This post is inspired by something that happened while in Paris back in April. My uncle who was with me on the trip was diagnosed years ago with terminal cancer. Paris is one of his favorite cities and he had been several times with others in our family but I was never able to make those trips until this year. While this post isn’t about my Paris trip (that was a previous blog post) this is about my uncle, me and the empty chair.
One evening, my uncle and I walked down the street from our hotel to a café for our evening glass of wine. Each night we closed the evening with a glass or two of wine. Usually my dad and aunt would join us but this evening it was just me and my uncle. We sat at our table and ordered our wine. To this day, I don’t remember what all we talked about. I wish I could but it was an ordinary evening out. We talked about whatever topic came up. We people watched. We were content with each other’s company. I could see he was getting tired. I looked at him and said, “I got it tonight (meaning the check). I’m going to sit awhile and have another glass. You head on back to the hotel.” He smiled and said enjoy your wine got up and left.
I watched him walk up the street towards our hotel. I ordered another glass of wine and then looked to the right at the chair where my uncle was sitting and it hit me. It was empty. His chair was empty. He wasn’t there for me to talk with anymore. Bounce thoughts or plans off. Ask for advice. Or just sit and people watch together. His chair was empty. I know I’ve written that more than once but it’s what kept running through my head. His chair was empty and this is what it would be like when he was gone from this world. His chair would be empty. This would be the new world I’d have to adjust to – where there would always be an empty space.
I sat in the café and let that all settle in and come to terms with what life would be like moving forward. I didn’t fight it and try to come up with a story to make the sadness go away. Instead I leaned in and just looked at the empty space.
While I only saw my uncle a few times a year, I realized then and there the impact he had on my life. He accepted me for me. When I would visit, he would stop what he was doing give you a smile that lit up his whole face and a hug. I never doubted that I mattered. I could ask him any question or get his advice. He showed me Paris and along with my other aunts and uncles taught me to love travel and explore places and different cultures. He has a quiet nature that I wish at times I had. He didn’t like to use bowls for cereal and used whip cream containers and still to this day it makes me laugh and smile because we discussed this at length many Christmas Eve dinners. He makes a mean old fashion.
He faced his diagnosis with grace and resilience. I have not once seen him or heard him feel sorry or play the victim role. I’m sure he has had his moments. He has lived his life to the fullest and has made the time to do the things he wanted before his time is up. On one of my runs one morning in Paris I was doing hill repeats and as I ran up the bridge (which was my hill) I kept say this is for my uncle. If he can make sure that I am having an amazing trip here in Paris while he is on his last trip here, I can suck up a little hill and run it a few more times because he would do that for me. I have admired and am in awe in how he has handled all of this and from his example I have learned more than I can put into words.
I have many memories but the one that stands out the most is that at a Christmas Eve dinner years ago, I commented on the red wine we were having. I loved it. It was Frei Brothers Zinfandel. He remembered what I said and every year after that he always had a bottle or two of that wine specifically because I loved it. He didn’t have to do that but he did. His example taught me to be the Auntie that I am today.
I sat at that table looking at an empty chair knowing that is what life would be like without him. Just a bit empty. Today, I went to see him for the last time. To say my good byes. To say my thank you. To tell him I love him one last time. To tell him there would be an empty chair until I get to see him again. And that when he goes, I have a bottle of the wine he first introduced me waiting. I will open it. I will toast to him. I will sit next to an empty chair and know that while he is not physically here with me that his spirit and what he taught me will always be with me and seated in the empty chair.
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