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The Empty Chair. Sunday March 12, 2017

A large proportion of our church congregation (Catholic) are widows. Not because, statistically, women live longer than men, but due to the area we live in. Being rather poor the men, frequently not strong due to wars, overwork and malnutrition, took to smoking, alcohol, and died young. Most of us are creatures of habit, and once the children have left we have our own chairs.

I've just talked to my eldest son, whose birthday it is today – had a lovely treat all day, now, he is facing his wife, in beautiful armchairs, in front of a log fire, waiting for an Indian takeaway.

The chair opposite mine (which is a junk heap of knitting, current magazines and SUDOKU) is empty. Its emptiness is the cause of my consuming a half bottle of champagne. My husband (as most Moodscopers know) is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers. That empty chair means two weeks of freedom. For the last fortnight it has been nothing but grumbles and abuse. But, if I can't cope, and the chair must remain empty, will it haunt me?

Every time the screen saver comes up on my computer, the first picture is of my husband, when we first met, he 18, me 13. He is driving an ancient tractor, with a binder cutting corn and leaving it in sheaves. The difference between that young man and the shambling, miserable wreck who occupies that other chair is ?? I would need a whole Thesaurus for the right adjective.

But to return to these widows, bereaved suddenly by an accident or heart attack, or a long debilitating illness, how do you cope with this real severance?

Most, through necessity, have to move to somewhere smaller, from their farm into the town, into an old People's home, with a son or daughter if that option is available. If they stay in the marital home – do you give that chair away? Change the furniture?

A poignant loss as great as the empty chair is that few widows here ever had the chance to drive – their husband dies, and they are seriously dependent on friends and family – because there is no public transport. Moodscope has turned a lot on grief recently, that 'empty chair' is symptomatic of loss.

The Gardener
A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Hopeful One Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 7:31am

Hi Gardner- I seem to be the first to kick off today. Thank you for your poignant blog which resonated with me . As fellow Moodscopers probably know I have been on the same journey as the Gardner. My "empty chair" moment came three years ago when my wife went into a nursing home as I could not , after 7 years of 24/7 long term care, look after her and had to have her admitted to a nursing home. I distinctly remember coming home and wandering around the now empty house. It felt like there had been a death in the family. I went into what I can only describe as mourning. We had been married for 34 years ( still counting.)After much heart searching lasting almost two years I decided to draw a line and start afresh. I missed many many things but the loss of the love and companionship was the worst. I decided on the internet and to cut a long story short I fell in love again with a wonderful person who loves me too ,understands and our accepts our unique situation .S he had lost her husband three years previously and also de idea to draw a line. I am committed to look after my wife until her last breath but meanwhile I got my life back.

I also acquired a sense of humour in the process which helps keep everything in proportion.

Little Johnny got a harmonica for Xmas from his uncle. When they next met the uncle asked Johnny how he had got on .Johnny said "It's the best Christmas present I ever got." "That's great," smiled his uncle. "Have you learned how to play it yet?" "Oh, I don't play it," Little Johnny said. "My mom gives me a dollar a day not to play it during the day and my dad gives me seven dollar a week not to play it at night."

LP Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 8:03am

Awww! :)) I'm glad that you have found love and companionship again HO. I have had a similar experience. I simply had to make it happen. LPxx

Sally Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 8:30am

So glad for you both.

Belinda Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 8:36am

Both of your comments are so encouraging. x

Jane Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:17am

Hi HO, I found your story very moving and brave. I'm so glad you found new happiness. Love Jane

Hopeful One Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 5:15pm

Hi Guys- thank you for your kind comments.

LP Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 7:57am

Morning TG,

I get the sense of you already having experienced the loss of the husband you married a long time ago.
You have such a wealth of rich experiences in your life maybe a collection of good times, fond memories, the special things about Mr TG might be nice to reflect on now and later, as the illnes is not the person, even though it has taken over so much of your lives.
Perhaps that chair also symbolises peace? Just a thought.

It was an interesting point about the women in your community who may have become isolated in their loss. It is so good that you enjoy socialising.
I also thought it was significant that things like knitting, that at one time you barely had the time to relax and enjoy, now occupy that chair.

Thank you for your blog TG, it was good to reflect on loss/change in a different way .
Wishing peace and harmony to you and all. Hugs, LPxx

Belinda Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 8:33am

Dear Gardener,

I have followed your story on & off, and much of what you have said resonated with me, although I am divorced. Your story is so poignant, and very descriptive, as though I was with you. Over the years you have enabled me to imagine much of what you describe.

I have to admit, sadly, I haven't had a lifetime of love with a partner. I have always wanted to be married, and eventually got married later in life. Our relationship only managed 12 years, 5 of which were rather turbulent.

Years later, having passed more time with my elderly parents, they died, and I experienced more loss. I now look to the loving Creator, to provide the people who He knows are good for me. I believe He watches everything, and has my best interests at heart. My hope is in Him, and I am learning to trust in Him and follow His direction.

The loneliness in my life seems worse when I am tired. I 'see' the Lord watching all I do, being there with me, which is fine when I am ok and I can enjoy the peace, but lack of physical presence can be a problem when I am negative.

However, I have realised when I am negative, I also 'see' things in others that I don't like. This I have come to understand, is more a reflection of what is inside me, and at least when on my own, I don't have the annoyance.
This is probably different for you. Your husband has an illness, and you are bravely taking the care of him 24 hours a day, which must be so tiring, and demoralising. You are undergoing a major trial. You are emptying yourself for him, even though he doesn't thank you, or even realise. However........ the Lord does, He sees all you do. He will bless you.
Hopeful One seems to have experienced that.

I trust my views are not too heavy. I just wish to share another viewpoint to perhaps encourage you in your journey. Tiredness can make one somewhat negative. Could you view the 'rest' on your own as necessary to continue life, so maybe you can experience some positive aspect in due course?

With much love xx

The Gardener Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 8:39am

Thank you Belinda - I am so lucky I have had such a full life. I find 'belief' dificult - invited to lunch with a very devout couple - among the many who pray for me - perhaps the Lord has given me the gift of friendship - because I am surrounded, and, I feel, at a distance by things like Moodscope - Bless you xx

The Gardener Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 8:34am

Dear LP, the good memories are always in front of me - in the 1,000 + photos loaded on the screen saver, and which come up at random. HO and your joke. Our second son was born 3 days before Christmas. One of our farm workers gave the 22 month old a drum and a trumpet. We dared not confiscate them - and he was too young to take bribes - so the baby, now approaching 60, has loved loud music all his life, even risking an Aeroflot flight to attend the World Jazz festival when it was in Cuba decades ago.

Sally Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 8:37am

TG, what a touching blog. Your emotion is palpable. Understandably. You are making the best of a no -win situation ,and Mr G's behaviour, irrational and demoralising, is drawing on so much of your strength . Thank God for respite. If, however, you are anything like I was, it will never seem enough, and the spectre of what must be - the return to your care of Mr G - will hang over your respite, however pleasant the respite period. My sincere sympathy for your plight. Thank God for Moodscope and the chance to vent. Have a peaceful day.

Jane Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:15am

Dear Gardener, I found your blog very moving. I feel with my Mums dementia and Alzheimer's that it's an ongoing bereavement. Sometimes I feel it would be kinder for her chair to be empty now and then I feel panic and guilt for feeling that way. I don't see her every day as we don't live near to each other. She has my Dad and carers for the most part although I'm travelling there tomorrow. I have no idea how you have managed to continue on as you have Gardener for as long as you have. I was touched to see you have been together since such a young age. A remarkable love story. Please look after yourself and embrace the respite, love Jane

Jane Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:16am

PS - to all, it wasn't my Blog yesterday! There must be another Jane!!!,

Anonymous Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:19am

Dear Gardener, I salute you! A sense of loss is almost harder to bear than loneliness. Go well.

Welsh girl Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:26am

Thank you for your blog TG. Many of the blogs recently have been so apt for me as I am coming to terms with the death of my dear father almost four weeks ago. We had his funeral and thanksgiving service last week and I am now in what feels like a very empty phase.
Dad had been in a nursing home since last May, when his physical needs became such that he could no longer stay in the sheltered accommodation he shared with mum. We put his favourite high backed armchair in his room and he would spend hours sitting in it reading book after book. The chair stayed in the home after he passed away, as none of us wanted to see that empty chair back in the flat.
We believe mum has some form of dementia so there are going to be quite a few challenges ahead . Not the least of it because my brother does nothing by discussion, but everything by imposition. Mum dotes on him and always has done, whereas I am cast in the role of the big baddie and she vents all her anger and frustrations on me.
I would give anything for dad's chair to still be occupied.

Leah Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:53am

Welsh girl, Nice to see your name again. I am sorry about your dad. This July it will be ten years since my dad died and I remember how hard the first few months were. So take time and be kind to yourself.

Leah Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:58am

Very moving blog. A friend told me once that the hardest part after her husband died was to remember to only set for one place at meals. She found it hard so she just set his place anyway.
Gardener your words will help so many others by their honest emotions.

The Gardener Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 10:23am

Oof. I've cleared the path for furniture deliveries tomorrow. Typos as sticking plasters everywhere, including index finger, following yesterdays battle in the garden, and must be 'tidy' for lunch. But these replies! Rooted to Moodscope now. Welshgirl - one of the awful things to accept is that there is always someone a dementia/Alzheimers patient takes it out on - with Mr G it's me, with my Ma it was my eldest son's wife, who had taken Mummy in (not an easy person) for 18 months before she had to go in a home. Till her death, Mummy referred to d-in-law as 'That woman'. I'd say 'she's got a name - she looked after you so well'. Hmmph. Also there is, in every family I have known, however close, those who take the lion's share of work and those 'in denial' (often synonymous with selfishness)

Jane Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 1:07pm

This is sadly so,so true Gardener. Unfortunately some family members can be very difficult to understand sometimes and I have to learn to manage my resentment and confusion at others perceived lack of care.

Jul Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 12:00pm

Hello Gardener. I have had no experience yet of Alzheimers but know a fair bit about it. Both my parents lived to their 90s, my father 96 and both seemed fine right to the end. Of course I don't know what fate will befall me and my OH. What I do know is that bad memories of parents/ loved ones can often fade and be replaced by happy ones. Of course this depends on how bad the bad memories are. For my part, I still remember how difficult my father could be but the overriding memories of him are positive and the real him which was a good person is foremost when I think of him these days. They both had dining chairs which were theirs and quite frankly I am glad I don't have them. I think I have his but its gathering dust in a barn in France. My sister has my mother's. These chairs bring back memories of Sunday lunch when we invariably ended up having arguments! I know you are using chairs as a metaphor for loss. To me an empty chair is a bit scary so I think I would get rid of it and replace it with something else. Do you see Mr G as living in a different world to you and everyone else? As if he lives in a bubble which is the only world he can make sense of? I really do not know how I would deal on my own like you do, with a husband who has Alzheimers. Not very well I am sure of that. Good luck on Wednesday. Jul xxx

The Gardener Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 5:11pm

Thanks Jul. Just had lunch with super neighbours - she is the same age as our youngest. They have 'picked up the bits' once or twice, and say the will try and come in and read to Mr G week-ends, worst time. Yes, he is in a 'bubble' which only concerns his own well being - much of it obsession with heat, light, clothes - has no feeling for anybody or anything, awful - try to 'get through' but risky and frustrating. He does like talking about the 'high time' in his career, remembers quite well. Also enjoys my book on Indian travels being read to him

DAVE Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 7:00pm

Hello The Gardener,
You don't need a lot of empathy to get your head around someone in your shoes. You're amazing, and quite right to remember Mr. G the way he and you were in your youth, as per your computer wallpaper.

He is not now the man you married, but due to your endurance of who he has become, one day, when we depart this mortal life we shall be reunited in the resurrection, and we shall be as we were in our 30s, vibrant, and the meaning of those sacred promises made before God, will resonate before our eyes as we encounter our loved ones once more.

Hold fast The Gardener, God is with you and He will not let you go.

I am inclined to concur with Belinda, in a sense that whether we're married, divorced, separated or widowed, when our head hits the pillow...When all the days cares and woes are fading, there must be more to life than, trials, adversities and problems unsolved !

I go to Church, but I believe that whatever building wherever Religious beliefs that may be, that there is a God, who watches over us day and night, and He is a positive being, He will send miracles albeit small or even large to your heart, through others around you. All we can to acknowledge Him in prayer and feel His presence as we lie down unto Him and put our complete trust in this powerful being.

Do take care of your memories, even his chair, as God does hold your heart in His hands.....

When lost and completely alone, He was the only one who was able to reach me.
Love to you from

The Gardener Sun, Mar 12th 2017 @ 9:44pm

Thanks Dave - lovely sentiments to go to bed with - people praying for me, willing me to be strong - insisting that it's not wrong to lose my rag sometimes. The Doctor who told me the truth 3 years ago was the brother of our GP - Korean descent - very quiet, competent people. He said 'soyez gentille' 'Be kind'. Kindness does not work any more - but, a determination to make the very best of life, warts and all, seems a duty and an aim. Bless you, I shall go and read 'Quiet flows the Don'. Love the Gardener xx

Molly Mon, Mar 13th 2017 @ 12:18am

Dear Gardener, I read your blog this morning and could not think how to reply. I went to bed tonight and could not sleep (the usual insomnia) but all I could think about was your blog. I am still unsure how to express my thoughts but I will try. I myself have been pretty used to being on my own when I was a child and through my adult years. Totally afraid of commitment. I found myself in relationships that gave me security with a big OFF button. All this brought me pain and pain to others. You met Mr G at such a young age, so very young, I guess you have known nothing else but Mr G. Totally admirable. I understand how some people say you have lost him already, but you haven't. I feel that you are filling up that chair, because you are scared, very scared. Once he has gone, you will have to be filling the massive gap he will leave you, even though he is a pain in the bum. We all moan about our spouses/parents/children/friends. Never feel guilty for this !! Personally I thought I was such an independent woman, it was slightly forced on me when my now husband moved in to what I still consider to be my house. A very unwell person now himself, I realise I am much more dependant on him than I thought. I am scared, very scared. How do people cope, I have no idea. To have known Mr G for practically all of your life since a young girl and watch him with this dreadful illness, I have no words, but from what I read on here, you are helping many others and I reckon you are doing so well (without being patronising) With love and kind thoughts, Molly xxxx

Jul Mon, Mar 13th 2017 @ 12:18pm

I love this reply Molly. Sometimes I can't think how to reply to a blog until many hours afterwards. What you are saying here to Gardener makes so much sense. julxx

Molly Mon, Mar 13th 2017 @ 4:44pm

Thank you Jul, I'm not always confident commenting on blogs so it's nice to have some encouragement, I appreciate it xx

Caroline Ashcroft Moodscope Mon, Mar 13th 2017 @ 10:33pm

I agree, lovely comment Molly. Kind regards. Caroline

Molly Tue, Mar 14th 2017 @ 7:55pm

Oh thank you so much Caroline xx

Mary Wednesday Mon, Mar 13th 2017 @ 7:47am

This one touched me to the core. I too am one who prays for you. Not as often as I could. But today while swimming (my best prayer time), I will. And - lovely writing.

The Gardener Mon, Mar 13th 2017 @ 11:09am

Thanks Mary - yesterday I seemed wrapped in a furry blanket all day, despite the incessant rain which stopped me gardening

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