Losing a child creates all kinds of emotions that we’ve never felt before. There is an inner emptiness that can never be described in human terms. We know what it feels like to miss someone we love………..but to miss a child is so very different from any kind of sorrow known to mankind. There is a yearning, a longing, a feeling of being so incomplete that our heart feels like it’s going to break in two. There is an emptiness that reaches clear into our very souls!
For those who don’t know, my name is Clara Hinton, and I’m the author of the book, “Silent Grief” — a book about child loss. But more than this, I’m a mother who has experienced six miscarriages, one stillbirth, and the death of a 13-year-old sister. Many painful experiences have touched my life, but nothing compares to the pain of “the empty place at the table.”
Some people will downplay early losses (miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant losses) saying, “You didn’t have that much time with your child, so how can you say you miss this child so much?” Others will downplay the loss of older children saying, “Why are you still grieving this loss? Be thankful for the years you had together with your child.”
You get the picture……….people who have not experienced the loss of a child don’t know what the pain feels like. They don’t know what it’s like to lose part of your heart — part of your soul. We can’t fault them for that, nor do we ever wish that kind of pain on anyone so that they could better understand our pain. But, the truth is there’s no pain that compares to the loss of a child! And, only parents of child loss know the true meaning of this pain.
I love food. I love mealtimes. But it hasn’t always been this way. When my sister died, I dreaded the thought of mealtime. Why? Because that was when everything became real. Instead of setting places for five at the table, there were now only four. I can still see our tiny dining room with the small chrome-legged table. What once was a place of lively conversation about school, church, bike riding and the everyday activities enjoyed by kids was now a place of dread and somber silence.
One of the first meals we tried to eat after the death of Carmella was chicken and dumplings brought to us by a sweet neighbor. Normally, I would have filled my plate and had seconds! This meal was different, though. I had no appetite. Just the thought of sitting down at the “table for four” made the emptiness in me multiply times a thousand! Instead of eating, I ran to the bathroom crying, “I’m sick in my stomach. I think I’m going to throw up!”
I can well remember my mother saying, “I’m not going to eat tonight.” And, she sat in the living room crying until her cries turned into loud, wailing sobs and she retreated once again to the privacy of her bedroom where she could feel the loneliness all over again.
My father avoided supper. My parents were divorced at this time, but he tried really hard to eat a few meals with my living sister and me. Sadly, he never lasted longer than standing in the archway between the kitchen and the dining room.
The empty plate was too hard to see.
My little sister was only six at the time of Carmella’s death. She didn’t understand the entire meaning of “Your sister died”, but she understood the fact that nobody was ever coming to sit in Carmella’s seat again.
That place was empty. And, so were our hearts.
It has now been forty nine years since my sister died. My mother and father have since died. Only my younger sister is living. Our immediate family of five is now two. But, the empty place at the table has never been filled, and it never will!
Odd to some, but perfectly normal to me, I still claim the same seating arrangement at the table as I did when my sister was alive. She always sat to the left of me. To this day, I reserve an empty place at the table to my left in memory of Carmella. There is nobody who will ever take her place at the table or in my heart!
I’d love to hear your stories of how you’re dealing with the empty place at the table. There is no right or wrong way to work through this part of child loss. We do whatever feels best for us, and for me it meant reserving that place to my left just for my sister.
My baby losses were different, obviously. They never physically sat at the table with me except when they were growing inside of my womb. For them, there is a special place reserved in the inner chambers of my heart where nobody else can enter. That space and place is for my babies only! I feel no shame in saying that. When I sit down at the table, I envision being surrounded by my “angel babies” as they watch over me in their innocence and purity. Their memory has created a circle of love that has become my hope — hope of one day entering heaven and being met by each one of them!
I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the empty place at your table. I’m a firm believer that as we share, we are encouraged!