I remember the first time I went to a Passover Seder and learned about the empty chair for Elijah. Now, let me be clear that this Seder Supper was at a Catholic Church, so we likely got it all wrong. However, my understanding was that the door was left open or the cup filled or the chair left empty for Elijah the prophet, who probably wouldn’t come, but we left room hope, that he would appear to tell us of the coming of the messiah.
I was probably only about 13, so this was all a little deep for me, but as a kid who had celebrated every family meal without a father, that metaphorical empty chair resonated hard. My whole life was spent with an empty chair. That’s the thing about losing a parent, whether you are young or old, for the rest of your years, there is always something missing from even the most joyful moments in life.
This week, my first baby graduated 8th grade. We went to her high school for a brief orientation the day before her graduation and the day after her graduation my other two babies finished some milestone grade years in school as well. All of these things are beautiful and full of light and goodness. And yet, all week I have had a dull ache in my heart that is impossible to salve.
We are surrounded here by people who love us. My girl’s graduation dinner table was full of family who love her: grandparents who go above and beyond with a level of thoughtfulness that is unparalleled, aunts who drop everything in their busy lives to focus solely on her, uncles who chime in from afar with well wishes and notes of love, and friends who are more like family all surrounded us with their kindness and praise.
And yet, try as I might, anytime my focus shifted away from only my girl, it seemed all I could focus on were the empty chairs. There are two now. My dad and now my mom won’t ever be joining us at family meals, as they haven’t since I was a little girl and a young woman. I graduated everything, from preschool to grad school without a dad and now I have to go through all the milestones with my own children without either dad or mom to throw a congratulatory arm around me or shower my babies with love and praise.
I know, some people have real problems and I should really be focused on the myriad blessings I have in my life, rather than the relatively small things that are sad. Mostly, I am and I do. I mean, I am beyond lucky that I married into such incredible (and GIANT) family that have all taken me in as if I’m their own. I am surrounded by friends that are like family and my own siblings are always great surrogates parents, even if they live far away. My children never want for love and support from a family that expands far and wide. We all have a full table at every celebration.
But no matter the joy, no matter the volume of people who are in my life boosting and cheering and throwing their arm around me, sometimes, no matter how much hope I leave room for, even they can’t fill the empty chairs.