Empty Chairs

My great-uncle died a few weeks ago. I didn’t say anything about it then because I couldn’t get my head around what to say. I wrote this post weeks ago but haven’t posted it because I’ve just been thinking it over. We weren’t close, but he was always there. He was my Grandmother’s baby brother - Other Mama and Daddy Tom’s surprise late in life baby. Since he’s only two years older than my dad (Grandmother’s very much younger baby brother!) they grew up more like brothers. They ran the farm together and I heard his voice over the farm CB as much as I heard Daddy’s. I can still hear his, “Hey, Thurman Neal” which fairly often meant something was broken that Daddy needed to go fix. I never heard him raise his voice, he never seemed flustered about anything At our family reunions he was always either watching everybody with a little smile on his face or he was quietly chatting with somebody. He always made a point to come over and at least say Hi to everybody. 


With him being only two years older than my dad, his passing also brings my own parents’ mortality more clearly into focus. Nobody likes to think of the fact that their parents won’t live forever and always be there. But they won’t. And we do. Painful as those thoughts may be. My parents have always seemed to be fairly indestructible (particularly my accident prone dad who has worn out multiple guardian angels.) I can only remember a handful of times when they’ve been really sick or hurt to the point that they were just down for a while. But if Uncle Larry can be here and fine Sunday morning and gone on to Heaven quite suddenly that night... well... I’m going to change the subject. 


Our family reunion will be a little smaller next year. Those of us who are old enough always reminisce about when Other Mama was still alive and we’d all go to her house for the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. I remember some Christmases over there, too. After she passed we started only getting together once in the summer for our reunion. Even though there are a lot more of us now, it seems like less come every year. How many more is a lot more? Well, let’s see.... Other Mama and Daddy Tom had four kids. Those four kids had 9 kids between them. Those nine produced 22 (if I counted right). And those 22? I’d have to go find my family chart from our last reunion and count. It’s a lot. My mom and dad have 13 grandkids by themselves and two greats now! My Grandmother, at age 100 is the last of those original four. Our reunion is one of the highlights of my year, but at the same time it’s bittersweet because there are empty chairs and we miss those who either couldn’t come or who are up in Heaven waiting on the rest of us to get up there to the last big reunion. 


This isn't the best picture of the four of them, but I love it because it captures them so well. Aunt Elwyn and Aunt Mo talking and laughing, Uncle Larry just grinning, and Grandmother getting ready to say something.

I saw this on Facebook the other day and it struck a chord, “Before you cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas with your loved ones, remember that this may the last holiday you have. We are not guaranteed a single minute on this earth. Stop living in fear and embrace life to the fullest.” I see so many lonely people with my job in home health. There are so many more lonely people now. I love seeing people like my 100-year-old Grandmother who are going on and living their lives, seeing family, going to church, baking cakes for family reunions and holiday get-togethers. We are not meant to live in fear. We are not meant to live in isolation. We were not expecting this past family reunion to be my uncle’s last one. I’m so glad that we all went and got to see him. I’m glad every time our family gets together. I’m glad every time we get together with friends and I’m glad every time I walk in the doors of our church. Go out and LIVE.


Family Reunion & Grandmother's 100th birthday party, July 2020. Not nearly as big a crowd as we usually have. We missed all the cousins who couldn't come.

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The Opalturtle

Sarah Sanford

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