The empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table are increasing. Four loved ones died in 2007 and, while the pain of loss has diminished, it’s still with me.
My father-in-law, the family patriarch who always asked us to join hands and say, “God bless us every one,” won’t be with us. Nor will my elder daughter and her husband. My brother and I won’t talk on the phone. Thanksgiving is bittersweet because my daughter was born on this national holiday.
I remember another bittersweet Thanksgiving. Years ago, when my mother was in the final stage of dementia, she joined us for dinner. Unfortunately, the only person she recognized at the table was me. All the other family members were strangers to her.
She thought my husband was a guest. He picked her up at Assisted Living and chatted with her on the way home. “You’re a nice fellow,” she declared. “I’m going to introduce you to my daughter.” Things went from bad to worse when Mom retreated into her own silent world. It was all I could do not to burst into tears.
“Mom really isn’t here,” I thought to myself. Then I looked at the table and saw the antique water bottle and the cut glass butter dish she had given me. These objects were a link to past Thanksgiving dinners with my mother, father, deceased brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
This year, I’m fixing dinner and have planned a slightly different menu. I’m serving an artichoke dip appetizer, cranberry-pomegranate sauce and mashed potatoes with chive cream cheese. Dessert will be my sister-in-law’s homemade pie, made from pumpkins she has grown.
Now I’m thinking about the linking objects I will use. As before, I’ll use my mother’s antique water bottle. I’ll probably use my mother-in-law’s silver candy dish as well. I’m looking around the house for other linking objects that remind me of my loved ones. Using these things comforts me.
How can you cope with the empty chairs at your table? Think about using some linking objects. You may even want to put a photo on the table or near by. Family dinners are an ideal time to share stories and my family has lots of them. My father-in-law, for example, wore a derby hat when he put salt in the softener, so he would remember to turn off the controls. When my grandchildren’s hamster injured his tail mysteriously, my daughter fused it back together with super glue!
My family members tell funny stories to liven up the holidays and you can do the same. There may be empty chairs at your table, but your heart can be full. God bless us every one.
Harriet Hodgson, 2010