Saturday, February 8, 2014

What do you do for fun?

There was a running theme in my life for four weeks straight.  Everywhere I turned someone was confronting me with the same question and would thoughtfully ask me, “So, what do you do for fun?”

I typically never talk to the person sitting next to me while I am on an airplane.  As I settled in my seat while attempting to balance my Starbucks, purse, and laptop, the woman next to me offered to hold my coffee for me while I situated myself into my seat for the flight.  I politely thanked her as she handed back my coffee but I had a feeling she was not through wanting to talk to me. I pulled out a screenplay I was reading, put on my glasses, and immediately tried to disappear into the story with coffee in hand.  I could feel her watching as she was trying to determine what I was reading. It did not take long and she leaned over to ask, “What do you do?”  When I told her I was a writer and was currently trying to get my first manuscript published, she naturally asked what the book was about.  I looked at her and  simply replied, “Grief”.  She said, “Oh, now that is a much-needed topic.”

She went on to tell me that she had not only been widowed twice, but also had lost one of her sons when he was 21 when he was hit by a woman who was texting while driving. Upbeat and friendly in her tone and words, she began to share with me all of the ways she tries to make the best of her life each day.  She said music makes her happy so every morning the first thing she does is turn on music and it follows her throughout her day.  After much talking, she turned to me and said, “You have to find the things that make you happy and do those things.  What makes you happy? What do you do for fun?”

I was silent. Suddenly at a loss for words, I could not answer her questions.  I did not know what made me happy.  What do I do for fun?  I think I stopped fun 3 years ago when my husband died.  I was confronted with the realization that I had edged happiness and fun right out of my life.  I immediately sunk into deep thought, and sadness, as I admitted to myself that I could not quickly answer these simple questions because I was out of practice and had not experienced either in some time.

While sitting across from my sweet mother-in-law the next night over dinner in a busy restaurant, she narrowed her gaze on me, leaned forward and said directly to me, “What do you do for fun?”  I felt like I had just been blindsided.  Without moving my eyes away from hers, tears quickly began to spill over and run down my cheeks.  I covered my mouth with my napkin and shook my head.  She never took her eyes off of me as she continued to lean forward.  The sounds of the busy restaurant faded to a quiet buzz in the background as she firmly admonished me with these slow, deliberate, releasing words, “You’ve – got – to – live- your- life.”  We sat there staring at one another with our tear filled eyes locked.  She continued on with her words, “You are too young.  You are beautiful.  You are talented. You are a wonderful mother.  You have so much to offer….you’ve got to do it for you.

I kept staring at her as all of her words sunk into me like nourishment to my inner soul.  During the following silent seconds we simply looked at one another as if in agreement, while at the same time I was trying to keep my tears from going out of control.  I finally nodded my head as if to say, “Yes, ma’am.”

Two weeks later while talking to a new acquaintance back in New York, I was suddenly confronted again with the same simple, yet complicated, question. It resurfaced as if to remind me that it was not going anywhere until I could answer it….”So, what do you do for fun?

Why do I have to answer this?  Do I have to face this now? I am sure there are things I do for fun, aren’t there? Yes, I must turn my attention to this and allow myself to think about it. 

It was problematic to answer this because I realized that what I once did for fun or what once made me happy had changed and morphed into a different me. Well, actually not a different me, this “me” was always here.  I am only delayed in discovering parts of it, finally giving myself permission to it,  or have delayed it intentionally because I wanted to always do things for fun that my husband and I did together.  To answer it even more honestly, it is also because I denied myself for a long time convincing myself that it was not important.  It’s also easy as a mother to get caught up in what makes your kids happy or what they want to do for fun to the point that our personal preferences often get placed in the back seat or sadly, even forgotten.

So now I am looking at myself, as an individual.  Jene’ Ray Barranco…What do you do for fun?  What makes you happy?  A few of the answers that fall into the fun category are things that I think would be fun and I would like to try them, while others I have tried but it has been a long, long time since I did them, or still others, I am actually currently doing.

This was a necessary exercise for me and another step forward towards my life purpose. All of these baby steps slowly add up to great progress in this journey where God has placed me.  I had to put my gaze and my eyes straight ahead, not looking back, but looking squarely at the present and uncover this individual. It forced me to get reacquainted with Jene’ Ray Barranco and what makes her tick.  Thank you Rosemary, for making me talk to you on the plane that day.  You were an inspiration.

What do I do for fun?
Spend the day in NYC by myself or with a friend exploring
Spend time with a close girl friend simply being girls
Climb indoor rock walls
Play tennis
People watch in Central Park
Create anything
Watch the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden
Watch romantic comedies
Watch Modern Family…yes, I admit it☺
Listen to live music
Practice casting with a fly fishing rod
Browse through roadside antique shops
Try every flavor of ice cream in the summer
Eat at restaurants on my “To Try” list
Take high level cooking classes at the CIA
Listen to French music
Target practice with a shotgun
Play horse with my kids…because I am a really good☺
…And still more to come

What makes me happy?
Watching the sunrise on our property
Watching the sunset over the mountains
A delicious breve’ cappuccino at 5:30 in the morning
A delicious breve’ cappuccino at 1:30 in the afternoon
Music with a great groove
Baking anything
The smell of something baking in my house
Putting a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie in my mouth
Happy children
Eating a high quality, artisan dark chocolate
Having meals planned
A long time of prayer and conversation with God
Pinot noir with a friend
Great conversations
Quality time with people that matter to me
Worship music
Dancing…this one overlaps☺
Reading books aloud to children
Sending people “happies” in the mail
Getting unsolicited hugs from my children
Catching a fish
Watching I Love Lucy
Nail polish on my fingernails and toenails
… And still more to come

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Grief vs Loneliness

Last month I had an epiphany. My eyes were opened to the similarities of grief and loneliness and the fact that I have long confused the two. 

It reminded me of something I wrote several months after my husband died called Grief vs. Fear.  I talked about how the body responds to grief and fear with identical physical symptoms, and that not only can it be hard to discern one from the other, but that they can often be intertwined as one.  As C.S. Lewis wrote on this in his book entitled A Grief Observed, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.

…. No one ever told me that loneliness felt so like grief. I am not “grieving”, but the sensation is like grief.

If you know me, or have read much of my writing, you will know that I think and examine life with much introspection.  I am a continual student with an insatiable appetite to learn, grow and transform while moving forward in this journey called life.  I regularly look back at my life and ask questions, like…  Why did I respond that way? Why did that change?  Why don’t I do that anymore?  Why did I ever do that before? Why am I feeling this way?  Why does that hurt my heart? Why did that make me cry?  What does this mean? Why am I afraid of that?  Why do I hold on to that? What am I supposed to learn from this? Why is grief still lingering so? Why do I feel so lonely all of the time?

It was these kinds of questions that brought me to a place of recognition that I have mistaken loneliness for grief.

Webster’s dictionary defines “grief” as, “deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death, deep poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.”  It defines “lonely” in similar terms, "sad from being apart from other people, cut off from others, sad from being alone, producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation, causing feelings that come from being apart from other people."

Notice grief can be deep distress “as if" caused by bereavement, which means the same feeling can be experienced but not because of the death of someone.  Loneliness is deep distress, or bleakness, and without bereavement as well.

After moving from Mississippi to New York, 19 months after my husband’s sudden death, I found myself in a good place emotionally for the first time since he had died.  My hope and purpose for life were slowly resurrecting from the ashes.  I recently looked back at photographs taken the first few months after the move and I noticed my face was lit up with joy, and the grief, the tiredness, the darkness, and the excruciating pain had lifted from my countenance.  I could see the hope again in my eyes. 

…Then January 2013 hit

I came down with a harrowing case of the flu that lasted three weeks. I felt alone and frightened without another adult in the house and had to depend solely on my children for my every need.  (I must add that they did an amazing job.) Looking back, I can now see that it was at this point the loneliness began to fall on me like a dense fog.   As if this had not been enough for me to handle, my dad experienced a severe stroke at the beginning of the third week.  I was in bed in New York and he was in bed, slipping in and out of consciousness, in Mississippi.  I could barely walk to the bathroom or kitchen, so the idea of getting on a plane and flying to his bedside was out of the question.  For the next seven days, I lived by text messages from my four siblings and conversations with my mom. I kept thinking, “If I could only get my strength up to shower and go to the kitchen, I could fly to Mississippi to hold his hand.

About the time I was getting stronger, I received the call informing me that he was getting transferred to hospice.  I had four days, at best, to get there before he died. We flew in on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon.  I held his hand and threw myself across his chest while he lay there struggling to breathe.  I kissed his hands, his forehead, and his cheeks… I touched his hair… I studied our hands together and realized how similar they were… I held a cool damp cloth on his warm forehead… I thanked him for what he had been to me… I told him he had done a great job… I whispered in his ear… I prayed aloud… I recited my favorite scripture to him… I told him I loved him. 

I awoke in the early hours the next morning to a phone call from my sister that he had just died… almost exactly two years after my husband.

After returning to New York, I began a long stretch of months with new emotions.  New because they were slightly different than the kind of grief I had felt when my husband Michael died.  I was not able to put my finger on it until last month.  I was experiencing loneliness. Two years of living inside my own little time capsule, pulled away from people, and not having a life companion beside me had finally brought me to the door of loneliness. 

Countless months last year I thought I was only grieving but now I realize that the grieving had turned into sheer loneliness.  I was sad from being apart from other people. Apart from someone who loved me for me, and all that I am. I was sad from being alone for two straight years without anyone whom to share my life on a daily basis.  I was experiencing a feeling of bleakness or desolation…loneliness.

Now another year has passed, and I sit here looking back at it to extrapolate all that I can in order to learn from what I experienced.

There are times when looking back can be a good thing if the purpose for looking back is to learn from our past to help improve our future.  In keeping our eyes straight ahead on the road that lies before us, we must sometimes look back in order to recognize a pattern, or where we experienced roadblocks, what worked, what did not work, or to remember where we made a wrong turn so that we will not do it again.  Looking back for the sole purpose of bemoaning what we see in our past or wishing things had turned out differently does not help us to keep the journey moving forward and, often times, can only cause us to stumble over our feet as we turn around while trying to walk at the same time.

By looking back over last year, I learned that I had stepped over from grieving to loneliness.  This is actually a good sign to me.  I had been wondering if I was ever going to come out of the deep grief, but now I realize that I had, even if it only rolled over into a state of loneliness.  Loneliness can be remedied…grief, death, loss cannot. Grief is what it is.  Death is what it is.  The loneliness I feel means I am craving to be around people and I am ready, and need, to allow people back into my life.  This is a positive step forward in this journey called life and can only propel me more towards my purpose.