SLOAN COLUMN: Empty Chair a worthwhile endeavor
I think I’m a pretty decent writer. Considering I have a degree in English from the University of Virginia and have made writing my life’s work, at least from a professional perspective, I sure hope so.
I wrote these words and posted them on Facebook six years ago next week. They are by far the hardest, most difficult words I have ever had to compose.
“Words are inadequate. There is no way – NO WAY – I can begin to thank everyone for all the love and support shown to my family and I during this most difficult time. It means far more than you could ever imagine. You have been and are now being the embodiment of Christ’s love and compassion for us and we will be forever grateful. Every day the circle that surrounds us, the arms that enfold us in a comforting embrace, gets bigger and bigger.
“My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a child. So many times I have tried to comfort and console someone who has lost a child and said, “I can’t imagine how you feel.” Now I know. Unbearable is about as good a word as you can get to describe what I am feeling now.
“I know that God is there to make it bearable. The pain won’t go away and the hurt is more than real, too real, but I know that I am not going through it alone. The Good Shepherd is there to get me through this and remind me that there will be better days ahead. His promise of eternal life and that I will one day be able to hold her in my arms again is what keeps me going.
“A good friend shared this scripture with me while I was at Tracy’s hospital bedside: Isaiah 41:10 – ‘Be strong for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; I will uphold thee; I will uphold thee with my strong right arm.’”
“I also found these words from Romans 8:18 posted on Tracy’s Facebook page: ‘The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that is coming.’
“My beautiful daughter was in pain, but she is in pain no more. I love you forever, Tracy Ann.”
I will think about my baby girl a lot over the next few days. There are certain times when it happens: _
Her birthday, which is Sept. 18; _
Every Father’s Day, which holds special meaning for the two of us because it was that day that I found out her adoption was official and that I was legally her dad. I was already Dad in her eyes and in the eyes of God, which are far more important, but seeing the paperwork and giving her a huge hug was still pretty cool;
Just about every holiday.
The days and events that cause us to think about loved ones who have passed are called triggers. It can be the simplest of things and they can arrive unexpectedly. For me, it’s waterfalls, hearing “Brown-eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, or listening to someone play the violin.
Death is always difficult, but the pain of losing a child is incomparable. I speak from experience, which I wish I couldn’t. There is nothing to compare it to.
I often think about Heaven and being reunited with my girl. I have pictured in my mind arriving at the gates of Heaven and seeing a crowd of loved ones who have passed on waiting to greet me, all with open arms - parents, stepparents, grandparents, and numerous friends. They will all – even my dear, sweet momma – have to wait while I make a mad dash to wrap my arms around that beautiful brown-haired girl. I miss her so much.
At a recent Florence West Rotary meeting, I had the opportunity to listen to and later meet the guest speaker, Greg Buffkin of The Empty Chair Endeavor. The purpose and passion of The Empty Chair Endeavor, he explained, is to bring awareness to community members, churches, and workplaces of the devastating impact the death of a child has on the survivors. Its goal is to help prepare and equip others for compassionate and effective ministry to those who are dealing with the pain that accompanies such a tremendous loss.
His words spoke to me in an incredibly profound way and literally messed me up. I had to try and inconspicuously wipe away a few tears, hoping no one noticed. He seemed to know and be able to explain every single emotion that has swirled through my head and camped out in my heart since Tracy passed.
The reason he could do this is because he and his wife, Cathy, are unenviable members of an unwanted fraternity. Ryan, their son, took his own life in 2015. He was 26. My Tracy died of a drug overdose in 2016. She was also 26.
Greg and Cathy began The Empty Chair Endeavor last year with two other couples - Warren and Kristie Merck, and Kevin and Donna Jordan. They too share in the pain of having had to bury a child. Chandler Merck died in December of 2020. She was 28. Paul Jordan passed away in January. He, like Ryan and Tracy, was 26.
Most people, through no fault of their own, have a difficult time knowing how to act or what to say when someone they know loses a child. It makes them uncomfortable and uneasy, wanting desperately not to say or do the wrong thing. Many will try to avoid a grieving parent or sibling for just that reason.
The purpose of The Empty Chair Endeavor is to empower and to provide the understanding and the tools so that supporting grieving parents might not be such a hard thing to do.
The Empty Chair Endeavor is not a support group. It is simply people who care, who have experienced the most traumatic pain that life can inflict, and who want to help others so that they can be there to love, care for, and support other parents and siblings who are dealing with such immense grief.
You can find out more information by visiting www. emptychairendeavor.com or the organization’s Facebook page.
The memories remain and the hurt never really goes away, but with faith in God and the loving care of some of His earthly angels, you can survive
. I know. Love you forever, Tracer.