The Empty Seat

By Veronica

I write this from one of our city’s most beautiful parks. Families pass me on bicycles shaped like Model Ts. Some of these bicycles seat six, the perfect number for our family. They remind me of the foot-powered cars in The Flinstones, and I have always wanted to be one of these families, piled together into an improbable vehicle, laughing, struggling to pedal up the hills of the park.

It is on my list of Things To Do When the Children Are Older.

There are a lot of things on this list: take a sleeping compartment in a train to D.C., go on an archeological dig together or camp in the Rockies. Some of the items are little – drink tea with my girls, roast smores in the fireplace, read Tennyson aloud – and some of them are the endeavors of years – teach Hebrew or Akkadian to whoever is interested (oh please let ONE of them be interested!), learn a needlecraft together.

Last week, I gave each of my daughters a special day alone with me. Each got to choose the activity for the day, and most of the choices were as expected: the museum, the park or a few stores. But my oldest daughter asked to begin her day by visiting the grave of a child from her Sunday School. A little girl named Regan died on Christmas Day in 2007, and my daughter wanted to walk through the cemetery to her gravestone and lay flowers on it.

When a child dies, what happens to the list of Things To Do When Our Children Get Older? Can imaginary numbers still be checked off? Or do unrealized longings drift invisibly in the air, only to show in the smiles tempered faces missing from the awaited picture. We don’t make the world, and our plans are only plans.

The bicycles still roll by and the families are still laughing. There are children of all ages around me, some on bicycles they brought to the park, some carrying towels to play in the water fountains. Everywhere I look there is action and life. And which hearts have a stillness inside them, the quiet place held for the unheard laughter, is known only to them.

13 Responses to The Empty Seat
  1. melissa
    July 7, 2009 | 6:53 am

    What a heartache that must be…..I only pray that God spares me such pain.

  2. Sherri K. Edman
    July 7, 2009 | 7:18 am

    Oof. It’s always a little punch it the gut when you find out who they are, too. I remember a couple of different conversations with people where they mention they’ve lost children, and it’s so gut-wrenching even to hear about. And, naturally, the stuff of my nightmares. Vivid ones.

    Oh, by the way, I want to take a sleeping compartment train ride, too! We want to take a family vacation to Glacier National Park, and take the train there and back. Maybe when we wouldn’t have to sell one of the children to afford the tickets.

  3. Mary-LUE
    July 7, 2009 | 11:19 am

    First, what a girl your oldest is. Her depth, from this and other stories you’ve written about her, is so amazing. She make me stop and think.

    I think those longings do drift in the air. I think while life goes on for those who lose children, there is always a shadow part of themselves, waiting and looking and longing for their child.

  4. Sandy
    July 7, 2009 | 12:09 pm

    I once heard and expression that losing a child not only robs you of the past, it also robs you of the future. Memories are painful, but so is looking forward. This is REALLY HARD to think about. Ugh. Tears.

    On a more positive note, I LOVE the idea of riding in the sleeping compartment of a train. I have always loved the romance of trains.

  5. Kelly
    July 7, 2009 | 3:33 pm

    I think it’s an ache that never goes away, this side of heaven. This is beautiful and tender, Veronica.

    And you’re right — our plans are just plans. They aren’t guaranteed. That fact makes today all the more precious.

  6. Sara Joy
    July 7, 2009 | 4:09 pm


    I am one of those mothers.
    Your post caught me by surprise, I just didn’t think that was where you were going – but thank you. This was sensitive, and touching and rings so true in my still grieving heart.
    Our son was born 4 weeks ago today, and lived just 4 days here on earth. I want to wear a billboard so people will know his name and why my stare is vacant and my smile so slow to come.
    God’s plan for Joel didn’t look like our plans, but we treasured every second we had with him – I can only wish all of you the same.

  7. Kimberly
    July 7, 2009 | 6:32 pm

    Anything I would write pales in comparison to Sara Joy’s story. I went to her Caring Pages website and oh goodness. What faith she and her husband have. I am going to leave it at that.

  8. Martha C
    July 8, 2009 | 11:01 am

    Thanks for this beautiful post. My 12 year old lost a friend to a boating accident a few weeks ago and we (the moms) have been trying to figure out how to stay connected. He was an only child and the light of the family. Thanks again for sharing.

  9. Kristen
    July 8, 2009 | 3:23 pm

    This post leaves me with an ache deep in my belly. It reminds me of how I felt after losing my second baby. I had so many plans. I dreamed of how she would look, and I named her. I was devastated, and yet I didn’t even know her yet. I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it would be to lose a child that you have held, touched, fed, loved, listened to, read to, kissed, smelled, adored.

    You wrote beautifully about this. And this story urges me to stop planning so much and start doing. Thank you.

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