Wednesday’s Theme: Grief
Sam and I went for a walk last night after I got off of work. Walking with my sons is one of my favorite things to do in the world. Walking with Sam, all bundled up on a clear, cold December night felt precious. Our conversation moved from this to that and then on to something else. Our multi-subjected walk could be related to the cold, or that his legs are so darn long, and we were walking so fast. My heart was full as we talked about everything and then some. As we headed back to the car, I asked him what he thought about Empty Chairs at the holidays. Of course, he took me to a place I hadn’t thought about. So, here’s part of what we talked about – and where my heart has landed since:
Sam began with “Empty chairs aren’t just because someone has died…” We talked about COVID and how much emptying COVID has been doing to our lives for these past months. We’ve already experienced one holiday where a chair or many chairs were empty because the virus kept us away from loved ones. My Thanksgiving was certainly different from what I had been looking forward to, hoping for, counting on. There was an empty chair for me, and I know I’m not alone with that.
As we talked about all the reasons for chairs being empty, we wondered and wandered around the idea of whether not those chairs can ever be filled. Some can. Some of those chairs were empty only because we didn’t want to travel and endanger anyone with getting sick or spreading the virus. Sam talked about all the ways we have adjusted our lives with Face Timing and Zoom calls, “our screens have almost taken the place of our chairs,” he said. [What an odd thought…]
And then we talked about all the chairs that will never be filled. We’ve lost loved ones. For some of us of a certain age as we sit down at holiday tables, we are looking into the faces of the saints who have gone before. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, partners, dear, precious friends. Missing from the chair, but most certainly in our hearts.
As Sam and I walked through the old neighborhood and my heart was thinking about all those chairs that are now empty, I felt a profound knowing of both/and.
It’s true that I am missing deeply loved ones who are no longer here to share in the holidays. My mom loved Christmas and for her it began with that first ornament on the tree and continued until all the ornaments were wrapped back up again and stored in that box that went up in the attic. This week has brought another loss. A funny, generous, life-loving friend died this past Monday night. For the last several Christmas Eves in between all our various church services, a number of friends have gathered in her living room for Christmas Carols and one of Carolyn’s `you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me martinis.’ I will raise an empty glass to my friend this year. Lord knows that I am mindful of many empty chairs in 2020.
AND it is so very important that my heart stay present to this time, this moment. As I think about my walk with Sam and all that we talked about, and about the many loving conversations that continue in my head and heart each day, I know that it matters to not miss any of it.
2020 is holding many empty chairs this year. So many to pray over, too many to count. It matters that we pause and acknowledge that. Maybe raise a glass (empty or full), or place an extra ornament, or light a candle – any or all of these – some act of thank you and I remember. It matters also that we continue to go for walks or whatever your practice is for connection and reflection. It matters to continue in conversations that remind and renew. It matters that we re-member.
"Time is different here," I heard my Mom's voice say a couple months after her death. Journeying through these Covid-19 days, remind me of the gift of those words. You are invited companion me on this 2020 Advent journey to Bethlehem, as we seek Emmanuel, God who promises always to be with us.