Empty Chairs at Full Tables

My apologies for writing what may appear to some as depressing posts, but these are the things that are on my mind right now. From talking to others who have experienced loss of loved ones, I know that I am not unique in this.  In my attempt to empty my own mind of the racing thoughts, I can only hope that others find some encouragement in the fact that they are not alone and that grief goes on and on and on…and on…

Grief takes different forms each year as things change and as we see things differently.  This year, for some reason, I am really, really (really, really, really) sad.  I guess that this is a different year for me; not all years have been this hard. Perhaps the fact that friends around me have experienced losses this year has re-opened wounds that I thought were somewhat healed.  Perhaps it is the empathizer in me that has made this year more difficult.  Whatever the case, this year has been harder for me than others, and that – along with the typical things that bounce around my head – has been racing through my mind.  I am not angry.  I am not in denial.  I do not feel guilt.  I am just sad.  So, so, so, so sad.

“Les Miserables,” one of my favorite musicals of all time, has a song in it titled “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”  The character Marius has just lived through a battle, but his friends have not.  He mourns them while sitting at an empty table and talks of days gone by.  He questions why they had to die and wonders if he can have purpose beyond their death.  This song does not actually address what races through my mind today; rather, I have a different thought.  I would love to have some ability to write songs.  I would write a song titled “Empy Chairs at Full Tables.”

Most of us who have lost loved ones have very full tables.  I have plenty of relatives (I am the oldest of 14 cousins on my Italian side!!!), my husband and children are wonderful, and my extended family and in-loves are a wonderful bunch of people.  Holidays are not spent alone by any stretch of the imagination; the rooms and tables are very full no matter where we are.  And yet, there is something missing.  There is someone missing.  In a room full of people, there is still a pervading and overwhelming sense that all is not right.  But there is no way to make it right.  Nothing about this situation will change.  And, while we can move through the stages of grief and live “happily” in the acceptance that sits just beyond “depression,” there are times - hours, days, and even years - when sadness pervades all other feelings and hangs above our heads regardless of how full the rooms are.  Feeling utterly alone in what I feel while surrounded by a multitude of others is a strange and fascinating feeling.

This feeling is not new to me, and I am sure that just about everyone has experienced it.  As a student in high school, I experienced this feeling sometimes in the hallways.  They would be packed full of people, but I felt overwhelmed with loneliness.  As a student in my first year of college when I knew very few people on my first few days there, I felt overwhelmed with loneliness.  As I struggled in those college years, surrounded by friends and even family, through what I thought at the time was depression and was later diagnosed as bipolar, I felt utterly alone.  I could talk to therapists, friends, pastors’ wives, and camp counselors until I was blue in the face and even feel understood.  Yet I would lie in bed at night and wonder if anyone understood me or if anyone else felt the way that I felt.  It does not seem to matter how full the table is, that empty chair can still make a deep impression on us.

I think that what often is missing in all of this is an acknowledgement of the empty chair at our very full table.  This morning as I spoke with a friend who experienced her first Thanksgiving without her mom, I asked if anyone had acknowledged her mom’s absence.  I was overwhelmed with her answer: her husband had made a toast to her mom on Thanksgiving.  What a great idea!  I have heard of others who have actually left the empty chair at the table.  I am not sure if I would need to go that far, but it would be better than simply ignoring the fact altogether.

It has been eight years since my mom died, and I keep thinking that all of this will go away.  It has not.  It is easier, of course, than it was that first year.  And I anticipate that eight years from now it might be easier than it was this year.  But with each passing year there are also things for which I wish she was here: the kids’ graduation from high school, their wedding, an article that I wrote getting published in an academic journal, or simply a discussion that she would have had with my huz about some theological point he made in a sermon.

While I would like to say that I should just get over it, I am also a realist.  I doubt that I will.  And I think that I am ok with that.  Why should I get completely over it?  She was my mom!  How do we maneuever through life without our moms?  I will never be entirely satisfied with the way things are now without her presence in our lives.  This does not mean that I am dissatisfied with my life or that I am even angry at God about it.  It simply means that I acknowledge that this is not ok.

All of that being said, though, I do live with a hope that I will see her again and that I will see her forever thanks to the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.  I look forward to the day when I can tell her the stories of all that she has missed.  She would want to know that her granddaughter was the choir president and speech captain.  She would want to know that her grandson was the youngest student in Minnesota history to make it to the state debate tournament.  She would love to have me call her and tell her all of these things.

Until then, I will wipe the tears from my eyes and smile through them whenever they come.  Until then, whenever I think of that empty chair at my full table, I will experience a strange sadness mixed with joy because I have the hope of seeing her again.  And when I do see her again, there will be no more tears, no more sadness, and no more seperation.

Thanks be to God.

One thought on “Empty Chairs at Full Tables

  1. I can relate. it has been 5 years since my Mom died and yet for some reason this Thanksgiving seemed harder than others. I have so much I would love to tell her. Someday:) How do people handle the sadness when they have no hope in the end?

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