Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grief: Thanksgiving and the Empty Chair (s)

The empty chair is the place that the people and or pets we love would be sitting if they were still alive. 

When Artie first died the empty chair was obvious.  Couple friends would ask me out to dinner and the three of us would be seated at a table for four.  There, next to me, was an empty chair.  It was the chair my husband sat in.  It always seemed very large to me, as if it took over the whole room.  I could, even then, enjoy some of my food (some days I couldn't eat) and enjoy the conversation.  I could laugh at a joke. But....where was my husband?  Why was he in a box at home instead of sitting next to me?

I am trying to learn to embrace the empty chair. I want my family and friends to embrace it with me. I have heard too often that people are afraid or discouraged from talking about someone that has died.  If you know me, you know Artie.  My electrician knows Artie.  The saleperson at the department store knows Artie.  When I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with my family I will say I am thankful for Artie.  I tell my granddaughter about her Grandpa Artie.  He is dead on earth but alive in my heart. 

Some times I want to kick over that empty chair.  You promised you'd never leave me.  I know you couldn't help it but why am I here without you? Yes, I have your spirit with me always but I need you!   Some times I want to curl up in the empty chair and cry or be like stone so that the loneliness, the missing will stop.

The reason I know the chair is empty is because of love.  We continue to love and be loved whether 2 months or 25 years has gone by.  That is something to be thankful for.  My life is about finding ways every day to let Artie inspire me.  Lately, with the holidays and his birthday coming up I haven't been doing such a good job. That's why I'm writing this today instead of earlier. Of course, that's in my eyes. I have friends who say I am doing amazing things.The truth is probably somewhere in between.  Grief is a terribly human thing.  The important thing isn't the falling down - it's the getting up.

Today I am thankful for many things.  I am thankful for being with my daughter who is sober over 6 years and has turned into a good mother and a delightful person.  I am thankful for Gwendy blue eyes who is having her first Thanksgiving and loves going up and down the stairs. She has four teeth now.  As I write this I am also conscious of all of you who have children and grandchildren in your empty chairs.  That is why I don't want to enjoy every moment of my life.  When I am thankful and happy I never want to forget those who suffer and those who are alone. 

I am thankful that after three years I have found many new friends, and managed to keep some of the old ones.  I am thankful that the level of despair  I felt when Artie first died has gentled down.  I am thankful that I started writing this blog and that it is a source of comfort to some people.  It's what we do...find comfort in living a life in which comfort aometimes seems impossible. 

If you are reading this and you know someone with an empty chair ask them if they want to talk about their loved one.  If they say yes - do it.  It's so easy and yet people are so scared.  Why can't they say, "I wish Artie was here with us today." or "Tell me one of those Artie stories."  While we are laughing and eating and participating in life that doesn't stop us remembering our dead family and friends.  It doesn't stop us missing them.

I'm not living in the past.  I have been a widow (I hate that word) for over three years.  However, in my present the truth is I'm in love with a dead man.  I've accepted what that means in my life. I'm okay with not always being okay.

I have a lot to be thankful for today and I think everyone has if they stop, breathe, and take time to notice it. It might be something big - a new love - a new baby in the family.  It might be something less personal like a beautiful sky or the adventures of a baby elephant.  It might be a puppy tumbling in the grass.  It might be the simple miracle of a breath. Artie used to say that loving me was as part of him as breathing.  Living was easy, just keep breathing.  Then his breath stopped.  But that spirit, that mighty love and twinkling eye, that dazzling smile and and his ability to help others....that lives on in my heart and in the hearts of others who love and miss him.  Today I am thankful for each second I had with him and I will try to get there - to be thankful that I have an empty chair instead of no chair at all.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  May you find - if  not the whole day - at least moments of thankfulness sprinkled with joy.  Turkey or tofurkey: may you have food to eat and someone to share it with.  If not this year, next year.  May you have the courage to laugh and love even while you grieve.  Happy Thanksgiving are far and near and one thing is certain - I love you.  xo

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jan,

    Thank you for this post--honest, heartfelt, true, and with my favorite poem. My husband Vic who died in 2008 ended his last book with this poem, and it is included in the book I'm writing in a scene where I read the poem as Vic was undergoing a medical procedure with a grumpy doctor. The poem turned the feelings in the room to love and compassion.

    I will read more of your articles and you might be interested in my blogs and bereavement writing about love, loss, and life on my own.

    With appreciation for you and your willingness to share your journey through grief,