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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