By Tobi Schwartz-Cassell
In the spring, at Passover, there is an empty chair at the Seder table. There’s also an additional, full cup of wine on the table. They’re there for the Prophet Elijah, who visits everyone’s Seder. Each year we hope this will be the one when Elijah announces the coming of the Messiah. There’s a point in the service when we go to the front door and open it for him. My daughter has finally figured out that when she comes back to the table and finds his empty cup of wine, it’s either my husband or my brother-in-law Martin who has chugged it down, and not Elijah.
In December, though our family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, we join our honorary family who does. Every Christmas Eve, we come to The Qs, arms loaded with presents. And when we leave, our arms are loaded even heavier with presents. But Christmas Eve has never been about the presents. It’s always been about who is there to celebrate with us.
This year will be my 27th (40th) year to celebrate with this extraordinary family. It will be my husband’s 31st (39th). Along the way, we were joined by my parents, sister, brother-in-law (the one who switches off chugging the wine with my hubby), and nephew and our “adopted” sister/aunt, Phyllis. Twenty-two years ago (30 years ago), our son came onboard and 13 years ago (21 years ago), our daughter.
All was joyous until one year (2001), one chair became empty. My mom’s. That was a very difficult Christmas. Even more difficult was the year my dad’s chair became empty (2004), not just because his was the Special Chair but because it was one more chair that was vacated (and because we’d always enjoy his broad smiles when our dear “NeNeNa” would present him with his own personal homemade lasagna to take home—just one of her many gifts to him.)
This year (2005), there’s going to be another empty chair.
Just this week, the Qs—our honorary family—lost Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was lively, funny, fun-loving—and just plain loving—and a fixture at Christmas Eve. This year, her chair will be empty, and we’re all wondering what Christmas Eve is going to feel like.
Yesterday was Aunt Mary’s funeral. My cherished friend (the one who brought us into the Q Family), gave the eulogy. She spoke of everything that made Aunt Mary special. And she shared lots of stories—or at least the ones she could share inside a church. And it got me thinking about empty chairs.
I realized that empty chairs are never really empty when they are full of the precious memories created with the dear ones who occupied them.
Happy holidays to you and your family, and to the special people with whom you celebrate.
PS: On behalf of the Franks & Beans Family, Molly & Martin, Kim & Bruce, Linda & Marvin, Stan, Jardin & me, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa, and our wish that you receive all good things in 2019.