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The Empty Seat Beside Me


MartyT

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Five years into her grief journey, Michele Neff Hernandez describes how she regards the empty chair at her Thanksgiving table, in The Empty Seat Beside Me

Before Phil's death, Thanksgiving Day was filled with gratitude for the gifts of the present. Then death changed my focus, and the past was were my heart longed to be.

On my first widowed Thanksgiving Phil's empty seat at the dinner table represented only my personal loss. Knowing he would never again sit bside me as we spoke aloud the things for which were grateful, around our Thanksgiving table, made the empty space beside me pulsate in my mind's eye. My heart radiated pain, and sitting through the meal required every drop of determination I possessed. The laughter around the table hurt my ears, the sadness my entire family felt burned my eyes like gas, and every thing for which I was grateful was somehow associated with grief.

The following year when Thanksgiving dinner came around, I found myself feeling more bitter than sad...that unoccupied seat beside me emphasizing the obvious fact that I was alone, and that Phil was still dead. His continued absence baffled me in an inexplicable way. I could hardly look at the seat beside me. Read on here >>>>>

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Marty, The empty seat beside me happened many times the first months after ricks death and was very hard. Attending his daughter grade 12 grad, my best friends daughters wedding, and his nephews wedding. All events had a seat empty beside me. I thought i got over that syndrome but yesterday my sisters did it to me and i actually had a cry about it. I dont know maybe i overreacted. We were talking for the last year about having a sisters getaway to a island or cruise. I was actually excited about it. So the past weekend my sister in calgary and my sister in london found a good vacation package and booked their trip and called my other sister and she booked yesterday and she called me last night to tell me about it.Had to book by midnight and it already was 9oclock. I was upset because the spouses were going also which was not originallly in the plan but hey no big deal. i had to get a room by myself which would be more expenive $500 more plus the tax free offer was done. So it was going to be 700 more after midnight then theirs because i didnt have someone to go with. Specially in that short of notice. Trips not to Feb. but offer was done as midnight. Needless to say Im not going. I will save my vacation time for the summer when my daughter and grandson comes home and spend it with them. My sister says we will still do it but maybe in another year or so. I felt very hurt from all this. My family is usually pretty good about everything. Guess its to be expected though when i dont have a significant other to go with. Didnt even give me time to see if i could find someone to room with. thanks for letting me vent. Mrs. B

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  • 4 years later...

I thought I would breathe some new life to this profound concept.  I feel the empty seat next to me quite strongly still. Perhaps because I never cared to fill it with someone else or what ever the reason may be, I still notice it. That empty chair is next to me at restaurants, in the same cars I drive six years later, where I eat my meals at home, and even in a movie theater sometimes. Does it stand out more because I stand out more? If there was an empty chair at a table with two people seated, would that just go overlooked by the others in the room? I see myself looking at myself. I see other men and women alone sometimes and I think of their possible missing spouse. That's the first thing that crosses my mind. I could asses the situation incorrectly but I might have it right. That empty chair is still an empty chair. It doesn't appear on an airplane often but I wish sometimes it did. I wish it was there as if she was still sitting beside me where I could put my hand over the arm rest and she would hold it in hers. Oh yes how nice that was. On a road trip now, the empty seat seems so apparent. Over the years I have grown accustom to traveling alone. I have found that I can do it pretty well but it is missing something. I realize now that I am only going to be this good at it, no better. I have talked about trips I've done and acted proud of myself for being strong enough to do it. But it seems I have been BS ing myself. It isn't all that happy. It sucks really. I have just been doing it to honor her and prove that I can live on without her filling that seat. And it just can't be fixed with a new person. I don't want a new person. I don't want some other hand in mine. And most importantly, I don't really want anyone with me at all. Just Kathy. It's not like I don't sense her presence sometimes. I do. It's just not the same. I can't feel her fingers. I can't smell her lying against my shoulder. I can't massage her feet as we sit on a balcony watching the sea. 

My life has become easier over the last five and a half years. Things have softened. I cry less now but I'm hell and gone from "wonderful". I'm either plateaued or worse, maxed out. Is this as good as it gets?  If so, I guess I can live with that.   I have been.

Looking at that empty seat still sucks. It may as well be an elephant sitting there and it stands out more than ever.

This is what I was talking about Marty. A place where this kind of discussion doesn't bring down the newly grieving but lets us share with other veterans that we still hurt sometimes.

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Dear Stephen, if this forum or this thread offers the safety you are seeking (a place where you can talk about whatever elephant may be in the room), then by all means go ahead and use it for that purpose. I would hope that you would feel free to share whatever you need to share, without worrying about "bringing down the newly grieving."  

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  • 3 weeks later...

I marched in a 4th of July parade in Jerome this morning, playing the cello, who was in a "crowd-surfing" position, with my friend carrying the other end of the cello. Last year my dad came and I was really really busy, getting him set in a safe and shady place where he could watch. I got him a spot on a tiny porch above the street, where we would march by. The little porch/balcony was packed, but he had a perfect seat and view. This year, marching by, I glanced up-knowing that I would not see him there. Of course he wasn't there, but the entire balcony/porch was empty! It was eery. Nevertheless, I think he was around somewhere, watching his daughter and her cello playing in the ukulele band and feeling proud.

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