The table is set with the finest china and crystal. My Izzy has outdone herself. She works diligently to keep our family happy during this holiday season, though in the moments she allows herself to be still she suffers the pain of her broken heart. She cloaks herself in noise and chaos to keep such moments at bay.
It has been a day of delightful surprises. Shiny coins hidden away for the children to happen upon. A lovely red cardinal for Izzy and the girls singing through the kitchen window, bright red against the bleak winter. And now a fresh blanket of snow to brighten the dark night.
The family sits. William, my son, looks diminished somehow, as if the past year has taken some of the air out of him. His wife, Clara fusses over their daughters, tying bibs and settling them in. Faith and Temperance pass bowls of steaming vegetables and soft white buns. Hudson and Hinton argue with good nature over who shall carve. Hinton, the eldest, prevails. The older grandchildren giggle at their tiny table, set beside the fireplace while the younger babes are tended next to their parents. All have gathered for the feast. It is a typical scene, one we’ve acted out so many times before, but this time there is a great difference. This time the room is filled with the presence of the empty chair. Nobody speaks of it but its presence will not be denied. They carve, and serve and pour and cut and sip and laugh and talk, comforting sights and sounds. Their faces glow in the shimmering candle light, tentative joy, tentative sorrow.
I wonder if they know how happy I am to have them all here.
Hinton, my son, finally raises his glass. His face freezes as he fights emotion. After a moment he smiles, and toasts the empty chair. The others join him. Family. We come together in good times and in bad. We share the love and laughter and we hold each other tightly through the tears.
“To our lovely Mother, may her spirit rest. There is surely a feast in Heaven tonight!” They smile. They tap their glasses and wipe their tears. And soon the memories start and there is laughter.
I sit here in this empty chair, abiding love. Yes … there truly is a feast in Heaven tonight.