No Longer At The Table

For a long time after he left we ate quietly in the kitchen.

How can anyone fully ready themselves for when a loved one is no longer at the table?

By a long time, I mean almost a whole semester.  For a few disorienting months I didn’t set the dining table around which we’d gathered thousands of times before – meal after meal, laugh after laugh, prayer after prayer – as a family of six.

I missed him trying to win me over with his inextinguishable cheerfulness.

How can anyone fully ready themselves for when a loved one is no longer at the table? 

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For years our family had returned to the rustic round table each evening like homing pigeons. We had precious little ability, experience, or wherewithal to grasp anything other than that particular life, that familiar place we landed at sunset each day.

I missed him inquiring after my day.

How can anyone fully ready themselves for when a loved one is no longer at the table? 

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What would it look like – dear God – if one of us was gone? Could we still operate as normal? How might we prepare for the day a loved one would no longer be with us? If it ever entered our minds during those years around the table, it was more of a gratitude training exercise – not a reality to dwell on.

I missed the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed. He laughed just like his dad, I always thought.

How can anyone fully ready themselves for when a loved one is no longer at the table? 

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And so when one integral member of our unit departed after eighteen years under our roof, our quotidian family rhythms became unnervingly unmoored. Things seemed shallow and out of sorts. I couldn’t bear the silent space of the empty dining chair, so the five of us jockeyed each night for elbow-room around a small kitchen island that barely fit four.

We watched Shark Tank while we ate.

We adjusted to our new-normal of not-six.

I longed for his frustrating and absolute optimism.

How can anyone fully ready themselves for when a loved one is no longer at the table? 

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In the spring of his senior year, before starting college a thousand miles away, I remember asking Luke how he hoped to spend his last few months at home. What was his bucket list of last meals and adventures? What did he imagine his days to look like?

I think I would have given him half the kingdom if he’d asked for it.

“I want it to just be like it always has been, mom. I want us all to please be just as we normally are.” he said.

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Dear ones.

If you are a parent who has a loved one(s) departing soon; take heart and hold the reins steady until that hour. It’s impossible to ready yourself for the next season, but that’s OK. In the days that remain your loved ones want things to please remain just as they normally are. 

Dear souls.

Resolve to keep your courage, your humor, your smile, and your stride. Breathe in and out the sweet sights, sounds, and  mundane mysteries of your exact life today – surely there is no use or beauty in advance mourning, panic, or fears.

Dear saints.

Don’t be afraid of what’s to come. You will be given surprising and new mercies – daily manna from heaven – to sustain you in the season ahead.

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The days we are given are grace – not for lamenting that they are too short or nearly done, but for savoring each one that is and has been!

And the precious people – our unique and exact people we’ve been given to love and walk with in this life – no matter how few days they grace our table, whether they have departed for a short while or forever, their days are pure grace to us, too.

And so we remind ourselves to receive the numbered days as reverently and thankfully as we can. We try to stay awake and grateful for the daily graces. We remember to hold our chosen people carefully, loosely, and always prayerfully, with arms and hands open wide.

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Peace to you, and all of yours, whether they are still around your table, or no longer.

The days with them are grace.

Kim