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Empty Chairs

by Dottie Menkhaus

The holiday season is a time to gather together family and friends. It is a joyous time of year, but it can also bring painful reminders that there are some who are no longer here. Our loved ones leave behind an empty chair when they pass on. The empty chair at the dinner table at Thanksgiving. The empty chair by the Christmas tree. The place where Mom always sat now sits empty. A physical manifestation of our grief.

It isn’t just the empty chairs, it is also a missing voice in conversation, a laugh, or a special dish that Mom always made. We all feel her absence, and the holiday doesn’t feel the same without her.

I remember that first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my Mom. Her empty chair, the air thick with grief. The following year my Pa-pa passed away. Now we had two empty chairs. The joyous occasion didn’t feel quite right without them.

Many years have passed since then, and now the chairs are overflowing. On my Mom’s side of the family, the empty chairs are now filled with my two cousins’ significant others and four children. My cousin’s boyfriend, Claudio, also brings his Brazilian family and friends to the table. Thanksgiving this year was a packed house of both Germans and Brazilians celebrating together. I am so thankful for the wonderful Brazilians joining our German family and sharing their colorful language, food, and culture with us.

My Dad has since remarried, and now I have new family members that I didn’t expect to have. Prior to this I never had any living siblings. I now have two step-brothers and sisters-in-law, three nieces, and one nephew. I have enjoyed the family dinners, seeing my nieces and nephew grow up, and the laughter through the years.

The “empty chairs” whether it be an empty chair at the dinner table, a phone that never rings, or a Christmas card that you know won’t be coming, can be a source of pain. However, I have found comfort in new traditions and in those who have filled the empty chairs.

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