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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Empty Chair

Photo Credit:  Bessie Grahmann

Me and funerals don’t mix.  As a rule, I normally try to avoid them.  I’m even contemplating attending my own when that day comes.  Not because I don’t care, or don’t want to be there for the family, or that I don’t want to pray for them.  It’s just that, truthfully, they’re just too unbearably sad for me.  As a faithful Christian, I know that we are going to a much better place when we die, but somehow that doesn’t stop the tears.

I’m a compassionate person and I feel for others.  I laugh for others.  I listen to others.  I’ll even worry with you, too.  And, boy oh boy, can I cry for others!  I don’t cry “pretty” either.  You know what I mean.  You’ve seen the pretty criers…sniff, sniff as a sweet little tear crawls slowly down their cheek and a single swipe of a tissue does the trick.

Me?  An uncontrollable, unrecognizable, blubbering, swollen, hot mess.  Yes.  That’s me.  I actually scare myself when I look in the mirror.  When I cry, you can barely see what might resemble eyes.  Trying to pry out my contacts once they are super-glued to my eyeballs requires a plunger.  If the rest of my face wouldn’t be so puffy, my full lips might actually be attractive, but that’s beside the point now, isn’t it?

Buckets.  I cry buckets and a full box of tissues may or may not suffice.  I don’t cry often, so when I do, the flood gates open and there is nothing on God’s great earth that can stop those tears.

Anyway, last week, I attended a rosary on Tuesday evening for my husband’s great Uncle Louis and then a funeral on Friday for a precious man, Shelton, from our parish.  I held myself together fairly well at the rosary, but then on Friday, it all came out.  I cried for Uncle Louis.  I cried for Shelton.  I cried for the family and friends they left behind.  I cried for anyone who has ever died.  I cried for everyone who ever will.  I cried.  (I’m certain that some of the folks at the funeral wondered which long-lost relative I might be.  No relation…just came to cry with you…bear with me.)

Beautiful music doesn’t help me out one bit.  I mean, I ADORE beautiful music, but at a funeral, I’m helpless.  I pull myself together for a few moments and pick up the pieces (and all the soggy tissues), and then…they sing a song.  Helpless.

Sometimes a good cry is healing.  The salty waves of the ocean can bring healing.  So can salty tears.  The only difference is that I never get a piercing headache from going to the ocean like I do from crying.  But, I digress.

Once the flood gates closed and the Tylenol kicked in, I remembered a picture that Uncle Louis’ daughter, Bessie, had taken and posted on facebook.  Her picture of “The Empty Chair” made a great impact on me. 

Here is what she typed with her photo:  “It is with great sadness that I post that my Dad passed away late on Saturday. He was blessed with a wonderful life for 96 years.  I took this photo last week one evening after returning to my parent's home after spending the day at the hospital with my Dad and being quizzed by him if we had watered his garden? This was his chair he sat on when he watered his garden and I knew in my heart that he would never sit here again as he was growing weaker each day.”

I know that Louis will never sit in that garden chair again.  And, I know that Shelton will never again sit in his pew at church.  They will be dearly missed by many.  To my knowledge, the two men did not know each other, but they had something in common.  They shared a love for growing things.

Louis was described as a man of the earth.  He loved the land.  At an early age, he learned skills about growing crops and pecans, gardening vegetables and fruits, and cattle ranching.  He enjoyed the very simplest of things and never wanted for more.  He always shared the fruits of his labor with family and friends.  The oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, lemons, peaches, and plums were plentiful.

His daughter is sure that his daily sippings of homemade wine or “Sweet Lucy” as he called it, was a big contributor to his longevity.  She said, “If it could be made into wine, he made it.  But, his favorite wine was made from either dewberries or pears.”  Bessie wasn’t so sure that his love for Blue Bell ice cream contributed to his long life, but she does know that they WILL notice his loss in their bottom line for sales!

Louis also knew how to grow love.  He was happily married to the country gal of his dreams for over 65 years and they had three children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.  What a blessed life!

Shelton was another man who had a passion for growing things.  As a very young child, his mother gave him a shiny dime and he bought seeds with it.  He was a man of the earth.  For countless years, he had his own greenhouses and florist business.  He knew how to make gorgeous plants and flowers grow.  I can’t tell one plant from the next and it’s very probable that a plant in my care will not make it.  Not Shelton.  He had a gift and he used it.  And, it was obvious to me that he also knew about growing love, as he was married to his precious wife for over 50 years and their devotion to each other was inspiring.

I’m sure that both of these men found it so fulfilling to take a seed and see it bear fruit and beauty through their nurturing care.  While wrapping up the book I mentioned last week, Nine Words, it is timely for me that the last part of it is about growing.  Hunt writes, “A small, green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles and squinting its eyes and clenching its jaw in order to miraculously find itself the next morning turned into a wonderfully large, red apple, ripe and juicy.  In the same way, our transformation in Christ Jesus does not occur overnight or in one big, momentous decision.  Instead, it takes time.  It takes effort.  And it takes self-control.”

Hunt mentions the five sacred steps of self-control:  (1) Decide what you really want.  (2) Give your life over to Him.  (3)  Seek His Spirit and His help in all that you do.  (4) Replace old habits with new ones.  (5) Follow Him one day at a time.

Hunt encourages us to look around as we follow the steps listed.  He said that, “Love, joy, and peace will begin to pop up in your flower beds.  Notice how patience, kindness, and goodness begin to blossom in your orchard.  Faithfulness and gentleness will sprout up in your garden.  And you will discover that the fruits of God’s Spirit all complement one another so that the more one grows, the more the others will grow too.  And best of all, the more your relationship with Christ matures and ripens, the more your life will bear a rich harvest of God’s fruit.”

Hunt reminds us that “your goal is to become the best-version-of-yourself®.  And you know you cannot do it apart from God, for He made you to become just that.”

As I look at Bessie’s picture of the empty chair, it does sadden me.  It also reminds me to love and hug my family and friends before their chairs are empty.  BUT!  I do smile at the thought of the good Lord welcoming these two men with open arms last week saying:

Hello young men, I’m glad you’re here,
Sit down and have a beer (oh gosh, I totally put that in for Louis! hee hee!)
I’m so proud of you for what you’ve done,
I’m blessed to call you each my son!
You loved your fam, your faith, your wife,
You made me smile throughout your life.
My gardens need some tending to,
They really need the two of you.
The water is right over there,
Just beside that…


  1. "There's no beer in heaven". That's why Uncle Louis drank it here!

  2. Hee hee! I'm recalling the words to a catchy little tune ;-) Cheers to Uncle Louis!

  3. Your article was truly touching. I am Shelton's daughter, Denise, and it describes my dad perfectly. Thank you for including him and my family in your prayers and know that you are certainly in ours. You are very gifted, keep up the writing.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Denise. I'm glad that you enjoyed my blog post. As your sister told me, "I'm sure these two have met and are having a jolly old time in heaven taking care of God's flower gardens." And, she's oh so right! Continued prayers to you and your family.