decided to write but knew that I could not post it at that time. I was not even sure that I could write it all out in this form, so I chose to write a poem to describe my emotional state. I was in a mental search for joy. I was trying to get a grip on biblical joy, what it meant, and was it wrong for me to not be feeling or walking in joy at this time. Following is the poem that was produced out of that quiet time of searching and experiencing this great void.

Mystery of Joy

Empty void monotonous blank

Duty bland continual drudgery

Robotic expressionless motionless numbing

Invisible, concealed, hidden, covert
Stir it up, seek for it, dig for it, fight for it
Uncover it, desire it……mysterious joy

Keep moving, lean forward, believe, trust
Presence, feeling, absence, searching
Discovering, understanding……mysterious joy

Written by
Jene’ Barranco
February 28, 2012

I sat on all of these feeling for a couple of weeks then searched the scriptures more deeply concerning the topic of joy. After reading countless scriptures and many studies on joy on the Internet, I realized that I was not in a place yet to feel, show, or walk out any form of joy, as we know joy. Then I came across this verse in Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” This jumped right into my heart when I read it. I thought to myself, “I can be joyful in hope….this is something I can do.” I can be joyful in my certainty (my hope) of God’s sovereignty. I can be joyful in my anticipation (my hope) of God’s perfect plan for my life. J. Hampton Keathley, III said in a study on hope,
“By its very nature, hope stresses futurity and invisibility. Things we have not received, can’t see or both. It changes how we see ourselves. It changes us into pilgrim persons, people who see this life as a temporary sojourn. It changes what we value. Hope, if biblical, makes us heavenly minded rather than earthly minded. It affects what we do with our lives - our talents, time, treasures. The Christian life, if it is grasped according to God’s truth, is a magnificent obsession with an eternal hope, a hope that does not lead to an escapist attitude, but to the pursuit of life on a whole new dimension. It makes you bullish on the potentials of life as stewards of God. It gives us power to live courageously to be all God has called us to be in Christ.”
I do have an obsession with an eternal hope. I am pursuing life on a whole new dimension. I am living courageously to be all that God has called me to be in Christ. My hope has changed my values, or rather secured them even more. I am a pilgrim on this journey. My ability to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer,” is the force that pushes me along this long road.

The Start of Something New

Friday, February 24, 2012
In the same worn out yellow folder from my high school creative writing class, where I found my poem “The Discovery”, I found this piece that my Dad had given me. There is no date on it, but it is my guess he gave it to me around high school graduation. It is often entitled, “A Time to Dare,” but I think that the line at the beginning of the last stanza is more appropriate, “The Start of Something New”. My purpose for looking at everything in that folder was to see if there was anything creative that I had written during those years of my life that could speak to me now. This one from my Dad reads as if it was given to me for the present, this very time of my life, more so than it was for my past. It became a popular poem in the ‘90s for graduation ceremonies but when I read it again, at this time in my life, it resonated even more, at a much deeper level. High school graduates are too young and inexperienced to fully grasp this challenge and its applications to all of what life may throw their way. It will just scratch the surface for them as they begin to understand the magnitude of what lay ahead for them. It means something totally different to a high school student when they read, “There will be good days and there will be bad days,”. A good day may be a date for Friday night and a bad day may mean a bad hair day or late for class. At my stage of life, the stakes are much higher when you are counting on a good day or anticipating a bad day. The author is unknown but my Dad signed it at the bottom of the typed page, “Love, Dad” with the scripture reference Philippians 4:13 next to it. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

If there were ever a time to dare,
To make a difference,
To embark on something worth doing,
It is now.
Not for any grand cause, necessarily,
But for something that tugs at your heart,
Something that’s your aspiration,
Something that’s your dream.

You owe it to yourself
To make your days here count.
Have fun.
Dig deep.

Dream big.

Know, though, that things worth doing
Seldom come easy.
There will be good days
And there will be bad days.
There will be times when you want to turn around,
Pack it up,
And call it quits.
Those times tell you
That you are pushing yourself,
That you are not afraid to learn by trying.


Because with an idea,
And the right tools,
You can do great things.
Let your instincts,
Your intellect,
And your heart
Guide you.


Believe in the incredible power of the human mind.
Of doing something that makes a difference.
Of working hard.
Of laughing and hoping.
Of lazy afternoons.
Of lasting friends.
Of all the things that will cross your path this year.

The start of something new
Brings the hope of something great.
Anything is possible.
There is only one you.
And you will pass this way only once.
Do it right.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

There is nothing that will test your friendships more, or cause your relationships to build and mature, than death and grieving. I am honored and privileged to have the incredibly strong friendships that remain . They have continued to build, mature, strengthen, and deepen. The friendships that have remained firm are those that have continued to come towards me. They did not just say, “You know I am here if you need me. Just give me a call.” These friends took the initiative and called to check in with me on a continual basis and offered their ear, shoulder, or their time. One of these friends came over one day just for five minutes, arrived with a flower from her garden and said, “I just had to see you because I would know how you were doing if I could look you in the eyes.” Once she looked intently into my eyes, and gave me a hug, she was off. We were both satisfied. After speaking to countless people who have suffered a loss, they all contend that calling someone for help or a need is not something that they did, even though the invitation was put out there by very well meaning friends. During this stage of grieving, it requires too much strength and effort to reach out most all of the time. We cannot think or take our emotions very far beyond our little grief boundaries. Others are welcome to enter into those boundaries but it is not often that we leave those boundaries looking for a listening ear or help in any way. We need the support to come to us.

With that said, I want to thank and honor my friends who have continued to come and have had the courage to enter into the grief boundaries that have surrounded me this past year. They have been giving and giving without expecting anything in return…. and that is what has spurned me to write this. It has been a one sided friendship this year. I have had to take, and take, and take, and have had absolutely nothing to give. Any phone conversations that I have had took place because they called me. I did not do much calling at all this year. For most of the year I could hardly even ask simple questions like, “So how is life? What have you been up to lately?” I honestly had a difficult time caring about the daily grind in anybody’s life outside of my boundaries. Nothing but life and love mattered. Some of these friends have gone through their own trials this past year, but I would not have known it because they did not want to burden me with any of their problems and add anything to my plate. They were there for me and I did not even know that they had a need…. and yet they gave. This has hurt me to see this happen because it feels like seeing someone who needs help but your hands are tied behind you and you are strapped to a chair. I love being a friend to my friends. I love doing little things, sending notes or little gifts, or taking walks together. In my heart, I wanted to be more of a friend in return for them, but I could not physically do it. The ability is slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to emerge. It won’t magically change after the one year anniversary either, which means my friends will continue to hang in there with me, within my boundaries, as those boundaries expand and broaden a little more each day.

I have been so blessed to have a beautiful, small, but tight, circle of friends who have taken turns holding my hand this year and each offering of themselves and their own individual gifts that God gave them to me.

Done vs. Undone

Yesterday I was looking for some medicine for Michael Anthony in my medicine basket because he has a bad stuffy nose. I believe that I have not had to dig through that basket this whole past year. I saw all of Michael’s old prescription meds from past sinus infections or back pain, from when he would occasionally throw it out just putting on his socks, where all still floating around in that basket. It hit me again, suddenly, how fast the year has gone by. I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I haven’t thrown those away yet.” This led to the next thought of how many things like that still have not been done…. mainly because there have been too many more important pressing issues to deal with on a daily basis. Managing day –to- day living/survival for a household of 6, tying up all of Michael’s business dealings… and trying to clean out and purge stuff from my missing spouse? The purging easily became something at the bottom of the list. These little things just don’t really matter in the big picture, but it made me see how fleeting life and time can be. But, I could not help but think about and picture all of the things that I had not done or finished this year. I tried not to dwell on it too long and my friend Nanette reminded me on the phone of everything I did do this year. I am not one to usually think or care about what other people think, but, if I were honest with myself, I would admit that I feel like people are looking at what I haven’t done and are thinking, “I can’t believe she has not done that yet. I can’t believe she hasn’t cleaned that up yet. I can’t believe she has not organized that yet. I can’t believe that same stack of papers is still there. Is she ever going to go through those boxes in the corner?....” I have let it go all year because there were always too many other things each day that were higher priorities. I do a little everyday, but it is like pulling weeds. You pull the most unsightly ones first, and then begin to work on the others, one area at a time, and by the time you get to the last area; there are more weeds to pull where you started.

Things I still have not done

Emptied his clothes from the closet, except for the few that Michael Anthony has taken out to wear and some that I gave to my nephew. Have tried to do it more than once.

Emptied out his dresser drawers.

Cleaned out his basket under his side of the sink with all of his colognes and other toiletries.

Cleaned out his brown leather Dopp kit.

Thrown away any of his prescriptions meds that are in my medicine basket.

Put away any of his shoes.

Finished emptying out his old office….(an elephant waiting for me to push it over.)

Finished thank you notes for gifts or memoriam gifts given in the second half of the year.

Gone through all of his high-end tools to find a new home for them.

Finished going through his library of books, which we boxed up together last February from his old office.

Put any of the photos back into the albums and frames where they came from that were used for the picture boards at the visitation.

Thrown away his favorite hair products.

Enjoyed my garden.

The list of what I have done is longer and the intangible list is even longer. This is what I must keep my eyes focused upon. With God’s grace in abundance, I have held my family unit together. I have not run from God but have run towards Him. I have learned. I have learned more about my children and have studied them. I have gotten out of bed every single day. I have done what had to be done each and every day. I have taken the healing process very seriously, because it needs to be. I have thanked God in the middle of it for the little things and the big. I have never stopped loving my children. I have never stopped being present for my children. I have never stopped praying for my children. As Michael used to tell me, “Babe, if all you ever do is feed all of the children, and meet their needs, you have done enough.” I think he told me that for such a time as this. It just immediately came to my memory as I typed what I have done for the children and I began to cry. I can picture him saying that to me from across the dinner table at the end of a long day. He was encouraging me and lifting me up out of my, “I haven’t accomplished anything today mentality.” He just did it again.

Disciplined Remembering

Today, I choose to remember all things good. I choose to remember the love, not the loss. I choose to remember the sound of his laughter and the look of his smile…..

The way he could tell a joke

The way he always opened the door for me

The way he stepped aside, placed his hand on my lower back, then guided me first

The way he handed me my morning coffee with a kiss

The way he would tenderly say to me, “Babe”, when I was feeling low
(I would love to hear him say that right now)

The way he sang, “When Somethin’ is Wrong with My Baby, Somethin’
is Wrong with Me” at our wedding reception, while holding my hand

The way he would hug me at my waist and shrug his shoulders up and down
with happiness, while moving my waist around and wrinkling his nose
with a smile then would tell me , “Ooh, you are just so beautiful to me!” ,
followed by, “Babe, what am I going to do with you!”

The way he looked at me, no matter where we were, no matter who was in the room
…no matter how long we had been married

The way he took the art of gift giving to a whole new, beautiful level
….extravagant love

The way he loved to plan huge surprises and how it tickled him to see the response

The way he cared about details, like running out to buy church shoes for our
children on a Saturday if they had suddenly outgrown them
or making sure that there was an oversized piece of candy to stick out of their
stocking on Christmas morning

The way Christmas excited him

The way he treated people
….all people

The way he honored his mother and father

The way he would speak in a funny dialect on the phone with his sisters
and a few very close friends

The way he loved to take a moment to enjoy the outdoors in our garden at the end
of a day with a glass of wine and “stroll through the yard”
….”Babe, why don’t you come out and join me?”

The way he enjoyed the process of grilling a meal outside
….the wine, the music, the fellowship, the celebration of life, the smell, the fresh
air, the time to contemplate life, the occasional cigar, the time in the garden, and
staring at me in the kitchen through the window…with a look of satisfaction

The way he was constantly ready to learn and improve himself

The way he always…always….put the needs of others first
(He would have been the absolute last one on the Titanic)

The way he worshipped God

The way he sang

The way he crooned ‘Happy Birthday to you” with his chin in the air, then laugh

The way he whispered prayers and praise into my ear while I was in labor
…..while kissing my ear and saying, “You are so amazing!”

The way he would happily say, “Come on, Nip!" to Michael Anthony when he
had an idea for a great adventure for the two of them

The way he would hug Mia and say in a sweet voice, “Hey, angel!”

The way he told countless bedtime stories while laying down next to Julia in bed
…..all made up on the spot and worthy of a children’s book

The way he was disappointed when the girls got bunk beds
and he could no longer lay by Julia to tell stories

The way he continually hugged all three children with a kiss on the forehead
….no matter how much of a teenager they had become

The way he cared about details for our dogs
….play time, walks, grooming, food, physical touch, toys

The way he never forgot to bless the food and thank God for it

The way he loved a good meal
….”MMMmmmm! Oh, Babe! This is fantastic!”

The way he talked to me in quiet tones on the phone
….as if our conversation was always private

The way he carefully planned a trip of a lifetime for us, the children, and his parents
to go to Italy and Sicily for two weeks

The way he would cook grilled salmon, angel hair pasta, and a salad on the nights
I would return from being out of town so we could relax and decompress

The way he quickly asked for forgiveness and quickly forgave...

I choose to remember the way he did everything. I choose to remember all things good. What a beautiful creature God created when He created Michael Barranco.

The Discovery

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Here it is…already. One more day until the one-year anniversary of Michael’s death, home going, or departure, which are all of the different ways that people have referred to it. I dislike using the term, “anniversary” because it usually means something celebratory, like our 25th wedding anniversary that we would have been celebrating this year, or the one year anniversary of his business merger and new partnership that we would have celebrated last month. This has been an anniversary that I have not looked forward to experiencing in any way. The memories and details of that week are still so fresh and keep trying to resurface. This past week has filled my emotional tank until it is overflowing and I need to write as much as I can to get all of the swirling feelings, questions, and revelations out of my head and onto my computer. It consistently brings me immediate peace when I am able to lie out my thoughts on “paper”. I plan on writing as much as I can in the next 48 hours in order to clear my thoughts and make room to breathe in my heart.

Last night, it popped up in my remembrance that I had an old folder from a class I took in high school with many things that I had written in it. It is bright yellow, falling apart, and has my name in cursive written all over it, “Jene’ Ellen Ray”. Why do high school girls practice writing their names so much? Is it vanity, boredom or both? I took a creative writing course in the second semester of my senior year and it was the easiest “A” I had ever earned. I absolutely loved the class and all of the assignments, but never did much else with the skill besides periodic poems, some sporadic journaling, song writing, letter writing (which can be a craft all by itself), and then putting my own touch on any papers that I had to write throughout college while getting my Special Education degree. Last night, I felt the need to take some time and read through that folder to see if there was anything that I had written then that could speak to me now. I was surprised to see that my “voice” in written form was almost exactly as it is now….28 years later and many life changes.

In addition to pieces written during that one semester of my senior year, I had put a few other things that I had written in the couple of years following high school. I pulled out this poem called, “The Discovery”, which I had typed on a typewriter. I had written it just because I felt like writing it. I read it and was mesmerized how it defined my faith and my journey with God at this juncture in my life. It was not until this afternoon that I looked at the bottom of the page and read, “September 1986, By Jene’ Ellen Ray”…. That was the month and year that I met Michael. It was the beginning of this long journey. I was 20 years old. We were married the next September. September 1986 was a fork in the road for me. I chose Michael Barranco, the right choice, and began a long and beautiful journey with him. I could look at the poem with him in mind, meaning he was “the discovery”, but I was very clear in the poem that I was yearning for a more intimate relationship with God. I fell in love with Michael so fast and so hard that I clung to God for answers. Michael had me turned upside down and inside out. (He had that effect on most people.) We loved “discovering” God together.

The Discovery

That which I cannot have, I desire the most
That which I do not understand, I want to know
That which seems intangible, I try to grasp
That which is a mystery to me, I will solve
That which is a challenge, I will take
That which is undiscovered, I try to reveal

Your answers for life are the questions that keep me going…

Sometimes I feel I cannot have
Sometimes I don’t understand
Sometimes You seem intangible
Sometimes You are an unsolved mystery
Sometimes You are a challenge
At times I feel there are parts of you
That will never be discovered

But Father, I realize that I can have you,
Understand You, and unfold You.
You are not the challenge,
The challenge is against ourselves
And You are the God Almighty, waiting
With open arms to be discovered.

Written by
Jene’ Barranco
September 1986

A Day in the Life of Members Only

Monday, January 30, 2012
My sister and I started taking a non-fiction creative writing class last Monday night at a local college. For tonight's assignment, we were supposed to do an exercise that is called "dirty hands" writing. We were supposed to describe something in detail that we do everyday without thinking about it. You dig your hands in it daily and get them dirty. You do it without thought and it could be something that would be required of you daily. Something that we have begun to just go through the motions because we do it everyday and no longer notice as many of the details, because we have already memorized them all. My immediate thought of what I now do everyday and can describe in great detail, is the daily physicality of grieving, how it affects my days, my body, and how I have learned to deal with it... and I must deal with it because it is not going anywhere. Some of what I wrote are snippets from previous posts that I put together to show the full picture of what grieving feels like on a daily basis and some of it is new. Following are my images of what a day in the life of a grieving heart can look like.

A Day in the Life of Members Only

There is a private club, one that has countless members, more than any other club, but it is a club to which no one wants to be a member because it is too expensive. The benefits do not outweigh the cost and it requires personal sacrifice of all of one’s resources on a daily basis to maintain a membership, which is not optional. Once you are member, you are a member for life. One does not choose to be a member of this club, but it chooses you. There are no age requirements. It is open to the young and the old. There is no board of directors, but everyone is equal. There is an unspoken understanding among the membership of this private club that non-members can never truly discover. To join the club, you must lose someone, in death, to whom you gave your heart. I am a member of this club. I am a rookie and have only been a member for eleven months, but it did not take me long to participate in the unspoken understanding of the other members and experience what it is like to live a day in the life as a member of the Grieving Hearts Club. We all learn to go through the days of our lives with the weight of our grief ever present at greater or lesser degrees. At first, the emotions and the pain catch us off guard and fear overtakes us, but then we begin to recognize the warning signals yet still have no control over when it will wash over us. Our definition of a good day is different than those that are non-members. Our days slowly morph into a different life until we don’t recognize the extra pain and weight that our minds and body have now become accustomed to carrying. Living and grieving now coexist daily.

Every minute of every day is hard. Every breath I take is hard. At times it feels like an elephant is not only in the room but sitting on my chest stealing all of the oxygen. My breathing patterns have not been the same since my husband died. It is always shallow. All day long, I tell myself, "Take a deep breath." Throughout the day, another reminder, "Just breathe. Inhale deeply. Now exhale." I cry daily. Sometimes a little here and a little there, and sometimes I will cry until my stomach muscles are convulsing. I have gotten used to the lead weight that sits in the pit of my stomach. My stares, often times, feel blank and distant.

Some times I feel like the words "broken heart" or "widow" are hanging in front of me like the scarlet letter. Even though every one cannot see it, I feel like they do. After several days of crying in the beginning, I thought I was getting a sore throat. I realized one day that I was experiencing something new. There was an ever-present lump in my throat, ready to cry at any second. It is large and sometimes stuck down in the bottom of my throat, as if I have just swallowed a big, hard air bubble. Where does that lump come from anyway? Why can we sometimes cry with a lump in our throat or sometimes without? I have had a lump in my throat for a little over 11 months now. I keep swallowing and crying but it does not seem to go anywhere. It’s a broken heart. It swells before it can heal. It hurts to hold a lump in your throat and push the cry back down there somewhere…. where ever it goes. The lump is still there. It will just rise up out of the deep and get lodged in my throat. My broken heart is taking a long time to heal.

I have been trying to sort out all of the physical symptoms that I have been feeling. It feels like fear but not one hundred percent. My body feels like it is stricken with fear but without an object of which to be fearful. Sometimes my tongue will keep swallowing and I can't make it stop. Other times, I feel the need to swallow but my throat feels paralyzed and cannot move a muscle. The stronger the feeling of grief, the more paralyzed my throat. When it was at its peak, I could not think. I could not speak. I could not swallow. I did not feel like I was even breathing. When asked a question, all I could seem to say was, "Um". Those feelings have lingered on through out all of my days at different levels of intensity. As a member of the club I can, at least once every day, feel as if I am in a soundproof cell where all sounds and conversations turn into a silent movie, often times these moments can be accompanied by an annoying, insane ringing in the ears. I have periods during the day when I am able to focus on the life that needs to continue moving on and other moments when the feelings completely wash over me. The restlessness and the fluttering of the stomach occur mostly at night, but also during conversations about the accident and sometimes in unexpected moments.... like spotting a photograph of the two of us, when I was not looking for it.

Often times I feel numb and unaware of my footsteps. It is like a heavy blanket has been thrown over me. Other times I want to sit down and crawl into a hole to cry my eyes out. I decided it was best not to make eye contact with most people. Looking in people’s eyes can sometimes bring the tears. I am hurting in a place so deep down inside, a place that I did not know existed. In the beginning, my cries turned into moans that literally felt like I was giving birth to a child. (I had our last two children naturally and the experience has been identical.) The cries can sometimes sound abnormal. I still have those sudden moments where I feel like every bit of life has been sucked out of me. My tears still overtake me like a tidal wave, suddenly. I still have to catch my breath, as if someone has just punched me in the stomach. I still have random thoughts sprinkled throughout each day of fear of the future and completing this journey without my beautiful "other half". The pain is so deep inside my soul that there is no amount of crying, eating, drinking, or resting that can satisfy it. My insides will sometimes begin to burn. It starts in the pit of my stomach then radiates up to my ears. Some days I can feel lonely, exposed, somewhat fearful, insecure, scared... like a child lost at an amusement park. It makes me feel small and dwarfed by a big, all encompassing world.

Beside the physical symptoms that come with being a member of this club, other side effects are the tender memories that are stirred in seeing every day objects or the lack of those every day objects. I see him in the garden where we worked and dreamed together. I see him in my kitchen that we designed together to meet my every need and where he moaned in delight when a flavor or an aroma moved him. I see him in every piece of artwork that he picked out and gave me as gifts. I see him in every piece of clothing in my wardrobe because I knew exactly how each piece made him feel when I wore it. I see him in my dining room sconces for which he searched many months and finally found them in South Africa. I will see him every summer when my fig trees, which he brought in from Atlanta, are producing the luscious fruit that he thought was heavenly. I will see him as I lay in bed staring up at our ceiling fan that he was determined to wire and install himself... no matter how long it took. I will see him when I look at our garden fountain, which he gave me one Christmas, and threw his back out trying to place it in the garden, in the dark, on Christmas Eve. I will see him when I look at my sweet chicken coop from my kitchen window that he so creatively designed and built himself by adding on to our swing set fort... just because I had always wanted chickens. I am also noticing where there is now, no trace left behind.

There is no trace of his daily rhythms. The half finished cup of black coffee, Italian roast, that he always left in the same place on the kitchen counter as he left for work is no longer there. The blanket and Bible that stayed on or next to his favorite leather chair, where he spent the early morning hours, is no longer there. His dry cleaning clothes that he draped over a rod in our closet are no longer there. The smell of his cologne in the morning air is no longer there. His frequent love note texts are no longer there. His dirty exercise clothes, that always made it just next to the laundry basket, are no longer there. (Even in that, he did so with thoughtfulness because he said he did not want the dampness from the sweaty clothes to ruin the other clothes.) His empty wine glass that I daily washed by hand is no longer there. His brand new Land Rover is no longer there. His voice saying, "Babe, I'm gone. I love you... I'll call you later!" as he walked out the door each morning is no longer there. When I am making the bed, his rumpled side is no longer there. These were all traces of life.... which is no longer there.

In spite of these side effects, which are a result of my membership dues, my days also have a deeper meaning now, moments are richer that were once mundane, the ability to be compassionate has been multiplied to me, my perspective has broadened, I have had a paradigm shift about people, life, and our purpose, and I am constantly reminded that I am living in a story that is bigger than me. I have learned to feel all of this, see all of this, and contemplate all of this, while at the same time, am able to move through my day-to-day living. Living and grieving are coexisting.

Car Memories

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
My heart still does a subtle lurch when a silver Acura MDX begins to approach me in the oncoming traffic. Michael drove a silver Jeep Cherokee for several years then purchased a silver Acura MDX and continued to drive it until January 2011. At the end of January 2011, he purchased a 2011 silver Land Rover, LR4. So safe with all of its whistles and bells to make it safer for driving, including about 8 camera angles that could be seen on the GPS screen and a hands free phone system. (His phone was found in his pocket without a scratch.) None of this works when an 18-wheeler flatbed trailer is illegally parked on a poorly lit road, in the dark, backwards, with no reflectors facing any oncoming drivers.

Any time Michael and I would happen to pass one another driving in and out of our neighborhood, we would back up and roll down our windows for an exchange of smiles, a quick chat and say, “I love you.” I loved it when we would happen upon each other like that. Because he drove the silver Acura MDX for many years leading up to the month before his accident, that is the car which I associate with him. My reflexive memory continues to look to the person driving any silver Acura MDX in order to see if it is Michael. I know it is not going be him, but I look for him anyway. I don’t know why this still happens. Maybe there is this strange thought that we could somehow cross paths, yet in our different worlds, like in the movie with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves called The Lake House.

Car memories…..

His car always smelled like spilled coffee. I could count on finding fresh spilled coffee in the cup holder along with a travel cup with a lid and a mug, which he would have carried out of the house that morning. The back seat would have a sport’s jacket hanging on a hanger…..if there was no jacket, the hanger would remain and bang on the window while he drove. His console would have about 30 of his favorite kind of pen, along with countless little square notes written on his Barranco notecards. Many notes and sketches could also be found floating around on napkins from times when he was out for a business lunch or dinner and would quickly jot down his creative inspirations. In a restaurant, the next best thing to a drawing pad is a paper napkin. (It only works with his favorite kind of pen.) In the far back of his car was the “Boy Scout” Michael. There were the muddy hiking boots that he would wear for on site visits to building projects….slip off the dress shoes and step into the muddy boots…. his white hard hat, a deflated pool mattress to put down under messy things in the car, a couple of bungee cords, some rope, and a first aid kit.

The outside of his car told as much about his life as the inside did. It reflected his life outside of his business world. His car was more often covered in mud splashes than it was clean from riding it into the woods while pulling a trailer with our four-wheeler ranger on it heading out for an adventure of fishing, hunting, or camping with the kids or the Boy Scout troop, of which he was Scout Master. There were a couple a large dents in the back door from when the trailer was not hitched on correctly and rolled into the back of the car. Fishing poles often stuck out of a side window or were angled just right going down the center of the car.

All of these little details rush through my memory in a matter of seconds when I happen to see a silver Acura MDX approaching me or I come upon one from behind. It makes me think of the verse in 2 Peter 3 where Peter says, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Sometimes in the seconds that pass by, as I experience a silver Acura MDX “fly by”, it seems like I have experienced a lifetime. The sights, smells, and sounds rush through me showing me a passed time, it feels like yesterday and yet feels so long ago.

What's the Rush?

Sunday, January 22, 2012
Rushing, rushing, rushing…. that is the American way. As the rabbit in The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland says, “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say, ‘Hello, Goodbye’…. I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!”, so is the way of most people in America. If we are not rushing, our life is somehow not as important as those who are rushing, at least that is the lie that we have all swallowed. I once was one of those in the rushing lane.

I spoke in a previous post about my gait and how it has changed. “ I noticed how markedly different it was and still is. I have always had a fast gait. I walked with a purpose, a mission, everywhere I went. It was a confident gait. It was athletic at times. My head was always up and my gaze was always looking ahead in the direction that I was going. If walking in a building, I would walk right past people sometimes, without acknowledging them because my mind would be completely engrossed in the thoughts necessary for the place I was heading and the people with whom I would be meeting…my gait is different now. It is much slower. My head is bent down most of the time. My gaze is usually at my feet or on the ground before me.” My head is not cast down as often now, but my gait is still slower. I see this as a good thing. I have learned a better pace and, hopefully, I will maintain it. A slow gait can be just as confident as a faster gait. Maybe there is more wisdom and discernment in a slower gait? Can’t we have a purpose or a mission with a slower gait? What’s the rush? Is anything truly accomplished by rushing?


What really matters? What are we here for anyway? Is it to accomplish one thing after another? If so, then we must rush because life is short and we are running out of time….. How can we ever finish the ‘to do’ list if we don’t rush? Most of the rushing involves things that we don’t have to feel, experience, or really even respond to emotionally in any way. They don’t speak to our hearts. Not that everything we do in one given day needs to be something that speaks to our heart. There are necessities each day that need to be done, that is a given. It is when our whole day becomes consumed with one long series of rushing from point A to point B. It is the process that we, all too often, condense into the shortest distance between two points. The shortest distance is never the most beautiful, thought provoking route on any journey.

I was recently at a swim meet with Julia in Pensacola, Florida. This is when the habit of people rushing hit me in the face. It has been simmering for many months but I saw it for what it was for the first time. The “spirit of busyness” became naked before my eyes. It was ugly, bitter, a turnoff, and even repulsive. I saw all of these parents rushing everywhere they went during the meet, not even just to watch their child swim, but to get a drink, a snack, locate someone, or even to organize their ‘spot’. I once did the exact same thing…. Did it change anything? Is my list of things to accomplish any shorter today because of the way I rushed back then? “What’s the rush?” kept repeating itself in my head over and over again as I walked slowly in the pool area from point A to point B.

I wish I had learned this sooner, while Michael was here, so that we could have enjoyed a slower gait together. (I have not asked God many questions this past year but I have asked him, “Why such drastic measures to teach me something, to mold me into more of what you intended me to be?”) I made a conscious effort a couple of years ago to stop trying to multi-task. It helped me to begin the slower pace and gave me more focus on that “one thing”. After Michael’s death, my pace has reached levels I never thought were possible. While at the swim meet, I felt like I was in slow motion yet watching everything else in fast forward. All of the conversations, shouts, and noises seemed to blend together into one big cacophony of rushing gaits.

Life is richer with a slower gait, even with the pain and weight that my gait now carries. I still have so much to learn. Maybe this too is just a season, but wisdom tells me to never go back to the rush of my previous gait. I want to live my life in this present moment and hear God all along the way. There is a book that bears a title describing this desire to live in the moment…. The Sacrament of the Present Moment, by Jean-Pierre De Caussade. An observance of the present moment. So much to learn in the moment. Life is short. We have a purpose. We have a window of opportunity to play our role well and with passion. We don’t have to roar and push and shove to seize the day. Slow, deliberate steps have more impact. Quiet strength is a beautiful thing.

New Year's Introspection

Wednesday, January 4, 2012
As of late, I continue to have an underlying theme in the questions that keep circling in my mind. How can so many juxtaposed truths coexist in this world at the same moment in our lives? Life and death, joy and grief, gladness and sadness, beauty and ugliness….. I am at the beach for an extended stay with all five of my children, two of which I gained custody in mid November, and my sister, who is with me for the first week. Everywhere I go, these thoughts are passing through my head looking for some understanding. (Of course, these are questions that have no real pat answer, but it is good for one to give them some thought.)

I thought that being completely away from my house would help ease the transition of entering into the year 2012 without Michael. I have now been forced to leave the last year of Michael’s life, 2011, behind me. We always spent many focused hours together in the first several weeks of each new year planning, dreaming, goal setting, and realigning our compass for life. It had always been a month of solitude, retrospection, and introspection as we continued on into a new year in our life journey together. I had anticipated that the couple of weeks following Christmas were quite possibly going to be very disorienting and grief filled, to say the least. Since the beach has always been a place where I can clear my mind, hear God’s voice with more clarity, and discern what I believe, think, and feel about life, it seemed like the logical place to bring in the New Year in a totally different way. A different house, a different place, different dynamics of family members present, different daily rhythms, different everything. So far, it is doing exactly what I wanted it to do. The burden is lighter here and I feel that I am able to have a broader perspective away from my house and daily responsibilities. I have been able to get my thoughts past the pain and look more intently at the big picture, which is hard to do when I am at home and surrounded by memories, personal items, photographs, and familiar smells that send my mind and heart reeling. It is simply beautiful here and my three teenagers and I are each seeking refreshment in our own unique ways to help us find joy in the dailiness again.

I went for a long walk on the beach by myself on New Year’s Day and found it difficult to stop. Even though I have been an avid athlete and exerciser in the past, I have not gone back to any form of exercise since Michael’s accident and have found the beach as a perfect place to begin. I began walking and knew immediately that the wide-open space of sand in front of me, behind me, and the ocean beside me had captured me. I felt like I could have walked forever. I was free to walk fast or slow, stop and watch the waves, or keep a consistent pace without thinking about where I was going. I felt as if I was all-alone on the beach that day and had all the space in the world to explore my thoughts. As I watched people play catch with their dogs, jump the waves, build sand castles with their children, and visit with their friends, I became totally absorbed in my questions of the coexistence of truths such as life and death, joy and grief, gladness and sadness, and even beauty and ugliness. These are the kind of thoughts on which it feels impossible to put words, in order for them to make sense. I am only able to have these thoughts, and not go crazy chasing my tail about them, because I have a Savior in my Lord, Jesus Christ, I know that God created the heavens and the earth, I know that there is a place prepared in heaven for me, and I know of God’s plan of redemption, which I walk in daily. I also know that all these questions exist because of the fall of man (before the fall it was just life, joy, gladness, and beauty). Without this belief system, it would be easy for one to get confused and difficult to find any purpose in life.

You live and then you die……

When discussing my current “grief status” with someone just two weeks ago, in an attempt to encourage me to get over it, he said to me, (without much compassion, I might add), “People have been living and dying for millions of years. It is the cycle of life. It is just a part of life. We live and at some point we die. You’ll get over it and you will be just fine.” Basically, he was saying, we all have to experience it at some point. Accept it and get over it…. What is the big deal?..... This is nothing new…. Love lost is always a big deal. God thought it was a big deal when man turned his heart away from Him in the Garden of Eden….it was love lost. When Lazarus died, Jesus cried….it was a love lost, even though he brought him back to life…..He cried because he was experiencing what it feels like to lose someone and he felt the pain. It hurts even if you know the ending. The loss of a human being that will never be duplicated exactly the same is a big loss to the whole world. We all have our own unique place and purpose in life and, when we are gone, there is a void. The void can and does get replaced but never in the exact same way. Lives are not interchangeable, but, as a potter works with his clay, lives can be molded into something different. That is what makes each life so special. It is only created once exactly as it is. We miss that unique soul in our lives.

Life and death….. The life I speak of is gone, and yet, I am here still, walking on the beach, and the other lives that once surrounded that life are going on and must go on….. painful, but necessary because we continue to live with a purpose and a unique role to play. I feel like it is intermission between Act 1 and Act 2. We are clay in the potter’s hand becoming a new, and different piece of art.