The Empty Chair

Charles Cowling

empty chair


Posted by Quokkagirl

Each Christmas I, like many other celebrants, am asked if I will ‘do a reading’ at memorial services which funeral directors provide for their past clients. Being the secular contingent of the service, it’s usually a painful and time-consuming trawl through the poetry books to find something remotely suitable and relevant. There is no question that religion has already bagged the best words and rituals……….so far. I believe this is why they continue to have the upper hand at times of great joy, grief and uncertainty – all the big rites of passage. There is no good alternative source of material and ritual guidance – yet.

There is a vast expanse of space waiting to be filled in this field. Thankfully, most of the changes are being led by emotionally intelligent and honest challengers of the old ways. In time, maybe we will find that good writing emerges, with decent funereal readings to support the newly emerging rituals and appropriate literature expressing the human experience of grief as a quality alternative to the traditional.

I don’t know about you, but for me, when I think of the first Christmas after a death, the single most poignant symbol that we are one less on The Day is the Empty Chair. The chair your Mum or Dad always sat in when they visited, or the position at the Christmas table that your husband or wife always occupied. Or the spare stool that your brother, sister, aunt or uncle always perched on precariously. I have been searching for a really good ‘empty chair’ poem/reading for a long time without success.

When I do find the words which encapsulate that awful feeling of ‘one missing’, and how to draw some comfort from it, I will share them. If you find them, please share them with me.

Until then, for all those of you facing the prospect of an empty chair this Christmas, I hope you will find some Peace from your grief, and Joy from your memories.

11 thoughts on “The Empty Chair

  1. Charles Cowling
    Chris the trainee

    As one with a casual acquaintance with poetry (I write for friends and family) I was moved by the poems above, especially ‘the house is not the same’. So much compassion in such dry humour !
    Can we post more please ?

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    Hey Jed – wouldn’t that be a showstopper – interesting idea.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Kitty, I suppose you’re right, but a poem is slightly more portable and presentable at a memorial type service.., unless you just indicated an empty chair and left a few minutes for people to think – now that would be powerful…

    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling

      No, it’s me. I’m just not as into poems as I used to be. I like stories, although I know it would have to be a short one.

      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling

        I’m heading in just the opposite direction Kitty. I used to read stories all the time, but it’s poetry I crave now.

        Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    Do you even need a poem? The idea of the empty chair is very powerful and certainly got me thinking. When my sister and I get together this Christmas, we will definitely be thinking of those empty chairs.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    Thank you all so much.

    Jonathan – beautiful as always and so glad I got your creative juices going at last. Jed – two really lovely pieces – thank you so much. I particularly like the second one although the first is very adaptable for a Christmas theme.

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    I have heard this one used at a funeral


    The house is not the same since you left
    the cooker is angry – it blames me

    The TV tries desperately to stay busy
    but occasionally I catch it staring out of the window

    The washing-up’s feeling sorry for itself again
    it just sits there saying “What’s the point, what’s the point?”

    The curtains count the days
    Nothing in the house will talk to me
    I think your armchair’s dead
    The kettle tried to comfort me at first
    but you know what its attention span is like

    I’ve not told the plants yet,
    they think you’re still on holiday
    The bathroom misses you.
    I hardly see it these days.
    It still can’t believe you didn’t take it with you.

    The bedroom won’t even look at me,
    since you left it, it keeps its eyes closed,
    all it wants to do is sleep,
    remembering better times,
    trying to lose itself in dreams
    it seems like it’s taken the easy way out
    but at night
    I hear the pillows weeping into the sheets.

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling

    this is good – Kitchen Table written and performed by Fascinating Aida

    This dear old kitchen table bears the scars of all, our celebrations,
    It proudly wears it’s marks and stains, like an old soldier’s, decorations,
    We take our customary places, self appointed, not dictated,
    And warmly greet familiar faces, in the circle, we’ve created,
    Each time we meet the wrinkles show, the time is passing, ever quicker,
    But to each other, we still look the same across the candles’ flicker,

    Lay one place fewer at the table,
    And shuffle up the empty spaces,
    We’ll talk and smile as best we’re able,
    Try not to count the missing faces,
    Time is a thief, who steals our treasure,
    Life never gives, it merely lends,
    So laugh and cry in equal measure,
    And celebrate, that we were friends,

    The scrubbed and faded groves have long absorbed our foolish indiscretions,
    It’s heard our quarrels, our rapprochement, our denials, and confessions,
    It’s heard our trials and tribulations, our triumphs, and our glories,
    If only it could speak you’d hear it tell a thousand secret stories,
    It’s brought old enemies together, and will do the same, for many another,
    For when we sit around the table, we are forced to face each other,

    Lay one place fewer at the table,
    And shuffle up the empty spaces,
    We’ll talk and smile as best we’re able,
    Try not to count the missing faces,
    Time is a thief, who steals our treasure,
    Life never gives, it merely lends,
    So laugh and cry in equal measure,
    And celebrate, that we were friends,

    So laugh and cry in equal measure,
    And celebrate, that we were friends.

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling

    Probably not quite what you’re looking for, Quokkagirl, but thanks for making me think about it, I’ve not written a poem for ages…

    Funny how the mind works,
    that I feel you miss that chair so much
    when I cannot abide its foolish grin.

    I listen for the door and
    “Darling, I’m home!”
    while cooking just for one
    what one just wants.

    No need now, to roll over in bed
    and make room for your boundless ghosts and dreams,
    but still I leave your side quite cold and empty
    – as you, in fact, left mine.

    I try to feel you stir the air,
    I reach out for your hand,
    I want to shield you from your fear;
    I want to feel your anger.

    What I wouldn’t give just for your censure now.
    I’d give in to your fancy,
    in to you.

    I give in altogether.

    I even went to see your grave
    in silent desperation…

    but still your chair just gazes, vacantly.

    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling

      Thank you Jonathan – beautiful.

      Charles Cowling

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